It’s wonderful to be here, visiting the “Kitchen” during the Holiday revelries. Krista has been so sweet to invite me to chat about my December book, THE COCOA CONSPIRACY, which is the second in my Lady Arianna Regency-set historical mystery series.
Now, December is a perfect month release month for the book because a great deal of the action takes place in the winter of 1814 at the Congress of Vienna . . . where the art of drinking, eating and partying was raised to new levels of exuberant excess. Sumptuous suppers, sparkling champagne, lavish ballrooms filled with the rich and the royal dancing until dawn. Trust me—there wasn’t a more swinging city on the planet! In fact, Tsar Alexander of Russia, one of the main party boys, gained so much weight during the festivities that he had to send to St. Petersburg for a whole wardrobe (we girls can sympathize with that!)
My hero and heroine have come to Vienna in order to find an English traitor who is threatening to plunge Europe back into war. To unmask the villain, they must root out a cunning conspiracy—armed only with their wits and expertise in chocolate...
One of the fun things about writing the book was adding some of the real life people who attended the Conference as “color” characters. Metternich, Tsar Alexander and Talleyrand, the French Foreign minister are all fabulously fun. But there is an even more delicious historical figure.
Marie Antoine Carême served as the personal chef to Talleyrand, the charismatic French Foreign Minister, during the time period of my story . . . Now forget Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsay—Carême was the first celebrity chef, and in his astounding career, he cooked not only for Talleyrand but also for Napoleon, the Prince Regent of England, Tsar Alexander and the Rothschild family. Known as the Chef of Kings, (and the King of Chefs) he revolutionized many elements of haute cuisine, but he is perhaps best known for his amazing skills with pastries. So how could I resist having him and Arianna cross cooking spoons!
Now, in my research, I came across a number of Carême’s orginal recipes, but they were a bit daunting in size. So I’ll share a modern version of one of his classics (He invented the Charlotte Russe in honor of the Russian Tsar, as well as Nesselrode Pudding, a great favorite of the Prince Regent, which was named in honor of the Russian Foreign Minister, Karl von Nesselrode.)
(recipe courtesy of Paula Dean/Food Network)
(recipe courtesy of Paula Dean/Food Network)
1 packet unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon cold water, for softening gelatin
1/4 cup milk, room temperature
3 cups heavy cream
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon homemade vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Homemade angel food cake or ladyfingers
2 tablespoons sweet sherry (don't use cooking sherry)
1/2 cup fruit preserves, optional
7 large egg whites
Fresh berries or cut fruit, for garnish
Soften the gelatin in a bowl with the water. Pour in the milk and completely dissolve the gelatin. Let it sit while you prepare rest of filling, stirring it every now and again to keep gelatin from separating and settling to bottom.
Sweeten 2 cups of the cream with 1 cup of the sugar and beat it with a handheld electric mixer until it is fairly stiff. Add vanilla and fold it in. Stir in dissolved gelatin and gently but thoroughly fold it into whipped cream and set it aside.
Cut cake into ladyfinger-sized pieces, about 1/2-inch thick by 1-inch wide and as long as your mold is deep. Line bottom and sides of a 3-quart mold or bowl with cake, being sure that there are no gaps in it. Hold back enough cake to cover top of mold or bowl. Sprinkle cake with sherry and spread it with a thin layer of jam or fruit preserves, if using.
Beat egg whites to stiff but not dry peaks with a handheld electric mixer, then fold thoroughly into whipped cream and gelatin filling. Spoon filling into cake-lined mold, making sure there are no gaps or air pockets between filling and cake. Press reserved cake on top of filling.
Chill until cream is set, 4 to 6 hours. When you are ready to serve, gently run a knife around edges of mold to make sure that the Charlotte has not stuck to it, then invert onto plate. Carefully lift off mold.
Lightly sweeten remaining 1 cup cream with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until it is stiff. If you like, you can put it into a pastry bag and pipe it onto the Charlotte, or simply spoon it on, using it to cover any gaps in the outer layer of cake. Garnish with fresh fruit.
You can read an excerpt from THE COCOA CONSPIRACY, and learn more about Careme and the history of Regency England at my website: www.andreapenrose.com