Take a masterclass in impressive desserts with this chocolate and cream-filled charlotte topped with fancy spun sugar.
150g/5oz caster sugar
300ml/10½fl oz water
75g/3oz dried sour cherries
75g/3oz dried cranberries
390ml/13½fl oz orange liqueur
300ml/10½fl oz stock syrup (see above)
200g/7oz sponge fingers (also known as boudoir biscuits or ladies’ fingers)
150g/5oz plain chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
175g/6oz unsalted butter
175g/6oz caster sugar
250g/9oz vanilla-flavoured chestnut purée (available from delicatessens)
150g/5oz ground almonds
300ml/10½fl oz double cream
350g/12oz caster sugar
3 tbsp water
For the stock syrup, mix the sugar and water together in a small pan, then bring the mixture slowly to the boil until the sugar dissolves. Reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool, then chill in the fridge overnight.
For the charlotte, place the dried sour cherries and the dried cranberries in a small bowl, pour over six tablespoons of the orange liqueur, cover the bowl with cling film and leave the fruit to soak for 12 hours, or at least overnight.
When the fruit has soaked, grease and line a deep 22cm/9in loose-bottomed cake tin (or charlotte mould) with greaseproof paper.
Pour the remaining orange liqueur and the stock syrup into a wide, shallow bowl.
Dip the non-sugared sides of the sponge fingers into the syrup mixture one at a time and stand them up vertically next to each other to line the sides of the cake tin. Don’t leave them to soak for too long as they will fall apart.
Bring a small amount of water to a gentle simmer in a saucepan. Suspend a heatproof bowl over the pan (do not allow the base of the bowl to touch the surface of the water). Add the chocolate to the bowl and stir until melted. Set aside.
Using a hand-held electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale and fluffy.
Fold the chestnut purée into the creamed butter and sugar mixture until just combined, using a metal spoon. Pour in the melted chocolate, then add the soaked fruit and ground almonds. Mix until well combined.
Pour the cream into a separate bowl and whisk until it is thick enough to leave a trail behind when the whisk is removed. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate and fruit mixture until it gives a marbled effect.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin, then cover the tin with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.
For the spun sugar, tip the sugar into a heavy-based saucepan. Add the water and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Gradually bring the mixture to a simmer over a gentle heat.
Using a sugar thermometer, heat the mixture to a temperature of 155C/311F (this is known as the hard crack stage). Do not be tempted to stir the sugar mixture as this will cause the syrup to crystallise. (Caution: hot sugar syrup can burn. Do not leave unattended and do not taste or touch the syrup.)
Fill an empty sink with cold water. As soon as the sugar mixture reaches the desired temperature, plunge the base of the pan into the water to stop the cooking process.
Now work quickly: place the saucepan onto a heatproof surface. Turn two forks back to back and hold them in one hand. Hold a rolling pin in the other. Dip the forks into the sugar syrup and flick the caramel over the rolling pin to create long strands of sugar. Using your hands, gather the strands up into a large ball and mould together to form shapes. Continue to create sugar shapes until all of the sugar syrup has been used.
When ready to serve the sweet chestnut and chocolate charlotte, turn the charlotte out onto a serving plate or cake stand. Garnish with the spun sugar shapes.
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