Charlotte (cake)

A charlotte is a type of bread pudding that can be served hot or cold. It is also referred to as an "icebox cake". Bread, sponge cake, crumbs or biscuits/cookies are used to line a mold, which is then filled with a fruit puree or custard. The baked pudding could then be sprinkled with powdered sugar and glazed with a salamander, a red-hot iron plate attached to a long handle, though modern recipes would likely use more practical tools to achieve a similar effect.

Chocolate and pear charlotte, with the typical ladyfinger biscuits clearly seen
Alternative namesIcebox cake
Place of originRussia
Serving temperatureHot or cold
Main ingredientsBread, sponge cake or biscuits; fruit puree or custard
VariationsCharlotte russe

The variant Charlotte russe (Russian Charlotte) uses a mold lined with ladyfingers and filled with Bavarian cream.

Classically, stale bread dipped in butter was used as the lining, but sponge cake or ladyfingers may be used today. The filling may be covered with a thin layer of similarly flavoured gelatin.


In 1815, Marie-Antoine Carême claims to have thought of charlotte à la parisienne "pendant mon établissement", presumably in 1803, when he opened his own pastry shop.[1]:446[2]

The earliest known English recipe is from the 1808 London edition of Maria Rundell's New System of Domestic Cookery:[3]

A Charlotte.

Cut as many very thin slices of white bread as will cover the bottom and line the sides of a baking dish, but first rub it thick with butter. Put apples, in thin slices, into the dish, in layers, till full, strewing sugar between, and bits of butter. In the mean time, soak as many thin slices of bread as will cover the whole, in warm milk, over which lay a plate, and a weight to keep the bread close on the apples. Bake slowly three hours. To a middling sized dish use half a pound of butter in the whole.

In Carême's 1815 Le Pâtissier royal parisien, he mentions many varieties of charlotte: à la parisienne, à la française, à l'italienne, aux macarons d'avelines, aux gaufres aux pistaches, de pommes, de pomme d'api, d'abricots, de pêches, de pommes glacée aux abricots, de pommes au beurre, parisienne à la vanille, de pommes; he mentions à la russe as the name used by others for what he called à la parisienne.[1]


There are many variants. Most charlottes are served cool, so they are more common in warmer seasons. Fruit charlottes usually combine a fruit purée or preserve, like raspberry or pear, with a custard filling or whipped cream. Charlottes are not always made with fruit; some, notably charlotte russe, use custard or Bavarian cream, and a chocolate charlotte is made with layers of chocolate mousse filling.

The Algerian charlotte is made with honey, dates, orange rind, and almonds.[4]

The 19th-century Russian sharlotka is a baked pudding with layers of brown bread and apple sauce, and has since evolved into a simple dessert of chopped apples basked in a sweet batter.[5]

Charlotte russe

Charlotte russe or charlotte à la russe is a cold dessert of Bavarian cream set in a mold lined with ladyfingers.[6]

A simplified version of charlotte russe was a popular dessert or on-the-go treat sold in candy stores and luncheonettes in New York City, during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. It consisted of a paper cup filled with yellow cake and whipped cream topped with half a maraschino cherry. The bottom of the cup is pushed up to eat.[7]

Charlotte royale is made with the same filling as a Charlotte russe, but the ladyfingers are replaced by slices of Swiss roll.[8]


The earliest attestation of "charlotte" is in a New York magazine in 1796.[9] Its origins are unclear. It may come from the woman's name.[9] One etymology suggests it is a corruption of the Old English word charlyt, a kind of custard, or charlets, a meat dish.

It is often claimed that Carême named it charlotte after one of the various foreign royals he served, but the name appears years earlier.

Carême's preferred name for charlotte à la russe was charlotte à la parisienne, and he says (in 1815) that "others" prefer to call it russe,[1]:446 so it is unlikely that he named it russe for Czar Alexander I as has been proposed.

See also


  1. Marie-Antoine Carême, Le Pâtissier royal parisien, 1815, full text
  2. Kelly, Ian (2003). Cooking for Kings, the Life of Antonin Carème, the First Celebrity Chef. Walker & Company. p. 60. ISBN 978-0802714367.
  3. Maria Rundell, A New System of Domestic Cookery, p. 151
  4. Ashkenazi, Michael; Jacob, Jeanne (2006). The World Cookbook for Students. Greenwood. p. 17.
  5. Food and Language: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cooking 2009. p. 149.
  6. "charlotte russe". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Accessed via, February 27, 2010.
  7. See:
  8. "Charlotte Royale". Food- Archived from the original on 2010-07-29.
  9. Oxford English Dictionary, 1889 s.v.

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