Valentine’s Day falls on a weekday this year and if you are staying home with the special person in your life this means someone is cooking an equally special meal. After a busy day, it is hard enough to cook this special meal let alone make a dazzling dessert to cap the night off. I got you covered: Oreo Serradura (sawdust pudding) with heart-shaped strawberries. Before I give you the recipe, I have a secret to share with you.
I really suck at making desserts. Well, to be more honest I suck at baking anything except bread which is odd because the first thing I ever made was a cake. Baking requires precision and apart from certain ingredients, you can’t really stray from basic chemistry and physics when it comes to baking. Accuracy is key and the ratios of the ingredients involved must be exact because you can’t taste it along the way. Sure, you can taste the batter for sweetness and salt, but you don’t really know how it is going to turn out until after its made.
Baking has a low tolerance for substitution if say you are missing an ingredient. Bread has less variables as you are basically managing four ingredients: flour, yeast, water and salt. With bread you can also feel if you need to adjust one of those ingredients as you make it. Meal preparation allows for adjustments along the way. If you forgot something or you had to substitute an ingredient you can generally do so. So yes, baking is hard and cooking is easier. It is why a culinary arts degree takes longer if you want to become a baker or dessert chef.
Alas, I have no baker or dessert chef in my home and I must from time to time make dessert. One of the sweets I make is Serradura because it is so easy. I learned how to make it from my friend Chef Augie Gomes. Chef Augie is the head chef at “Taste of Portugal” in Newark’s Ironbound section. I met Chef Augie when he was the chef at my friend’s restaurant “O Lagar” in Union, New Jersey. I spent a year working in the kitchen for free on weekday evenings to learn more about Portuguese cuisine. After my dad, Chef Augie has been the greatest influence on my passion for cooking especially when it comes to Portuguese food. Chef Augie isn’t a baker and his dessert repertoire comes down to three dishes: Chocolate Mousse, Flan and Serradura.
Serradura means sawdust in Portuguese. The dessert gets its name from the way the crumbled cookies look like sawdust. Serradura as we know it originated in Portugal but became popular in Macau during Portuguese colonial rule. It is one of the hallmarks of Macanese cuisine. There is a reference to “sawdust pudding” in Benjamin Franklin’s past as it is said he once served to those who criticized his devotion to the poor. He used it to demonstrate how the upper class couldn’t understand the plight of poor people since they couldn’t even stomach the food they ate. The “sawdust pudding” he made was a sort of sweet porridge made from cornmeal and water.
Today, Serradura is a dessert that is always available at Portuguese restaurants. It is made in-house since it is very easy to make and doesn’t require a pastry chef. Portuguese supermarkets even sell serradura in convenient snack portions. You can also find serradura flavored ice cream which is delicious.
Serradura is traditionally made with plain Maria biscuits (or cookies). The Marie biscuit was created by the London bakery Peek Freans in 1874 to commemorate the marriage of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia to the Duke of Edinburgh. It became popular throughout Europe, particularly in the Iberian Peninsula where, following the Spanish Civil War, it was made in large quantities to consume a surplus of wheat. (Taken from Wikipedia). The biscuits are popular all over the world since they are sturdy and hold their shape whilst dunking in tea or coffee.
While Serradura is made with Maria biscuits but you can substitute your favorite cookie and create a completely unique version. In this recipe, I use Oreo Cookies and garnish the top with heart shaped strawberries to give it that Special Valentine’s Day touch. For other variants click here where I have several versions.
My recipe varies from the traditional recipe because I like to drench the bottom layer with espresso coffee. This gives it a nice flavor note and helps introduce moistness since the cookie layers tend to be dry especially if you layer them too thick. I use instant decaffeinated espresso ensuring that it can be enjoyed in the evening without the worry of insomnia setting in. I prefer the instant powder over freshly brewed for two reasons: (1) I can make it with cold tap water and use it right away and (2) why waste good espresso? I am just looking for the flavor of coffee and I don’t need a gourmet shot of java to achieve this. If you want to make an adult version layer the bottom with liqueurs like Cantares Licor de Café, Licor Beirão, Baileys and Kahlúa instead of coffee. The measurements here are suggestions as you may prefer thicker layers of cookie or more whipped cream. It can be easily doubled or tripled if you have a large crowd. The one important ratio to keep in mind is the heavy cream to condensed milk. It should always be 2 cups of heavy cream to 7 ounces of sweetened condensed milk. That provides the right amount of sweetness to the whipped cream and won’t play havoc on whipping the cream to the correct consistency.
2 cups heavy cream
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
35 Oreo Cookies separated with white cream filling removed and reserved
½ cup decaffeinated instant espresso coffee
Whole Oreos to garnish
Fresh Strawberries cut in half and shaped like hearts. (Big strawberries work best.)
Separate the Oreo Cookies and scrape the white cream filling into a bowl. In a food processor grind the Oreos until they are pulverized to dust. Beat the heavy cream 3/4 of the way before it becomes a stiff peak. Add the condensed milk, vanilla extract and the Oreo white cream filling and finish beating until stiff peaks are formed and set aside. Layer a small glass/cup or small ramekin in the following manner (use a pastry bag to dispense the heavy cream mixture):
1st layer crushed cookies and a small amount of coffee to slightly soak cookies.
2nd layer heavy cream mixture.
3rd layer crushed cookies (no coffee this time).
4th layer heavy cream mixture.
5th layer sprinkle crushed cookie on top
Next, take a whole Oreo and insert it halfway in on the outer rim of the receptacle. To make heart shaped strawberries stem the fruit and cut it in half. Place flat side down on a cutting board and using a pairing knife cut it into a heart shape. This will take some practice but you can snack on the discarded mistakes. Then take the heart-shaped strawberry and place it in the middle. Serve chilled.
If you are not consuming the Serradura right away gently cover it with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator otherwise just place them in the fridge without covering.