I have always wanted to attempt a namesake Charlotte dessert for my mum-in-law’s birthday and this year, the stars aligned to make the experiment possible. I wish I hadn’t waited so long because it was as delicious as it was impressive.
A few notes- A traditional Charlotte is filled with a cooked custard bavarois but I went with an easier gelatin set mixture of pureed berries and whipped cream. And while the homemade ladyfinger sponge cookies do take a bit to master (I learned it’s not possible to skip the instructions on these), you could pick up a few packets of store bought ones to substitute. If you use store bought ladyfingers, cut the sponge recipe in half for just the cake base. Shortcuts aside, do consider making a Charlotte for a special occasion dessert. The end result is certainly worth the effort.
Mixed Berry Charlotte
adapted from The Joy of Baking and Patisserie Made Simple by Edd Kimber
1 cup of frozen raspberries
1 cup of frozen strawberries
1/3 cup (65g) white sugar
Ladyfingers and Sponge Cake
5 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (130g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (200g) sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup icing sugar
Mixed Berry Cream
1 1/2 cup (180 ml) berry sauce (recipe above)
2 envelopes (1/2 ounce or 14 grams) unflavored powdered gelatin
4 oz (half a block) cream cheese
1/4 cup (60 g) white sugar
2 cup (500 ml) cold heavy whipping cream
Berry Sauce: Place frozen berries in a bowl to thaw. Once thawed, puree completely in blender or food processor. Strain to remove raspberry seeds. Mix with sugar and stir well to dissolve, adding more to taste if necessary. Refrigerate up to a week until ready to make Mixed Berry Cream. Yield is ~1 1/2 cups.
Ladyfingers and Sponge Cake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. To make the piping of the cookies easier, use a pencil and ruler to divide the parchment paper into three 3 1/4 long inch rows across the narrow side of the paper, spacing the rows by at least one inch (2.5 cm). Have ready a large pastry bag fitted with a 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) plain round tip (I used a large ziploc bag and snipped a corner opening). Line the bottom of an an 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray entire pan (and paper) with nonstick spray.
Separate the eggs while they are still cold, cover both with plastic wrap and let sit ~30 minutes to rise to room temperature. Beat the egg yolks and 1/3 cup white sugar on high speed for at least 5 minutes until the mixture becomes thick, pale yellow and when you raise the beaters the batter falsl back in a slow ribbon. Add the vanilla and mix well. Sift the cake flour and salt over the batter but do not fold in to the yolks. In a clean bowl glass or metal bowl, whip the egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup white sugar and whip until stiff peaks form and the whites are glossy. Continue beating until the sugar is dissolved and you can not feel any grit when you rub a drop of the mixture between two fingers. Gently fold in in one third of the whites into the egg yolk mixture, mixing only until the whites are incorporated (the flour will not completely be mixed in). Repeat with another third of the egg whites, then again with the final third, continuing folding after the final addition until everything is incorporated.
Transfer the batter to your pastry bag and hold the bag at a 45 degree angle to the baking sheet. Pipe 3 1/4 inch long ladyfingers, using the lines drawn on the underside of the parchment paper as a guide. Space the ladyfingers approximately 2 inches apart and fill both of the baking sheets. I fit 15 ladyfingers on each sheet – 30 in total gave me enough for a 9 inch cake with a few leftover for good measure.
Sift half the piped cookies with a light dusting of powdered sugar then bake for about 8 minutes or until the ladyfingers are firm but barely brown and are still soft and spongy when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper (with ladyfingers) into a cooling rack. Cool one minute then carefully, remove cookies from the parchment paper, sprinkle with with another layer of icing sugar and leave them to cool completely on a wire rack.
While the ladyfingers are in the oven, pipe the remaining sponge batter into the base of the springform pan in a continuous circle, starting around the outside edge. You should have enough batter to pipe two layers. Gently smooth the batter with an offset spatula to even out the batter, if necessary, taking extreme care not to flatten it. Bake for ~20 minutes, until cake is barely brown, soft and spongy but tests done. Remove from oven and set on a rack to cool. Both the cake and the ladyfingers are best on the day they are baked. If not serving that day, freeze them immediately after they are cooled for up to one month.
Mixed Berry Cream: Chill your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, remove 2 tablespoons of the berry sauce and set aside. In a small measuring cup, stir together the gelatin and 1/2 cup of the berry sauce. Let this mixture sit for 5 – 10 minutes until it becomes very spongy and then microwave for a few seconds to dissolve the gelatin, bringing the mixture back to liquid. Once the gelatin has dissolved, stir the gelatin mixture into the remaining cup of berry sauce and set aside.
Beat cream cheese and 1/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add berry sauce and beat until well incorporated. Remove the mixing bowl and whisk from the freezer, add the cream and whip until stiff peaks form, gently adding final 1/4 cup of sugar as the cream stiffens. Add the berry sauce mixture and fold until it is thoroughly mixed in. Taste and fold in a little more sugar, if needed.
Assembly: Remove paper from the sponge cake and place back on the bottom of the springform pan. Spread 2 tablespoons of the reserved berry sauce over the top of the sponge cake in a thin, even layer. Trim off the bottom quarter inch of each ladyfinger to make them 3 inches in length with flat bottoms and place the cut side down on the cake with the icing sugared side facing outward, against the sides of the pan. Repeat until ladyfingers are standing around the entire top of the cake (the cut, flat bottoms of the ladyfingers will enable them to easily stand up). Fill the center of the cake with the the berry cream. Smooth the top, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 6 hours to set.
To serve: Before serving, cover the berry cream with an assortment of mixed fresh berries. Gently remove the sides of the springform pan and tie a ribbon around the perimeter, directly above where the ladyfingers join the sponge base. Serve and enjoy!