When the gourmande dreams of Charlotte…

December 13th, 2009 § 1 comment

As you probably know by now, I have a thing for french pastry. I am particularly fond of brioche, ‘entremets’ and of Charlottes which remind me of my dad. Last year for Christmas, I spent weeks putting together cake recipes in my head for the ‘Grand Finale’ of the Christmas eve dinner. I wanted something seasonal and original that would change from the traditional Christmas cakes and that no one would resist too, even after a 5 course meal. Something I could prepare in advance too as there are usually enough things to prepare on the night itself. When I finally came up with the perfect desert, we decided to spend Christmas at my bro’s in France and I didn’t get the chance to prepare it…

Charlotte aux poires et marrons

I kept dreaming of this cake for a couple of months, until I finally found an occasion to prepare it for a family dinner… Won’t be modest on this one: It was amazing. So much better than I had dreamed off: an airy Charlotte with homemade biscuits a la cuillere soaked in smoky whiskey and a light pear/vanilla syrup and alternate layers of pear compote and airy chestnut mousse with small chunks of caramelized pears, topped with thin slices of poached pears. My Dad would have loved it!

Chestnut and pear charlotte
Charlotte aux marrons et aux poires

serves 6 to 8 pers.
prep: 45 + 10 min. ; min 7 hrs ahead

Minimum recommended equipment:

1 charlotte mold (diameter 14/18cm, h=11cm);
1 electric mixer (a whisk and a bit of patience will work too);
1 food processor;
A couple of large bowls and rubber or silicone spatulas;
1 small pan;
1 deep, medium sized pan;
1 deep plate;
plastic foil.


~ For step 1 – the chestnut mousse:
150 g chestnut puree;
200 g chestnut spread (I usually would use ‘creme de marrons from Ardeche’ but this time I made my own *);
1 pinch of salt;
20 cl whipping cream;
2 Tsp whisky (I used a smoky single malt);
1 1/2 gelatin sheets;

~ For step 2 – the pear compote:
3 ripe pears (Williams) preferably organic, washed and thinly sliced (do not peel them!).
25 g sugar;
juice of 1/2 lemon;
1 pinch of maizena, diluted in the lemon juice;
seeds of 1/2 vanilla pod;
2 gelatin sheets;

~ For step 3 – the poached pears:
3 firm pears (williams);
juice and zest of 1 lemon;
50 cl water;
250 g sugar;
1/2 vanilla pod, cut open in the length;
2 Tsp pear liquor;
1 knob of butter;

~ For step 4 – dressing the charlotte:
20 to 24 lady fingers (or preferably ‘biscuits a la cuillere’);
10 to 15 cl pear syrup (from step 4);
2 Tsp whiskey;
butter and icing sugar to coat the charlotte mold;

~ For the finishing touch:
icing sugar;
2 poached pears (from step 4), halved and thinly sliced in the length;
50 g dark chocolate, thinly chopped.

Step 1 – Prepare the chestnut mousse:
In a large bowl, mix the chestnut puree, the chestnut cream and a pinch of salt until homogeneous.
Whip the cream with an electric mixer until thick and stiff, taking care not to overbeat it.
Melt the gelatin sheets in the slightly warmed up whisky. Incorporate to the chestnut mixture.
Fold gently one third of the whipped cream into the chestnut mixture. Once icorporated, fold in gently the rest of the whipped cream.

Step 2 – Prepare the pear compote:
In a small pan on medium heat, add the pears, sugar and vanilla, and toss gently for a couple of minutes until the pears become slightly translucent.
Pour the lemon juice and diluted maizena, toss and bring to the boil.
Remove from the heat, mix into a smooth puree using a food processor.
Incorporate the gelatin sheets and leave to cool at room temperature.

Step 3 – Prepare the poached pears:
Prepare a syrup: in a deep medium sized pan, bring to a boil the sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and zest, and the water. In the mean time, peel the pears, leaving them whole (you might want to sprinkle them with lemon juice if you do not poach them right away to avoid browning).
Lower the heat under the pan and add the pears, they should be covered in the syrup. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked through but still firm.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool at room temperature.
Reserve 1 1.2 pears covered in syrup and refrigerate until 10 minutes before service.
Reserve 15 cl of the syrup for dressing the charlotte.
Cut the remaining pears in cubes. Heat up a knob of butter and 2 Tsp of syrup together until it starts to reduce and color before adding the cubed pears. Caramelise for a couple of minutes, tossing gently to keep the cubes intact. Set aside to cool and then fold them gently in the chestnust mousse.

Step 4 – Dress the Charlotte:
Generously butter the charlotte mold. Sprinkle homogeneously with icing sugar. This will make it easier to unmold te charlotte.
Mix the pear syrup and whisky in a deep plate.
Then soak the ladyfingers one by one in the syrup, on the flat side and line tightly the sides of the mold with the ladyfingers flat side up. You might have to trim them a little so that they do not overlap.
Fill the mold evenly about to the third with chestnut mousse, then pour half of the pear compote in an even layer. Cover with a layer of soaked lady fingers, flat side up.
Repeat the operation one more time with the rest of the mousse, compote and a last layer of ladyfingers.
Cover with plastic foil and top with a plate small enough to fit in the mold. Add a heavy weight on top (I find my pestle very handy for this) and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.

Finishing touch:
10 minutes before serving, remove the weights on top of the charlotte and warm up the sides of the mold for a minute with a warm cloth or with a hair dryer. Cover the mold with a serving dish and while holding both carefully put upside down. The Charlotte should unmold without any trouble (if it still doesn’t work slide the blade of a knife very carefully along the sides of the mold). Sprinkle with icing sugar. Slice the reserved pears in thin slices in the length and arrange them on the top of the charlotte. Sprinkle with thinly chopped chocolate. Et voila!

Bon appétit!

* notes: chestnut spread is a traditional recipe from the french cévennes and ardèche mountain regions. It’s made of pureed chestnut, slowly cooked with sugar syrup and flavoured with vanilla. I must say I forgot to write down the recipe I used when I prepared it, I’ll try to find it back.

More ‘gourmandises’? You might like these too…
Le Yasmine - Almond meringue layer cake with choco-passion mousse and raspberry moussePoached pears and spicy chocolate saucePear and ginger crumbleStewed pears, candied lemon peel and almond tilesChestnut and Hazelnut cake

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