Monthly Miettes: Strawberry Charlotte

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Dear readers, I must apologize for the lateness of July’s Monthly Miettes challenge. First of all, when I read in Meg Ray’s Miette that the Strawberry Charlotte is considered to be a “challenging” cake I kinda freaked out. I mean if the professionals think it’s hard to do am I even gonna stand a chance?! Then between the kids’ summer camps and family vacations I suddenly found myself at the end of the month with one heck of an intimidating cake still to make. Trust me when I say I was crossing all of my fingers and toes!

The Strawberry Charlotte truly showcases the beauty of strawberries and is best made when these berries are at their peak. It is a light, cool dessert that is perfect to serve when you find yourself craving something sweet but you’d rather die than turn on your oven and add to the shimmery heat wave in your kitchen. In the Miette version of this dessert, sponge cake is brushed with raspberry simple syrup and then layered with a fruit purée mousse, the exterior surrounded by a band of ladyfingers, and a final crown of fresh strawberries decorates the top. Needless to say this cake will make a stunning entrance onto your dinning room table, one that is sure to elicit “ooohs” and “ahhhs” from your guests.

The results of my Strawberry Charlotte were magnificent both in appearance and taste. The journey to get to the finished product? Not so pretty! Because of the numerous steps involved in making this dessert, I decided to tackle one element each day.

Day One: Hot Milk Cake
Get your digital thermometers ready folks – it’s time to make Hot Milk Cake! A hot milk cake is basically an alternative to traditional white cake. Similar to a sponge cake due to its wonderfully dense and moist texture, the taste of this cake is simple and pure with a delicate buttery flavour. (I recommend heeding the recipe’s advice to read through the “Cake-Baking Essentials” section of the book, as there are some great tips and advice that will help with all of your future baking) 

In a nutshell? Sift dry ingredients, heat butter and milk mixture and let cool to 80 – 85 degrees F but keep whisking so it doesn’t separate, warm sugar and egg mixture over a double boiler until it reaches 110 degrees F and pour through sieve and whisk until cooled to 80 – 85 degrees F, add dry ingredients followed by milk mixture and then breathe a huge sigh of relief as you (finally) get to throw it in the oven. The nice part is that once the hot milk cakes are made they can be wrapped in plastic and kept in the fridge for a couple of days, or in the freezer for up to two months. (Be sure to remove the cakes from the pan while slightly warm. DO NOT get distracted by wine and past episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and end up prying them painfully from the pan hours later)

Day Two: Ladyfingers
That’s right; we’re making ladyfingers from scratch! I have to say that I really enjoyed making these oval-shaped cookies. The texture of the batter is very light and fluffy, making it fun to pipe across a baking sheet. Each ladyfinger needs to be placed in close proximity to the others in order for them to rise while baking and join together, creating the band of cookies needed to wrap around the cake. (If the idea of making ladyfingers from scratch scares the pants off you, there is no shame in using store bought cookies but you will need to place them individually around the cake)

Day Three: Raspberry Simple Syrup & Strawberry Mousse
Ahhh…yes. Simple syrup. Enjoy this step as it is the easiest part of making this cake! A dash of raspberry eau-de-vie provides the syrup with a lovely fruity flavour that would also be delicious in a cocktail.

For the mousse, five cups of fresh strawberries are stewed over low heat until they have released 1¼ cups of their precious juices. Once cooled, gelatin is sprinkled over ¾ cup and added back to the remainder of the juice when rewarmed. Once everything is cooled for what feels like the millionth time, fold whipped cream into the strawberry mixture and use immediately or store in the fridge for up to three days.

Cake Assembly:
My journey with this epic Strawberry Charlotte was coming to an end. It was at this point that I had to hobble to the closest medical clinic after a bee sting became severely infected. What was it about me and this cake?! Would it ever get finished?!

By the time I got around to assembling the cake I was near tears with pain and frustration (enter violins). Trying to keep my foot elevated and iced while putting together the Charlotte was tricky to say the least, but with some help from my hubby I’m proud to say this cake and I finally crossed the finish line.

So how did it taste? Couldn’t tell ya. After all that work I wasn’t able to eat it as my medication meant no dairy (enter more violins). But everyone raved about the light texture that was the perfect end to a big meal, how it wasn’t overly sweet, and the way in which the true taste of strawberries was able to shine. Because I only had 9×3” cake pans the Charlotte was much larger than specified in the recipe, and as a result mine lacked the mile high quantity of strawberry mousse.

I definitely want the opportunity to taste this beauty of a cake. Guess that means I’ll be making this recipe again one day – but not anytime soon!

For more information on Monthly Miettes or if you’re interested in participating, please visit Food: Je t’Aimée