Pear and Fig Charlotte
- Yield: Makes one 8 3/4-inch charlotte
Source: Martha Stewart Living, Volume 65 December/January 1998/1999
For the Cake
- 1 recipe Ladyfingers Ladyfingers for Pear and Fig Charlotte, or store-bought ladyfinger biscuits
For the Finish
- Fresh figs, optional
For the Fruit Mixture
- 2 cans (29 ounces each) pear halves packed in syrup
- 2 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Pulp of 1 plump, moist vanilla bean
- 8 dried soft, moist Calimyrna figs
For the Poire Williams Cream Filling
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1/2 cup (slightly rounded) sugar
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons Poire Williams (pear eau-de-vie)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet) gelatin
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 cup heavy cream
For the Soaking Syrup
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 1/2 tablespoons Poire Williams (pear eau-de-vie)
Make the fruit mixture: Drain the pears. Separate 7 ounces, about 4 pear halves, into a small bowl, and set aside for Poire Williams cream; place remaining pears in a large bowl (a deep bowl is best).
Bring water, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla bean pulp to a boil in a medium saucepan or the microwave. Remove syrup from heat, and pour it over pears in large bowl. Press a piece of wax paper against pears to submerge them; if the paper alone isn't enough to submerge pears in syrup, place a plate on top of the wax paper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (The pears can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept, covered, in the refrigerator.)
Cut figs into small cubes (about 1/4 inch on a side), and put them in a small saucepan. Cover with water, and bring just to a boil. Transfer figs and water to a container, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
Make the soaking syrup: Bring water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan or the microwave. Remove from heat, and when the syrup is cool, stir in Poire Williams. (The soaking syrup can be made up to a week ahead and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)
Make the cake: If using the Ladyfinger Batter, follow the recipe, piping the batter into two 9-inch disks and two 8-inch bands of 4-inch-long ladyfingers, baking, and cooling. (The ladyfinger disks and bands can be made ahead, and kept, wrapped airtight, at room temperature for 2 days or frozen for a month.)
Make the Poire Williams cream filling: Puree reserved 7 ounces drained pears in a blender or food processor; set aside. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and have at the ready a smaller bowl and a fine-mesh strainer.
Bring milk to a boil. Meanwhile, whisk sugar and yolks together in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about one-third of the boiling milk. Once yolks are acclimated to heat, whisk in the rest of the milk in a slow, steady stream. Place saucepan over medium heat, and, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula, cook cream filling until it reaches 180 degrees. as measured on an instant-read thermometer, less than 5 minutes. (Alternatively, to check if cream's has cooked long enough, stir the cream filling, and then draw your finger down the spatula or the bowl of the wooden spoon; if the cream doesn't run into the track you've created, it's done.) The cream filling will not thicken much. Immediately remove saucepan from heat, and allow cream filling to rest for 2 minutes. Strain into the small reserved bowl, and stir in Poire Williams.
Sprinkle gelatin over water, and allow it to rest until softened. Heat in the microwave oven for about 15 seconds, or cook over low heat, until gelatin dissolves. Stir gelatin into cream filling, and then gently stir in reserved puréed pears. Set the bowl in the ice bath, adding cold water to the ice cubes, and, stirring from time to time, cool cream filling to about 70 degrees.
To finish the filling, whip heavy cream until it holds medium, firm peaks, and fold it gently into the cream filling with a rubber spatula. The filling is now ready and should be used immediately.
To finish the fruit mixture, remove and drain 3 of the remaining pears; pat them dry between paper towels, and cut them into cubes, about 1/2 inch on a side. Drain and pat dry the cubed figs. Combine fruits together.
Place a piece of parchment paper on a cardboard cake round, and center an 8 3/4-inch-by-22-cm dessert ring on the paper; butter the inside of the ring. Cut the bands of ladyfingers lengthwise in half, and fit the halves around the interior of the ring, making certain that the biscuits’ flat side faces in; you’ll have a piece of band left over. Fit a ladyfinger disk into the bottom to form a base. (If you are using store-bought ladyfingers, cut the biscuits as necessary to form a band and base.) Brush the ladyfinger disk and band with the soaking syrup, using enough syrup to thoroughly moisten the cake.
Spoon enough cream filling into the biscuit-lined ring to form a layer that comes about halfway up the ladyfinger band, spreading it evenly with a spatula. Cover with the cubed fruit and then another layer of filling, this time coming almost to the top of the ring, and again using the spatula to get an even layer. Top with the second ladyfinger disk, and moisten disk with some soaking syrup (you may have soaking syrup left over). Cover the disk with a thin layer of filling (you may also have filling left over—it makes a fine dessert on its own or served with cookies), and set the cake into the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours. (At this point, the cake, covered airtight, can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.)
To finish: Remove the dessert ring, but keep the cake on the cardboard round for maneuverability.
Slice the remaining pears from the blossom to stem end, and arrange in overlapping concentric circles over the top of the cake. If using fresh figs, slice them from blossom to stem end and slip into the arrangement. Serve the cake now or keep it in the refrigerator, loosely covered, until ready to serve.