My farmers’ market availability list says we are in the middle of the berry season in the next few weeks. These are the berries that were on the bush the longest, so with the heat of summer, they are sweet and juicy. There are piles of fresh apples. I notice Gravenstein apples, which has a very short season, are here. Real Rome Beauties may, too, a superior cooking apple. So it is time for berry desserts and the beginning of the fresh apple desserts.
The best known dessert using leftover bread other than bread pudding is a baked fruit Charlotte. It is an old dessert that shows up in many different cuisines. It might even be one of the first composed desserts–crushed fruit moistening bread. A mold is lined with buttered bread, filled with a seasonal fruit compote, and topped with a round of bread that helps contain the filling.
These charming desserts, served hot, are so intrinsic to French pastry making that there is a pretty mold designed just for it–a deep round mold with heart-shaped handles on each side made from tinned steel. No serious dessert maker should be without at least one Charlotte mold; they are also great for baking breads and muffin cakes.
While classic apple Charlotte–Charolette aux pommes in French and Sharlotki in Russian–is the most familiar and a great favorite, the compote can be made in this exact manner from pears, quinces, apricots, or plums. I came upon them when I was baking a lot of bread and needed to find ways to use all the leftovers beyond stratas, stuffings, and the ubiquitous sweet and savory bread puddings.
The summer pudding is a British variation of the Charlotte, very popular in European dessert cookery and much neglected here. It’s the great homey dessert, it’s a great favorite of pastry chefs who puts the vivid crimson dish on restaurant dessert menus every summer, when berries are at their peak. Of course these versions often use homemade brioche (rich, flavorful, and firm), layered with cooked berries. The more traditional British route is with regular sandwich bread with a good texture, not the commercial cottony grocery store variety, which will turn to mush in contact with the berries. The bread and berries end up that the bread dissolves into the fruit and it becomes an enticing scarlet color from the berries.
Here I use raspberries and strawberries, but you could use blackberries as well to substitute for one of the berries. Use a firm, tight-grained day-old white or whole wheat bread; the slices must not be too thick. Make sure the overlapping slices are snug or else the filling, which must be very thick, will spill out. If the filling is too loose, it will soak through the bread and the Charlotte will collapse when it is turned out onto a serving plate. You want the presentation of a perfect little dome. Often summer puddings are not cooked, but this version is baked in the oven, again in thick ceramic, widemouthed coffee cups. It will be cooled, then chilled overnight, served cold in contrast to the apple charlotte, which is served hot out of the oven.
The following adapted recipes are the handiwork of Mary Cech, former Pastry Instructor at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone and now a cookbook writer as well. She made them while working at both the Cypress Club in San Francisco and Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago, and generously shared them with me.
She used 6-ounce coffee cups (every restaurant has tons of them), but in lieu you can use Pyrex custard cups (available at supermarkets) or individual tin charlotte molds. If you want only one large one, use a 1-quart charlotte mold, souffle dish, brioche tin, or mixing bowl; if you make one large, be sure to weight down the pud by covering it with a plate and putting a large can on top while in the refrigerator. But the individual sizes are really nice and impressive. Serve with a dollop of crème frâiche, whipped cream, or Mary’s special thick old-fashioned Devonshire-style cream (recipe follows), on the side. These are really yummy versions of very humble old fashioned desserts that simply use up leftovers.
Individual Warm Apple Charlottes
- 4 large-sized Granny Smith or other tart cooking apple in season, peeled, cored, and cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 8-ounces unsalted butter, divided
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/2 cup apricot jam
- 2 ounces (1/3 cup) blanched slivered almonds
- 1 loaf thin-sliced firm-textured white or wheat bread
1. Make the apple compote: Place the apples in a saute pan with 1/4 cup of the butter. Cook over low heat 5 minutes. Meanwhile, grind the almonds in the food processor; remove and then whirl the apricot jam until smooth after you grind the almonds (you don’t need to wash the work bowl in between tasks). Add the honey and the jam to the apples and increase the heat to high, stirring until slightly tender, not mushy, all the liquid is reduced and mixture is thick. Remove from the heat and stir in the almonds. Let stand at room temperature while lining the molds.
2. Preheat the oven to 425º. Melt the remaining 3/4 cup of butter in a saute pan. Place four 6-ounce molds on a baking sheet. Remove the crusts from the bread (whirl them in the food processor and use for fresh bread crumbs in another recipe) and cut each slice into quarters, reserving 4 whole slices for the tops. Cut 4 rounds of bread for the tops by turning one of the molds upside down and cutting around the edge with a knife; it will fit exactly.
3. Dip each piece of bread lightly in the butter and press into the molds, overlapping them like shingles around the sides and covering the bottom (some chefs like a heart-shaped piece of bread on the very bottom, which will show up on the top when turned out). Divide the apple compote between the 4 molds and cover the tops with the bread rounds; press slightly to pack in firmly.
4. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake 20 to 25 minutes, until the tops are just crispy (the insides will be caramelized). Do not overbake. Remove from the oven and invert immediately onto individual dessert plates. Dust with some powdered sugar and place a large spoonful of French cream on the side.
Individual Raspberry and Strawberry Summer Puddings
- 4 pint baskets of mixed fresh summer berries to make 3 cups sliced strawberries and 3 cups whole raspberries
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, to taste
- 1 loaf thin-sliced firm-textured white bread or day-old brioche
1. In a saucepan, combine the berries and 3/4 cup of sugar. Cook over medium heat until the berries are juicy, but still holding their shape, about 5 minutes. Taste for sweetening and cool to lukewarm.
2. Preheat the oven to 350º. Place four 6-ounce molds on a baking sheet. Remove the crusts from the bread (whirl them in the food processor and use for fresh bread crumbs in another recipe) and cut each slice into 4 long strips, reserving 4 whole slices for the tops. Cut 4 rounds of bread for the tops by turning one of the molds upside down and cutting around the edge with a knife; it will fit exactly. If the tops are largers, cut the round in half, then lay strips in the center. Cut a little round for the bottom into triangles, if desired.
3. Divide the warm berries between the 4 bread-lined molds, keeping any extra for garnishing on the side, and cover the tops with the bread rounds; press slightly to pack in firmly. Spoon any berry liquid over the top to soak the bread or turn the top round over once to soak it through.
4. Place the baking sheet in the center of the oven and bake exactly 15 minutes. Do not over bake. Remove from the oven and cool. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 4 hours to overnight. Carefully invert to slide the pudding out onto individual dessert plates. Garnish with a dollop of cream and extra berries.
Mary’s French Dessert Cream
Cream is a key ingredient in many dessert recipes and a premier accompaniment when whipped until fluffy. Ultra-pasteurized cream, heated to destroy harmful bacteria and extend shelf life, is what you find on most supermarket shelves. Sometimes you will see a recipe calling for heavy manufacturing cream or whipping cream, which is what the pros use. Both are pasteurized, but have a butterfat content of over 37 percent, but contain no emulsifiers or stablizers.
- 1 pint cold heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, or to taste
Place the heavy cream in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and over medium high heat, reduce the cream by half; it will take about 20 minutes. Add the sugar to taste to the hot cream, stir until dissolved, and pour into a covered container. Chill in the refrigerator until serving.
Excerpted from The Bread Lover’s Bread Machine Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2014
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.