What Is a Charlotte Dessert?

Slice of Charlotte Cake
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A charlotte (SHAR-luht) is a classic French molded dessert. It can be served cold or can be baked and served hot.

What's in a Charlotte?

A cold charlotte begins with a charlotte mold, a deep (3 1/2 to 4 inches), a bucket-shaped pan that is wider at the top than at the bottom. The mold is lined with sponge cake, ladyfingers or buttered bread. It is then filled with fruit, mousse, custard, stabilized whipped cream, or any combination of these fillings.

The dessert is chilled thoroughly and unmolded onto a pretty platter for a spectacular presentation.

In the case of a hot charlotte, like apple charlotte, the mold is lined with buttered bread and filled with sautéed spiced apples and then baked. It can be served hot, warm or chilled.

Charlottes Are Eaten Worldwide

Just as classical French cuisine has been adopted by the cuisines of the world, you will find charlottes everywhere, including Central and Eastern Europe.

In fact, Charlotte Russe is said to have been created by Russian Czar Alexander's renowned French chef, Marie Antoine Carême, in the early 19th century. But who was Charlotte?

Some say the recipe was a riff on a longstanding dessert created for Queen Charlotte of England. Those in the Russian camp, however, say it was named after a sister-in-law of Alexander I, who just happened to be named Charlotte. The debate rages on.

In this charlotte version, the mold is lined with ladyfingers, filled with Bavarian cream and decorated with whipped cream rosettes.

There is no fruit in this one, but seasonal sliced fruit or berries can be served with it. 

Popular Charlotte Recipes

  • Vanilla Charlotte Recipe: This charlotte starts with a ladyfinger shell that is filled with vanilla custard, raspberries and topped with white chocolate curls.
  • French Strawberry and Vanilla Charlotte Recipe: This recipe is a simplified version of the classic layered charlotte but every bit as delicious. It's a lovely dessert for summer lunches and dinners, special occasions and treats. 
  • French Pear Charlotte Recipe: What a delightful spin on the classic French charlotte. This one has all the flavors of fall from the pears to the cinnamon to the ginger.
  • Italian Mini Chocolate Charlottes Recipe: This variation makes 4 mini charlottes -- perfect for Valentine's Day and the next day. This one gets a kick from espresso coffee.