“Charlotte” desserts originated in England sometime in the latter part of the eighteenth century and were essentially just puddings in a cake (usually lady fingers) filled cup and topped with a sugary frosting or cream as one story goes. However, some fame to claim also goes to a French chef Antonin Careme who in 1802 created a very similar dessert and named it “Charlotte a la Parisienne” but later changed it to Charlotte Russe to honor his employer Czar Alexander of Russia. This quite interesting but simple dessert made its way to the United States sometime around the late 1880’s and became very popular early on among Jewish Americans.
Over the years it became a New York specialty as a street delicacy. Unlike many pastries at that time which were only sold in fancy pastry shops, the Charlotte Russe in its distinctive red and white cardboard holder could be found in local candy stores, local bakeries, subway stations, neighborhood soda shops and even in a few five and dime stores.
Basically, it was a street dessert, and it was enjoyed by kids as a treat during the day or with their parents at night while the grownups were sitting on the stoop in front of their building enjoying the night air while chatting with their neighbors and the kids played street games; stick ball, tag, hide and seek, kick the can, jump rope and countless others.
For me growing up in the 40’s in the heart of New York City, it was a seasonal treat. It was a joyous occasion that was newsworthy to scream about to my friends when each season I would first see the red and white striped containers lined up in the local store window. To be able to buy and enjoy a Charlotte Russe, which was basically some sort of sponge cake, with raspberry preserves or jam or jelly, I don’t know which, smeared on top of the cake and then topped with swirled whipped cream and finally with a stemmed cherry, well it was pure heaven in a cup. The cup had a push up sort of bottom that you pushed up as you ate your way through the cream and then onto the cake itself. Why it disappeared over the years, I’ll never know. But I was able to locate some red and white striped cups
without the push up bottom and recently made a batch for my family to enjoy while I could reminisce. The ones I enjoyed the most, although all were always delicious, were the ones my Dad bought for me when we had our Sunday excursion in Central Park. As I was sucking the last bit of juice from the stemmed cherry, that I always miraculously saved somehow ‘til the end, my Dad would say “Now don’t tell your Mother!” and why I’ll ever know but I knew not too!
Cake filled boxes.
Smeared with raspberry preserves.
Topped with a cherry.