Dom mixed things up for this month’s Random Recipe challenge by pairing all the participants up so that each blogger randomly picked a book number and page number for their partner. I was paired up with the lovely Camilla from Little Macaroon, a Scottish expat currently living in Singapore. Her blog is full of beautiful photography that desperately makes me miss expat life and discovering new cultures and countries! It also really makes me miss living somewhere warm and sunny (grumble grumble)… I picked book number six, page 124 for her which was steamed and roasted duck with honey and oyster sauce (how delicious does that sound?!) and you can read about the adventures involved in acquiring and roasting a 2.7kg duck here. She randomly selected book number two, page 42 for me, which was a recipe for a chocolate and whisky charlotte from La Popote des potes.
A charlotte is a dessert that consists of a truffle-y custard or fruit mousse surrounded by sponge fingers. I’m not sure how popular they are here in the UK, but in France they are quite widespread. My mum, who loves both charlottes and chocolate, was super-enthusiastic when I announced what I had to try and make. Luckily, she even has a charlotte dish which I was able to use, although you could probably make one in a large soufflé dish or something similar – the key thing is that the dish is deep enough for the sponge fingers to stand up in. I’d never tried making a charlotte before, so I enthusiastically followed the recipe to the letter. The results of my first attempt were… disappointing. Oh, it tasted wonderful, but it wasn’t particularly presentable. The sponge fingers didn’t fit snugly against each other, and the chocolate filling filtered through the resulting little gaps. The sponge fingers were also clearly a lot less dense than the filling and rose up and came away from the edge of the dish, leaving some huge gaps between them (we forced them down a bit after the filling had set, but it wasn’t ideal in the presentation stakes – see the photo below). What had come out of my fridge really didn’t match the photo in the book. And even though it tasted good – rich, but deliciously chocolatey with a hint of whisky – I was disappointed. This is a dessert that would be served to guests, so it is supposed to look nice – why hadn’t it worked properly?
Part of the problem may have been that sponge fingers in France (biscuits à la cuillère) are a bit shorter and fatter than the ones in the UK, so perhaps they fit together a little better, or are slightly denser. A little hunt around Edinburgh didn’t turn up any imported French sponge biscuits, so I turned to the source of all dessert-related knowledge, Pierre Hermé’s Larousse des desserts to see if there were any helpful tips on making charlottes work. All of his charlotte recipes involved soaking the back of the sponge fingers in an alcoholic sugary syrup to soften them so they could be pushed together. This isn’t the first recipe that I’ve tried from Popote des potes that hasn’t quite worked, so out of frustration (and perhaps a little bit of spite), I refused to be thwarted and decided to make the charlotte again, but this time with the added step of dipping the sponge fingers in a whisky syrup. I can be quite stubborn at times…
I was faced with a minor issue though: I’m currently on my own (my mum is on holiday), but the recipe serves 6-8 people and is difficult to split (8 egg whites and 5 egg yolks? How unhelpful). I was never going to be able to eat it all myself, but then realised that I could I make it anyway and give it to Craig and his family to test. Genius idea! (Though somewhat stressful in case it didn’t work at all…) Craig helped out and did an excellent job of lining the dish with the sponge fingers and squeezing them together. This time, the charlotte worked much better – hurrah! Craig has reported back to say that his family all enjoyed it and thought it was absolutely delicious (phew!). Even with the addition of the whisky syrup, the flavour of the whisky wasn’t over-powering, but was a lovely warming addition. The closest thing to a criticism that I could get out of Craig was that it was quite rich, which is hardly a major issue, it just means you can’t wolf the whole thing down by yourself.
Chocolate & whisky charlotte
I used a charlotte dish because I had one, but I’m sure that a large soufflé dish could be used. I used 12 year anCnoc whisky, a single malt from Aberdeenshire which is quite light and has notes of honey and fruit. Use your favourite whisky, or whichever whisky you think would best go with chocolate. This is a very rich dessert, so I wouldn’t recommend serving it after a heavy meal! What is wonderful about it though is that it can be prepared in advance (although remember that it does contain raw eggs) and kept in the fridge until ready to serve.
For the lining:
Sponge fingers (the amount will depend on the circumference of your dish – we used about 18)
100g caster sugar
For the chocolate filling:
310g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
185g unsalted butter
8 egg whites
5 egg yolks
50g icing sugar
6 tbsp whisky
Chocolate shavings to decorate (optional)
1. Mix the sugar and water together in a small saucepan, bring to the boil and allow to boil for about 5 mins to form a syrup. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once fully cooled, stir in the whisky.
2. Dip the non-sugar-coated side of a sponge finger into the syrup and place standing up in the charlotte dish, with the sugar-coated side facing outwards. Repeat with the rest of the sponge fingers until the sides of the dish are fully lined. If there are gaps between the fingers, pour a little bit of whisky syrup into the bottom of the dish and allow to soak up into the base of the fingers, before carefully squashing them together to close any gaps. You may need to add a few more fingers – none of them should be able to move from side to side.
3. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmer water, until a smooth chocolate mixture has been achieved. Remove from the heat.
4. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites into firm peaks. As they begin to firm up, add the icing sugar and continue to whisk for a few minutes.
5. Stir the egg yolks and whisky into the chocolate mixture, before folding into the egg whites with a wooden spoon or spatula. Pour the mixture into the prepared charlotte dish, cover with a lid (or tin foil) and refrigerate for at last 4 hours until set. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings before serving.