We’re halfway to Easter, folks. This weekend is the mid-point of Lent. Otherwise known as Refreshment or Laetare Sunday. Otherwise known as Mothering Sunday. It’s the day when traditionally the fast could be relaxed a little and that got me thinking: in a hypothetical world where I had ever given up anything food related for Lent, what would be the treat I’d most look forward to having again?
Let’s assume that I have given up the typical indulgences of cake, chocolate and booze. Then for Lent to have any really noticeable impact on me I’d have to throw coffee into that merry bundle of contraband. ‘Make tiramisu!!!’ I hear you cry. Good call, except I don’t really like mascarpone. So instead my mid-Lenten delight is going to be a chocolate and espresso charlotte. Admittedly that’s rather more Lenten refreshment than may be strictly approved of.
Each charlotte is made by lining a mould with booze-soaked sponge fingers. That is filled with a chocolate and coffee Bavarian cream (sort-of-custard) which has been given an Angel Delight-ness by being added to whipped cream and then left to set. This is one of those rich and delicious desserts that definitely feels like it shouldn’t be allowed.
Chocolate & Espresso Charlottes
Makes 6 in the kinds of pudding moulds I usually do my individual steak and kidney puds in.
For the sponge fingers:
- 125g caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- zest of half an orange
- 100g flour – sifted twice
- 3tbps icing sugar
Preheat the oven at 160C. Line two baking trays with baking paper.
- Separate the eggs into two large mixing bowls. Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk until thick. Add in the orange zest and then – gently – the flour.
- Whisk the egg whites until stiff. Now fold them into the flour mixture, with a lightness of touch that isn’t going to lose all that air you’ve just whipped up.
- Spoon it into a piping bag with a 1cm nozzle. Pipe the biscuits onto the trays – approximately 3” long by 1” wide. You will use five or so per dessert so be sure to do at least thirty.
- Dust the tops with icing sugar in two stages, waiting a few minutes between dustings. This will give the biscuits a nice and crispy top.
- Bake for about 15 minutes until golden and leave them to cool on their trays.
For the chocolate espresso cream filling:
- 6 gelatine leaves (10g)
- half a vanilla pod
- 375ml full-fat milk
- 5 egg yolks
- 60g caster sugar
- 200g dark chocolate, chopped up
- 100ml espresso coffee
- 320ml double cream
- Split the half vanilla pod down its middle and scrape out the seeds. Put the pod and the seeds into a pan with the milk and heat to a high simmer. Take it off the heat and leave to cool down while you carry on.
- Immerse the gelatine leaves in 2tbsps cold water and stir them round to soften up.
- Whisk the egg yolks and sugar with a pinch of salt until thick. Then slowly and in stages strain the milk in and stir as you go. Squeeze the excess water out of the gelatine and add that in too.
- Pour the whole lot into a clean saucepan and stir over a low heat until it thickens.Don’t let it boil or it will curdle. When it is so thick that it coats the back of a wooden spoon you’re done. Stir in the chocolate and espresso and then chill for about 20 minutes until it starts to set.
- Whip the double cream and add into it the almost-set chocolate custard.
To build your charlottes:
- 100ml brandy
- 6 charlotte or pudding moulds
- The sponge fingers need to be the height of the pudding moulds so trim them if you need to.
- Pour the brandy into a shallow bowl. Dip the underside of a biscuit into the brandy and then stand it along the inside of the mould. The cut edge should face upwards and boozy-side face inwards. Repeat with however many fingers it takes to line the mould – five, in my case.
- Spoon the filling inside – going right up to the top – and spread it level. Repeat for the other five moulds.
- Now the charlottes will need a few hours in the fridge to set.
Simply turn the charlottes out when it’s time to serve. If ‘simply’ proves itself a bit of a joke then sit each mould in warm water for about 20 seconds, dry it off and then it should turn out fine. Serve with a sprinkling of crushed walnuts or pistachios.
That should keep you going for another four weeks of restraint until Easter wheels around.