ursula lecoeur

Charlotte Russe

ursula lecoeur

Charlotte Russe

Mary Reporting. I think Charlotte Russe holds the top position in the pantheon of Southern desserts because my grandmothers made it only twice a year—Thanksgiving and Christmas.

For months, I’d look forward to this traditional confection of whipping cream, eggs and sugar that’s lighter than ice cream, but richer in taste. Charlotte Russe on the table twice in little more than a month was heaven.

The dessert was invented by Marie-Antoine Careme (1784-1833), the famous French chef who worked for several kings and countries. Careme’s confection of sponge cake and Bavarian cream was said to honor Charlotte, the only child of his one-time employer, the Prince Regent, later George IV of England. Later when Careme cooked for Czar Alexander I, he changed the name of the dish from Charlotte a la Parisienne to Charlotte Russe, to honor that monarch as well.

No doubt French settlers brought the dessert to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, using the name Charlotte Russe. The English Colonists enjoyed something similar. The Williamsburg Art of Cookery, published in 1742, offers ingredients for Delicate Pudding, which is Charlotte Russe minus the sponge cake.

In old cookbooks I’ve found versions made with a custard of egg yolks, milk and sugar to which gelatin and whipped cream were added. I’ve seen others made of whipped egg whites and sugar to which gelatin and whipped cream were added. The Creole Cookery Book, published in New Orleans in 1885, called for the custard preparation. Miss Parloa’s New Cook Book, published in Boston in 1888, combined custard, beaten egg whites, gelatin and whipped cream.

Both my grandmothers learned to make their Charlotte Russe that way, which makes for a lengthy process. One Christmas when our preparations were running  behind schedule, Grandy confessed she knew a shortcut that involved just egg whites, gelatin and whipped cream. My sister and I promised we’d never tell a soul. As usual, all the dinner guests raved over the dessert.

I’m including both recipes, but I confess I use the simpler one most of the time and add sherry to taste.

Traditional Charlotte Russe


1 package lady fingers

2 pints whipping cream

2 envelopes Knox unflavored gelatin

3 eggs*

2 cups milk

6 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

Maraschino cherries for garnish

For an adult dessert, add 2 to 3 tablespoons dry sherry instead of vanilla and almond


1)      Separate eggs. Put whites aside. Beat yolks and 2 tablespoons sugar.

2)      Heat milk in double boiler.

3)      In a small bowl, wet gelatin, then dissolve in about ¼ cup boiling water. Set in a larger bowl of ice water and stir constantly so gelatin does not lump as it cools.

4)      Add egg yolks to warmed milk in double boiler.

5)      Strain gelatin and add to double boiler.

6)      Cook until the custard begins to thicken.

7)      Remove from heat. Cool.

8)      Whip cream in large bowl. When stiff, add two tablespoons sugar.

9)      Fold cooled custard into whipped cream.

10)   In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Add 2 tablespoons of sugar.

11)   Fold beaten egg whites into whipped cream.

12)   Add flavorings.

13)   Pour into serving bowl lined with lady fingers. Garnish with maraschino cherries

14)   Chill for at least four hours before serving

*Egg whites are not cooked, so you may want to substitute powdered egg whites.

Easy Charlotte Russe


1 package lady fingers

1 envelope gelatin

1 pint whipping cream

½ cup boiling water

3 egg whites*

6 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons dry sherry


1)      In a small bowl, moisten gelatin in a little cold water.

2)      Add ½ cup boiling water. Stir to dissolve gelatin. Place in a larger bowl of ice water to cool it quickly. Stir to prevent lumps.

3)      Whip cream until stiff. Add 3 tablespoons sugar.

4)      Whip egg whites until stiff. Add 3 tablespoons sugar.

5)      Gently fold beaten egg whites into beaten cream.

6)      Strain cooled gelatin into mixture, folding it in well.

7)      Add sherry.

8)      Pour in bowl lined with lady fingers. Garnish with maraschino cheeries.

9)      Chill at least four hours before serving.

*Egg whites are not cooked, so you may want to substitute powdered egg whites.

If you were raised in New York, you may remember the Charlotte Russe sold in local bakeries. A single-serving in a paper push-up cup, it consisted of sponge cake topped with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry. Here’s a look at a bakery that still sells it this way. http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/culture/2012/02/5204436/lost-foods-new-york-city-charlotte-russe


  1. Charles Stephen Padgett   •  

    Brava, Ursula! Extremely well researched and quite interesting. With only a wire whisk in my kitchen, though, I don’t think I’ll be taking on either of these recipes any time soon. I can’t imagine how chefs and cooks managed in the days before mixers and blenders. How will you find the fortitude to keep from dipping into this lovely creation until Thanksgiving?

  2. Robert dean   •  

    Bravo Indeeed!, my mother brought this version with her from old mobile proper.
    At 95 she can no longer make it. At 50 I am teaching my daughter to carry on this family tradition
    Fortunately he hand written recipie Is detailed enough. I looked online for the origin of this desert and you nailed it It seems that much of what is written about how to make it is far from what our family has always done. Your photo, description and recipe hit very close to the mark of what we in the Dean home call “Charolette”

    An interesting note on the custard she notes “Thickened to the point it will coat a freshly polished silver tablespoon and remove from heat” her direction go on and i sumarize here pour custard through strainer into earthenware pitcher and chill in a water bath with ice stirring constantly. As gelatin begins to come together add 1/2 to one cup of Taylor new York golden sherry to taste. while custard cools In a seperate bowl blend in 1/2 cup of sugar to 4 egg whites from refrigerator and add to custard stirring constantly in same seperate bowl add I pint heavy cream and 1/2 cup sugar and blend lightly then add to custard remove serving fish from freezer add ladyfingers to perimeter pour and chill to congeal prior to serving

    Thank you for your history lesson

    • ulcadmin   •  


      Thank you for your comment. My grandmother used to place the custard in a larger bowl of ice water, too, but I omitted that step because in our modern, temperature-controlled houses, I don’t think it’s necessary. My grandmother thought that step particularly important when she made Charlotte Russe during the summer months. She thought it kept the custard from spoiling while it cooled. It’s a wonderful dessert. I’m glad you’re teaching your daughter to make it to continue the tradition.

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