I first became intrigued with making Apple Charlotte after Mrs. Patmore’s refusal on “Downton Abbey” (due to her failing eyesight) to attempt to make the recipe when Lady Cora requested it for Sir Anthony Strallan. Apple Charlotte is also the dessert proposed for the Heritage Christmas Dinner in my Williams-Sonoma Complete Entertaining Cookbook.
I became further interested in preparing an Apple Charlotte when I saw Jacques Pepin and Julia Child prepare one as part of a “Cooking in Concert” program that also includes a turkey roulade:
So a few weeks before Christmas, when I was searching the grocery store for a rib roast (also a facet of the Heritage Christmas Dinner), I texted my hubby to ask him to please double-check the recipe for me in regard to the size of the roast. (Not that I needed a roast of the size specified in the recipe, but I wanted to make sure I was gauging the number of servings properly.) He verified what the recipe told me, and then a few minutes later, he texted back and asked if I would also be making an Apple Charlotte with brandied whipped cream and apricot sauce.
He had been teasing, and thought I would respond with a sarcastic “Oh, yeah, right!” but instead I said, “Yes, I could do that.”
And what’s more, I was confident that I could make it sugar-free successfully, and also with less fat. Some Apple Charlotte recipes call for a very rich bread — such as sliced brioche — and most all recipes also instruct that the bread be dipped into melted butter. Given how much butter the bread would absorb, I thought that simply brushing on some melted butter would still make the bread a lovely golden brown and also keep the apple filling from soaking through the bread, but would reduce the amount of butter needed overall, and also make the bread a bit easier and less messy to handle.
There seems to be doubt as to the origins of Apple Charlotte — is it another version of Charlotte Russe, perhaps? — but regardless of its origins, Apple Charlotte is essentially a thick, thick filling of apples encased in buttered bread mold.
It is that simple. And oftentimes, simple flavors are the best.
There are, of course, many variations on Apple Charlotte, but based on my research and my recent experience in making — and eating! — this for the first time on Christmas, here are what I think are the key points to making the delicious dessert:
- The filling must be thick, almost like a puree or overly thickened apple sauce. You CANNOT simply substitute pie filling.
- You need the right kind of apples. Williams-Sonoma recommends McIntosh, Empire, or Rome Beauty apples. I could not find those, and so after my hubby did some research for me (I was at the store, he Googled away at home and texted me answers), we opted for Honey Crisp apples. Fuji apples would also likely substitute well.
- Use a good white bread that is sliced about 1/4″ thick. I purchased a sliced Italian loaf (about 14 ounces) from the WalMart bakery for $1. It worked great.
- Taking a tip from Jacques and Julia, I placed a circle of parchment paper in the bottom of my baking dish, as well as a strip of parchment (rather like a “handle”) that extended beyond the edges of the dish. This help ensures that the Charlotte will remove from the dish.
- If you want to break up the labor of making this dish, prepare the apple filling a day (or even two!) before and gently reheat it before assembling the Charlotte.
- The Charlotte must cool for at least 30 minutes before un-molding. You can make it earlier in the day, let it rest, and then gently reheat it in a warm oven for about 15 – 20 minutes — while you prepare the whipped cream and the apricot sauce, say — and then un-mold it.
- Place your bowl and mixer beaters for the whipping cream in the freezer for at least 30 minutes (to several hours) before whipping the cream — it will whip up better!
- I suggest you make 1 1/2 to 2 times the recommended amount of whipped cream — because yes, it’s that good!
- If you can’t find fresh apricots — I couldn’t! — you can reconstitute dried apricots by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak several hours or overnight. (Thanks, Mom, for that suggestion and for reconstituting the apricots!)
- Use the proper-sized baking dish. You need a baking dish that holds 6 cups. I used my two-quart (8 cup) Pyrex baking dish — sans the lid, of course!
This dish has simple flavors, but is elegant in presentation. Williams-Sonoma claims the recipe serves 6; I would venture to say it can serve 10 – 12 easily.
To break up the labor on the dish, I pared and prepared the apple filling the day before, then reheated the apples and finished assembling the Charlotte the next day. The apples were a bit too juicy, I thought, to serve their purpose as the firm filling, so I stirred in a few tablespoons of cornstarch before reheating them, which turned it into the nice, thick filling it needed to be.
This turned out utterly delicious and impressed the heck out of all of us.
So the next time you’re wanting an elegant dessert with simple flavors that’s sure to please, give Apple Charlotte a go. You can watch an episode of Downton Abbey or listen to Charlotte’s Song as you pare those apples. 😉
Although the recipe looks as though may be complicated, it REALLY isn’t it — it’s apple filling in a buttered bread crust with whipped cream and an apricot sauce!
Apple Charlotte (Serves 10 to 12)
For the Charlotte:
- 12 McIntosh, Empire, or Rome Beauty apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (NOTE: I couldn’t find any of those varieties, so I used Honey Crisp apples. Fuji apples would also likely work.)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 8 tablespoons butter (1/2 cup), melted
- 3/4 cup Splenda granular or other artificial sweetener of choice (just make sure it measures spoon for spoon like sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Lemon zest from 1 large lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I eyeballed it)
- Corn starch (2 to 3 tablespoons), IF NEEDED
- White bread, sliced 1/4″ thick, trimmed of crust (I used a sliced Italian loaf from the WalMart bakery; it took about 2/3 to 3/4 of a 14 ounce loaf)
For the Brandied Whipped Cream: (Suggest you make 1 1/2 to 2 times this amount)
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup Splenda granular (or other artificial sweetener of choice)
- 3 tablespoons brandy (optional, but I recommend it)
For the Apricot Sauce:
- 1 cup sugar-free apricot preserves
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup brandy (optional, but I recommend it)
- Apricot halves or orange peel
- NOTE: If you can’t get fresh, dried apricots can be reconstituted by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak for several hours or overnight
FOR THE FILLING:
- Peel, core, and cube the apples. Place them in a LARGE (12″), deep non-stick skillet. Add in 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook apples over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter melts and apples begin to soften. Add in the 3/4 cup Splenda, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, the lemon zest, and vanilla. Cook, stirring to prevent sticking, until the apples soften and reduce, about 15 to 25 minutes. You should end up with about 5 to 6 cups of apples.
- TIP: If you prefer to break up the task of making the Charlotte, you can let cool and then refrigerate the apple mixture until the following day — or probably for even two days — and then rewarm it before assembling and baking the Charlotte.
- NOTE: If apple mixture is juicy/liquid at all, stir in two or three tablespoons of corn starch and simmer, stirring gently but constantly to prevent scorching, to thicken. I made the apple filling the day before, then added the corn starch to the apples before reheating them when I assembled the Charlotte the following day.
TO ASSEMBLE THE CHARLOTTE:
- Preheat oven to 425F.
- Trace and cut out a circle of parchment paper that will fit along the bottom of your baking dish and place it on the bottom.
- Cut a long strip — long enough that it extends from either side of the baking dish, like a “handle” of sorts — and place it along the bottom and let it extend up and beyond the sides of your baking dish.
- Trim bread crusts (reserve for another use or feed them to birds). With a pastry brush or sauce brush, lightly brush the side of the bread that will be placed against the baking dish/mold and assemble the bread in the mold. Do not overlap, but do fit bread edges together closely to prevent gaps. Trim slices as needed to fit gaps.
- Lightly brush the other side of the bread with butter (the side that will have the filling).
- Gently spoon in the apple mixture. Top with bread, brushing each side with butter.
- Bake on LOWER RACK of oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350F and bake for another 30 minutes, until bread is golden.
- Remove and let rest for AT LEAST 30 minutes before un-molding. OR, let rest for several hours and then gently reheat in a warm oven for about 15 to 20 minutes before un-molding.
- TO UNMOLD: Run knife gently around edge to make sure the Charlotte has not stuck. Place your serving plate on top of the Charlotte, then invert. Remove the mold and remove the parchment paper.
- Garnish with apricot halves and/or orange peel, if desired.
TO PREPARE THE BRANDIED WHIPPED CREAM:
- For best results, chill bowl and beaters before whipping cream.
- Whip cream and 1/4 cup Splenda until soft to medium peaks begin to form.
- Fold in brandy, if desired.
TO PREPARE THE APRICOT SAUCE:
- Gently heat apricot preserves and water in a small saucepan.
- Stir in brandy, if desired.
Place individual servings on a dessert plate and garnish as desired with whipped cream and apricot sauce.
REFRIGERATE ALL LEFTOVERS.
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