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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Charlotte Russe with Strawberries

On a recent trip to my dentist (I needed a replacement for a tooth bond), I had to wait a few minutes before going in, and I started looking through the magazines in the waiting room.  I found a May 2010 issue of the Food Network Magazine and started to look at the recipes.  I immediately saw a recipe titled “Alex’s Mom: Charlotte Russe with Raspberries”.  This is a recipe provided by Alexandra Guarnaschelli and it looked delicious and decedent!  The receptionist at the dentist office was kind enough to copy the recipe for me before I left.

When I returned home, the copy of the recipe was dark, so I decided to check the FoodNetwork web site and see it the recipe was published.  The recipe is on the site, but I immediately noticed that it had five reviews and all of them bad.  I thought that was strange that a recipe published in the magazine would have all the documented problems.  The main complaints were about the use of the gelatin and how it hardened into an unusable mass.  I almost decided to pass on the recipe.

Another look and I saw that the recipe posted on the web site was different from the recipe in the magazine.  The website called for mixing two packets of gelatin with two tablespoons of water, the magazine specified three tablespoons.  I could see why the gelatin, without enough water was ruined.

This weekend some friends invited us over for a hike and dinner and asked if I would bring a dessert.  I though this would be the prefect time to try this recipe.  I would make it the night before and if it failed, I would make something else the next morning.

I reviewed all the steps of the recipe and realized that the first step of adding the gelatin to the water and letting it sit for five minutes should be near the end.  No wonder everyone had such problems.  The gelatin would sit way too long before it was added to the rest of the ingredients.  I decided to mix the gelatin later in the process.

I started by getting out two large saucepans, put about an inch of water inside and put top of the range to heat.  In a large metal bowl, I placed four ounces from a large bar of Hershey’s Special Dark Chocolate finely chopped.  I placed that bowl on top of one of the saucepans to heat the chocolate.  I put the 2 1/2 cups of 2% milk in a glass measuring cup in the microwave for two minute to heat.

Into another large metal mixing bowl, I added the eight egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract and whisked the contents.  I placed this bowl over the second saucepan to heat.  The recipe has both bowls heating while stirring for about five minute.  At this point I set the timer for five minute and in a small glass bowl, added the gelatin to the water and stirred.

Once the chocolate was melted I removed the bowl from the heat and slowly whisked in the warm milk, but it did not seem to fully mix together.  There were very small pieces of the chocolate that didn’t mix into the milk.  Maybe I needed to use a hand mixer to integrate the warm chocolate into the milk. 

At the end of the five minutes, the egg mixture was hot and the sugar had melted so the mixture was creamy.  I took a look at the gelatin and quickly saw that it would not last through the next step without turning rock hard, so I dumped the container and mixed another.

I slowly stirred the chocolate mixture to the yolk mixture and let this heat on the indirect heat for another five minute.  I removed the bowl from the heat, used a whisk to add the gelatin mixture, and made sure it was well mixed.  I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator to cool for an hour.  After an hour I checked and it the mixture was still very runny, but around the edges it had started to become firm, so according to the recipe, it was time for adding the whipped cream. 

I made the whipped cream from a cup of heavy cream, powdered sugar and vanilla extract.  I was surprised by how quickly our hand wand whipped the cream to soft peaks.  The recipe said to fold 1 1/2 cups of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, but the chocolate was still so runny, I felt this step was more of a mixing of whipped cream into the chocolate.  Because the whipped cream didn’t fully integrate into the chocolate mixture it looked like there were chunks of cottage cheese floating in the chocolate.  I read in an Alton Brown mousse recipe, that when folding the whipped cream into the chocolate it is all right if the two parts don’t fully mix.  I had to tell that to my wife when she looked at the mixture and said it didn’t look right.

When I was at the store making sure I had all the ingredients for this recipe, I looked for ladyfinger cookies, but I didn’t find any at the two stores I tried, so I purchased some shortbread cookies that are similarly shaped.  When I went to line the inside of the spring form pan with the cookies, I found that I needed about three times as many cookies as I had purchased.  Fortunately, we had a can of Danish shortbread cookies in our pantry that we had not opened from last Christmas.  I opened the can and found they were still crisp, so I lined the pan with these cookies then poured in the Russe mixture.  I covered the pan and placed it in the refrigerator to (hopefully) set overnight.

First thing in the morning I checked the pan in the refrigerator, the Russe had set and was quite firm – Hurray.  There were still white lumps on top, but we decided to spread the rest of the whipped cream over the top and our friends would never know!  I didn’t have enough raspberries in my garden to place on top, so we used some of the fresh strawberries I purchased at our farmers market.

When I released the sides of the spring form pan, the Russe was stuck to the sides in a few places, but I found that by pushed down on the cookies while I removed the pan sides that the Russe remained intact.  It was difficult to cut even pieces of the Russe for serving with the strawberries on top.  In hindsight, I should have left a division in the berries where I would cut each piece.

The four of us enjoyed eating the Russe, while I was expecting more of a mousse texture; this had a gelatinous texture like eating chocolate Jell-O.  The cookies had absorbed some of the liquid and had softened to make a nice crust around the outside edge of the pieces.  This is not a recipe I will make again, but I was very pleased that after all the problems that other people had, I was able to complete the recipe and serve a descent dessert to our friends.

Find the recipe here (if you dare):

Adventures In Food: Author: Kerry Howell

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