While everyone was stocking up on toilet paper and wipes, I bought the essentials: unsalted butter (freezes well), champagne and sparkling wine (these are difficult times), organic sugar, and lots of chocolate. Can someone please explain to me why people were hoarding toilet paper for an impending respiratory disease? I understand lockdown but do people really use that much toilet paper? And wipes. All of a sudden everyone is buying wipes. Did people use wipes before this and I’m just now finding this out? I don’t want to know.
I read cookbooks for fun. Well, I used to. As of late I’ve been working too much and traveling too much and this quarantine has made that very clear to me. I was aware of it before but in denial. And too busy to think about it. So the other day, I watched Julie and Julia and have been reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking more frequently. I had pages marked off for recipes I want to make. So I was going through and came across the Charlotte Malakoff cake, an almond cream cake in a mold of liquor-soaked ladyfingers. I had a package of ladyfingers that my brother and sister-in-law had got me at Christmastime and what better time than to use them?
I thought I had read the recipe all the way through and was prepared to enjoy the cake after dinner. Until I got to the last step, which read, “refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. The butter must be chilled firm, so the dessert will not collapse when unmolded.”
So I would be having the cake with my morning tea. No problem. No dessert tonight.
Here’s the recipe, adapted from Julia Child, et al’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe calls for fresh strawberries, which I did not have and did not care to procure, so I topped it with Meyer Lemon Preserve that I have plenty of.
- 1/3 cup orange liqueur
- 2/3 cup water
- 24 lady fingers
The almond cream:
- 1/2 lb. unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup organge liqueur
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract
- 1 1/3 cups ground almond
- 2 cups whipping cream, chilled
Line the bottom of an unbuttered mold with a round of unbuttered wax paper. The recipe recommends a 2-quart cylindrical mold, 4 inches high and 7 inches in diameter, which I did not have so I used a deep springform mold that I did. It worked fine but I had a lot of filling leftover, which I froze and will report back in the future on its defrostability.
Pour orange liqueur and water into a soup plate. Dip the ladyfingers, one by one, and drain on a rack. They are actually pretty absorbent so don’t rush it. Unless you like not-so-boozy and not-so-soaked ladyfingers, in which case go quickly. Line the bottom of the mold and then the sides with the soaked ladyfingers. You will likely need to cut the ladyfingers in half or in some shape to cover the inside of the mold. Reserve the remaining ladyfingers (you will put those in halfway after you have stuffed the cake).
Cream the butter and sugar with an electric hand mixer until pale and fluffy. Beat in the orange liqueur and the almond extract; continue beating for several minutes until they are fully incorporated and the sugar is dissolved. Beat in the ground almonds.
In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until it’s almost whipped. Mrs. Child, et al describe this as “the beater, when drawn across the top of the cream, leaves light traces.” Fold the cream into the butter/almond mixture.
Pour half of the filling into the prepared mold. Arrange the remaining soaked ladyfingers and cover with the rest of the filling. Cover with a piece of wax-paper and fit a plate on top with a weight on top. I used a jar of jam in my refrigerator.
Refrigerate for six hours or overnight. The step that left me dessertless.
When you’re ready to serve the cake, remove from the refrigerator, take off the weight and the plate; leave the wax paper in place while you gently unmold your cake. You will want two plates, your serving platter and one for flipping the cake. Basically you will flip it over twice. You want the side of the cake that has the ladyfingers on the bottom. So flip the cake onto the spare plate, waxpaper side down, and then take the mold off (gently) and then again flip, this time mold-less onto the serving platter. Remove the wax paper and decorate with fresh fruit or, in my case, Meyer lemon preserves.
This cake is really rich and probably shouldn’t be consumed by one person alone. I shared some with my aunt, my neighbor, and my colleague and friend who lives in my neighborhood and has her son staying with her ever since he got the boot from the dorms at his university.