For my birthday cake, at least the virtual one, we’ll have a charlotte, a special mold lined with cake, cookies, or bread, and then filled with a custard, mousse or pudding. It’s served turned out on a plate–like an upside down cake, often tied with a a pretty ribbon. It’s a very Victorian style dessert.
The origins of the name charlotte is a bit of a mystery. Despite the fact that charlottes are served across Europe, one etymology suggests it is a corruption of the Old English word charlyt meaning “a dish of custard.” Meat dishes that were known as charlets were popular in the 15th century. Other historians say that this sweet dish took its name from Queen Charlotte (1744–1818), wife of George III of the United Kingdom. It is possible that the dessert takes its name from Alexander I’s sister-in-law, Charlotte of Prussia. In France, the invention of a special charlotte called a Charlotte Russe (or Russian Charlotte), is credited to a French chef who named it after his employer, who was a Czar, which then spawned a clothing store
A Charlotte Russe typically is made with lady fingers for a lining and contains a cream filling that is set with gelatin – called a Bavarian cream. In the chocolate charlotte recipe given here, the Bavarian cream has been replaced by a chocolate mousse.
Apple Charlotte – It is a golden-crusted dessert made by baking a thick apple compote in a mold lined with buttered bread. This dessert was originally created as a way to use leftover or stale bread. Some historians think that this sweet dish took its name from Queen Charlotte, known as being a supporter of apple growers.
Charlotte Malakoff – It has a lining of ladyfingers and a center filling of a soufflé mixture of cream, butter, sugar, a liqueur, chopped almonds, and whipped cream. It is decorated with strawberries.
Cold Charlottes – They are made in a ladyfinger-lined mold and filled with a Bavarian cream. For frozen charlottes, a frozen soufflé or mousse replaces the Bavarian cream.
There are even French recipes for savory charlottes — for example lining a pan with cabbage leaves and filling it with an egg and vegetable mixture before baking. I’m definitely savory, but not sure about this kind of charlotte, but it might be worth a try.
Here’s some recipes. The first link is the most fun because of the commentary from Downton Abbey, and it has period recipe:
CHARLOTTE RUSSE (from Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management)
- About 18 Savoy biscuits
- 3/4 pint of cream
- Flavoring of vanilla, liqueurs, or wine
- 1 tablespoonful of pounded sugar
- 1/2 oz. of isinglass (pure gelatin)
Procure about eighteen Savoy biscuits, or ladies’-fingers, as they are sometimes called; brush the edges of them with the white of an egg, and line the bottom of a plain round mould, placing them like a star or rosette. Stand them upright all round the edge; carefully put them so closely together that the white of the egg connects them firmly, and place this case in the oven for about five minutes, just to dry the egg. Whisk the cream to a stiff froth, with the sugar, flavoring, and melted isinglass; fill the charlotte with it, cover with a slice of sponge-cake cut in the shape of the mold; place it in ice, where let it remain till ready for table; then turn it on a dish, remove the mold, and serve.
One tablespoonful of liqueur of any kind, or four tablespoonfuls of wine, would nicely flavor the above proportion of cream. For arranging the biscuits in the mold, cut them to the shape required, so that they fit in nicely, and level them with the mold at the top, that, when turned out, there may be something firm to rest upon. Great care and attention is required in the turning out of this dish, that the cream does not burst the case; and the edges of the biscuits must have the smallest quantity of egg brushed over them, or it would stick to the mold, and so prevent the charlotte from coming away properly.
Time: five minutes in the oven.
Sufficient for one charlotte. Seasonable at any time.