I'm always under the impression that the taller a cake, the harder it was to make. Take a three tiered wedding cake with three different flavors and various filling and frosting flavors. Not an easy go, right?
Well, you might counter that most two-layer cakes aren't really a big deal to bake--a simple chocolate cake with chocolate ganache, for example, or a spicy carrot cake. Sure, maybe you're right, but I like to think of tall cakes as being all special and fancy, therefore time consuming.
Back in Berlin, where I just spent a week, I was told there would be layer cakes galore. To my surprise, there were more fruit tarts and "simple" cakes than anything else. Notice I say to my surprise and not my disappointment. How would anyone ever be disappointed by a rhubarb crumble cake? Wait, let me add to that: How would anyone ever be disappointed by a rhubarb crumble cake eaten sitting on lounge chairs by a lake in the sun? That's better. And yes, that was a rhetorical question, because even if you didn't like rhubarb you would have loved this cake.
Anyway, tall cakes are a festive treat for me, and I can't find anything better to celebrate than the beginning of summer. France has finally gotten warm again, and a trip to Saint Dié was in order a week ago when I got back from the States. As you may know by now, Saint Dié for me means family, obviously, but also a big kitchen and an array of pans I have absolutely no space for in Paris.
Tall cake craving + cake-specific pan = Charlotte aux Fraises!
Can you keep a secret? A strawberry charlotte is tall, but it isn't really hard to make. Just forget you ever read that now, and pretend it took you a few grueling hours next time you make it.
In many countries, a charlotte is actually made with bread, but in France the ladyfingers--called biscuits à la cuillère over here--take over. Inside the fortification of ladyfingers, a charlotte houses a sweet mousse of any kind of fruit you'd like. Strawberry is a classic, and they are in season, so I went with that. You could definitely make your own ladyfingers for this, but nice ones are easily found in France and buying them made it all that easier.
Paired with some fresh strawberries on the side and a few sprigs of mint, this is a really nice summertime dessert--and just might satisfy your next craving for a tall cake.
Charlotte aux Fraises
Note: You'll need a pan that is round and high for this recipe if you don't have a special charlotte pan--you could even use a bowl with high and relatively straight sides. A fluted brioche pan works just fine, too.
3/4 c. (140g) granulated sugar
1/2 TB raspberry alcohol (or any other fruit that would pair nicely with strawberries)
3/4 TB (10g, or 5 sheets) gelatin
1 pound (500g) strawberries, hulled--save 4 large or 6 medium and cut sideways into slices
1 3/4 c. heavy cream (approx. 45 cl, very cold
1 TB confectioner's sugar
Bring 3/4 c. of water and 1/3 c. + 1 TB of the granulated sugar to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from heat and let cool; add alcohol.
If using sheet gelatin, place in a bowl of cold water for 5 to 10 minutes. (Instructions for powdered gelatin come later.)
Place strawberries (except the sliced ones) in a blender with the juice of one lemon and blend until smooth. Press into a sieve to obtain a smooth puree. Put about one quarter of the coulis in a separate bowl, and sprinkle powdered gelatin on top if using. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.
Heat the coulis mixed with gelatin on low heat, and mix in remaining granulated sugar. If using sheet gelatin, wring it to remove all excess water and add to mixture. Once gelatin and sugar have dissolved, remove from heat and mix the warm and cold coulis. Let cool at room temperature, and place in freezer for ten minutes to thicken (or refrigerator for thirty minutes).
With a stand or handheld mixer, beat heavy cream to stiff peaks, incorporating confectioner's sugar when soft peaks form. Make sure heavy cream is cold enough--it can be placed in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to beating if necessary. Place whipped cream in refrigerator until use.
In a large bowl, delicately mix whipped cream and strawberry coulis until combined.
Set pan on a workspace. Working one by one, lightly dip each ladyfinger into the prepared syrup and place in pan. For the top of the cake, place smooth side against the pan. For the sides, place ladyfingers rounded side against the pan.
Pour 1/3 of whipped cream mixture into pan, topping with half of the sliced strawberries. Pour another 1/3 on top, followed by strawberries, and the remaining cream. If you have extra cream, leave it in the refrigerator to use for decorating the cake when serving.
Top whipped cream with one last layer of ladyfingers dipped in syrup, to 'close' the cake. Cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
When serving, gently flip pan over onto a plate. Garnish with reserved whipped cream, strawberries, and mint.