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Mastering the Art of French Desserts

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OK, I fell prey to the foodie flick of the summer, Julie & Julia. It tells the parallel stories of Julia Child and how she came to co-write Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and Julie Powell, who blogged about cooking her way through the book. The movie was very good, mostly due to the contributions of Meryl Streep (as Child) and Stanley Tucci (as her supportive husband, Paul). But of course, the food was the star of the film. As we left the theater after a weeknight screening, my husband asked if I had cooked much from Child’s book. I was a bit embarassed to admit I had never made anything from the 1961 Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

You see where this is going.

A friend invited us to a dinner party this weekend, and I offered to bring dessert. Cracking open Mastering the Art, I decided to attempt one of the molded desserts. Given the abundance of local strawberries, I went with Charlotte Malakoff aux Fraises, or Almond Cream with Fresh Strawberries. The recipe was easy enough to execute, although I found some of the yields off: I needed half-again as many ladyfingers called for and ended up with quite a bit of unused cream filling. But after chilling overnight in the fridge to set up, the dessert (ladyfingers ringing a fluffy filling of whipped cream, ground almonds, butter–but of course!–and strawberries) unmolded beautifully. And it was delicious. (I should have taken a photo of a slice, as the whole Charlotte is a bit homely without its garnish of additional whipped cream and strawberries.)

Bottom line: I’ll be cracking open Mastering the Art of French Cooking more in the future. How about you? Anyone been inspired by the movie to try some wild-Child adventures in the kitchen?

Here’s the recipe, for those interested in giving it a try:

Charlotte Malakoff aux Fraises
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Serves 8 to 10 people

1 quart fresh strawberries
1/3 cup orange liqueur
2/3 cup water
24 single ladyfingers
1/2 lb. softened unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup orange liqueur
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 1/3 cups pulverized almonds
2 cups chilled whipping cream

Hull the strawberries. Wash them quickly if necessary, and set on a cake rack to drain thoroughly.
Line the bottom of a 2-quart cylindrical mode with a round of unbuttered waxed paper.

Pour orange liqueur and water into a soup plate. Dip in the ladyfingers, one by one, and drain on rack. Line sides of mold with ladyfingers. Reserve the remaining dipped ladyfingers.

Cream butte rand sugar together for 3 to 4 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Beat in orange liqueur and almond extract. Continue beating for several minutes until sugar is completely dissolved. Beat in the almonds.

Whip the cream until the beater, drawn across the top of the cream, leaves light traces. Fold the cream into the almond and butter mixture.

Turn a third of the almond cream into the lined mold. Arrange over it a layer of strawberries, heads down. Cover them with a layer of ladyfingers. Repeat with another layer of almond cream, strawberries, and ladyfingers. Fill the mold with the rest of the almond cream and a layer of ladyfingers if there are any left. Trim off ladyfingers around edge of mold, and press the trimmed off bits into the top of the cream. Cover mold with a round of buttered waxed paper , set a saucer over the paper, and place a 1 lb. weight on it. (I used cans of beans.)  Refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight. The butter must be chilled firm, so the dessert will not collapse when unmolded.

When ready to serve, remove the waxed paper. Run a knife around the inside of the mold, and reverse dessert on a chilled serving platter. Peel waxed paper from top, and refrigerate dessert until serving time. Decorate with strawberries an accompany with whipped cream or strawberry sauce.





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  • Parmentier | 08/26/2009

    The easiest way to trim ladyfingers or savoiardi if they're too crispy to cut is to use the finest grater or microplane you have.

  • bjmollycat | 08/24/2009

    i belong to a recipe group (10 women) and we went to see the movie. Loved it. each month we have a theme and make a dish associated with theme such as 5 ingredients or less, something white, 4th of July, Halloween, etc....so you know that next months is Julia Child month and we all have to make something from her book....no one tells what they are making and believe it or not we rarely have doubles of any dish. I will let you know how it goes for the month of September.
    brabar - dearborn Mich senior group bon attetit!

  • lee | 08/22/2009

    Did you bake your own ladyfingers or purchase them? Judging from the photo, it looks like you used savoiardi which are much drier. I used to bake them myself or buy them from a bakery. They were tender enough to be trimmed easily.

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