Strawberries flown in from some foreign land were on sale at the supermarket the other day and despite my misgivings at their carbon footprint I decided to buy some and to make a Charlotte aux fraises or Strawberry Charlotte.
What is a Strawberry Charlotte, you might rightly ask? The first reply that comes to mind is “delicious” but that doesn’t get you very far ahead so I’ll be more specific, shall I? Well, that’s a taller request than I had anticipated. I grabbed Harold McGee’s “McGee on Food & Cooking” and found nothing. My “Larousse Gastronomique” made the distinction between a Charlotte russe and a Fruit Charlotte but didn’t get an awful lot more specific than that. Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” has several recipes but no history. On the internet I found multiple variations of the same unsatisfactory information and another 23 spyware cookies into the bargain. As an indication of its popularity I did find an entire French website dedicated to this delightful dessert, http://www.charlotte-aux-fraises.info/. Perhaps the best article is on What’s Cooking America where Linda Stradley’s article regroups (and properly references, I might add) all the information I have seen elsewhere.
Basically, a Charlotte is a chilled, moulded dessert made from fruit, sponge fingers and cream or custard. Despite being a classic French recipe made famous by Marie Antonin Carême it reputedly originates here in England. A Charlotte aux Fraises is a Charlotte made with strawberries and perhaps the best description I have found appears in “Le Cordon Bleu At Home” (1999, Hearst Books, New York) which describes the Strawberry Charlotte as “the most refined way imaginable to eat strawberries and cream.” That sounds pretty good to me!
As I originally said, it is delicious, light and quite simple to make in the Thermomix. When I first made it I made enough for 50 people as dessert for Tongham Village Hall’s Champagne Gala Fundraising Dinner, so believe me, you can do it!
This recipe is adapted from the recipe for Charlotte aux fruits rouges (summer fruit charlotte) in “à table avec Thermomix,” the French Thermomix cookbook published by Vorwerk, and a recipe by renowned Michelin-starred French chef Joël Robuchon. It calls for biscuits roses de Reims, which are rectangular pink sponge fingers traditionally made in the French city of Reims in the Champagne region. Double-baked for crunchiness, biscuits roses de Reims were originally dunked in Champagne to soften them but have since been widely used in desserts and other confections. If you don’t have a specialist shop near you which stocks them, you can either pick some up the next time you go to the supermarket in France ( ! ) or purchase them online.
My Charlotte is composed of three main components: a coulis de fraises or strawberry sauce mixed with egg yolks and gelatine to make a mousse; whipped crème fraîche; the biscuits roses de Reims and a syrup to moisten them with; and fresh strawberries. Three components are made in the Thermomix and then assembled with the biscuits roses de Reims and the strawberries. While each component is simple to make, the steps are intertwined to save time so I have listed them in numerical order so you can tick (check) them off as you go along.
A traditional Charlotte is made in a slant-sided Charlotte mould and unmolded before serving. For ease in serving 50 portions I have used a medium-sized rectangular dish and did not unmold.
Madame Thermomix’s Charlotte aux Fraises
Adapted from “à table avec Thermomix” and a recipe by Joël Robuchon. Serves 6 to 8.
Note: To be made ahead as this recipe requires 12 hours of chilling before serving.
Ingredients for the syrup
300 g water
100 g sugar
30 g fruit-based alcohol such as Kirsch
Ingredients for the Coulis
250 g strawberries, fresh or frozen and completely thawed
60 g sugar
1 Tbsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 to 2 Tbsp honey
1 pinch of white pepper
Ingredients for the charlotte mixture
30 fresh strawberries
14 to 20 biscuits roses de Reims (or substitute sponge fingers)
200 g crème fraîche, very cold
80 g granulated sugar
2 leaves/sheets of gelatine
2 egg yolks
30 g granulated sugar
10 g corn flour/corn starch
- Prepare for the syrup: Place water, sugar and Kirsch for the syrup in a bowl to dissolve; set aside.
- Make the coulis: Quickly wash and then stem 250 g strawberries.
- Add all the ingredients for the coulis to the Thermomix bowl and cook 90 ° C/5 minutes/Speed 3.
- Mix 20 seconds/Speed 5. Reserve in a jug or bowl. No need to clean the Thermomix bowl at this stage.
- Make the syrup that will moisten the biscuits roses de Reims by placing the previously dissolved water, sugar and Kirsch into the Thermomix bowl and cooking Varoma setting/5 minutes/Speed 1. Tip into a shallow dish and leave to cool.
- Thoroughly clean and de-grease the Thermomix bowl and cool in cold water before reassembling.
- Whip the crème fraîche into Chantilly cream: Weigh the icing sugar into the clean Thermomix bowl. Grind 5 seconds/Speed 10 to make icing sugar. Insert the butterfly whisk. Weigh in the crème fraîche and whisk on Speed 3 until it just starts to look whipped. This could happen very quickly so be careful! Scrape out into a bowl and keep in the refrigerator. No need to clean the Thermomix bowl at this stage.
- Cut the gelatine sheets into fours and soften in a bowl of cold water; reserve.
- Prepare the mould: Dip each biscuit rose de Reims into the syrup and distribute evenly around the sides and bottom of the mould or dish, cutting them to size if required. Note: if you choose to unmold your Charlotte before serving, line your dish with cling film/plastic wrap.
- Quickly wash and then stem the strawberries for the Charlotte. Slice them in half lengthwise and set aside.
- Add the egg yolks into the Thermomix bowl and weigh in the granulated sugar. Mix 1 minute/Speed 7. Scrape the sides of the bowl with the spatula. Add the corn starch/corn flour; stir 10 seconds/Speed 1. Add 150 g of your reserved coulis de fraises.
- Cook and stir the mixture on Varoma setting/5 minutes/Speed 1.
- Remove the softened gelatine from the bowl and squeeze it between your fingers. Add it to the mixture in the Thermomix bowl and mix 1 minute/Speed 3. Tip and scrape out into a mixing bowl and let cool.
- When the mixture is cool, add 1/3 of the Chantilly crème fraîche and whisk until combined. Add the remaining Chantilly and mix gently with a spatula.
- Now assemble the charlotte by covering the biscuits roses de Reims in the mould with half of the cooled mixture. Cover with halved strawberries. Top with the remaining half of the cooled mixture and decorate with the remaining strawberries.
- Cover with cling film/plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 12 hours before serving, accompanied by the rest of the strawberry coulis. Note: traditionally, the coulis is to be served next to the charlotte and not to be poured over it.
Bon appétit !