Ladyfingers for Pear and Fig Charlotte
Source: Martha Stewart Living, December/January 1998
- 6 large egg whites
- 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, sifted
- Confectioners' sugar
In an impeccably clean, dry mixer bowl with a clean, dry whisk attachment in place, whip egg whites on high speed until they turn opaque and form soft peaks. Still whipping on high, gradually add 2/3 cup sugar. Continue beating until whites are glossy and hold very firm peaks. It's important that the whites develop into a really firm meringue as this is what will allow the batter to rest on the counter for 15 minutes and still maintain its shape. Set aside.
In another bowl, whisk together yolks and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until well blended, about 1 to 2 minutes. Working with a rubber spatula, gently fold the yolk mixture into the beaten whites. Then fold in flour, sifting flour over mixture in a few additions and incorporating it gingerly. (No matter how delicately you fold in the flour, the batter will deflate. Don't worry, but do be gentle.) The batter is now ready to be piped and baked according to your recipe's particular instructions.
To pipe and bake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip, and set aside until needed. Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit two large baking sheets. On each sheet of paper, draw a 9-inch circle and a band that's 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Turn the sheets of paper over, and place each piece of parchment on a baking sheet. (If you can't see the outlines clearly now that the paper is flipped over, darken the pencil lines.)
Gently spoon a little more than half the batter into the pastry bag. Position a baking sheet so the top and bottom lines for the 8-inch-long band run from your left to your right. Start making a ladyfinger band by piping plump logs of batter from top to bottom within the pencil lines. Pipe one ladyfinger log right next to the last one -- they'll touch, and they're supposed to. Keeping firm and steady pressure on the pastry bag, you should end up with ladyfingers that are about 1 inch wide and about 2/3 to 3/4 inch high. When you've piped the full 8-inch band, dust it lightly with confectioners' sugar. Pipe the second band in the same fashion, and then dust with confectioners' sugar, too. Refill the bag when you run out of batter. (The bands will probably take about 2/3 of the batter.) Next, pipe the discs, keeping in mind that the discs should be only about half as high as the plump ladyfinger bands, so you can exert less pressure on the pastry bag. For each disc, begin piping the batter at the center of the circle. Work your way in a spiral to the penciled edge, trying to have each coil of batter touch the preceding coil. If you have any holes, you can run an offset spatula very lightly over the discs to fill in the spaces. Let the piped batter rest on the counter for 15 minutes, during which time the confectioners' sugar will pearl or form beads.
Give the bands a second light dusting of confectioners' sugar (there's no need to sugar the discs), and slip the baking sheets into the oven. Use the handle of a wooden spoon to keep the oven door slightly ajar. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, just until the discs and bands are very lightly golden -- you don't want the cake to take on much color. Slide the parchment off the baking sheets, and transfer the cakes, on their parchment sheets, to racks. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature.
When the cakes are cool, run an offset spatula under the discs and bands to loosen them from the paper. If you want individual biscuits, separate the cookies with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. If you want a decorative ladyfinger band that can be wrapped around cakes or charlottes, keep the cookies intact but cut the band in half lengthwise, or according to the measurements given in the specific recipe.