Today's post is dedicated to Marie Antoine (Antonin) Careme, 1783-1833. To be honest, I didn't know who he was until I picked up a copy of the biography Cooking for Kings by Ian Kelly. It's a wonderful exploration of the the life of one of France's greatest chefs and is a must read for anyone who loves cooking and baking. Here's a sample:
"Imagine yourself in a large kitchen before a great dinner. There one sees twenty chefs at their urgent occupations, coming and going, moving with speed in the cauldron of heat. Look at the mass of great burning charcoal, a whole cubic metre for the cooking of entrees and another mass on the ovens for the cooking of the soups, the sauces, the ragouts, the frying and the bain-maries. Add to that a heap of burning wood in front of which four spits are turning, one of which bears a sirloin weighing 45-60 pounds, another a piece of veal weighing 35-45 pounds, the other two for foul and game. In this furnace everyone moved with tremendous speed, not a sound was heard; only I had the right to be heard and at the sound of my soft voice, everyone obeys. Finally, to put a lid on our sufferings, for about an hour the doors and windows are closed so that the air does not cool the food as it is being dished up. And in this way, I passed the best days of my life." p. 26
Of course, Careme achieved his greatest fame as a pastry chef. His gifts to the world of pastry are many and include the voul a vent and the chef's toque. His architectural desserts are the basis of the modern day wedding cake.
The book also includes recipes such as Careme's Nectarine Plombiere which I decided to make and feature in this post.
As you can imagine, the recipe from the early 1800's didn't turn out quite as expected. The measurements differed from those used today. For example, take the instruction "add three glasses of full cream milk" - one can only guess what "three glasses" means and you can be sure his cream is not the same as what we use today.
I did love the idea of using fresh nectarines and decided to try again using a generic mousse recipe and nectarines I picked from the orchard. The results were so abundant and delicious I decided to fill a few glasses and make a nectarine charlotte.
If you haven't had a charlotte you're in for a real treat. It's basically a lady finger cake filled with mousse and topped with fresh fruit. It's one of our favorite desserts. In fact, we served charlottes at our wedding instead of traditional wedding cake.
I know you'll enjoy this recipe. It's fun to make, it's beautiful and most importantly, it's delicious. It's also great way to celebrate and use freshly picked local fruit.
And, seriously, how can you go wrong with a book about the man who created Marie Antoinette's last meal?
Orchard-Fresh Nectarine Mousse and Charlotte
I. Lady Fingers
6 eggs, separated
7 oz. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
6 oz. flour, sifted
Powdered sugar, sifted
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat the egg whites until almost firm. Add sugar and beat until firm and shiny. Fold in the vanilla and egg yolks by hand. Gradually sprinkle flour into the mixture while simultaneously folding.
Pipe mixture onto a Silpat lined pastry sheet. You want them to be about the height of the mold you are using. You’ll also want to pipe some of the batter into a circle equal to the diameter of the bottom of your mold. Sprinkle with sifted powdered sugar. Allow the sugar to absorb. Sprinkle with powdered sugar again.
Bake 10-14 minutes, until they turn light beige in color.
The size of the ladyfingers will depend upon the size of the mold you are using.
II. Nectarine Puree
15 peeled and stoned nectarines
6 oz. sugar
Boil the nectarines with the sugar into a marmalade. Strain and allow to cool. Note: I’ve tried this both cooked and uncooked. Cooking enhances the flavor of this particular fruit immeasurably.
III. Pate a Bombe (see here for recipe)
IV. Nectarine Mousse
4 oz pate a bombe
3 sheets of gelatin
6 oz fresh nectarine puree
2 cup heavy cream, whipped with 2 tbs. sugar to a soft peak
Heat the nectarine puree until warm. Soften the gelatin in ice water and then gently melt it in the microwave (maybe 8 seconds). Mix the gelatin with the nectarine puree. Mix into the pate a bombe and whisk until it is well incorporated. Please note, all ingredients need to be about the same temperature or the gelatin will become stringy. Fold in the whipped cream.
V. Assembling the Charlotte
Place the mold on a sheet pan. Line the base with the round you made out of the lady finger batter. Line the sides of the mold with the lady fingers placed vertically. Fill the lined mold with nectarine mousse. Chill until firm. Serve with sliced nectarines.