I love rich, airy desserts. It sounds like a contradiction, but it’s actually the perfect balance.
I only realized yesterday that I had been missing out on the best dessert of all in this category, Charlotte Malakoff. I was going to make a real Charlotte Malakoff, where you line a cylindrical mold with soaked ladyfingers and fill it with almond cream, strawberries, and more ladyfingers. But the only mold I had was a heavy soufflé dish, and I hadn’t been too picky about the shape of my gluten-free ladyfingers, so I decided to forgo the showstopper molded desert and went with a trifle, and am still applauding myself for the decision.
Putting this in a trifle bowl made it easy, especially since the ladyfingers were more delicate being gluten-free. I know it would have held its shape though had I molded it properly, because when I scooped out the first serving the shape stood perfectly.
But what is so interesting about this dessert? Well, let me get out my list. First, instead of folding whipped cream into a custard base, it is folded into butter that has been beaten until fluffy with sugar, pulverized almonds, and lots of orange liqueur. The cooling and hardening of the butter makes the dessert retain its shape. Second, the ladyfingers , because they are all layered with the cream and strawberries after being soaked with orange liqueur, dissolve into the cream and contribute their own airiness. After sitting many hours in the fridge the liqueur melds with the strawberries, almonds, and ladyfingers and you have this fluffy, sumptuous dessert with each mouthful like a pillow on your tongue.
Now, I made the ladyfingers from Julia Child’s recipe, because I was also using her malakoff recipe. But I entirely omitted the cup and a half of powdered sugar because the ladyfingers didn’t need to be so crisp in the trifle and because I find the sugar gives them a one-note sweetness that I can’t stand. This does mean though that when you dip them into the orange liqueur and water mixture you have to be very quick, and shouldn’t dunk the ladyfingers under all the way as all the liquid will make them decompose. Of course, if you buy your own ladyfingers, gluten or gluten-free, you will probably won’t have to be as careful.
Please don’t be intimidated by the two sticks of butter and two cups of whipped cream, you can’t eat a huge amount of it anyways, it’s so rich. I think this would be great for company, and a perfect way to use up all those fresh and juicy summer berries.
Charlotte Malakoff Trifle
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 1
Serves 8 to 10 (but I think it could serve more)
24, 4 by 2 inch ladyfingers, or full gluten-free recipe below
Orange liqueur, split into 1/3 cup and 1/2 cup amounts
2/3 cup water
1 pound strawberries, hulled and sliced thinly
1/2 pound salted butter (Julia says unsalted but I think salted works very well), softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup pulverized almonds (I think plain ground almonds would be fine)
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 cups heavy cream, chilled
Mix together 1/3 cup orange liqueur with water in a shallow bowl. Dip ladyfingers quickly into mixture and place on a cooling rack to drain.
Beat softened butter with sugar until light and fluffy in a stand mixer with whisk attachment, then add in the remaining 1/2 cup of orange liqueur alternately with the almonds until lightened considerably and very fluffy, scraping down the sides as necessary.
In a stand mixer, using a cold bowl and whisk attachment, beat the two cups of chilled cream until it holds moderately stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream into the butter and almond mixture.
Cover the bottom of the trifle bowl with a layer of ladyfingers, then spread over a third of the cream mixture, and a layer of strawberries. Repeat with ladyfingers, cream strawberries, ladyfingers, and cream. Top with sliced almonds. Chill for 6 hours to overnight, then serve.
Gluten-free Ladyfingers for Trifle
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1
Makes 24 to 30
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup white rice flour
1/8 cup cornstarch
1/8 cup tapioca starch
Line two baking sheets with waxed paper and butter. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Beat egg yolks, vanilla, and half cup of sugar with a wire whisk until it forms the ribbon and is lightened in color. The eggs form a ribbon when, if you lift up the whisk, the mixture that falls back leaves a slowly dissolving trail.
Whisk the egg whites with the salt until soft peaks form, then add the sugar and beat until stiff with a stand mixer.
Whisk together the flour and starches then sift the mixture over the egg yolks alternately with folding in the egg whites. There will still be streaks at the end, and you do not want to over mix and make the batter deflate.
Form ladyfingers about 3 inches long and an inch across, because they will expand when they cook and be around 4 by 2 inches. Size isn’t as important in a trifle because you cannot see the cookies, whereas in a molded dessert, size and shape would be critical.
Cook ladyfingers on the upper third and middle racks for 15 to 20 minutes, so that they are browning well on top and bottom. Let cool for a minute on the pan, and then transfer to a cooling rack.