Sep 19, 2010

Apple Caramel Charlotte

As I was baking on a spectacularly beautiful fall Saturday, I kept hearing Woody's words echoing in my ears: "The Apple Caramel Charlotte is the biggest pain in the ass in the entire book." Truer words were never spoken.
Although the cake ended up tasting delicious, putting it together is not the kind of thing I enjoy, and, as I have noticed to be so often the case, the projects that require a lot of fine motor coordination are not the ones at which I excel. This cake was definitely aesthetically challenged--mostly through my own errors. But I have no desire to pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again--at least not with the apple caramel charlotte. For that, once is enough.
I made the cake over the course of a few days, and Jim took about 150 pictures of the process, but I'm going to condense the steps in order not to have the world's longest blog post.
Poaching the Apples:
This was the most satisfying part of the whole process. I picked up some Zestar apples, the University of Minnesota's newest entry in the apple hybridization sweepstakes. (Seriously. They make a lot of money from those apples).
Baking the Biscuit:
I've shown the Miraculous Transformation of the Eggs photos on this blog a million times. You've just got to let your KitchenAid do its thing.
For some reason, it only took 5 minutes for this biscuit to bake to a golden brown. Maybe it was a little thinner than usual.
Cutting the Parts:
You know what they say--measure twice, cut once. It's probably even truer in cakery than in carpentry. If you mess up with the cake measuring, you have to bake a whole new cake. Easier just to grab another piece of wood.
I was feeling pretty confident that I'd measured carefully and that I had four even rectangles.
Well, they turned out not to be quite as even as I'd hoped, and the final stack was listing a bit, but I put the listing stack in the freezer. I now believed that there was a fighting chance for me to finish the cake before we went out for dinner and a play with our friends June and David. I got a little surge of energy.
Making the Bavarian Cream:
Remember the apples I poached a few days earlier? Time to get the poaching liquid out of the refrigerator, heat it up, and pour it into some caramelized sugar.
This caramel sugar syrup is added gradually to about five egg yolks. The idea is not to make scrambled eggs.
But, of course, even though you've just made this complicated egg yolk/caramelized sugar/gelatin mixture, you're not done yet. Oh no. This is a three-component Bavarian cream. Next comes the Italian meringue.
I was starting to get tired and crabby. I hadn't had time to take a shower yet, and we were closing in on the time that June and David were going to pick us up. My feet hurt, and I was snapping at my photographer. But I managed to whip the cream and whisk it into the Bavarian cream, after first whisking in the Italian meringue.
Making the Walls of the Cake:
This is where I really screwed up. I thought I was being so precise, because I measured off a 3/8-inch piece, cut it, measured another, cut it, and so forth. But after cutting a number of pieces, I noticed that I was supposed to end up with 20 slices in order to have enough to line the mold. I started making them much smaller, but still only ended up with 16 uneven slices. Just the fate I'd hoped to avoid.
Fortunately, I'd saved the scraps and slapped together some last-minute strips, but they weren't the same size and shape (as the first ones or as each other). My goals now shifted. I was no longer hoping for "magnificent." I'd be satisfied with "not butt-ugly." But I wasn't sure I was going to get there.
Filling the Cake:
Jim and I both tasted the finished Bavarian cream, and agreed that it was excellent. I still hadn't had time for a shower, but the sugar gave me a nice rush, and I was actually seeing the end in sight.
Forming the Apple "Rose":
The cake-strip debacle made me afraid to cut the apple slices too thickly or placing the slices too tightly--I didn't want to run out of apples too! I think I over-compensated because I had plenty of apples left and some naked places showing.
Still, although you might not say "Oh, nice rose shape," when looking at the cake, you would probably not burst into laughter upon being told it was supposed to look like a rose.
The glaze gave the apple slices a nice shine. I was so happy that I'd noticed I needed arrowroot (not a pantry staple) for the glaze. If I'd had to run to the grocery store late Saturday afternoon for arrowroot, I'd have shot myself. Luckily for me, I didn't have to try to find a gun.
I had just enough time for a quick shower before June and David picked us up. When they came I told them we were coming back here for dessert after the play whether they liked it or not. They agreed. I noticed that they exchanged glances that looked like they were telling each other not to cross me.
Serving the Cake
Five hours later, we returned for the promised dessert. I showed June and David the seven pages of instructions. June asked me if I'd ever make it again. "Absolutely not!" I said. "What if someone really old wanted a piece?" I allowed that I might make it for someone really old and frail if the old, frail person wanted it. Luckily for me, Jim was the oldest person in the room, and he didn't want a repeat.

David: "Extraordinary! I really like it when you get a little piece of cake with each bite."
June: "I really like it. I even think it's worth making it again, and you could really perfect it if you made it a second time. But I'm sorry it was a pain in the butt for you."
Jim: "I liked the flavors of the individual components, but I didn't think they blended together very well at all. I know you worked hard on it, but I think it's my least favorite of the cakes you've baked."


Shirley said...

Your posts always make me chuckle. I think it still elicits a "wow" whether your pieces are straight and uniform or not. I don't blame you at all for not wanting to ever make it again, though!

Monica said...

Marie... come on over lets both give each other hugs, because you could not have said it better - this cake is a PAIN IN THE BUTT! It took me 2 days over 8 hours, lots of cursing, lot of measuring (hello math on a saturday night - don't think so!) and came to the same conclusion - NEVER EVER TO REPEAT. I told Tom, to really enjoy it and make it last, because he was never going to see it again in his lifetime.

Having said that, it's not what it looks like its what it taste like and you got great reviews.

Marie said...

Thanks--I agree that there's a certain wow factor just in making something this complicated. I think it's my role to show that if I can do it, you can do it! I'm the baker on the list who shows that you don't have to be perfect.

Have a hug, sister. The chocolate tomato soup cake is sounding better and better. It did taste good though.

Vicki said...

Zestars arrived in the market and I poached one for fun with the Granny Smiths. Very nice apple. The produce guy didn't know if they could be used for baking.

That Woody has a lot of explaining to do. He might have warned us that it was necessary to be a T'ai Chi master to have the stamina to make this Charlotte!

Your Charlotte turned out nice and straight edged. I see now I lined up mine the wrong way.

NancyB said...

I'm not sure if it would have helped or hurt to have known Woody's opinion before I started this one. I'm looking back at my partly-done post and trying to summon enough energy to just finish that--it's exhausting just trying to remember the process. :)

Definitely in the "only do this is too short" category.

gartblue said...

Despite its a Mournful Monday, I'm sitting here splitting my sides reading this.

And I absolutely thought your charlotte looks fabulous, especially after reading the pains it took you to get there.

I, on the other hand took the easy way out and waited for your post and others. Yikes! Am determined to bake next week's cake especially now that the kitchen's less dusty. Had to take 2 weeks off for the renovation.

*taking my hat off to you*

Marie said...

Good experiment to poach different kinds of apples (you definitely know which kinds don't work!). My grocery store's Zestar sign said "great for pies!" Woody is absolutely great at measuring and making things turn out even.

Nancy B,
Do you want to hear a sad story? I lost my blog after writing it and had to recreate it to post it. This cake is cursed!

Remember--if I can do it, you can do it. But this wouldn't be the cake you'd want to be making in the midst of renovation.

Katya said...

What a beautifully defined slice, Marie. I ran out of gelatin so I let my bavarian turn out a little looser, which didn't affect taste but didn't make for ease of cutting.

I love the basic design of the cake, but I think the Bavarian cream was more trouble than it was worth. The whole thing would have been just as delicious with a ten minute pastry cream under the apples. I, too, really lost it around the Italian meringue, and I do this baking thing because I like finicky, slightly pointless projects. But push me too far, Bavarian cream...

Andrea said...


I decided to take on the challenge of joining y'all this week. I'm not sure if that was the best decision I've made since this cake was quite a challenge, but I'm looking forward to being part of this group and future cakes. Here's my post for the week:

Thanks for letting me join y'all.


Mendy said...


The last picture with the slice on a plate looks really tempting.

Its fun that you had guests over for this.

Jenn said...

Marie, your cake looks fabulous. I'm sorry that you had all the trouble. I think there's nothing worse than trying to finish a cake before a specific time - that added stress is not helpful. The slice looks perfect!

Sarah the Bear said...

I couldn't agree with Woody more! And I was starting to think I was the only one who struggled with this cake. Maybe next time I'll serve the Bavarian cream alone in parfait glasses. Regardless, your cake looks great! Brava!

Marie said...

There was a LOT of gelatin in the Bavarian cream--much more than we've used in other recipes. I forgot to add in my tasting panel notes that Jim didn't like the gelatinous texture. I just noticed that my cake stood up well--thanks for mentioning it--I think we (I anyway) get so focused on the parts that go wrong we don't bother to notice what went right.

Welcome--you and Sarah both made fantastic debuts!

Not serving it to guests would have been like getting all dressed up with no place to go.

Marie said...

Working against the clock never helps, does it? It always makes me feel like I'm on Top Chef--and I'm going to be sent home.

Or it would be a fabulous layered dessert, so you could include the cake, but you wouldn't have to line up those little cake soldiers around the pan.

hector said...

Marie, you did fine! i FEEL for u and for everyone making this refined dessert! When I first made the similar Ethereal Pear Charlotte, unarguably cake bible's best tasting cake, i made sure Rose heard my pains! She just answered "it is easier the second time around!"

I would recommend EVERYONE, the best way to enjoy this recipe is to bake the cake ahead of time and freeze it! I also always assemble the ring ahead of time and freeze! YES, you can refreeze biscuit more than once! If u have previous poached apple syrup, make and fill the Bavarian cream and freeze! The day of the party all you need is arrange apples.

Nothing is proved or gets better if you do everything in one day. I don't know of any bakery that does! Breaking the steps and freezing makes this dessert fun to make. And soon you will see yourself making tiered charlotte wedding cakes -:)

Marie said...

I never thought about freezing the cake pieces ahead of time. That would have made it much easier. Great advice--thanks!
"Soon you will see yourself making tiered charlotte wedding cakes"--Hector, that sounds like a curse!

Shandy said...

I busted up laughing because I could not see a repeat in my own kitchen either! Love your step-by-step pictures and your commentary. I underlined so much that I actually had trouble reading the directions when I came to making this contraption.

faithy said...

sounds like a lot of work...but glad your cake turns out looking gorgeous! :D I want a slice too!

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

wow wow wow! you all are amazing. realize you've just mastered the most difficult 5 star bakery cake in the book. i know some of you thought it was too much work for the effort involved but if you think of it as a lesson in baking, as some of you did mention, you'll realize that from here on in it will be smooth sailing! now don't kill me but if you were to make this cake immediately again you would see it is about 500% easier. it's just the first time...and if you think it was mind-boggling, pity woody and me having to create the template (and we tweaked it several times) not to mention the laborious instructions.
the only cake that nears this one in complexity is zach's la bomba and let me tell you that one IS worth it--it is my favorite in the entire book though not really a cake as the thin layer of cake at the bottom is the least significant part of it. it's really a mousse. but what a mousse!
love you all!
p.s. tears in my eyes to read what raymond wrote. whatever the personal tragedy was i hope things are getting better. yes baking does heal but i can imagine how much effort it took just to get started in face of the problem.

Marie said...

Like the student who highlights every sentence in the text! There were a lot of directions, but it turned out that everything that was needed was actually there, I think.

I would love to see you do this cake--you have such a talent for decorating, I'll bet you'd make a beauty.

I hate to admit it, but I've already found myself thinking about makiing it again. I was thinking about how much easier making the strips of cake would be now that I understand the process, and how good the apples smelled, and how I loved the taste of the Bavarian cream.... So who knows? Maybe there will be an Apple Charlotte #2.

Vicki said...

My son got the last saved bit of the Charlotte and rapturously announced he wanted it for his birthday! Thank heavens that's not until July.

Jenn said...

Marie, I'm glad I'm not the only one who's plotting version number 2. Though after seeing Hector's comment, I feel like I should try the Ethereal Pear Charlotte.

Katya said...

Rose, I admit it, I'm thinking of doing it again too. With pear. When there's an occasion, as I definitely don't want it on my hands again. I look forward to perfecting the bavarian.

evil cake lady said...

man oh man. when i started reading everyone's comments i had second thoughts about baking this cake this week, but by the time i got down to the end when some of you are thinking of making it again, i am recharged!

marie, your cake looks beautiful and your slice so fancy! i agree, baking against the clock is so stressful. i don't know how all those reality contestants do it.

hector, thanks for the freezing tip! i didn't know bavarian cream could be frozen...good to know!

good job, bakers!!

Marie said...

Nice to get a rave review from someone who's eating the cake. And "I want this for my birthday" is about as big a rave as you can get. Apple Charlotte #2 coming up in July?

If you decide to do the pear charlotte, please blog about it!

I love the way we're all turning from "Never again!" to "Next time I hope to perfect the Bavarian cream."

I kept checking your blog, waiting for your apple caramel charlotte! I won't have to wait much longer?

evil cake lady said...

i just got home three hours ago! i'm hoping to have to have it all done by thursday...or saturday.

Marie said...

Oh, all right. I'll see it when I see it.

Monica said...

Tom has given me the "official" puppy eyes, when he had the last slice last night. "Are you sure you won't make it again?"

I hate it when he gives me the puppy eyes! He is playing dirty.

Charlotte # 2 - mmmmm, maybe for his birthday NEXT YEAR.

Rose, thanks for the kudos - I'm still mad at it.

La bomba is another one that I'm totally dreading but make it I will, plus I love mousse!

Marie said...

Don't worry--La Bomba is still way off in the distance. It's the only one left on my "dread" list, but it sounds so good I'm almost looking forward to it.

Jenn said...

Marie - I'll blog about the Pear Charlotte for sure. Might even try to do step by step pictures, something I haven't done (might as well go BIG). Trying to come up with when to make it - perhaps in a couple of months!

ECL, I'm looking forward to your Apple Charlotte!

La Bomba looks dreadful for sure. Of course I've seen Matthew's take and I'm even more depressed. His was super perfect!

Hanaâ said...

Marie, I applaud you (and others) for going through with this dessert until the (bitter) end. Your cake looks beautiful and the cake slice shows that the interior was perfectly done! I almost feel bad for not suffering along with you all and sharing your sweat, blood and tears (but I got over it pretty quickly). Believe it or not, I’m thinking I might make it for Free Choice week (hopefully my schedule is less crazy by then).

I was going through the recipe for the tomato choc cake… Wow! That’s almost a pound of butter for a 2-layer cake!! I was planning on halving the recipe (6” round pans) but I might make a 1/4 recipe instead (4” round pans) so it can be enjoyed in *extreme* moderation.

diseño web said...

This looks amazing

Anonymous said...

I attempted the just the mousse in this recipe last night and it came out wonderful - billowy is a great description though for me it was more in taste rather than texture.

Two things for me: 1. I found it was incredibly easy to over-poach the apples. The timings were way off for my technique. 2. I'm not sure if the meringue needs the complicated syrup technique. Wouldn't just whisking sugar in work okay?

Would Rose like to comment on the colours in the pictures? I'd like to see a slice of the original cake to compare. My custard turned out darker that the one here, and the final mousse turned out looking caramel-coloured rather than whitish.

Finally, top marks to the blogger here! I loved the picture of the finished thing with the book picture fresh in my mind. :) Also, top marks to Rose as I think this is a lovely recipe and cake - well worth perfecting one's technique for. Next one for me though is the ginger cheesecake.