Drain the pears and place them in a large, deep bowl. Set aside. Bring the water, sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla bean pulp to a boil in a medium saucepan or the microwave. Remove the syrup from the heat and pour it over the pears. Press a piece of waxed paper against the pears and, if the paper alone isn't enough to submerge the pears in the syrup, place a plate on top of the waxed paper. Cover the syrup with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (The pears can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.) Cut the figs into small cubes (about 1/4-inch) and put them in a small saucepan. Cover with water and bring the water just to the boil. Transfer the figs and water to a container, cover, and refrigerate overnight. Make the ladyfingers, according to recipe below; bake, cool, and reserve. (The ladyfinger disks and bands can be made ahead, wrapped airtight, and kept at room temperature for 2 days or frozen for a month.)
To assemble the charlotte: Remove and drain 3 of the pears, pat them dry between paper towels, and cut them into cubes, about 1/2-inch. Drain and pat dry the cubed figs. Mix the fruits together. Place a piece of parchment paper on a cardboard cake round and center an 8 3/4-inch/22-cm dessert ring on it; butter the inside of the ring. Cut the bands of ladyfingers in half lengthwise and fit the halves around the interior of the ring, making certain that the biscuits' flat side faces in; you will have a piece of band left over. Fit a ladyfinger disk into the bottom to form a base. (If you are using store-bought ladyfingers, cut the biscuits as necessary to form a band and base.) Brush the ladyfinger disk and band with the soaking syrup, using enough syrup to thoroughly moisten the cake. Spoon enough filling into the biscuit-lined ring to form a layer that comes about halfway up the ladyfinger band, and spread it evenly with a spatula. Cover with the cubed fruit and then cover the fruit with another layer of filling, this time coming almost to the top of the ring, and again using the spatula to get an even layer. Top this with the second ladyfinger disk and moisten this layer with some syrup. (You may have syrup left over). Cover the disk with a thin layer of filling (you may have filling left over; it makes a fine dessert on its own or served with cookies) and set the cake into the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours. (The cake can be made to this point and, when chilled, covered airtight and frozen for up to 2 weeks.) Remove the dessert ring, but keep the cake on the cardboard round for maneuverability. Slice the remaining pears from the blossom to stem end, and arrange the slices in overlapping concentric circles over the top of the cake. If fresh figs are available, slice them from blossom to stem end and slip them into the arrangement. If not, a purely pear topping is just fine. Serve the cake now or keep it in the refrigerator, loosely covered, until ready to serve.
Prepare the batter: In an impeccably clean, dry mixer bowl with a clean, dry whisk attachment in place, whip the egg whites on high speed until they turn opaque and form soft peaks. Still whipping on high, gradually add 2/3 cup of the sugar. Continue beating until the whites are glossy and hold very firm peaks. It's important that the whites develop into a really firm meringue; this is what will allow the batter to rest on the counter for 15 minutes and still maintain its shape. Set aside for the moment. In another bowl, whisk the yolks and the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar together until they are well blended, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the yolk mixture into the beaten whites. Then fold in the flour, sifting the flour over the mixture in a few additions and incorporating it gingerly. (No matter how delicately you fold in the flour, the batter will deflate. Don't worry, but do be gentle.) The batter is now ready to be piped and baked. To pipe and bake: Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Fit a large pastry bag with a plain 1/2-inch tip and set aside until needed. Cut 2 pieces of parchment paper to fit 2 large baking sheets. On each sheet of paper, draw a 9-inch circle and, across 1 of the ends of the sheet, draw a band that is 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. Turn the sheets of paper over and place each piece of parchment on a baking sheet. (If you can't see the outlines clearly now that the paper is flipped over, darken the pencil lines.) Gently spoon a little more than half the batter into the pastry bag. Position a baking sheet so that the top and bottom lines for the 8-inch long band run from your left to your right. Start making a ladyfinger band by piping plump logs of batter from top to bottom within the pencil lines. Pipe 1 ladyfinger log right next to the last one so that they touch (they are supposed to). Keeping firm and steady pressure on the pastry bag, you should end up with ladyfingers that are about 1-inch wide and about 2/3 to 3/4-inch high. When you've piped the full 8-inch band, dust it lightly with confectioners' sugar and pipe the second band in the same fashion; dust it with confectioners' sugar too. Refill the bag when you run out of batter. (The bands will probably take about 2/3 of the batter.)
Next, pipe the disks, keeping in mind that the disks should be only about half as high as the plump ladyfinger bands, so you can exert less pressure on the pastry bag. For each disk, begin piping the batter at the center of the circle. Work your way in a spiral to the penciled edge and try to have each coil of batter touch the preceding coil. If you have any holes, you can run an offset spatula very lightly over the disks to fill in the spaces. Let the piped batter rest on the counter for 15 minutes, during which time the confectioners' sugar will pearl or form beads. Give the bands a second light dusting of confectioners' sugar (there is no need to sugar the disks) and slip the baking sheets into the oven. Insert the handle of a wooden spoon into the oven to keep the door slightly ajar. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, just until the disks and bands are very lightly golden; you don't want the cake to take on much color. Slide the parchment off the baking sheets and transfer the cakes, on their parchment sheets, to racks. Allow the cakes to cool to room temperature. When the cakes are cool, run an offset spatula under the disks and bands to loosen them from the paper. If you want individual biscuits, separate the cookies with a sharp knife or pizza cutter. If you want a decorative ladyfinger band that can be wrapped around cakes or charlottes, keep the cookies intact but cut the band in half lengthwise, or according to the measurements given in the specific recipe. Yield: enough for 1 charlotte
Bring the water and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan or the microwave. Remove from heat and, when the syrup is cool, stir in the Poire William. (The syrup can be made up to a week ahead and kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.)
Yield: enough for 1 charlotte
Drain the pears and then puree them in a blender or food processor; set aside. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and have ready a smaller bowl and a fine-mesh strainer. Bring the milk to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar and yolks together in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Whisking without stopping, drizzle in about 1/3 of the boiling liquid. Once the yolks are acclimated to the heat, whisk in the rest of the milk in a slow, steady stream. Place the saucepan over medium heat and, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula or spoon, cook the cream until it reaches 180 degrees F, as measured on an instant-read thermometer (this will take less than 5 minutes). Alternatively, you can stir the cream, and then draw your finger down the spatula or the bowl of the wooden spoon, and if the cream doesn't run into the track you've created, it's done. The cream will not thicken much. Immediately remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the cream to rest for 2 minutes. Strain the creme anglaise into the small reserved bowl and stir in the Poire William.
Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and allow it to rest until softened. Heat in the microwave oven for about 15 seconds, or cook over low heat, until the gelatin dissolves. Stir the gelatin into the creme anglaise and then gently stir in the reserved pureed pears. Set the bowl in the ice bath, adding cold water to the ice cubes, and, stirring from time to time, cool the creme anglaise to about 70 degrees F.
To finish the filling, whip the heavy cream until it holds medium-firm peaks and fold it gently into the creme anglaise with a rubber spatula. The filling is now ready and should be used immediately.
Yield: enough for 1 charlotte
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