"I want a bouquet of berries!"
That’s what my friend Laura exclaimed when we met at the florist to talk bouquets for her upcoming wedding.
"You mean…for real..or on your cake, as a separate flavors, as favors? What? What?"…
Can’t you just sense the panic in my voice? Lord knows I love Laura, I laugh with her, cry with her, call her crazy and yet, I never know when she is joking when she is in charge of making decisions. See, Laura has already changed her mind 3 times for her dress…after it was bought. The ceremony has been changed just about everytime the wind changed direction, the vows?…typed, backspaced, saved, erased, and started over countless times. A couple of things have remained: the groom is still "The Original One" as we have nicknamed Jason, her husband to be, and as always her group of friends has vowed to throw her into the pool after the big event.
I met her while at the restaurant, she was waiting tables and quickly volunteered to be my dessert guinea pig. Laura loves to organize big parties, Halloween bashes, fundraising dinners, etc…and she is good at it. She knows to bring people together, her diplomacy is impeccable and she never loses her cool…but she ended up in the pool more times than she remembers. Over the years we have learned to let her talk and scribble away and wait a couple of days for the finalized plan.
So when she said she wanted a bouquet of berries, I, on the other hand saw a big blue pool… I should have trusted her and let her finish her sentence instead. Had I paid attention, I would have noticed that she was on the phone with Old Chef telling him she did not want a wedding cake but a couple of plated desserts. There will be a mini version of Jason’s favorite, Carrot Cake, made by our friend C., the other pastry chef in the group, and I would make Laura a dessert that represents her. Except nothing really "represents" Laura given her ever changing nature. I threw some ideas to her and finally drew sketches of charlottes made of thin toasted coconut ladyfingers, filled with a raspberry mousse and topped with whipped cream to evoke the white of her wedding dress and topped with berries….a bouquet of berries. One decision made, 85 of these to make for her wedding this coming Saturday.
When I make charlottes at home for the family, I like to use savoiardi cookies, not that I am lazy to make my own but they remind me of my grandparents who always kept a box in their pantry. My grandma would give us some to dunk in our tea or hot chocolate and we had a contest to see who could dip the longest without the cookie disintegrate on them. My grandfather would give us some whenever the adults had Champagne so we could get a little taste. I have to admit though that eating freshly made ladyfingers ranks as high as eating freshly cooked sables or shortbreads…very high. Before you run away when you look at the recipe: once again I am a big advocate of spreading plated desserts preparationover a couple of days if you need. Make the ladyfingers one day and store them in the fridge in a tight container and tackle the mousse the next.
For Laura’s dessert, it was easier to make them and pipe the batter thin to mimic flower stems. The mousse base is a quick Chiboust cream where instead of the traditional Italian Meringue, whipped cream is added to a creme anglaise base and held with some gelatin. There are also two kinds of Chiboust, one with creme anglaise, one with pastry cream, I went for the former. We went for raspberries but strawberries or other would work quite well. For work production purposes I purchased frozen organic raspberries, let them thawed and mashed them before adding them to the mousse base. I like to fold the fruit base into the whipped cream and not the other way around. I find it more consistent, faster and more reliable, but you will read different directions on the subject so experience to find the one you like best.
Toasted Coconut And Raspberry Charlottes:
Makes 6, 3 inch wide charlottes
For the ladyfingers:
1/2 cup (65 grams) cake flour
3 large eggs yolks
1/2 cup (1oo grams) sugar, divided
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
pinch of salt
1/2 cup to 3/4 grated coconut (both unsweet or sweet are fine)
– Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
– Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment and beat the egg yolks with 1/4 cup of the sugar until thick and pale yellow at high speed for about 5 minutes. Add the orange blossom water and give the mixer another quick whirl to combine.
– Transfer the batter to a bowl, and sift the cake flour over it but do not fold it in yet.Wash your mixer’s bowl thoroughly before proceeding with the egg whites.
– Fit your mixer with the whisk attachment and whip the egg whites until foamy. Add the pinch of salt and increase the speed and whip until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and whip until stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the egg yolk and flour mixture in three additions, mixing just until incorporated. Do not over fold or you will loose air and the cookies will turn flat.
– Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitting with narrow tip (I used Ateco #807) and pipe the batter into 6 3 inch circles first, then continue with the remaining batter to make 4 inch long ladyfingers.keeping one inch space in between them. Feel free to draw circles and lines on the parchment paper and to invert it prior to baking (so you don’t get ink or pencil lines on your cookies) as a guide.
– Sprinkle as little as 1/2 cup to as much as 3/4 cup of grated coconut, depending on your taste.
Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the ladyfingers are firm but only slightly browned and are spongy when pressed with a finger.
– Remove them from the oven and let the baking sheets cool on wire rack for a few minutes. It will be easier to remove the cookies from the parchment paper if you do so when they are still a little warm. Once lifted from the paper, let the cookies cool completely on wire racks before using them.
For the raspberry mousse:
250 ml (1 cup) milk
1/4 cup (55 grams) sugar
3 egg yolks
2 tsp Chambord
2 tsp powdered gelatin + 1/4 cup cold water
1 1/2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and mashed with a fork
3/4 cup heavy cream
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside to bloom.
In a medium bowl, whisk the sugar and egg yolks until pale yellow. In the meantime time, in a medium saucepan, heat the milk to boiling point. Slowly pour some of the hot milk over the egg yolks to temper them. Add the remaining milk in one steady stream, whisking well. Pour the liquid back into the saucepan, and cook over medium low heat until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat, add the Chambord, raspberries and gelatin and stir until the latter is completely dissolved.
Let cool to room temperature. In a large bowl or in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream to soft peaks. Incorporate the raspberry base in 2 additions into the cream. Use immediately.
To assemble the charlottes:
Place 6 rings onto a parchment line baking sheet. Line 6 rings with parchment paper, place a disk of ladyfinger cookie at the bottom and line the inside with as many fingers as will fit in them. Divide the mousse evenly in between the rings. Refrigerate until completely set.
When ready to serve, unmold the charlottes and top with whipped cream and fresh berries.