Strawberry Charlotte Russe

In further efforts to continue to use up the massive Jell-O stash I came back from the US with, I decided to whip up one last summery dessert as these days are feeling more like Indian Summer than fall here in Edinburgh, and of course because I didn't want to eat an entire charlotte by myself (or even with Judson's help), I sent it to work with him. But I guess I didn't do a good enough job of explaining to him what it was, because the next time I ran into his coworkers at a happy hour a few days later, they all thanked me for 'the pink Jell-O cake', which actually only sounds marginally weirder than what a charlotte actually is.

This is one of those desserts I've always wanted to try (probably because my favourite shop as a kid was named after it) but never really had any idea what it was or how to make it, and the little amount of knowledge I had about it had me thinking it was way too difficult to experiment with. In doing some research before I started this, I learned that this is, in fact, a charlotte russe, differentiated from a regular charlotte by the fact that it's filled with fruit and bavarian cream (itself differentiated from pastry cream by the presence of gelatin) rather than cake or... other stuff. Confusingly, a charlotte royale is also completely different, being surrounded by swiss roll instead of lady fingers.

Lining for the pan

Lining for the pan

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It turns out it's not too difficult (as long as you start with pre-made lady fingers!*), but it is a pretty weird dessert so I don't know that I'll be making it again any time soon. It's good if you have a large group you're making it for, because you're not going to want more than one slice of it and it's not a dessert that keeps well.

*Ok, so my grocery store used to sell lady fingers, and I always wondered why because they're a pretty boring biscuit. Of course, as soon as I decided to make this recipe, ALL OF THE supermarkets in Edinburgh seemed to stop selling them at once. I eventually found a single package at my local Scotmid... but when I unwrapped them, it turned out they read 'BOUDOIR' on one side. Why??

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The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. Overall, it was totally worth it and I recommend making it if you really love pink... or if you have one last summer fling before autumn starts.

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two years ago: Crab Souffle

the recipe:

Strawberry Charlotte Russe

the directions:

Line the sides of a springform tin with parchment or waxed paper.
Cut ladyfingers in half and arrange them vertically around the edge of the pan, flat side down. (Note that I was afraid the charlotte would be so deep that I only cut the ends off. This was unnecessary and meant that I didn't have enough pieces to fully surround the charlotte. If you're using a standard 8 or 9-inch springform pan, you'll only need lady fingers that are about 1 1/2 inches tall, so you can slice the cookies in half without a problem).
Set prepared pan aside while you prepare the filling.
Place gelatin in a large bowl and pour boiling water over.
Stir well until dissolved, then set aside.
Combine strawberries, lemon juice, sugar and salt.
Stir until sugar is dissolved, then add to gelatin mixture.
Gently fold in whipped cream, then spoon or pour carefully into the prepared pan.
Chill until firm, at least 5 hours, but preferably overnight.
Remove the sides of springform pan and the waxed paper.
Decorate top with additional whipped cream and whole strawberries.

the ingredients:

1 pkg lady fingers
6 oz. strawberry gelatin (powdered)
2 c boiling water
1 ½ c strawberries, lightly crushed + additional whole strawberries for decorating
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ c sugar
1/8 tsp salt
2 c whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks + additional for decorating

Strawberry Cobbler with Black Pepper Biscuit Crust

You know when you see those tarts at cheap bakeries that have a strawberry on top covered in the most artificial looking red glaze? I’m about to teach you how to make that glaze and SURPRISE it’s totally non-artificial and also really tasty.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a plain strawberry pie before. Strawberries always seem to be adorned with rhubarb or jello or baked into cakes or uncooked in shortcakes, so I was excited to try this one out, especially because strawberries in Edinburgh right now are really good… And most of all, because I FINALLY GOT A DOUBLE-BOILER! No more faking it with the bowl of my scale over a boiling pot or just turning the burner to the lowest possible flame and hoping for the best, or microwaving things in short bursts to try to catch the chocolate before it scorches, because I have a double-boiler (and this is really pedantic but I’m most excited that it matches the rest of my pots).

So last weekend, when it was far too hot to actually turn on the stove in our sans-AC apartment, I whipped up this pie… er, cobbler… pobbler? And the results were… confusing.

Look how shiny!

Look how shiny!

Pros:

  • This pobbler is delicious. I would stir the strawberry filling into yoghurt or vanilla ice cream or cream cheese for spreading on the most decadent crumpet or eat it straight off the spoon.
  • It’s easy: if you have a well-stocked pantry, you probably only need to buy one or maximum two ingredients to make this (the strawberries and crust or biscuits to make a crust).
  • It’s personalisable: have some raspberries about to go off? Throw ‘em in with the strawberries, or add a grind or two of fresh black pepper to your strawberry mix. Garnish with mint leaves instead of whipped cream if you’re trying to take it to a picnic.
  • It involves whipped cream, and we all know how I feel about that.

Cons:

  • The crust is so crumbly that it just kind of sticks to the berries and you kind of have to spoon it out (not slive it) which is why I am hesitant to truly call it a pie. While this doesn’t affect the flavour, it does make it a bit messier.
  • As originally written, the recipe didn’t make as much filling as I’d want to fill my standard-sized pie dish, and even though I ‘double-boiled’ the filling for close to 30 minutes until it was very thick, it still didn’t ‘slice’ into neat slices, but rather heaped onto the plate.

Overall, though, I’m not complaining too much: this dessert slumped its way into my heart with its colourful filling, crispy crust and whipped cream garnish, and anything that makes use of seasonal produce is always a plus in my book.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. I would 100% make this again, but I feel like the fact that it’s trying to masquerade as a pie when it clearly is not a pie is probably enough to knock it down a couple of spoons.

One year ago: Hungarian Chocolate cake
Two years ago: Sugar crisps

The recipe:

Strawberry Cobbler with Black Pepper Biscuit Crust

The directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Combine butter, biscuit crumbs and pepper and press into an 8-inch pie dish.
Bake crust for 7 minutes until golden, then set aside.
Slice stems off of berries, then place berries, sugar and lemon juice in double-boiler.
Dissolve cornflour in water, add to mixture in double-boiler and and cook until very thick (this will take up to 20 minutes, depending on the size of your double-boiler and berries.
Place filling in refrigerator and allow to cool to room temperature.
Pour filling into prepared shell and cover with whipped cream.
Decorate with reserved berries, refrigerate until well-chilled, then serve- probably in bowls.

The ingredients:

2 tbsp butter, melted
½ c digestive biscuit crumbs
¼ tsp black pepper
2 c strawberries, plus additional berries for garnish
1 c sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
3 drops almond extract
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch if you're in the US)
¼ c water
2 c whipping cream
1 tbsp powdered sugar

Strawberry Cake for Celebrating

As of last month, we’ve been married for five years. It may not be much, but it's an impressive feat for us nonetheless: we’ve survived a transatlantic move, grad school (probably harder on the partner than it was on the attendee), combining apartments and moving houses, trips to more countries than I can count, and one really weird raging fever virus that put me down so hard I missed a week and a half of work. Our five years has included an awful lot of costumes, parties, starting new jobs, applying for visas, eating amazing food, doing dumb things to make the other one laugh, and most of all, some insanely delicious meals.

…And also some pretty rough ones. We can’t be perfect all the time, in the kitchen or in life.

So to celebrate, I did what I always do: I made a cake.

This year's anniversary didn't look quite the same as anniversaries of years past: there was the year we escaped to a cabin in the mountains where it started snowing just as soon as we climbed in the hot tub; the year we visited thousand-year-old churches in Durham, England; the year we hung out poolside on a Spanish island off the coast of Africa... and then there was this year, where our passports were stuck at border patrol because we had to renew them because we both filled ours at the same time. We were stuck in Edinburgh, but we made the best of it with a fancy dinner for two and a giant slab of this cake for each of us.

And honestly, it's been a long time since I've been as proud of a thing I baked as I am of this cake. Not only did I not have access to yellow cake mix, but I also didn't have any Jell-O mix of the appropriate flavour- and I can't find a shop that sells it here, so there was a lot of making do on this recipe. A lot of times during the process when I thought 'Now I've definitely ruined it,' but I kept on going and wouldn't you know it? The cake surprised me after all.

So in honour of the last five years, the good, the bad and the wonderful that came along with it, and the most challenging US-UK baking conversion I've had to date, here's the recipe for the moistest, most delicious strawberry cake I've ever tasted. From Mrs. Coderre to Mary Marx to me and now to you, I recommend you make this ASAP while strawberries are still in season and ready to be picked... even without the icing, this cake is worth it.

Some notes:

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If you're stateside, I recommend following the directions as printed in the photo of the recipe, because I have no idea how to compare the 'jelly'* I used to what you can get in the US.** If you're not into frosting, you can totally leave it off and this cake wouldn't suffer for it- yes, it's that good- but feel free to swap the frosting for barely-sweetened fresh whipped cream instead. After you add the strawberries to the batter, the mixture will look thin and curdled, but don't fret- it will all come together in the end!

*Note that 'jelly' in this recipe refers to the UK form of jelly, which in the US would be gelatin or Jell-O.

**Jell-O brand isn't widely available in the UK- at least in my city- so I used the only brand of gelatin dessert carried by my supermarket- Hartley's. This comes as partially-constituted, very firm gelatin cubes which need to be full rehydrated by adding boiling water and cold water. I don't know what the benefit of this is as opposed to the powdered type you can find stateside as they both seem to be full of preservatives, take up the same space on a shelf, and come in similar-sized packages, but it seems to be the only way it's found here, and this is the first time I've worked with it. It's weird, but not any weirder than the powdered version I'm (marginally) used to.

The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. This cake is both fresh and satisfying, and it tastes like the kind of thing your grandmother would have made if your grandmother was anything like mine. It's the kind of thing you want to dig into a slice of after a light springtime dinner... or maybe for breakfast, I won't tell.

One year ago: Yum Yum Punch
Two years ago: Magic Bars

the recipe:

Strawberry Cake

Cake recipe adapted from smittenkitchen.com, where I found a reliable, from-scratch yellow cake recipe to use as my jumping point.

the directions:
cake:

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Add boiling water to jelly, stir well and set aside.
Grease 2 cake pans, then line bottoms with parchment paper.
Sift together flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda and salt, then set aside.
Add lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt to milk and set aside.
Beat butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add vanilla and mix to combine.
Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
At low speed, stir in milk mixture, jelly mixture and muddled berries with their juices until just combined (mixture will look curdled).
Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles.
Bake until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out very slightly sticky, 35 to 45 minutes.
Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove from pan and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

Cream butter and powdered sugar until light coloured and slightly fluffy.
Mixture will be very thick.
Beat in berries and mix until light and fluffy.
Frost between layers and on top cake, using additional strawberries for garnish as desired.

the ingredients:
the cake:

1 c boiling water
1 pkg strawberry jelly (if in the UK)
4 c flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp table salt
1 c milk (scant)
1 tbsp lemon juice, vinegar or yogurt
1 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 c strawberries, sliced and muddled

 

 

 


the frosting:

½ c butter, room temperature
2 c powdered sugar, sifted
½ c fresh strawberries, sliced and muddled
Additional strawberries for garnish