by Pamela Foster, DowntonAbbeyCooks.comA side note before we dive into this week’s Downton Dish: If you are in the Toronto area this weekend, please come down to visit William Ashley in Manulife Centre for Downton Abbey Day festivities on May 11th. I will be there speaking about Downton food, demonstrating just how easy it is to host afternoon tea for your family and friends.
Last week offered us burnt toast, this week we are served burnt kidney soufflé as Ethel attempts to cook for Isobel. You have got to give credit to the writers. Not too many of us really fancy eating offals anymore (paté might be the exception), so I am sure I was not the only one secretly cheering when the kidney soufflé was not only burnt, but dropped to the floor. Sad for Ethel, but no great loss.
We had more empathy for the plight of Daisy and Ivy as the hollandaise sauce curdled right before it was to be served. Thankfully young Alfred came to the rescue with his knowledge of “tricks of the trade” as Mrs. Patmore stood by and observed. If a finished hollandaise sauce starts to separate, a tablespoon of cold water beaten into it will often bring it back. If that fails, whisk another egg in a separate heated bowl, and then slowly whisk in the curdled sauce. There is nothing worse than when things go wrong at the last minute. What beginner and non-cooks don’t realize is that not all dishes turn out perfectly. Some actually make it to the dining room undetected, like the salted raspberry meringue back in Season 1. Tragedy can strike the experienced cook, just as easily as the novice. This week we witnessed two types of kitchen nightmares, one dish thankfully was brought back to life, the other unfortunately did not make it. But life and the meal does go on.
Continuing on the kitchen theme, we discover that the proof to free Bates is in the pastry crust Vera was preparing the night before she died. The pastry proves Bates was on the train back to Downton when she made and ate her poison pie. The poison was in the crust. The challenge, however was to get an official statement from Mrs. Bartlett before she realized its significance.
Of course this episode will always be remembered, not for food, but for the tragic loss of Sybil’s life. Dr. Clarkson clashes with the famous Sir Phillip who arrives to deliver Sybil’s baby. Dr. Clarkson, who doesn’t have the best track record, did correctly recognize Sybil was exhibiting symptoms of Eclampsia. The baby was successfully delivered but Sybil later suffers the final seizures of Eclampsia and dies with her family around her. Cora blames Sir Philip and Lord Grantham for Sybil’s death, and it threatens to break apart Cora and Robert’s marriage. Baked rice pudding, last week’s Downton Dish, was certainly welcomed comfort food for fans to help process this latest plot development.
This week’s Downton Dish is a Charlotte Russe, an easy dessert to make and great for the coming summer season. As famously quoted by one character “it would be a shame to miss such a good pudding”.
This Week’s Downton Dish: Guiltless Strawberry Charlotte Russe
Charlotte Russe is a French chilled dessert made with ladyfingers, filled with a fruit flavored cream filling set by gelatin, a favorite cooking ingredient of the Edwardians. My version cuts some of the fat by substituting half the whipping cream with yoghurt. If you wish you can substitute yoghurt for all the cream and still have an amazing tasting pudding.
Credit for the Charlotte Russeis given to French Chef Marie-Antoine Careme (1784-1833), who named it in honor of his Russian employer, Czar Alexander I. The word “russe” means Russian in French. Charlotte is the Czar’s sister in law, Queen Charlotte, married to George III. Typically you name your Charlotte after the flavoring you include. You can make a large russe and slice, but I enjoy making smaller portions, particularly to serve at afternoon tea.
Makes one large or 6 individual desserts.
- Ladyfingers (purchased or use my recipe so you can customize the size)
- 2 cups strawberry purée (4 cups mashed strawberries)
- 3/4 cup sugar (or sugar substitute)
- 1½ cups whipping cream, whipped soft*
- 1½ cups nonfat plain yoghurt*
- 5 teaspoons gelatin powder
*you can also use all yoghurt to really cut down on the fat calories.
- Mix the gelatin powder with two tablespoons of sugar.
- Warm one cup of the strawberry purée with the remaining sugar. Mix the gelatin powder/sugar mixture into the warm strawberry purée. Mix the gelatin well to prevent any lumps from forming. Add in the remaining strawberry purée.
- Let the mixture cool down to room temperature. Fold in one-third of the whipped cream and then the remaining whipped cream and yoghurt.
- To add an extra bit of decadence you can lightly dip the rounded side of each ladyfinger in brandy and then coat with sugar. It will help soften the cookies.
- If you don’t have a charlotte molds, improvise with empty soup or sauce cans with both ends removed. I halved the ladyfingers width wise, but you can also half them length wise with a little patience to make smaller, more delicate charlottes.
- Stand the ladyfingers on end with the rounded side out and ends up, and carefully line the inside of the mold/can ensuring no gaps. Make a base for the charlotte by breaking a few cookies and placing them on the bottom.
- Gently pour or spoon the filling into the mold. You could add some chopped fresh fruit in the centre and fill to the top of the ladyfingers. Refrigerate the charlotte for at least 3 or 4 hours.
- The mousse will have firmed up quite nicely, move the charlotte to your serving plate, and then gently remove the can or mold.
- As an added touch you may wish to tie a ribbon around the base, particularly if you are going to let the charlotte sit on your table for any given amount of time. Garnish with fresh berries, a fruit coulis, (or thawed frozen berries) and a dollop of your favorite dairy product. Keep it healthy and try non fat greek yoghurt sweetened with a touch of honey.
Downton Abbey Season 3 continues Wednesdays at 9pm ET/6pm PT and our special Downton Abbey mini-site has launched featuring photos, videos, character profiles and much more. It’s your online domain for all things Downton!
Pamela Foster is a culinary historian who resides in the Greater Toronto Area with her husband, affectionately referred to as Lord D. Her popular blog Downton Abbey Cooks explores food, history and health of the Downton era (1912- 1920s). A signed copy of her ecookbook Abbey Cooks Entertain can be downloaded from her website and regular copies from Kobo or Amazon.ca. (Get a sneak peek here.)
all Downton Abbey photos (c) NBC Universal/ITV
photos of Pamela Foster/Abbey Cooks Entertain/recipe dishes courtesy Pamela Foster