Charlotte Malakoff- an afternoon with Julia Child

 Charlotte 16 final

 

I just spent an afternoon with Julia Child- making her Charlotte Malakoff dessert! I’ve always been intrigued with this recipe after studying the diagrams and explanations in Julia’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook. I decided to give this dessert a try and at the same time have a close encounter with Julia. How did I do this? By watching (studying!) the re-play of Julia demonstrating this recipe in 1964 on her TV show The French Chef.

This show had none of the slick nuances of today’s cooking shows. Julia was able to float effortlessly through several small mistakes and blunders, while presenting us with a delicious cake at the end that makes us believe (even 50 years later) that we can do it too!

At one point, Julia’s electric mixer was going too fast as she creamed the butter and sugar together: sugar flew off the side of the bowl in a whispy cloud. Did she panic? No, she just said, “Heavens- that’s going too fast, let’s slow it down!”

“Heavens! That’s going to fast!” (sugar flying off the side)

JC Sugar incident

During another incident, Julia mistakenly said that the recipe called for 1/2 cup almond extract to be added to the cream filling.  Twenty seconds later, she realised her mistake, screwed up her face and said, “Oops, did I say 1/2 cup almond extract? Wow, what a dessert that would be! It should only be 1/4 teaspoon almond extract.”

“Oops, did I say 1/2 cup almond extract?”

Screen JC face

And finally, when Julia tried to unmold the cake and it got stuck, she advised her viewers to “never get upset” and to try again.”

“You see, never get upset. I’ll just go around this again (with the knife).”

JC unmolding

 “And there she comes, there it tis!”

JC final 2

When Julia finally unmolded her Charlotte Malakoff, you’ll notice that one of the ladyfingers broke off on the right side of the plate and that part of the cake looks a little scraggly. In typical ‘Julia style,’ she acted like nothing had happened and just kept on going: “And there it tis!”

So once again, Julia has taught us that mistakes are OK and even an important part of our learning experience.

The Dessert

Charlotte Malakoff is a very rich  dessert, with a crown of soft ladyfingers surrounding layers of whipped cream, butter, ground almonds and strawberries. As Julia says, “You have to pay in calories if you want an elegant desert like this.” It’s not very difficult to make, but it can be tricky to keep the ladyfingers in tact when you unmold the dessert. That’s why Julia had a bit of trouble and that’s why I added an outer layer of creamy filling on the bottom of my cake. This was to patch up some of the ladyfingers that broke off when I unmolded the dessert (there, I admitted it!)

Here are some essentials for this recipe:

  • use a high-sided cylindrical mold for this recipe, preferably 4 inches high. You can buy a charlotte mold at a specialty store, however I used a casserole dish with sides 3 inches high and 7 inches across.
  • Julia said you could even “use a high-sided plant pot for your mold because you want to have drama in your dessert.” (That might be taking it too far in my opinion!)
  • Your mold should hold at least 8 cups of filling. If you have filling leftover from the recipe, you can use it as frosting (icing) for the outside of your dessert (as I did).
  • You should have at least 24 ladyfingers for this recipe. You can buy them at some stores but it is best to make them yourself. As Julia says, “Store-bought ladyfingers are loathsome things, limp and soggy.” Insead, they should be dry and tender.
  • You do not butter your mold, but use a layer of waxed paper on the bottom. Next time I make this recipe, I will try placing wax paper also around the sides of the mold to prevent the ladyfingers from sticking to the sides and then breaking apart.
  • I added a few decorations to my Charlotte Malakoff: some whipped cream rosettes and a strawberry on top- I believe this adds some elegance to the dessert.

For the Ladyfingers:

Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs separated
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. white sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or cake flour)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • confectioner’s sugar to dust tops of ladyfingers

 Directions

  •  Pre-heat the oven to 400 F (205 C). Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.
  • Using an electric beater, mix together 4 egg whites and salt until soft peaks form.
  • In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale in color. Beat in the vanilla flavouring.
  • Sift together the flour and baking powder together on a sheet of parchment paper.
  • Fold in 1/2 of the egg whites to the egg yolk/sugar mixture. Then fold in 1/2 of the flour mixture to the egg yolks. Repeat, adding the rest of the egg whites and then the remainder of the flour to the egg yolks. The mixture should be thick and airy.
  • Transfer the mixture to the a large piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round opening. Pipe the ladyfingers onto the prepared baking sheet, making them 4 inches long and 1 inch wide (you could also spoon them onto the tray). Dust the tops of the ladyfingers with confectioner’s sugar. Bake for 8 minutes until they turn light brown.
  • Remove from oven and transfer immediately to a wire wrack to cool.

Pipe ladyfingers onto parchment paper, about 4 inches long and 1 inch wide

Charlotte 13 of 13 (1 of 1)For the Charlotte Malakoff Cream Mixture

 Ingredients

  • 16 fresh strawberries (approximate)
  • 1/3 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 24 ladyfingers
  • 2 sticks butter (1/2 lb) softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/3 cups pulverised almonds
  • 2 cups chilled whipping cream

Directions

  • Hull the strawberries, wash and set aside. Combine 2/3 cup water and1/3 cup orange liqueur in a soup plate or other flat container. Dip each ladyfinger quickly into this mixture and let drain on a wire rack.
  • In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar until smooth using electric beaters. Add the orange liqueur, almond extract and pulverised almonds (I used my food processor to grind the almonds to a fine consistency).
  • In a separate bowl, whip the cream with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually fold in the cream into the butter and almond mixture.(Julia folds her cream in by working the spatula from the outside of the bowl towards the center). The mixture should be thick and airy: do not over-mix.

Charlotte 5 of 5) (1 of 1)

  • Line the bottom of the mold with unbuttered wax paper. Line the sides of the mold with the ladyfingers placed closely together, rounded sides facing outwards.

Charlotte 4  of 4) (1 of 1)

  •  Fill the inside of the mold with 1/2 of the almond/cream mixture. Place a layer of strawberries on top of the mixture, heads facing down.

Charlotte 7 of 7 (1 of 1)

  •  Place a layer of ladyfingers on top of the strawberries, placing them closely together.

Charlotte 8 of 8 (1 of 1)

  • Add another layer of the almond/cream mixture, almost to the top of the mold. Add another layer of strawberries and finish with layer of ladyfingers. Trim the tips of the ladyfingers so they lie flat with the edge of the mold. (This will wind up being the bottom of your Charlotte cake, so it doesn’t matter what it looks like here)!

Tips of the ladyfingers have been trimmed.

Charlotte 10 of 10 (1 of 1)

  • Place a round piece of wax paper on top of the ladyfingers, cover with a plate and then add a heavy weight on top of the plate. (I placed a can of beans on top, while Julia placed a large glass of water).
  • Place in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight; this chills the butter firm so the dessert will not collapse when unmolded.
  • When ready to serve, remove the waxed paper and run a knife closely around the edge of the mold. Reverse onto a chilled serving plate and remove the remaining piece of waxed paper. Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and strawberries.

Charlotte 12 of 12 (1 of 1)

 

 

Charlotte Malakoff
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For the Ladyfingers
  1. 4 eggs separated
  2. pinch
  3. 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp. white sugar
  4. 1 tsp vanilla extract
  5. 1 cup all-purpose flour (or cake flour)
  6. 1/2 tsp baking powder
  7. confectioner's sugar to dust tops of ladyfingers
For the Cream Mixture
  1. 16 fresh strawberries (approximate)
  2. 1/3 cup orange liqueur (Cointreau or Grand Marnier)
  3. 2/3 cup water
  4. 24 ladyfingers
  5. 2 sticks butter (1/2 lb) softened
  6. 1 cup sugar
  7. 1/4 cup orange liqueur
  8. 1/4 tsp almond extract
  9. 1 1/3 cups pulverised almonds
  10. 2 cups chilled whipping cream
For the Ladyfingers
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 F (205 C). Line two large baking trays with parchment paper.
  2. Using an electric beater, mix together 4 egg whites and salt until soft peaks form.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale in color. Beat in the vanilla flavouring.
  4. Sift the flour and baking powder together on a sheet of wax paper.
  5. Fold in 1/2 of the egg whites to the egg yolk/sugar mixture. Then fold in 1/2 of the flour mixture to the egg yolks. Repeat, adding the rest of the egg whites and then the remainder of the flour to the egg yolks. The mixture should be thick and airy.
  6. Transfer the mixture to the a large piping bag fitted with a 1/2 inch round opening. Pipe the ladyfingers onto the prepared baking sheet, making them 4 inches long and 1 inch wide (you could also spoon them onto the tray). Dust the tops of the ladyfingers with confectioner’s sugar. Bake for 8 minutes until they turn light brown.
  7. Remove from oven and transfer immediately to a wire wrack to cool.
For the Cream Mixture
  1. Hull the strawberries, wash and set aside. Combine 2/3 cup water and1/3 cup orange liqueur in a soup plate or other flat container. Dip each ladyfinger quickly into this mixture and let drain on a wire rack.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar until smooth, using electric beaters. Add the orange liqueur, almond extract and pulverised almonds (I used my food processor to grind the almonds to a fine consistency).
  3. In a separate bowl, whip the cream with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Gradually fold in the cream into the butter and almond mixture.(Julia folds her cream in by working the spatula from the outside of the bowl towards the center). The mixture should be thick and airy: do not over-mix.
  4. Line the bottom of the mold with unbuttered wax paper. Line the sides of the mold with the ladyfingers placed closely together, rounded sides facing outwards.
  5. Fill the inside of the mold with 1/2 of the almond/cream mixture. Place a layer of strawberries on top of the mixture, heads facing down. Place a layer of ladyfingers on top of the strawberries, placing them closely together.
  6. Add another layer of the almond/cream mixture, almost to the top of the mold. Add another layer of strawberries and finish with layer of ladyfingers. Trim the tips of the ladyfingers so they lie flat with the edge of the mold. (This will wind up being the bottom of your Charlotte cake, so it doesn't matter what it looks like here)!
  7. Place a round piece of wax paper on top of the ladyfingers, cover with a plate and then add a heavy weight on top of the plate. (I placed a can of beans on top, while Julia placed a large glass of water).
  8. Place in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight; this chills the butter firm so the dessert will not collapse when unmolded.
  9. When ready to serve, remove the waxed paper and run a knife closely around the edge of the mold. Reverse onto a chilled serving plate and remove the remaining piece of waxed paper. Decorate with rosettes of whipped cream and strawberries.
Notes
  1. Use a mold with sides preferably 4 inches high with an 8-cup capacity. Depending on the size of your mold, you can add more layers of cream, strawberries and ladyfingers, if you have enough ingredients left over.
G'day Soufflé http://www.gdaysouffle.com/

 

 

Maple- Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans

Yams 2 of 2) (1 of 1)

Looking for that perfect Sweet Potato side dish for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? Look no further – this recipe for Maple- Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans provides that perfect combination of starchy sweet potatoes,  cranberry tartness and maple flavored yumminess.

Sweet potatoes (or yams) were cultivated in Central America at least 5,000 year ago and are grown all over the world in tropical or temperate climates. One town in the USA has gone ‘absolutely bananas’ over sweet potatoes: for the past 65 years, the town of Opelousas, Louisiana has held a Yambilee Festival, combining music, rides and yam pie-baking contests and crowns a yam queen and king (last year’s Yam King was named ‘Willyam‘).

You can tell that Opelousas citizens take their sweet potatoes (AKA Yams) seriously, when they promise that “You’ll have a Yam-Good time” when you attend their annual festival. Why, even Popeye has given up his beloved spinach in favor of yams, as seen in this Yambilee poster:

Yambilee larger

The Method

Enough of yam jokes- let’s get back to this easy recipe. First, peel the yams and cook in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes until the outer flesh softens. Let cool and slice the yams cross-wise into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Arrange in a dish with the slices overlapping each other.

 Overlapping yams

Next, heat the maple syrup, butter and cranberries together until the cranberries soften. Pour the mixture over the yams and add the chopped pecans. Bake for about 10 minutes and there you have it!

 Yams (3 of 3) (1 of 1)

 (P.S. I’d love it if you would ‘like’ my G’day Souffle’ Facebook page!)

Maple-Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Cranberries and Pecans
Serves 6
A perfect sweet potato side dish for Thanksgiving, Christmas or anytime
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Ingredients
  1. 2 - 3 yellow sweet potatoes or yams
  2. 1 tsp salt
  3. 1 cup Maple Syrup
  4. 2 tablespoons real butter
  5. 1 cup fresh cranberries
  6. 2 tbsp. chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the oven at 350 F.
  2. Peel the sweet potatoes, slice in half cross-wise and place in boiling salted water. Reduce heat and simmer until the outer flesh can be easily pierced by a fork (about 15 minutes). Remove from water and let cool.
  3. Slice the sweet potatoes cross-wise into 1/4 inch slices. Arrange in overlapping slices in a casserole dish.
  4. Heat the maple syrup and butter on medium heat until the butter melts. Add the fresh cranberries and heat until the cranberries 'pop' and become soft (about 5 - 6 minutes).
  5. Pour the mixture over the sweet potato slices. Add the chopped pecans on top and bake uncovered for 10 minutes at 350 F. Serve warm.
Notes
  1. Be careful not to over-sweeten the sweet potatoes with the maple syrup mixture. Adjust the maple syrup mixture accordingly.
G'day Soufflé http://www.gdaysouffle.com/

Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico – land of food and wine!

 

Finca food Pulpos Baja California- where have you been?

Growing up in Chula Vista, California near the Mexican border, my family and I frequently went camping in Ensenada, Baja California. After my father retired and bought a little trailer cabana in Ensenada, Mexico became a second home for us. However, about 15 years ago, everything changed. The frequent violence and kidnappings caused by the drug cartels caused our family and friends to say, “No, you can’t go to Mexico anymore, it’s too dangerous.” As a result, we sealed Mexico off from our minds.

But things are now changing again. Travel and wine magazines are gushing that Baja California is now one of the ‘food and wine capitals of the world.’ This is particularly true for the region called Valle de Guadalupe, located 1 1/2 hours from the U.S./Mexican border near Ensenada. Known for its porous soil and ideal climate, this area is ideal for growing grapes for wine cultivation. This region is also known for its Baja Med style of cooking, combining gourmet techniques with traditional Mexican dishes, while adding locally sourced ingredients such as olive oils, seafood and tomatoes.

Intrigued by the media frenzy, my husband and I decided to see for ourselves. Instead of going it alone, we joined the group, Club Tengo Hambre (meaning ‘I am hungry’ in Spanish) to guide us on the trip. CTH describes themselves as a ‘roving supper club’ and are experts in guiding small groups into Baja, California.

We met the group on the US side of the border in front of McDonalds (a good start to our culinary adventure!) and then walked across the border together. That was easy, no lines, just walking through a turnstile. However, I knew it would be a different matter returning to the US from the looks of the pedestrian line coming the other way- it must have been 1/4 mile long.  After crossing the border, a van awaited us to take us on our all-day trip south of the border. After passing around a bottle of Tequila for each of us to pour a tipple, we felt relaxed. I peered out the side windows of our van to see if I recognised the Tijuana that I used to know- the hovels were still there on the side of the hills, but were slowly being replaced by more modern housing. I heaved a sigh of relief, there were no bandits following us and no need to ride shotgun – we were safe.

Valle de Guadalupe

 As we approached the valley, it appeared to be rather dry with low scrub and various kinds of cactus. Most of the wineries ‘dry farm’ their crops, drawing water from reservoirs and wells, rather than relying on rainfall.

photo attributed to Sarah Gilbert of theguardian.com

Valle pix  Las Nubes Winery

Las Nubes

The first winery we visited was Las Nubes (“The Clouds”). This winery offered sweeping views of the valley and its thick stone walls, reminded me of a Tuscan farm house. Located on 75 acres, the winery grows 15 kinds of grapes, including sauvignon blanc, syrah and chardonnay. Most of the wines are named after clouds such as Cumulus, Nimbus and Nebbiolo, although the wine I chose was called Selección de Barricas, a young, red blend that includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Grenache and Syrah. 

Delicious full-bodied red wine Las-Nubes-bottles  Lovely views of the Guadalupe Valley at La NubesLas nubes 2  After several hours of wine tasting, we were ready to have our meal at the Finca Altozano restaurant. This is an outdoor restaurant in a rustic setting, owned by well-known Mexican chef, Javier Plascencia. Most of the food on the menu comes from local ingredients sourced from the Valle de Guadalupe and local seafood. The atmosphere is relaxed; you could easily believe you were having lunch in a ranch 60 years ago, with no nearby freeways roaring past to distract you. The open kitchen allows you to watch the meat being barbequed and the bread being baked in a wide-fired oven.

Finca Altozano open-air restaurant Finca Restaurant Quails being barbequed over wood fire Fire Roast at FincaOpen kitchen where you can watch the food being cooked Finca kitchen One of the house specialities is Pulpo del Pacifico, tender pieces of marinated octopus served with citrus, ginger, peanuts and cilantro. I normally don’t care for octopus, but these tender morcels were delicious. Pulpo VDG Another dish on the menu was Lengua des Res– ‘Such a beautiful name in Spanish,’ I said to myself. Only when the dish arrived at my table did I realise it was beef tongue, not something I’d ordinarily order for myself, but delicious none the less, served on top of a soft tortilla.

Lengua des Res Lengua To finish off our meal, we were served barbequed quail and shrimp- my mind is now made up- I’m definitely going to come back to this restaurant again!

 Clos de Tres Cantos Winery

The last winery we visited was Clos de Tres Cantos. The owners, Joaquin and Maria, started this winery with sustainability and regard for the local environment in mind. This is evident in the use of local materials in the winery’s buildings: the use of reclaimed wood and recycled bottles creates stunning architectural effects on the grounds.        

The exterior walls of this winery looked Mayan in appearance, while the interior looked almost like a chapel.

Mayan influence with the architecture

IMG_7507

 Inside the Winery- almost like a chapelProcessed with VSCOcam with c2 presetStunning effects created with recycled wine bottles

IMG_7499As our group travelled the 1 1/2 hours back towards the US border, I was apprehensive; how long would we have to wait to cross the border- one hour? two hours? It was getting dark and I wasn’t looking forward to standing in line for two hours. The wait turned out to be 1 hour 15 minutes to cross the pedestrian border and go through customs. This was not too bad but I noted with envy that those people who had Sentri passes were able to march right up to the front of the line (I’m definitely applying for one of those passes for the next time). 

All in all, was it an enjoyable experience? Yes! Club Tengo Hambre were excellent tour leaders and I’d highly recommend them. The best thing, though, was being able to re-visit Mexico again and to see how it has blossomed with its food and wine offerings. Next time you find yourself saying “Tengo Hambre” (I’m hungry), be sure to plan a trip to the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, California!