Until recently, I thought Charlotte Russe was just a chain of clothing stores in malls. For years, a sweet treat by the same name has been sold at local bakeries throughout New York City but it’s origins go way back to France.
Following information is from the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink, by John F. Mariani, 1999
“Charlotte russe. A French dessert (supposedly created by Marie-Antonin Careme) made in mold with ladyfingers and Bavarian cream. . . While this confection is known and made in the United States, a simple version consisting of a square of sponge cake topped with whipped cream (sometimes with chocolate sprinkles) and a maraschino cherry was also called a “charlotte russe”. . . This was a standard item in eastern cities, particularly among urban Jewish Americans (some of whom pronounce the item “charely roose” or “charlotte roosh”), who made it at home or bought it at a pastry shop, where it was set on a frilled cardboard holder whose center would be pushed up as to reveal more cake as the whipped cream was consumed.”
A Charlotte Russe is made with a genoise or spongecake topped with whipped cream. The New York style Charlotte Russe is made by baking a sponge cake on a sheet pan. When cooled, use a 3 inch round cookie cutter to cut round shapes. Topped with whipped cream, a maraschino cherry, and sprinkles (also known as Jimmies).
Here’s a good recipe for the traditional Charlotte Russe
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 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Homemade spongecake cake or ladyfingers
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.
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 or splits in outer layer of cake. Garnish with fresh fruit.
I made my own ladyfingers from an old genoise recipe I got from a Julia Child cookbook. Instead of long stick like shapes I made some round and others into mini cups. The mini cups were made using the half ball pan but a cupcake pan can also be used. When cooled, scoop out the center and fill.
I didn’t have time to buy fruit for the topping but I had left over chocolate ganache.