What is a Charlotte russe? 8 delicious classic Charlotte dessert recipes

What is a Charlotte russe 5 classic Charlotte dessert recipes & tips

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How a Charlotte russe makes an elegant end for a meal (1976)

By Isabel Du Bois – News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware) May 19, 1976

During this Bicentennial year, many of the great desserts of old are being rediscovered and enjoyed — luxurious offerings like Charlotte Russe.

According to culinary historians, that great French chef, Antoine Careme, while on the staff of England’s George IV (1820-1830), created the first Charlotte, a handsome apple pastry that he named “Apple Charlotte,” in honor of the king’s daughter, Princess Charlotte.

It is said that later, while on the imperial staff of Russia’s Czar Alexander I, Careme concocted a sister dessert — a custardy mixture, circled with a crown of ladyfingers — which he called Charlotte Russe.

The history of the Charlotte russe

Apocryphal or not, it is believed that Careme was nostalgic for London and the elegance of the English court, and so the name. Others discount this theory, saying that the Charlotte Russe was so named because it resembled the French “Charlotte” hat of the era.

Strawberry Charlotte Russe dessert
Photo by Shaiith/Envato

And there are still more legends. Some say it wasn’t Careme at all who made the first Charlotte Russe. They insist it existed in Paris under the name Charlotte Parisienne, long before Careme joined the czar’s staff.

Be that as it may, the Charlotte Russe was esteemed by high-ranking 19th-century French and foreign ministers, and soon found its way to America via the French chefs who migrated here.

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The dessert of Presidents & First Ladies

In her writings about the city of Washington in the 1830s and 1840s, Jessie Fremont reported the city had many great French chefs, “The foreign ministers all brought them; when they returned — if not sooner — the cooks deserted and set up in business for themselves.

“These not only went out to prepare fine dinners, but took as pupils young slaves sent by families to be instructed.”

President Martin Van Buren (1837-41), who brought a fine chef from London, where he had been minister, is said to have esteemed the Charlotte Russe. It also was one of First Lady Sarah Polk’s choices for serving at state dinners when her husband was President (1845-49).

During Abraham Lincoln’s administration (1856-65), Mary Todd Lincoln also reportedly offered it at White House functions. And during President William McKinley’s term (1897-1901), a French chef brought from New York for formal dinner parties is said to have prepared his version called Chantilly Charlotte (flavored with the essence of violet), which Mrs. McKinley esteemed.

The Charlotte also was a favorite dessert offering outside the Washington social circuit. A cookbook, “Housekeeping in Old Virginia,” published in 1879, gave six different Charlotte recipes, from as many Southern plantation hostesses.

A Charlotte Russe dessert with raspberries on top

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The Charlotte has come a long way since those early days, and is now far superior in flavor. Prior to 1890, unflavored gelatin was unknown, and cooks made their own either by boiling calves’ or pigs’ feet, or using isinglass, a whitish semi-transparent gelatin found in the air bladders of some fish. And because such gelatin had a pronounced flavor, spices and other flavorings were used with a heavy hand to mask it.

Today, Charlottes are made with all kinds of creams and Bavarians. Numerous flavorings are also added — nuts and chocolate, citron, chestnuts, jams.

Some are circled with ladyfingers, buttered bread, cake slices and so on. They come to the table sauced in a variety of ways.

There also were a number of other desserts in the 19th century that were greeted with equal acclaim — desserts like Creme au Chocolate, Bavarian Creme. Chocolate Mousse — all names applying to heavenly molded custards stiffened with whipped cream, gelatin or beaten egg whites.

A “boiled” custard, England’s contribution, was the base of these many offerings. But it was the French who adopted it and made it famous under the name Creme a L’Anglaise (giving England her just recognition).

The same Antonine Careme is said to have stuck his finger in the English pudding and made it famous. He devised the method of adding gelatin to the Creme a L’Anglaise, converting it to Creme Francaise. Depending on the flavoring added to the creme, a succession of desserts followed — Creme Vanille, Creme au Chocolate and so on.

Classic desserts - Charlotte Russe

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A classic Charlotte russe recipe

Line the bottom and sides of a 9- inch springform pan with split ladyfingers (about 20), then sprinkle with 1/4 cup light rum. Chill while you prepare two recipes of Basic Bavarian Cream; spoon into pan and chill 4 to 6 hours or overnight.

Unmold by removing springform sides and inverting on chilled platter. Garnish with fluffs of whipped cream and maraschino cherries. Serve out in wedges. Serves 12 to 15.

Basic Bavarian cream

Bavarian Cream is a cousin of mousses; it has a custard base, which mousses haven’t, also whipped cream, which mousses may or may not contain. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

1/2 cup sugar
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
1-1/2 cups milk
3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Mix sugar, gelatin, and milk in the top of a double boiler and heat over simmering water until steaming hot. Mix a little hot mixture into yolks, return to double boiler top, and cook and stir 3 to 5 minutes until mixture coats the back of a metal spoon.

Off heat, mix in vanilla; cool. then chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds when dropped from a spoon. Whip cream with confectioners’ sugar until stiff peaks form, then fold into custard mixture.

Quick Charlotte russe dessert

From “The Fannie Farmer Cookbook” (1960s)

1 egg white
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
Flavor with vanilla, instant coffee, brandy OR sherry
Ladyfingers or thin strips of sponge cake

Beat egg white until stiff. Fold in powdered sugar and whipped cream. Flavor to taste with vanilla, instant coffee, brandy or sherry. Line dessert glasses with ladyfingers or sponge cake. Fill with the Charlotte. Put a bit of preserved fruit in each glass or sprinkle with chopped nuts. Chill. Serves four.

What is a Charlotte russe? 5 classic Charlotte dessert recipes & tips

Quick Charlotte russe dessert

Yield: 4


  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
  • 1 teaspoon flavoring of choice: instant coffee, brandy OR sherry (flavor to taste)
  • Ladyfingers or thin strips of sponge cake


  1. Beat egg white until stiff. Fold in powdered sugar and whipped cream.
  2. Flavor to taste with vanilla, instant coffee, brandy or sherry. 
  3. Line dessert glasses with ladyfingers or sponge cake. Fill with the Charlotte.
  4. Put a bit of preserved fruit in each glass or sprinkle with chopped nuts. Chill. 

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 198Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 49mgSodium: 131mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 0gSugar: 11gProtein: 3g

Click Americana offers approximate nutrition information as a general reference only, and we make no warranties regarding its accuracy. Please make any necessary calculations based on the actual ingredients used in your recipe, and consult with a qualified healthcare professional if you have dietary concerns.

Chocolate Charlotte russe / Chocolate mousse cake recipe

6 ounces (1 package) semi-sweet real chocolate morsels
18 whole blanched almonds
1/2 cup amaretto (apricot/almond liqueur)
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups milk
4 egg whites, stiffly beaten
2 cups (1 pint) heavy cream, whipped
2 packages (3 ounces each) ladyfingers, split

Place chocolate pieces in a bowl. Place bowl in another bowl of hot water. Stir until chocolate is melted. Dip bottom half of almonds into chocolate and place on wax paper. Chill until firm. Gradually stir amaretto into remaining melted chocolate. Set aside.

In a saucepan. combine gelatin and water. Stir in egg yolks. sugar and milk. Stir over low heat until mixture thickens slightly and coats a metal spoon. Stir in chocolate mixture. Chill until mixture mounds. Fold in egg whites. Remove 1 cup of the whipped cream and set aside for decorating top. Fold remaining cream into chocolate mixture. Chill until mixture mounds.

Line the bottom and sides of an ungreased 9~inch springform pan with split ladyfingers. Pour in chocolate mixture. Chill until firm. When ready to serve, pipe rosettes of reserved cream around outer edge of cake. Press a chocolate almond into each rosette. Chill until ready to serve. Makes one 9-inch torte.

Nice and sweet! Delicious Charlottes that are so very easy to make (1895)

From the St Paul Daily Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) December 23, 1895

All sizes and descriptions of the toothsome dessert

There are no desserts in all the range of the cook’s resources so easily made, so wholesome and so delicious as Charlotte russe.

Charlotte russe recipes for dessert

The molds are first lined with sponge cake about half an inch in thickness, or, If you do not wish to make the lining yourself, with “lady fingers” or French “biscuits a la culliere,” split in two, leaving the flat side of the ladyfingers on the inside.

Season with whipped cream with three tablespoonfuls of powdered sugar, sprinkled in, and three tablespoonfuls of sherry or one of maraschino or half a teaspoonful of vanilla. Mix the sugar and flavor it thoroughly, and fill the molds with whipped cream. The recipe given calls for whipped cream, flavored and sweetened, alone. This is the proper filling for a Charlotte russe.

No gelatin should be used to stiffen it. When this is done, the flavor is not as good, and the froth is no longer as delicate in texture as it should be. At the moment of serving, turn out the Charlottes carefully from their molds on a low glass dessert platter and garnish them with any whipped cream left, and put a little on top of each individual Charlotte russe.

In the case of a large Charlotte, pipe the bottom with whipped cream after turning it out and wreath whipped cream around it.

Basic Charlotte russe recipe

The most delicious Charlotte russe is made from cake prepared at home. For this purpose, a simple water sponge cake is not only nicest, but most easily prepared.

To make this cake, beat the yolks of four eggs to a froth, add two cups of sugar gradually and beat the mass thoroughly until it is an even cream. Stir in half a cup of cold water, the juice of half a lemon or of an orange and the grated yellow outer peel. Sift half an even teaspoonful of soda and a whole teaspoonful of cream tartar with two cups of flour twice and stir this in.

Now fold in the whites of two eggs beaten to a stiff, dry froth. The other two whites are reserved for icing. Where lemon juice is used, only half a teaspoonful of cream tartar is necessary, as the acid of the lemon juice neutralizes part of the soda.

Bake this cake in two layers in round pans ten inches in circumference, and the remainder in a square-cornered tin for Charlotte russe. Put the two cakes together with any filling you prefer and serve them at any time.

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Sometimes the bottom of the mold is covered in the same way with overlapping circles of sponge cake. When the Charlotte is turned out of the mold, it presents a fluted border. It is easier, however, to line the mold with plain layers of cake half an inch thick, sealing it in any cracks or seams with icing. Use the square-cornered tin alone for Charlotte russe.

It is not possible to make a third of this cake as well as the whole recipe. The loaf of large cake is an “incidental” necessary in making Charlotte russe in this way.

Bake the cake very carefully until it is a light brown: do not let it become dry and hard. Split it for a Charlotte lining and let the crust side be the outside of the Charlotte.

It is the best plan to leave the bottom of an individual mold unlined. French confectioners sometimes cut the sponge cake used for lining a Charlotte in strips one inch wide and in length the depth of the mold.

They arrange these pieces so that they each lap half an inch over one another around the inside, cementing each piece to the other with an icing made with part of the white of an egg thickened with powdered sugar.

Orange Charlotte russe recipe

For an orange Charlotte, make the cake flavored with orange juice and the yellow rind of an orange, and fill it with cream flavored with a tablespoonful of orange extract, or with half the juice and yellow grated rind of an orange.

Turn the Charlotte carefully out of the mold and ice it with a boiled icing. This is made of a cup of sugar boiled until the syrup forms a soft, not a sticky ball, rolled in the fingers. Pour this syrup over the white of an egg beaten to a very stiff froth. Beat the icing well and flavor it with a tablespoonful of orange extract.

This extract is made of 90 percent alcohol, which has been filled with chips of the yellow outer peel of Mediterranean oranges. The Valencia oranges, that come in the spring, are the best. Let the extract stand on a back shelf to “digest” for at least two or three months before using.

MORE: Flavor the old-fashioned way: How to make homemade extracts from essential oils

Decorate this dessert with candied orange lobes and serve it wreathed with cream, or on a layer of bright yellow-orange jelly.

Pistachio and coffee Charlotte russe recipes

A pistachio Charlotte is made of plain sponge cake without orange or lemon juice. Flavor the cream filling with maraschino. Ice the Charlotte with an icing, colored a faint green with spinach green, to which half a cup of chopped pistachio nuts are added.

A coffee Charlotte is made of plain sponge cake filled with beaten cream flavored with two tablespoonfuls of coffee essence made by pouring four tablespoonfuls of boiling water over two tablespoonfuls of ground coffee. Let it infuse on the back of the stove for half an hour. Bring it forward and reduce it to one-half, and use it for flavoring.

Classic Charlotte Russe recipes

Strawberry Charlotte russe recipe

A strawberry Charlotte is made of a white sponge cake, which is colored a delicate pink by the use of a quarter of a cup of red sugar to three-quarters of a cup of white sugar. If the sugar is a very deep red, a trifle less in proportion to the white will be required.

The whites of six eggs, beaten to a stiff froth, are folded in with the sugar. A half teaspoonful of cream of tartar is added, and three-quarters of a cup of sifted flour is carefully stirred in.

This cake must be baked very slowly in an ungreased pan in a thin layer, so that it will not be over an inch and a half thick when risen.

Line the Charlotte russe mold with layers a trifle thicker than ordinary — about three-quarters of an inch. Do not fill the mold at once, but turn out the shell, so that it may be iced with a pale pink icing, colored with a little pink sugar.

Just before serving, turn over the shell and fill it with alternate layers of whipped cream and fresh sweetened strawberries. Place the pale pink mold very carefully on a low crystal platter. Wreath it with whipped cream.

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Comments on this story

4 Responses

  1. Hello
    Thank you so much for your recipes for Charlotte Russe. Have you heard of a Charlotte Malakov? or a similar name. I have looked everywhere for it, but I am sure I didn’t dream it. I think it had a chocolate type of bavois cream inside.
    Many thanks

  2. My grandmother used to make Charlotte Russe. As a child, I was very unimpressed with this all white dessert. She also made champagne chicken for family meals. Those days are long gone.

  3. Make any flavour jelly you like into a Charlotte Russe very simply…my very own 5 min. recipe
    Use a pint jelly and make up with just half a pint of water … whip half a pint of cream until peaked and then fold in the cooled jelly… and add a little salt to enhance flavour
    Line your mould with shop bought lady fingers and pour the mixture in.
    Fridge for a few hours ..decorate with fruit or maybe use a compote of fruit. and your done.
    Can also be poured into glasses or ramakins for individual sweets of course.

    ps…if you want to make an easy fruit compote for topping or bases of this, ( or cheesecakes etc. ) Simply heat a 1lb. ( 500grms ) bag of any frozen fruit with a cup of water. add some sugar to taste ( or stevia if your sugar free )
    When simmering, remove from heat, drain a little juice off into a cup , allow this to cool, mix in 2 teaspoons of custard powder. pour back into fruit and bring back to a simmer. It will thicken and is great for many uses. keeps in fridge in a lidded container for several days. and you can make it with ANY fruit …. tip…add a dash of lemon juice for an extra ‘tang’ and salt really brings out the flavour of the fruit
    Keith M ( retired chef lecturer )

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