What's a Charlotte Russe? "A big, blowsy dessert." "A dessert that sounds a bit like a film star from the 1980s." Such is how The Great British Baking Show hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins describe it when introducing the Showstopper challenge for Victorian week, in season 3. It consists of a custard (bavarois, aka Bavarian cream) surrounded by ladyfingers and topped with jelly. Queen Victoria's chef Francatelli (who also appears on Victoria) almost certainly made dishes like this for court dinners.
On The Great British Baking Show: Masterclass, Paul Hollywood made a modern passion fruit and lime version with the help of Mary Berry. He enthused that the Charlotte Russe is "one of the tastiest things we've ever chosen" for the bakers on the show, so it's worth trying it out yourself.
For the ladyfingers:
3 medium free-range eggs, separated
2½ oz caster sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
2¼ oz plain flour
1 tbsp cornflour
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar
1 oz icing sugar:
For the bavarois:
16 fl oz full-fat milk
6 free-range egg yolks
2¾ oz caster sugar
7 leaves gelatine, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
7 fl oz passion fruit purée (available from some large supermarkets)
12 oz double cream
For the lime jelly:
2 limes, finely grated zest and juice only
4½ oz caster sugar
3 sheets gelatine, soaked in cold water for 10 minutes
green food coloring
For the decoration:
16 oz fresh fruit, such as strawberries
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the base and sides of a deep, 8 in springform cake tin with baking parchment. Line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment and draw ten 4¼ in lines, 1 in apart on each sheet. Turn the parchment over so the ink/pencil line is underneath, to use as a template.
2. For the ladyfingers, whisk the egg yolks and half of the sugar together with an electric hand whisk until pale, creamy and thick enough to leave a trail on the surface when the whisk is removed (known as the ribbon stage). Add the vanilla extract and whisk again. Sieve the flour, cornflour and salt over the mixture and gently fold in.
3. In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Add the remaining sugar one spoonful at a time, whisking continuously to a glossy meringue. Gently fold the meringue into the egg and flour mixture in 3 batches - keeping as much air in the mixture as possible - until all the flour is incorporated.
4. Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a ⅝ in plain nozzle and pipe the mixture in straight lines along the lines on the prepared baking parchment. Sieve the icing sugar over the top and bake for 10-12 minutes until fairly firm but a bit spongy (they will harden up as they cool).
5. Remove from the oven and immediately transfer the sheets of ladyfingers onto cooling racks. Leave to cool for 2-3 minutes, then remove from the baking parchment with a palette knife. Leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
6. For the bavarois, pour the milk into a pan and heat until just under boiling point. Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar together until pale and creamy. Pour the hot milk over the eggs and whisk together. Drain the gelatine, squeezing out any excess moisture and then add to the mixture. Return the custard to the pan and cook gently until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon (do not boil as the custard might split). Remove from the heat.
7. Transfer to a clean bowl and leave to cool slightly before folding in the passion fruit purée. Leave to cool completely.
8. In a bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed, then fold into the passion fruit bavarois.
9. When the ladyfingers are cold, stand them vertically, next to each other, around the inside edge of the tin. Arrange them tightly together to form a seal and squash them slightly together so they remain upright. Spoon the bavarois into the ladyfinger-lined tin. Cover with cling film and chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours until set.
10. For the lime jelly, place the lime zest and juice, sugar, and 5 fl oz water in a pan. Bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat.
11. Drain the gelatine, squeezing out any excess moisture and add it to the pan. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved, then pass through a fine sieve into a jug. Add the food coloring paste to make a lime green jelly. Leave to cool until just beginning to set, then pour over the surface of the set bavarois and chill for 3-4 hours until set.
12. When ready to serve, remove the Charlotte from the tin and place on a serving plate or cake stand. Remove the baking paper and decorate with fruit.