I wrote a little bit about the history of charlottes in my post on Charlotte Royale, but I may not have gotten it right. While Chef Marie-Antoine Carême is credited for inventing the Charlotte à la Russe (or, as he preferred to call it, Charlotte à la Parisienne), charlottes of one form or another were around before his time. There was mention of a charlotte in a New York magazine in 1796, when Mssr. Carême was only 12 years old. Rather than being named after Princess Charlotte, only daughter of King George IV of England, the dessert may have derived its name, one etymology suggests, from an Old English word, charlyt, for a kind of custard.
The earliest charlottes were made by lining a pan with stale bread dipped in butter, then filling it with sliced apples sprinkled with sugar and baking it — unlike Charlotte Russe, which involves lining a mold with ladyfingers and filling it with Bavarian cream (aka bavarois). Such unbaked, molded desserts were popular in the Victorian era because gelatin had just become commercially available.
Until the mid-1800s, gelatin dishes were reserved for the upper class, and with good reason. The process of rendering collagen from animal bones and then clarifying it was extremely time-consuming, so most home cooks would not have had the time nor the resources (read: kitchen staff) to present their guests with an elaborately molded centerpiece such as Carême envisioned. (One recipe for calves-feet jelly involves boiling the feet in 3 quarts of water, then sieving it and skimming off the fat, then boiling it again, and then filtering it six to eight times to achieve 1 quart of clarified gelatin.)
But the emergence of industrial-produced gelatin in the latter half of the 19th century brought endless possibilities of creating chilled, molded dishes to the masses. (One 1890 church cookbook featured recipes for wine jelly, coffee jelly and “celestial hash,” which contained sherry, dates, figs, grapes, walnuts, bananas and oranges. No wonder American cooks went crazy with Jell-o salads in the 1950s!)
While early recipes for Charlotte Russe were assembled upside-down in a mold and, after setting, unmolded and served right-side up, some later versions were either assembled and served in a large glass bowl, similar to a trifle, or were simply made in individual portions in sherbet glasses. Today, we have the convenience of springform pans, which allow us to form the Charlotte Russe right-side up and simply remove the pan to present the molded dessert when it is completely chilled and set.
I adopted Ian’s method in this episode of The Great British Bake-Off. He used only the collar of the springform pan, placing it directly on a serving platter so all he had to do when it was set was lift the mold, unlike Mat, who had trouble transporting his Charlotte Russe from the pan to the serving plate.
The best thing about making these challenges after the TV show has aired is learning from the mistakes of the bakers in the Great White Tent and incorporating their best ideas. Paul Hollywood specifically complimented Ian’s ladyfingers, so I adapted his ladyfinger recipe (also called savoiardi), substituting some of the flour for cocoa powder to create chocolate ladyfingers. I also copied his method of dipping the ladyfingers in sugar syrup before assembling the dessert, which I found helped them stick together and created a barrier to prevent the bavarois or jelly from leaking out.
Paul also liked Nadiya’s bavarois, which she made using Italian meringue, unlike all the other contestants, who simply added fruit puree and gelatin to a custard base and then folded in whipped cream. So I used Nadiya’s mango bavarois recipe. I also adapted Nadiya’s recipe for mango jelly (which we in America refer to as gelatin dessert, or simply by its brand name, Jell-o), substituting passionfruit pulp for mango.
Like most British recipes containing gelatin, this one calls for leaf gelatin. If you’re unfamiliar with it, or if you would like to substitute powdered gelatin, I recommend this article and this one.
I didn’t have any major problems with this bake. Mostly, it comes down to patience (Take your time piping those ladyfingers so they’re as uniform as possible.) and timing (Give your jelly time to cool and thicken before pouring it over the bavarois so it doesn’t run down the sides!).
I really enjoy this combination of flavors and textures. As a friend of mine said, the ladyfingers are like “delicate brownies,” which complement the sweet, creamy mango bavarois and the sharp, tangy passionfruit jelly. Overall, she added, this was one of her favorite things I’ve made, and I must admit, it was one of mine, too!
Chocolate, Mango and Passionfruit Charlotte Russe
Credit for Italian meringue and bavarois: Nadiya Hussain
Recipe for passionfruit jelly adapted from Nadiya Hussain
Credit for chocolate curls: SpendWithPennies.com
For the ladyfingers and sponge:
For the Italian meringue:
- 1 c. + 3 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- ¼ c. water
- 1 T. corn syrup
- 4 large egg whites (preferably pasteurized)
- 1 t. cream of tartar
For the mango bavarois:
- 4 T. milk
- 14 oz. mango pulp
- Juice of 1 lime
- 6 large egg yolks
- 3 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- 6 sheets leaf gelatin, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
- 14 oz. heavy cream
For the passionfruit jelly:
For assembly and decoration:
- 3½ T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
- ¼ c. water
- 2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate (for chocolate curls, opt.)
- 2 t. butter (for chocolate curls, opt.)
- Sliced mango
- Assorted berries
- To make the ladyfingers and base sponge (savoiardi), line three baking sheets with parchment. On two pieces of parchment, draw 3 parallel rows of 2 lines each, 3½ inches apart, across the length of the parchment. On the third piece of parchment, draw a circle the same size as the springform pan. Turn parchment upside down so the lines won’t rub off on the batter. Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add 1 c. sugar, beating continuously. Beat for a couple more minutes until mixture is thick and well combined.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with remaining caster sugar and the extract until pale and doubled in volume. Carefully fold the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Sift flour and cocoa powder together and carefully fold in.
- Spoon mixture into a large piping bag fitted with a ½-inch plain nozzle. Fill in the circle on the parchment with the batter, piping in a spiral pattern beginning on the outside edge of the circle and working inward. Then pipe 3½-inch fingers, using the lines on the parchment as a guide, keeping them at least 1 inch apart. Pipe at least 35 fingers, making them as uniform as possible, but pipe a few thinner ones, in case you need to fill in some gaps.
- Dust all the fingers with powdered sugar and bake for about 20 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Carefully remove the parchment to cooling racks, and when completely cooled, peel the parchment away from the sponge base and ladyfingers.
- To make the meringue, put ¼ cup water in a pan with the sugar and corn syrup, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Gently heat to 230°F, then keep a close eye on it and remove from heat as soon as it reaches 245°F.
- Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites with cream of tartar to soft peak stage. As soon as the sugar syrup comes to 245°F, slowly add it to the egg whites, pouring in a thin, steady stream while the mixer continues to run. Continue beating for 15 minutes or until the bowl is cool and meringue reaches stiff peak stage. Set aside.
- To make the bavarois, heat the milk, pulp and lime juice in a large pan. Bring to a boil.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and sugar until pale and doubled in volume.
- When the mango mixture comes to a boil, slowly pour it into the egg mixture in a thin steady stream, whisking continuously. Return mixture to the pan and heat gently for a few minutes until it becomes thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (Don’t let it boil or it might split.) Remove from heat.
- Squeeze excess liquid from the gelatin and stir it into the mango mixture until it’s dissolved. Pour into a shallow pan and refrigerate until cool, but not set.
- Whip the cream until it’s thick enough to leave trails on the surface when whisk is removed (ribbon stage). Fold in 8 ounces of the cooled Italian meringue with a silicone spatula. Stir in the mango mixture and chill until partially set and ready to use.
- To make the jelly, heat the puree until it just reaches boiling point. Remove from heat and cool for 5 minutes. Squeeze excess liquid from the gelatin and stir it into the puree until it’s dissolved. Leave mixture to cool.
- To assemble the Charlotte Russe, line the collar of an 8-inch springform pan with plastic wrap, making sure there is plenty of overhang on the top and bottom. Place the wrapped collar on a serving plate and place the circle of sponge inside the collar. Trim to fit if necessary.
- Trim one end of the ladyfingers so they are all the same length. (Reserve the trimmed ends to fill in gaps, if necessary.)
- Make a syrup by gently warming the caster sugar in ¼ cup of water. Keep heating until sugar is dissolved.
- Dip each of the ladyfingers in the syrup on both sides and place them, cut-end down, around the edge of the springform collar. They should be tightly packed so they remain upright without support. (if there are gaps around the bottom edge, where the ladyfingers start to curve, dip some of the reserved ends in the syrup and pack them into the gaps.)
- Pour the bavarois into the ladyfinger-lined collar and put it in the fridge until set (alternatively, freeze for 30 minutes to speed up the process).
- When bavarois is set, pour the cooled and semi-set jelly on top and chill until completely set.
- To make chocolate curls for garnish, if desired, melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave on 30% power and stir until smooth. Pour into a baking pan and use an offset spatula to spread chocolate as thin as possible. Place pan in freezer for 3-4 minutes until chocolate is firm. Use a metal spatula or scraper to scrape the chocolate off the bottom of the pan and make curls. If the chocolate begins to soften too much, pop it back into the freezer for a couple minutes. Keep the curls in the fridge until ready to use.
- When the jelly and bavarois are set, carefully remove the springform collar. Decorate Charlotte Russell with mango slices, berries and chocolate curls, if desired.
*There is a slight risk of salmonella when using unpasteurized egg whites, because they may not be fully cooked by the sugar syrup.