This Charlotte would be great for Spring or Summer but it just happened that I made it for our New Year's Day dinner with my parents-in-law. Really, I could not be a luckier girl having Bill and Ruth as my in-laws. I will always remember the first time we broke bread and sat together over dinner. I had known B. a little over a week and already I was taken in by his family as if I had always belonged. They were offering a place at their table but also a place in their hearts, completely trusting their son that this young woman of 19 years his junior and potential wife number 2 was the one who would stick around. Oh, we had our moments Ruth and I, but mostly due to misunderstandings, differences in traditions and cultures, but nothing that could not get solved around a batch of cookies and a big hug. My father in law is the looser one of the couple, a free spirit, a joker, and a talented drummer. Both in their eighties, they never miss a bit, are always on the go and exercise religiously. They are also true Southerners.
Although I try to cook items from my country and from Bill's childhood, I know better than to attempt his mom's squash casserole, her tomatoes and okra and her spinach souffle. Mom Ruth is also the one gathering up the troops for New Year's Day every year, so I was really surprised not to hear from her right after Christmas to tell us what time lunch would be on January 1st. Hmmm, strange...While grocery shopping, I could not helped being sidetracked by all the people shopping for the different things traditionally cooked that day: pork, hoppin' Johns and collard greens. I called Ruth and told them that I would love to have them over for New Year's Day if they did not have other plans. Invitation accepted...now what have I thrown myself into? I know how to cook, (thank you mom) but "Southern cooking served to your Southern mother in-law" is a whole different ball game!!! That's when Beverly came to my rescue and put all the necessary items in my cart, with all the necessary how-to's and off I went! Once home, B. told me I was brave to venture into his mom's territory and I quickly replied "don't worry! she is bringing the rice with tomatoes and okra". Sigh of relief from my husband...
So, with everything in pots Monday afternoon, ham hocks included, my biggest preoccupation was of course what dessert to serve to the in-laws. I know they like creamy things, fruits chocolate and mousses. How can I turn that into something that would bring both our cultures and continents together as we celebrate the New Year? I immediately thought about a Charlotte filled with a light white chocolate Bavarian cream and topped with pears. The cake base is a layer of ladyfingers at the bottom and surrounding the mousse. To make the cookies more manageable to handle, you need to dip them quickly in some liquid. I usually do water and Grand Marnier but you can use another liqueur or do water and orange juice if you wish. I used jarred pears for the top because the ones I found at the markets were either rock solid or mush, and the stove was already too crowded to start poaching fruit. The Charlotte has to be started the day before to allow the Bavarian cream to set, which gives you less things to think about as you're getting the house ready for company. Choose the best white chocolate you can find, not only will it make a difference in the final product but you will also avoid little bits and lumps in the mousse.
I don't know if my in-laws were giddy from the Champagne or the wine or the meal, but we had a great time, just the four of us. It reminded us of the 15 months we went to live with them while we were building our house. No casualties, and we were a little sad to leave them as they can be a hoot! Youwee! Mission accomplished...I passed that test! Mama Ruth complimented me on the savories (and that is a big deal!) while Papa Bill had seconds of the cake. I made Kalyn's wonderful soup the day after with the leftover peas,hams and greens, and I am enjoying a bowl right now as I type this.
Pear White Chocolate Bavarian Charlotte:
2 packs ladyfingers cookies
1 jar of pear halves (16 oz)
2 cups heavy cream
3 (1/4-ounce) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/3 cups cold water
6 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
2 cups whole milk
6 oz (3/4 cup) white chocolate
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
In a shallow dish, mix the water and Grand Marnier. Dip the ladyfingers in the liquid and quickly set them around the inside of an eight inch spring form pan lined with plastic wrap. Layer about 12 in a flower like patter at the bottom of the pan. Set aside in the refrigerator.
For the Bavarian:
Sprinkle the gelatin over the 1/3 cup of water and set aside. Whip the cream to soft peaks and refrigerate until ready to use.
Pour the milk into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together until thickened and a pale yellow color. Slowly but steadily add the hot milk, stirring constantly to temper the yolks. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened (much like creme anglaise). Remove from the heat and add the chocolate, let it sit for a minute and whisk until incorporated.
Heat the gelatin 10 seconds in the microwave, add it to the white chocolate batter whisking constantly. Strain if necessary to make sure there are no chocolate lumps. Let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator and fold it into the white chocolate cream.
Carefully pour it into the spring form pan. Put the cake back into the refrigerator and allow to set overnight.
The day you plan to serve the cake, carefully unlock the spring form pan and slide the cake out. Put a plate on top, invert, remove the spring form bottom, the plastic wrap. Put a plate on top of what will be your cake bottom and invert again. Proceed with a steady hand, but do not worry, the mousse is set so you won't smoosh it down.
Cut the pear halves into thin slices and fan them out on the top of the cake. Leave it in the refrigerator until ready to serve.