Bands, songs, people, places: the word Charlotte is a popular one nowadays. But found in the last category of the word in the dictionary as I’m bringing it to you today, it’s a type of molded dessert that can be served hot or cold to bring delicious joy to your table. Bread, sponge cake, or cookies are used to line a mold, which is then filled with a stiff fruit purée or custard or mousse, depending on the kind! Classically, stale bread dipped in butter was used as the lining. Due to the relatively simple preparation of Charlottes, many different varieties have developed; for instance, the chocolate Charlotte has a mousse filling and the Russian Charlotte is filled with Bavarian cream, and the Charlotte Royale has the same Bavarian cream filling, but replaces the ladyfingers with Swiss roll. Wow!
For the classic Charlotte consisting of the fruit purée encased in bread, you will need a mold with a flat bottom and straight or only slightly sloping sides. The simplest cake linings are made with thin sheets of Génoise, Biscuit, or Sponge cake sheets, but I used regular commercial sliced white bread – as recommended by Julia Child – and the results were awesome! Ladyfingers can also be used, making the Charlotte a somewhat distant cousin of the Tiramisu when prepared with a chocolate or coffee filling. Charlottes can also be made in individual sizes in ramekins or Charlotte molds; in my opinion it sounds like a much better idea since cutting through to serve the Charlotte slices became a pretty messy thing! That’s why deciding what to do with the top and the bottom is more important than you would think, but more on that later.
Apple Charlotte is a much loved traditional English dessert, but I came to learn about it from our all-time favorite Julia Child, from her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And granted it’s an English favorite, the recipe Charlotte de pommes has been mentioned since the early years of the 19th century, and there are various recipes of this sweet dish, any one of which could be an ancestral form of the Charlotte. Whatever the story is, Julia Child brought it to the kitchen of the regular American housewife with her charm & uniqueness all of us can love, especially watching her live on television being as quirky & inspiring as can be!
I have much to learn from Julia, and have only started with this delicious apple dessert. The simplicity of the recipe and it’s amazing results were enough to know I could personally trust Julia from now on (not that she couldn’t be trusted to begin with). I am ready for more French-inspired recipes, and would like to inspire you guys to follow my lead and enjoy this great classical dessert this weekend!
For the Apple Charlotte
- 6 pounds (2.5kg) of non-juicy cooking apples
- 1 cup (200g) of granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- 1/4 cup of dark rum
- 3 tablespoons of butter
- 10-15 slices of white bread, crustless & approximately 4 inches square
- 1 cup of clarified butter
- 1/2 cup of apricot preserves
- 2 tablespoons of powdered sugar
Begin by washing your apples and setting a pot on the stove on very low heat. Peel, core, & quarter the apples. Slice them into 1/8-inch pieces and cook them in the covered pot on low heat until tender. No need to add liquids or do anything but wait!
Beat in the apricot preserves, sugar, vanilla extract, rum, & butter. Raise the heat to medium and boil, stirring almost continually until water content all but evaporates, about 30 minutes. This should result in a very thick purée paste, thick when picked up with the spoon. In my opinion, the thicker, the better, so don’t worry about overdoing it so much as worrying to under-doing it, which will result in a mushy, liquidy Charlotte.
Set the oven to a piping hot 425°F (220°C). Remove the crusts from your white bread slices. Cut a small square and 4 semi circles of the bread to fit the round bottom of the charlotte mold. I used a regular round bowl because I could’t find the appropriate shaped baking dish, the suggestions are for a 4-inch high mold approximately 7-inches in width at the top. My Charlotte, therefore, lacked the height by about 1-inch!
To prepare the clarified butter, I use the microwave. It is preferred for many cooking applications, such as sautéing, due to its higher smoke point than regular butter. It also has a longer shelf life than fresh butter due to the fact that the milk solids and water from the butter fat have been removed. Even if it’s commercially available, there’s no need to go out and buy some for this recipe. All you have to do is melt your stick (or 2) of butter needed for the recipe – microwave or stovetop, and as you heat the butter notice how the milks solids set below, leaving a clearer layer on top. Use that!
Sauté the cut shapes of white bread with clarified butter and place along the bottom of the mold accordingly. Cut the rest of the bread into strips of about 1-1/4 inches wide. Dip entirely in clarified butter and fit them, overlapping each other, around the mold. Before continuing, I want to make sure you press the bread against the mold as much as you can without tearing it. I used my fingers & a glass, just enough to allow the bread to unify into a firm crust before pouring in the purée.
After the final press, pack the purée into the mold, allowing it to form a dome of about 3/4-inch high in the middle. This will prevent the Charlotte from sinking too much in the middle when turned over – sinkage is real! Finally, cover the top with 4 or 5 butter-dipped bread strips to seal the deal. Pour the remaining butter over the ends of the bread.
Set in a pan in the oven (to prevent spillage) on the middle level and bake for about 30 minutes. The bread should be golden brown and you can regularly check it if you’re unsure. Cool for about 15 minutes and help the bread unstick with a knife, just in case! Before you turn it over, test to make sure it’s firm and the bread is not stuck to the mold (as far as you can see). Turn over and voilá! It should look like a master’s work of art!
Sprinkle with powdered sugar, or if you’re feeling inspired, prepare a glaze! Topping with whipped cream or ice cream is also a great idea! Either way, you will love the delicious combination of filling & crust this unique dessert has!