This recipe originated with a remarkable and frankly formidable Frenchwoman called Marie-Solange, who I’m told was an epic cook. She held a cocktail party for 300+ people every year and made every morsel of food – canapes, petit fours, a profiterole mountain – herself.
She was the grandmother of a new friend I met through an Instagram get-together*, @lostinsuffolk, who tells me: “The local bakery would make enormous round loaves to her exacting specifications and my long-suffering grandfather would use an electric carving knife to cut out the dough.
“Grandchildren would then make tiny foie gras sandwiches which would be put back into the shell of the loaf, and we’d hand them out to guests, lifting the lid to the ‘pain surprise’.
“Granny said the cocktail parties were an easy way to repay all those supper invitations throughout the year and not have the same boring couples round on an individual basis.” (Let’s be honest, we all know people like that.)
Marie-Solange was also an expert seamstress, making herself reversible Chanel-style suits, tweed on one side, floral on the other, to save space while travelling. She sounds like a rather terrifying combination of Julia Child and Jackie O, but with a French accent. I’d love to have met her although I suspect she’d have run over me like a steamroller.
Today’s recipe, then, comes from Marie-Solange via her daughter and grand-daughter. It is a Charlotte Russe, made with boudoir biscuits, rather than an English Charlotte made with stale bread (a sentence that might unkindly be said to sum up the difference between Frenchwomen and Englishwomen).
*If you live in or near Suffolk you may be interested in the Instagram meet-ups run by @theeatingtree and @mariadernikos. The first one brought together a stimulating and friendly combination of cooks and craftspeople, artists and gardeners. You can find more details at Lindsey’s website.
Chocolate and Coffee Charlotte
About 36 boudoir biscuits (lady fingers/sponge fingers). I used 1 1/2 x 175g packs
150 ml Cointreau mixed with 100 ml water
1 tub of coffee ice cream (I used 460 ml), softened enough to scoop
For the chocolate mousse:
225g good-quality plain chocolate, broken into pieces
4 eggs, separated
You will need a deep, 18cm diameter cake tin with a removable base.
For the mousse, melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in a basin over pan of simmering water, being careful the base of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. When melted, stir in the egg yolks, one at a time, the rum and the butter.
Whisk the egg whites in a clean, dry bowl until stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture until thoroughly blended. Use a scoop-and-cut motion so you don’t knock all the air out.
Pour the Cointreau and water mix into a shallow dish and dip the flat, unsugared side of the boudoir biscuits into the liquid. They need to absorb the flavour but don’t leave them in there too long or they’ll be too soggy to handle.
Place them upright around the inside edge of the cake tin, sugared side outwards. Fill in the base with more biscuits. This is the trickiest part of the recipe as you can’t stick them to the tin without spoiling the outside of the finished dessert – I had to wedge and patch the base to hold them up.
Spoon a layer of mousse into the bottom. Follow with a layer of coffee ice cream, then another layer of mousse, smoothing the top. If you have room for two more layers, go ahead!
I stopped after three layers, chocolate-coffee-chocolate, because I wanted some space to add chocolate curls when I served the dessert. Alternatively you can add another layer of boozy boudoir biscuits, arranged in a neat pattern, and dust the top with icing sugar when you come to serve.
Whichever you decide, cover the Charlotte (without touching the surface) and place in the freezer to set. Remove up to an hour before you want to eat and carefully unmould and place on a serving plate. Tie a ribbon around it if you’d like to a) tart it up or b) are worried it might collapse on you. Put it in the fridge and when sufficiently soft, slice into wedges and serve.