Celebrating Love & a Strawberry Charlotte

To start this post, I’d like to give a shout out to Mr. Cheaterbite.  We celebrated our second anniversary yesterday (of course in foodie fashion by trying out a new restaurant, Nola) and it’s just amazing how fast time flies by.  Makes you want to slow down and enjoy all of the beauties of life, right?  Well, to my awesome hubby Matthew: I can’t imagine walking through this whirlwind of life without you by my side every step of the way!  Love you!!

While we are reminiscing, here’s my favorite photo from the big day:

picture from our wonderful Bellissima photographers!

So in the mood of celebrating loooooove, I’ll share with you a little labor of love.  I made this showstopper for a dinner party to celebrate love, actually, a whole 40 years of it!  It’s another immensely time-consuming, yet delicious dessert…I am really loving these lately, it’s like baking therapy…
There are several steps, so bear with me!

1 hot milk cake (this recipe makes 2):
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Liberally butter two 6 x 3 inch cake pans and dust with flour.  Tap out excess.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the butter and milk and heat stirring occasionally, until the butter is melted, 3 to 4 minutes.  pour the milk mixture into a large bowl and set aside.  Let cool to slightly above room temperature; an instant-read thermometer should register between 80 and 85 degrees.  You want the milk and butter to remain incorporated, so whisk the mixture occasionally and vigorously while it is cooling and up until you add it to the batter.

In the top pan of a double boiler, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla.  Fit the top bowl over but not touching simmering water.  Gently warm the mixture, stirring, just until the sugar is dissolved and the thermometer registers 110°, about 10 minutes.  Pour the egg mixture through a medium-mesh sieve into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Fit the mixer with the whisk attachment and whisk on high-speed until light and fluffy and has cooled to slightly above room temperature (80 and 85 degrees), about 10 minutes.  **The batter becomes more stable as the mixture cools; this is an important factor in creating a cake with good structure.  This is also the step where I messed up a bit because the middles of my cakes fell when I baked them!

Stop the mixer and add the sifted dry ingredients.  Mix on low until just incorporated; the batter should be smooth.  Check the milk mixture to make sure it is full cooled, them slowly pour it into the batter, whisking on low-speed.  Stop mixing as soon as the batter is well blended and smooth.  Remove the bowl from the mixer, scrape down the sides of the bowl again, and fold by hand a few times with the spatula.  Divide the batter between the prepared pans.  Bake until the cakes are golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes.

Transfer to wire racks and let cool in pans for about 20 minutes.  Invert onto wire racks and remove pans.  Let cool for about 30 minutes longer, then wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate to ensure its completely cool before decorating, at least 1 hour.  Can last in the fridge for 3 days or in the freezer for up to 2 months.  Just be sure to triple wrap if you are freezing so it keeps well.

1/4 cup raspberry simple syrup (recipe makes 1 cup):
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
4 teaspoons raspberry liquor or raspberry juice

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.  When the sugar is completely dissolved and the syrup is clear, remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.  Add in the raspberry liquor or juice and stir.  The syrup will keep, tightly sealed in the refrigerator, for up to 1 month.  Is a great addition to baked good as well as cocktails!

2 cups freshly made strawberry mousse (recipe makes about 4 cups):
5 cups (25 ounces) strawberries, hulled and quartered
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
3/4 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan over very low heat, cook the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice and water until very liquidy, about 30 minutes.  Strain the mixture through a sieve and let cool completely.  you should have 1 1/4 cups of strawberry juice.

Pour 3/4 cup of the juice into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the surface to soften.  Reheat the remaining juice until it is warm to the touch.  Add the softened gelatin mixture to the warm juice ans whisk until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the cream until it holds medium peaks.  Fold one-third of it into the strawberry mixture.  Gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until no streaks remain.  Pour the mousse into a bowl and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

two 3 x 10 inch bands ladyfingers:
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, separated, plus 2 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
powdered sugar for dusting

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.  Using a pencil, draw two 3 by 10 inch rectangular templates on the paper, one above the other.  Turn the paper over and press against the bottom of the pan so you can see the pencil lines you made.  Fit a pastry bag with a medium (1/2 inch) round tip.  Sift the flour into a bowl and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350°.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with 2 tablespoons of the granulated sugar on medium-high speed until thick and ribbony.  Scrape the mixture into a wide bowl and set aside.

Clean the bowl and the whisk (this is mucho important!). Combine the egg whites and the remaining granulated sugar in the bowl and whisk on high-speed until stiff peaks form.  Fold the whites into the yolks in three additions, just until no streaks remain.

Sift about one-third of the flour over the egg mixture and fold in gently.  Fold in the remaining flour in tow more additions, until just combined.  Fill the pastry bag with the batter. Starting 1/4 inch from a short end of the first template, pipe each finger, 3/4 inch by 3 inches, down the length of each template, using the lines to guide you.  Place them next to each other so that the fingers join together when they bake – you should have 10 fingers for each band.  using a fine-mesh sieve, dust the tops of the piped batter with the powdered sugar.  Let the unbaked cookies stand at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Dust the ladyfingers again with powdered sugar and bake until just beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes.  Transfer to wire racks to cool.  As soon as they are just barely cool, use immediately or wrap in plastic wrap, being careful not to let the bands break apart, so that they don’t dry out.  Store in airtight containers for up to 2 days.

You will also need:
approximately 28 inches of satin ribbon, 1 inch wide
1 pint fresh strawberries, preferably small and whole with stems attached
straight pins

Make all of your items as described above.  Take one of your hot milk cakes, and level the top.  Cut into two equal pieces.  Arrange the layers on your work surface and tap off the excess crumbs.  Using a pastry brush, brush the top of each layer with an ample amount of the raspberry syrup.

Line a clean 6 x 3 inch cake pan with plastic wrap, leaving about 3 inches of overhang all around the sides to use later as a handle.  Put the bottom layer, syrup-brushed flat side-up, in the pan.  Scoop about 1 cup of the mousse on top of the cake layer and use an offset spatula to level it.  Top with the second layer of cake, syrup-side down, and press down lightly to seal and secure.  Add as much of the remaining mousse as you need to fill the pan to the rim.

Very gently place another piece of plastic wrap on top, directly on the surface of the mousse, which prevents a skin from forming.  Carefully transfer the cake to the refrigerator and let set for at least 3 hours and up to 2 days.

To unmold the mousse cake, wrap a hot towel around the pan for 1 minute and gently shake to loosen the cake.  Invert the pan onto a cake board on a  clean work surface, then gently lift off the pan.  If it resists, give a little tug on the plastic wrap.  When the pan is off, peel the plastic wrap lining from the cake and invert the cake again, mousse side up.  Place on a platter/cake stand.

One at a time, carefully secure the two bands of connected ladyfingers, powdered sugar side out, around the sides fo the cake, pressing them into the mousse to secure.  You can trim them to fit if necessary.  Wrap the ribbon around the cake, positioning it about halfway up the sides, and tie it snugly in a knot.  Make sure it’s tied tightly enough to hold everything together!

Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.  Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes before serving.  just before serving, arrange the strawberries on top in an artful pattern.

*All of the steps of making this cake produce more than you will need.  But not to worry, all items are immensely delicious and you will put them to good use.  I didn’t even get a chance to freeze the other layer of hot milk cake because it was so delicious we all wanted to dip it in our coffee in the mornings.  The mousse is awesome and you will want to stand by your fridge eating it out of the container with a spoon.  But if you have more class than that, you could put it in little ramekins and top with whipped cream for mini desserts. The simple syrup is great to have on hand for making yummy martinis or for the next cake you make and need to add some moisture between layers. *

Makes: one 6-inch layer cake – serves 10+
Time: several hours, I lost track
From: Miette

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