The art of the charlotte
In cooking, a charlotte is a delicious moulded dessert, with biscuits around the outside that have been soaked in a flavoured syrup, filled with a light cream or mousse. The charlotte is left to set in the fridge before being turned out and served in slices.
It is very light and a lovely sweet with which to round off a meal. It is refreshing, too, especially if made with fruit.
Here are some hints on making charlottes.
A charlotte mould is lined in the bottom and around the sides with syrup-soaked biscuits. This outside layer is then filled with a cream and left to set in the fridge (usually overnight).
Of course, it is best to use a proper charlotte mould if possible. This is round and tall with tapering sides which make turning out easier. If the mould is non-stick, so much the better, as there is no need to butter it.
If you are worried that the charlotte will not turn out properly (it might stick on the bottom and fall apart) you can put a circle of paper or plastic film
in the bottom of the mould.
Boudoir or sponge finger biscuits
are the ones most commonly used – they are just right for this. If you don't have any, you can use slices of genoa sponge
The biscuits are soaked in the syrup until they have absorbed some of it up before being arranged around the sides of the mould. The syrup needs to be well-flavoured and quite runny so that the biscuits can soak it up easily (a fruit coulis, for example, is thicker, so would need a longer soaking time).
Please note that there is a delicate balance to be struck between biscuits that are too dry or too soggy. Personally, when using a very liquid syrup (such as coffee), I soak the biscuit in the syrup, then take it out and remove the excess by pressing.
It is traditional to line the mould with biscuits arranged vertically around the side, then arrange more biscuits in the bottom. Of course, the biscuits won't be the right shape and will need to be cut to fit to give an even layer.
Once the outer "casing" is in place, this is filled with a cream that should set when cold. This is typically made with gelatin
. One of the best results comes from using (about 50/50) whipped cream
with something else that contains dissolved gelatine. This other ingredient can be a fruit coulis (fruit purée)
, custard (crème anglaise)
, creamy cheese like mascarpone, etc.
You can also make the charlotte in different layers: cream, diced fruit, cream. However you fill it, do be sure to fill the mould full, even round the top a little, as the cream will tend to sink a little as it sets.
You can also finish with a layer of biscuits, so that the charlotte has a complete outer shell. This is simply for appearance and a matter of taste.
Once the cream has been poured into the mould, cover with plastic film and leave to set in the fridge overnight.
Shortly before serving, turn out carefully and slice vertically. Serve the slices laid flat for best effect, surrounded by a coulis, sauce or custard if you wish.
The dessert's origins are uncertain. The name might refer to the British queen Charlotte who was the wife of George III.
Back to top of page
The 3 essential knives
You must have heard a chef or cook say: "There’s no good cooking without good ingredients". This is very true, of course, but for any amateur or beginner it is equipment that really counts to start with. What I mean is that you should not skimp on [Read more...]
Using stretch food film effectively
Maybe you use food film in your own kitchen. You know, the very thin, clear plastic stuff that you can stretch, often used to cover food and protect it from the air. It’s become so widely used that it’s now an essential item for pros. They even [Read more...]
The mock CAP baker's certificate exam
The next instalment in my life as an apprentice baker at the French INBP professional school. I’m now halfway through training and it’s still as exciting as ever, and exhausting – but maybe I’m just getting old, or both… Anyway, a few days [Read more...]
Rosemary in recipes
Rosemary, as I’m sure you know, is a culinary herb:
It is one of the famous French "herbes de Provence", and is very effective in bringing a real taste of the Mediterranean to any dish.
The classic way to use it in a recipe is to add a [Read more...]
The Holy Grail of French bakers
While browsing through the recipes on this site, you may have noticed that while I adore cooking (everything, in fact, to do with eating and drinking), I am particularly drawn to bakery: bread, viennoiseries and all that goes with them – it’s a [Read more...]
Is it really necessary to cream egg yolks?
Let’s try and answer a question that crops up in cookery and patisserie, even if it verges on the existential: do the egg yolks in a custard recipe really need to be beaten until pale, or not?
You might already have noticed in many recipes [Read more...]
Egg yolks and caster sugar
We often come across recipes where we need to mix egg yolks with caster sugar. This would appear to be a very ordinary and simple thing to do but, be warned, these two ingredients can behave oddly together.
Let’s take confectioner's custard [Read more...]
The golden-brown finish on puff pastry
Let's take a look at the tricky matter of producing puff pastry with an attractive, golden-brown finish. French pastry chefs call this "dorure" (literally, "gilding").
Behind this quirky term there lurks a real problem (and the solution): when [Read more...]