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Strawberry-Lemon Charlotte Russe with Thyme Ladyfingers

Serves 16

A Charlotte Russe, made by layering sponge cake, ladyfingers, or cookies with a creamy filling, and often stabilized with gelatin, is akin to a trifle or an icebox cake. The one updated here from the New Royal Cook Book (1922) is simplicity itself: “Sponge cake or lady fingers … to be fill[ed] with whipped cream and serve[d] cold.” I unpacked the instructions a bit, and have called for homemade thyme ladyfingers and a boozy filling of lemon whipped cream and strawberries. Midcentury housewives often used store-bought ladyfingers for their Russes and you can, too—just add a teaspoon or two of thyme to your whipped cream.

Ladyfingers

4 eggs, separated

7 Tbsp [105 g] granulated sugar

1½ tsp pure vanilla extract

2/3 cup [90 g] all-purpose flour

Scant ¼ tsp baking powder

4 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus more for sprinkling

Scant ¼ tsp table salt

Scant ½ tsp cream of tartar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Whipped Cream Filling

3 cups [720 ml] heavy cream

½ cup [60 g] confectioners’ sugar

3 Tbsp limoncello, optional

3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tsp lemon extract

4 cups [455 g] strawberries, sliced

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly grease the sides of a 9-in-by-3-in springform pan with nonstick cooking spray or softened butter.

Line the sides of the pan with a 3-in-by-29-in strip of parchment paper.

For the ladyfingers in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the yolks, 5 tablespoons [80 g] of the granulated sugar, and the vanilla on medium-high speed until the mixture doubles in volume and falls in a ribbon when the whisk is lifted out of the bowl, about 5 minutes.

Set a wire mesh sieve over the mixer bowl and sift the flour and baking powder into the egg mixture. Add the thyme, and very gently fold the flour mixture and thyme into the yolk mixture with a rubber spatula. The batter will be very thick. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, add the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar. Using an electric hand mixer, whisk on medium speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add the remaining 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Whisk until stiff peaks form (the peaks should stand upright when the whisk is lifted from the bowl).

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten whites into the yolk mixture in three batches, until just incorporated, being careful not to decrease the volume.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a ½-in round tip with batter. Pipe 3-in-by-1-in fingers onto the two prepared baking sheets. If you do not have a pastry bag, use a large zippered plastic bag and snip off one corner. Sprinkle a couple of thyme leaves on each finger and generously sift confectioners’ sugar over all of them, leaving a thick coat of sugar.

Bake one sheet at a time, rotating the pan at the halfway point, until the ladyfingers are puffy, dry to the touch, and just very slightly browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the ladyfingers cool in the pan for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer them with a small offset or thin metal spatula to a wire rack to cool completely. Use immediately or freeze them on the baking sheet, then transfer to zippered plastic bag once frozen. They will get soggy if stored in plastic on the counter. The cake can be assembled with the frozen fingers.

For the filling place the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and whisk on medium to medium-high speed until the cream begins to thicken, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the confectioners’ sugar, limoncello, if using, lemon juice, and lemon extract and continue whisking until the cream holds medium peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold all but a handful of the strawberries into the whipped cream.

Line the bottom and sides of the prepared springform pan with ladyfingers. Spread half of the whipped cream over the ladyfingers. Cover with another layer of ladyfingers. Repeat with the remaining whipped cream. Decorate the top with the reserved strawberries and a sprinkling of thyme leaves.

Refrigerate the cake for 24 hours, lightly covered in plastic wrap. To serve, carefully remove the sides of the pan and slice the cake using a large serrated knife. The cake will keep, lightly wrapped in plastic wrap, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Reprinted from The Vintage Baker by Jessie Sheehan with permission by Chronicle Books, 2018

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