by Stephanie Zonis
A pan lined with liqueur-brushed ladyfingers is filled with a bittersweet Bavarian cream mixture, then topped with more ladyfingers. This is a pretty dessert, and, though it's quite rich, it manages to be very light-textured. The filling is made with unflavored gelatin, so the dessert does not freeze and should be consumed within 48 hours of completion. This is not overly-sweet; because of that and the use of liqueur, this charlotte would probably be more appreciated by adults than by children. Great for a summer get-together!
This recipe uses store-bought ladyfingers, which come either plain or cream-filled; you want to use the plain ones here. The ladyfingers must be split in half the long way, but the ones I've found come pre-split. It is not mandatory to brush them with liqueur, but I think it greatly improves them and the dessert as a whole. You will need more than 2 packages, but you probably won't use all of the third. Incidentally, in choosing a liqueur, select one (or a blend) that goes with chocolate but doesn't overwhelm it. I like to use an orange liqueur; other good choices would be coffee, almond, or hazelnut. Sometimes, I'll mix orange, coffee, and almond liqueurs as a nice variation.
If your immune system is compromised in any way, please think twice before consuming this! The filling contains uncooked egg whites; therefore, the risk of salmonella, though minute, cannot be discounted entirely. I know this recipe seems complicated, but I can put it together in less than two hours.
3-1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
(this is more than one packet
--you must measure the quantity)
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. cold water
8 ozs. good-quality bittersweet
chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. whole milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
6 eggs, graded "large", separated
8 to 9 Tbsp. liqueur
1 tsp. vanilla
3 pkgs. (3 ozs. each) ladyfingers,
split in half the long way
1 cup heavy cream
Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Grated or shaved bittersweet chocolate
Assemble a 9-inch diameter springform pan, which MUST be at least 3 inches tall (a nonstick pan is nice, but not a necessity). Line the bottom with a circle of wax paper cut to fit (this is optional, to make cleaning up the pan bottom easier). Cut a sheet of wax paper that is 14-1/2" long by 12" wide. Fold in half to make a sheet that is 6" wide, then cut along the fold (you now have two pieces of wax paper, each 14-1/2" long by 6" wide). Fold each of the two pieces in half the long way; set aside for a moment. With solid vegetable shortening, lightly grease the sides only of the assembled springform pan. Take one piece of folded wax paper, open side down, and line the greased pan sides with it, then repeat with the other piece. The pieces will overlap. The sides of the pan should be completely lined with a double layer of wax paper; make sure the wax paper is as closely fitted to the pan sides as possible. The wax paper will probably extend slightly above the edge of the pan--OK. Set aside.
In a small heatproof cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water. Set aside.
Place the finely chopped chocolate in a one quart, heavy-bottomed, nonreactive saucepan. In another small saucepan, over low heat, heat milk until very hot, stirring occasionally. Remove milk from heat; pour about half of hot milk onto chocolate. Allow to stand for a minute or two, then stir or whisk until smooth. If necessary, place over very low heat, and stir constantly until chocolate is melted. Gradually stir in remaining heated milk. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar (reserve remainder).
In small bowl, beat egg yolks with fork to combine well. Stirring constantly, gradually add about one-fourth of the hot melted chocolate mixture. Turn this mixture back into the remaining melted chocolate mixture, again stirring constantly. Place the egg yolk-chocolate combination over medium-low heat for three minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; immediately strain into a nonreactive metal bowl of at least three quart capacity. Whisk in 2 Tbsp. Of the liqueur, one tablespoon at a time (reserve remaining liqueur), then the vanilla.
Place cup of softened gelatin in a small pan of barely simmering water. Stir very frequently just until gelatin granules are dissolved (this is easiest to see if you use a metal spoon to stir). Remove from simmering water; dry cup bottom and sides. Add dissolved gelatin to chocolate mixture and stir in with whisk. Scrape bowl bottom and sides. The chocolate mixture can either wait at room temperature while you line the pan with ladyfingers or be placed in the refrigerator. In addition, chill a small bowl (this will be used later, to beat the heavy cream).
Place the remaining 6 to 7 Tbsp. Of liqueur in a small cup. Remove a row of split ladyfingers from the package, and separate them. Using a pastry brush, brush the flat side of each with liqueur, then place, flat side up, onto the pan bottom. I like to form a "sunburst" pattern, then fill in any gaps with pieces of ladyfingers, but as this will be the bottom of the dessert I don't think it matters much. You won't be able to line the entire bottom of the pan without any gaps, so just fill as many as you reasonably can.
Once you've lined the pan bottom, line the wax-paper-covered sides. I find it easiest to do this when working with a row of split ladyfingers that have not been separated from one another. When they're still attached, brush the flat sides of each with liqueur. Handling gently, turn the row over and brush a strip of liqueur across the middle of the row of ladyfingers (this seems to help them stick to the wax paper lining). Place the ladyfinger row, flat side facing in, around the edge of the pan, and press it so it adheres to the wax paper. Don't worry about any gaps that might occur at the tops or bottoms of the ladyfingers lining the sides; the ladyfingers lining the sides will probably extend over the top of the pan as well. This process goes much more quickly than it sounds, but if it takes you longer than 10 or 15 minutes and if you have put the chocolate mixture in the refrigerator, remove it from the fridge and whisk briefly to loosen once or twice during this time. Cover the lined pan loosely with plastic wrap; set aside.
Combine egg whites with salt in medium bowl; set aside. Have ready the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Have ready a hand-held electric mixer.
Half-fill a bowl or frying pan with ice and water. This receptacle must be larger in diameter than the bowl holding the chocolate mixture, but it must not be deeper. Place the bowl of chocolate mixture into the ice and water; WATCH IT CAREFULLY! Especially if you chilled it while lining the pan, it will begin to thicken in a very few minutes. Whisk it frequently, and scrape the bowl bottom and sides often. You want it to thicken only to the consistency of a thick sauce (if it thickens beyond this stage, don't panic. I have read that you can place the bowl of chocolate mixture over simmering water on low heat (water should not touch the bottom of the bowl) and stir with the whisk until the mixture thins out again). I usually remove it from the ice and water just before it reaches this stage, as I find that it continues to thicken slightly upon standing.
Beat egg whites and salt at high speed until very foamy and increased in volume. Gradually add sugar, beating between additions. Beat the whites until they form a point (this is before soft peak stage). Once again, whisk the chocolate mixture to loosen it and scrape bowl bottom and sides. Place a large spoonful of beaten whites into the chocolate mixture; whisk in until combined. Add remaining whites; with large spatula, fold in until only partially combined.
Do not bother to wash the beater(s). In chilled small bowl, beat heavy cream at high speed just until it holds a soft shape. Scrape cream into chocolate mixture; fold in thoroughly but gently until blended. Work quickly! as the mixture will likely start to set up as you're doing the folding.
Turn mixture into ladyfinger-lined pan; it will be quite full. Separate more ladyfingers into individual fingers; brush the flat side of each with liqueur and place, flat side down, on top of the filling. This will be the top of the dessert, and I like to make it attractive, so I form a "sunburst' pattern here, filling in any large gaps with cut pieces of ladyfinger as necessary. Place the completed dessert in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes, then cover lightly with plastic wrap. Cover the plastic with a sheet of aluminum foil, folding it down carefully over the sides (you don't want to squash the top of this dessert). If desired, place a rubber band over the foil, around the top of the pan.
Chill at least 6 hours before serving (overnight is fine, too). To serve, remove coverings, then undo springform clip on side of pan. Gently and carefully remove sides; if the wax paper lining doesn't come with the sides, peel it off. Use a large, sharp, serrated knife to cut the dessert. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream and grated or shaved bittersweet chocolate.
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This page originally created in 1998 and modified October 2007
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