Skip to content

I don’t remember the first time I made this dessert, but I certainly remember being wowed by its flavors, and the creator of it, Madeleine Kamman. (Who I’ll get to in a minute…) I’ve been making it for years and it’s a wonderful way to use white chocolate, which pairs remarkably well with dark chocolate, but also goes nicely with everything from berries and lemon, and caramelizes beautifully, which can be used in cakes, sorbets, and ice cream. (I learned how to make it at the Valrhona Chocolate School, and it’s become so popular that the company now sells it by the bar.)

What can’t white chocolate do?

Well, it can’t replace chocolate because it’s not chocolate. Milk chocolate technically isn’t chocolate either; it’s chocolate with milk added. On a similar note, I’ve only had Home Fries served to me at diners, not at home. And I’m still perplexed that we call it Banana Bread, because some people have told me that Cornbread, if made with a few teaspoons of sugar, isn’t bread, it’s cake. Yes, some insist that white chocolate “…isn’t chocolate!” but herb tea, as it’s commonly called in the U.S., has no tea in it. So if you’ve ever sipped a cup of chamomile “tea” (or even if you haven’t), you are welcome to enjoy white chocolate!

White chocolate has a creamy, tropical richness due to a base of luscious cocoa butter, and is one of the keys to this lovely Bavarian, a French gelatin-based custard, along with the French herbal liqueur; Chartreuse. Bavarians (or les bavarois) have taken a backseat to panna cotta, even in France, where panna cotta has become as ubiquitous in cafés and restaurants as the Spritz. I was introduced to this Bavarian when I worked at Chez Panisse, and somehow, we got this recipe that came from the legendary Madeleine Kamman.

Madeline Kamman may not be a household name, which is unfortunate. To be honest, I was in awe of her talent, but also vaguely terrified of her. I knew she was a rigorous taskmaster and had commented unfavorably in public about chefs like Paul Bocuse and Julia Child, which some say was the reason she never got the fame she deserved. Bocuse had made a remark about where he thought a women’s proper place was in the home (which wasn’t quite in the kitchen…), so she hung his picture upside-down in her restaurant.

Madeleine was known for her strict adherence to technique and some say she was miffed that Julia had overly-Americanized French cooking, while others say she was envious of Child’s success. Whatever the case, she came along at a time when Americans (and others) wanted to know more about French cooking, and through her excellent books and the cooking school she established, she helped many learn more about French cooking, including me.

(She was notoriously hard on her students and my friend Joanne Weir, who studied with her, wrote in her book Kitchen Gypsy about how half the class “led a revolt against Madeleine’s behavior” and walked out of the cooking school midway through the course. All I can think about as I write about her now, is that someone needs to write a comprehensive biography of Madeleine Kamman.)

On a personal note, I’d read, and relied on, Madeleine’s incredible cookbooks, including When French Women Cook, The Making of a Cook, and Madeleine Kamman’s Savoie, an hommage to the cooking of her native region in France, and was excited – but nervous – when she came to eat in the restaurant when I was working there. Her visit, and her sharply-focused remarks during and after the meal, had us talking about her for days afterward, and whenever I make this dessert, I think of her. It combines a French technique; the liaison of eggs and milk cooked together (as far as I know, there isn’t a precise word for “custard” in French), with crème fouettée (unsweetened whipped cream), and Chartreuse, a uniquely French ingredient.

A few words on this recipe and ingredients:

White Chocolate

Nope, it’s not dark chocolate, it’s white chocolate…and yes, it can be Milky & Fun. I wrote more about white chocolate here, but the main thing you want to look for when buying white chocolate is that cocoa butter is the only fat listed in the ingredients, not vegetable or palm oil. (Products labeled as “white coating,” “white baking bar,” etc. may not be pure white chocolate.) White chocolate should be ivory-colored, not blindingly white. White chocolate doesn’t keep as well as dark chocolate so buy it from a place that turns over their stock reasonably well, and try to use it within a year of purchase.

Gelatin

In many parts of the world, people use sheet gelatin while in the US, powdered unflavored gelatin is the norm. Sheet gelatin varies widely in sheet size and strength, so it’s not always a straight conversion. However, it’s not really an issue if you use a little more or less gelatin in here. (In the original recipe, Madeleine says to double the gelatin if you want to unmold it. If you do, oil the mold first.) Fish gelatin is available to those who avoid beef and pork, although it’s not widely available in France. Using agar-agar is a FAQ and the answer to those wondering if it could be used here is “I don’t know.” I don’t have much experience cooking with it so can’t advise. I wrote more on gelatin and conversions here.

Chartreuse

Since Madeleine Kamman wrote extensively about the part of France where Chartreuse is made, it’s natural to use it here. Chartreuse is not inexpensive* and there really isn’t an ideal substitute. It comes in half bottles, however, which are more wallet-friendly. The recipe isn’t that fussy and if you want to leave it out, you could add a few drops of vanilla extract to the whipped cream instead. I haven’t made this with another liqueur but orange liqueur would be an interesting swap out, as would white rum, gin, genepy, Izarra, kirsch, or another eau-de-vie. If you try a different spirit, let us know in the comments how it works out. (Although let’s keep that between us, Madeleine might not be pleased…) If doing a swap out, you’ll want to add it “to taste.”

(*That said, Chartreuse is one of the only liqueurs that continues to evolve in the bottle, so you could consider it a good investment as vintage bottles sell for hundreds, or in some cases, thousands of dollars/euros.)

I serve this Bavarian several ways. Dark chocolate is a naturally great pairing with white chocolate, especially notable in the winter when fruit options may be limited. To make shavings, run a vegetable peeler down the side of a dark or milk chocolate bar to make copeaux.

Fruit also works very well with white chocolate, and in this bavarian, I had some cherries I’d made into a compote last summer tucked away in my freezer for a special occasion. And recently I found the time to use them. Fresh berries, such as raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or strawberries tossed in a little sugar, are also wonderful piled on top.

White Chocolate-Chartreuse Bavarian

Adapted from Madeleine Kamman
I've given some tips on gelatin, liqueur, and a few other FAQs in the blog post.
Course Dessert
Cuisine French
Servings 8 servings
  • 9 ounces (255g) white chocolate, , coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons unflavored granulated gelatin
  • 1 1/2 cups (375ml) whole milk (total)
  • pinch of salt
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 1 2/3 cups (410ml) heavy cream, softly whipped
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) green Chartreuse , or another liqueur (see suggestions in the post)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Put the white chocolate chunks in a medium-large bowl and set a mesh strainer over the top. Have another bowl handy that's larger than the bowl with the white chocolate in it (so it'll fit inside) and fill it about a third full with ice and some water. Set both aside.
  • Pour 1/4 cup (65ml) of the cold milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let it sit for 5 minutes, for the gelatin to soften and bloom.
  • Warm the remaining 1 1/4 cup (310ml) milk and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk the egg yolks together in a medium bowl. When the milk is hot, gradually pour it into the yolks, whisking constantly so the yolks don't scramble.
  • Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture over medium heat with a silicone spatula until it thickens and the custard just barely starts cooking on the bottom of the pot and begins to thicken. Heads up! It'll happen relatively quickly and may take barely a minute, so keep a very close eye on it...and go by what you see and feel, rather than strict timing.
  • Immediately pour the hot custard through the strainer over the white chocolate. Stir a few times, then scrape the blob of softened gelatin into the warm custard. Stir with a spatula to melt the chocolate and incorporate the gelatin. When the chocolate is completely melted, set the bowl in the larger bowl of ice water and stir to cool it down.
  • Continue to stir gently over the ice bath until the mixture thickens and holds its shape when you lift the spatula. You want to chill it until you lift some of the custard with a spatula and let it fall back on top, and it doesn't sink down too quickly, similar in thickness to pancake batter. It should thicken in about 5 minutes but may take more of less time.
  • Remove the bowl from the ice water, wipe the bottom of the bowl dry with a kitchen towel, and fold in the whipped cream, Chartreuse, and vanilla. Either transfer the mixture to a decorative serving bowl or divide into individual serving containers, such as ramekins, glasses, or custard cups. Chill thoroughly, at least 8 hours, before serving.

Notes

Serving: Serve cold with chocolate shaving on top, or fresh berries, or a compote of cherries. It's also good with poached pears or roasted figs
Storage: The bavarian will keep for up to 4-5 days in the refrigerator.

50 comments

    • Sarah

    Sounds amazing and I wish someone would make it for me.

      • k

      Me too!

      • Ellen Russell

      You echo my thoughts as well!

    • Martha

    Eager to try. Have a very happy and healthy new year, David, and all who dwell here. Thanks for another year of wonderful posts, David. You were even more welcome in these difficult times.

    • Susan Riggs

    Sounds delicious!
    Happy and Healthy New Year, David!
    Thank you for brightening up our days!

    • daniella reinhard

    Looks beautiful! Happy belated birthday and best wishes for a happy new year!

      • Judith Gorman

      Wishing you and Romain a healthy and contented 2022. As others have said, your newsletters have helped us get through these strange times.

    • Elaine Griffiths

    So gotta try this, need to get the gelatin first though, only sheet available here, so will have to wing it!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I gave some guidance in the post on gelatin. Since gelatin sheets vary in size and strength, it’s hard to give a precise conversion but the ones I gave in that post are close enough to work with this recipe, especially if you’re not planning on unmolding it. Hope you like it!

        • Beth Sorrentino

        Hi David, I read your post on gelatin and clicked on a couple of the “related links” on the bottom and received a 404 error, page not found. I guess that’s not surprising since the post was from 2009 and you can’t possibly maintain links from every post in history but I thought I’d let you know. :). Keep up the great work on the newsletter, always enjoy your writing.

          • David
          David Lebovitz

          Thanks for letting me know. So many websites and blogs have shut down or changed their URLs. I went in and weeded those out : )

    • Brandi

    Ooh! This sounds wonderful and I have cherries in the freezer. I also have both bottles of Chartreuse thanks to you and 2020 .

    Maybe we can make it to celebrate NYE as I haven’t thought one bit about dessert. We traditionally have lobster rolls and I have live lobsters shipped from our favorite lobster spot in Maine to South Carolina. This year I just ordered the meat (from the same place) in order to keep it simple—my family is displeased with my laziness . Perhaps I shall return to their good graces with this dessert!

    Happy New Year to you and Romain! Thank you for bringing us such joy over the years!

    • Saurs

    Wow, this recipe is everything but also your writing here ranks amongst the snappiest and most entertaining of all your blogposts. It’s always a joy to read you in every available format, David. Happy new year to you.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks : ) Madeleine was a challenge to sum up in a few words as she wasn’t an easy-to-define person. I only met her once but her reputation definitely preceded her. I was a fan of hers and was floored to be actually meeting her when she came to eat in the restaurant. Two friends knew her well and they had lots to say about her; it’s nice she left such a legacy behind with her excellent books, recipes, and knowledge of French cuisine.

        • Nat Green

        We were friends with Madeleine when she was a teacher and restaurateur in the Boston area—she didn’t acquire the honors and respect she deserved here. When she passed, the memorial “service” at the French Library in Boston attracted many persons with happy memories. (We will never forget her upside-down photo of Paul Bocuse in her restaurant—Modern Gourmet)

    • KBP

    Many thanks for making 2021 infinitely more bearable. Your recipes & commentary consistently enrich our lives (e.g., your chocolate marshmallows were a big hit (again) this holiday season). Warmest best wishes for a happy/healthy 2022.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Happy you’ve been enjoying the marshmallows…and happy new year, too!

    • tom

    I met Madeline Kamman when she ran her cooking school in Boston knowing well her reputation for being difficult…It was in the mid 70’s I think and I was a young chef largely self taught learning skills and technique from her book The Making of a Cook…I wanted to thank her for her inspiration and clear direction… my visit was met with an abrupt hello and “what do you want attitude”…in short I thanked her…but I detected a note of surprise in her…I remember all of this fondly…I have all of her books and use them to this day.

    • Ellen Simon

    I knew Madeleine well and took a number of cooking classes from her. She gave me the courage to cook absolutely ANYTHING! She was a very special woman

    • Lauren E

    This looks absolutely incredible! We are huge fans of Chartreuse and Genepi and would love to try some different flavors.

    HOWEVER. I don’t know if you can answer this, but I’m pregnant and wondering if there was a way we could flame the alcohol out of it first so I don’t have to wait 7 months to try this! Do you know if that changes the flavor of the liqueur?

    Thank you for sharing this recipe!

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve not flamed Chartreuse so can’t speak to that. If you’re used to flaming spirits, you could try flaming a little and see what it tastes like (once it’s cooled down, of course!)

    • Teresa W.

    Bonne année! Longtime reader and first time commenter. Just wanted to tell you thank you for sharing your talent, charm, wit, and fascinating life. It’s a pleasure to read about your adventures and delight in your cooking and baking. I worked in Berkeley, CA for a decade and was so excited to visit Chez Panisse for the first time a few years after discovering your blog and cookbooks. Wishing you and Romain good health and happy days in 2022.

    • Lee

    There is a chapter on Madelaine Kamman in Mayukh Sen’s recent book Taste Makers: Seven Immigrant Women Who Revolutionized Food in America. Worth a read as it talsk about the context for her career.

    • Janet Thompson

    I have a copy of Madelaine Kamman’s Savoie that I found at Caravan Book Store in 1992. The store’s founder was friends with M.F.K. Fisher, and this copy was inscribed to her by Kamman. I also have other books from Mrs. Fisher’s library. Lucky me.

    This favorite bookstore opened in 1954, and closed in 2018.

    • Leu2500

    Could Joanne weir be the source? Didn’t she study with Kamman?

      • Joanne Weir

      I love seeing that David posted one of Madeleine’s recipes. I was lucky to spend a year studying with Madeleine in Boston at Modern Gourmet non-professionally every Thursday night and another year in France and back East professionally. The reason I say all of this is because I knew her well and David’s depiction of her is perfect. Did you know her?

    • Dennis D

    I wish I’d known about vintage Chartreuse’s value. I bought some at a clearing sale in 1990 and it was OLD. It had darkened considerably since being bottled. I used it as a decorative curiousity along with other bottles in my kitchen until I moved in 2005. Poured it down the drain and threw out the bottle.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Sometimes it depends on how they were stored, which can affect their flavor (and value). If it was very dark it might have been no longer good – but it’s hard to say!

    • Kathryn García-Rivera

    This looks fabulous! Do you think it would work with ruby chocolate? If it did, it would be really pretty…

      • Debs

      I have just made this. Not having any Chartreuse in the house, the choices were between Tanquerry , Dalwhinnie,Grappa Sambuca, DiSaronno or Baileys Salted Caramel, I chose DiSaronno. I also used half a vanilla pod. Not bad at all though and not too sweet I do feel that I feel compelled to buy a bottle of Chartreuse. Happy New year

    • Nitsa

    Hi
    I have yellow chartreuse. Can I use it?

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Yes although yellow Chartreuse is a little milder and somewhat sweeter. You may want to add a drop or two of lemon juice to balance the latter

    • Rebecca Kurtz

    I made this yesterday. It is incredible! The texture of the bavarian is perfect. The chartreuse is present but not overwhelming. So wonderfully delicious in every way.

    • julia

    In ancient days I had a class w MK at Mary Risley’s Tante Marie Cooking School in SF- I thought the Bavarian was extraordinary! She also demo’s Ratatouille Pieds Noir – a layered/tian with all the trad ratatouille ingredients but amended w garbonzo beans and a huge amount of mint – still make this regularly in the season. What a fierce and interesting person.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      It’s amazing that in those days, people like her taught cooking classes at small schools. (Julie Child did them at first, too.) I remember Marion Cunningham was upset that so many younger people, in their twenties, didn’t know how to cook, so she offered them cooking classes in her kitchen at home in Walnut Creek!

      • Joanne Weir

      Great way to describe Madeleine. She was, as you say, fierce but she was also interesting to say the very least. Just one class and look at the impression she left on you. She was brilliant!

    • Holly

    Would this flavour combo work as ice cream do you think? My husband recently got into chartreuse, but it’s summer here so it’s definitely ice cream weather…

      • Jeff in JAX

      White Chocolate ice cream with Chartreuse is nothing short of amazing. Also, for the less adventurous, one can add a portion of crème de menthe for the Chartreuse. I prefer mostly Chartreuse, but American guests and children sometimes need the familiarity of the mint.
      Hot White Chocolate with Chartreuse is also indescribably sublime.

        • David
        David Lebovitz

        It was definitely part of Madeleine Kamman’s brilliance as a chef and cook; to combine two disparate, perhaps unlikely flavors, into one dish (or bavarian) that works so well. (Incorporating a specialty of her native region, a place she loved very much and wrote about so well.) I had her hand-typed recipe which I still wish I had, as a souvenir!

    • julia

    In ancient days I had a class w MK at Mary Risley’s Tante Marie Cooking School in SF- I thought the Bavarian was extraordinary! She also demoed Ratatouille Pieds Noir – a layered/tian with all the trad ratatouille ingredients but amended w garbonzo beans and a huge amount of mint – still make this regularly in the season. What a fierce and interesting person.

    • Neil Kamman

    Thanks so much for keeping the flame alive David. I was made aware of this from Gary. I remember this particular dessert well, but more so the visits to La Grande Chartreuse with MMK, and her proclivity for the particularly amazing elixir produced there. Please know you rang a fine bell for NY 2021. Madeleine would be pleased to know these creations live on.

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks Neil. The food world has changed a lot in the last decade or so and I think it’s important to remember and acknowledge people like Madeleine. As you know, she was a real pioneer – also very hard-working, intelligent, an incredible cookbook author, and a master of French culinary technique who freely shared her knowledge. (I remember the revision of The Making of a Cook – wow, that was quite a book!) A few friends (who you likely know…) were very close to her throughout her life and it was interesting to hear them talk about their time and experience with her. This Bavarian always reminds me of her, and I’ve been making it for years so was happy to share it and “keep the flame alive.”

      (And it’s nice you’ve kept in touch with Gary!)

      • Joanne Weir

      Yes, Neil, I agree with you. David’s piece on MMK’s Bavarian is perfect! Madeleine’s work will live on for a very long time and that makes all of us who knew her and knew her work very happy. Stay well. My best to you and your family. ❤️

        • David
        David Lebovitz

        It’s funny because I was chopping something today in my kitchen and just remembered when Madeleine came into the kitchen, the consummate teacher, and told me I was holding my knife wrong. (I probably was!) But I just now remember her telling me that, although I still hold it over the holster rather than just by the handle.

    • Linda H

    Great! I’m excited to try a dessert flavored with Chartreuse, which I started buying to make some of the drinks in Drinking French and now its a fave. Plus white chocolate! What a treat.

    • Debs

    I have just made this. Not having any Chartreuse in the house, the choices were between Tanquerry , Dalwhinnie,Grappa Sambuca, DiSaronno or Baileys Salted Caramel, I chose DiSaronno. I also used half a vanilla pod. Not bad at all though and not too sweet I do feel that I feel compelled to buy a bottle of Chartreuse. Happy New year

      • David
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks for letting us know how it worked out. I don’t like steering people towards expensive ingredients but Chartreuse does make a difference. Thankfully it comes in half bottles so it’s not such a splurge : )

      Happy new year to you too!

    • Jean

    I made this but I caramelized the white chocolate by chopping in it and placing it in a 250 degree oven for 40 minutes —you had a post about how to do this and the time it takes to caramelize will vary so check after 25 minutes. Everyone loved it. I am not a white chocolate fan but I love caramelized white chocolate. The finished dessert is a Caramel color so I garnished it with caramelized bananas and toasted macadamia nuts.

    • Robert

    “When French Women Cook” is the most moving and emotional cook book ever written. The sense of real people living and cooking in real places is overwhelming.

    • Joanne weir

    I am with you. I love that book also. Madeleine introduced me to Magaly, one of the women MMK profiles. I had lunch at Magaly’s home and it was extraordinary… Rabbit that her husband Raymond, hunted and truffles they foraged. And delicious Chateau Mont Redon Chateauneuf du Pape wines from their winery. I will never forget it.

Add a comment

A

Get David's newsletter sent right to your Inbox!

15987

Sign up for my newsletter and get my FREE guidebook to the best bakeries and pastry shops in Paris...