Christmas Traditions: Charlotte Russe

Karl’s mother grew up in Alabama, and she comes from a long line of ladies who knew their way around a Southern kitchen, dining room, luncheon, and afternoon tea tables. One of the staples of holiday meal plans is her Grandmama Thompson’s Charlotte Russe. This is one of those desserts that you simply don’t see around much anyplace but in the Southern U.S.A. I did come across a charlotte on a menu in Lyon, France during our trip this summer, but it wasn’t too much like this one.

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This dessert is rich, with ladyfingers, plenty of eggs, plenty of cream, and a heavy splash of bourbon for flavor. But even though it’s rich, it’s light as a feather! I like to think of it as eating a cloudlike-eggnog dessert (but much better than eggnog).

I’m lucky: I’ve gotten to watch over my mother-in-law’s shoulder as she made charlotte a few times, and I got to participate in a meaningful way this year! This is the type of recipe where method and practice really make or break the recipe. Though in theory this dessert isn’t too hard to whip up, there is quite a lot of whipping up to be done! The recipe requires the use of many bowls. One of them should be quite large. You probably could manage to get the job done with a hand mixer, but you probably don’t want to – if you don’t have access to a stand mixer, this recipe might not be the most fun to attempt. Having at least one spare mixer bowl will also be a huge help.

I’ve taken the liberty of adding some detail to the fairly sparse directions as passed down from Grandmama Thompson. The original recipe makes enough charlotte to feed an army – you can easily cut the recipe in half and you’ll have plenty for a smaller dinner party of 8 or 10. Let me know if you try out this recipe, and how it turns out for you!

Grandmama Thompson’s Charlotte Russe

Serves 18-20IMG_5013

  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 quart heavy cream
  • 2 0.25-oz envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 4 oz bourbon
  • 18 lady fingers
  • red and green maraschino cherries, halved

Separate egg yolks and egg whites into two stand mixer bowls.

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, dissolve the gelatin in the water. Heat and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved (the liquid will be pretty much clear). Do not bring to a boil. Once the gelatin is dissolved and the mixture is hot, but not boiling, remove from the heat and set aside to cool while you beat the egg yolks.

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Using the whisk attachment on the stand mixer, beat the yolks on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. Slow the mixer speed down and slowly add the sugar, then continue beating on medium-high until the color lightens considerably. Empty the egg yolk mixture into a very large bowl. If you don’t have another stand mixer bowl, clean the dirty stand mixer bowl and the whisk with cold water and dry very well. Add the cream to the bowl, and whip the cream to soft peaks.

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While the cream is whipping, whisk the bourbon into the cooling-but-still-warm gelatin.  Once the cream is whipped to soft peaks, turn the mixer speed to medium low and slowly add the bourbon-gelatin mixture to the cream. Remove the whipped cream from the mixer base and put the egg whites in the second mixer bowl on the base. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks.

Using a large, wide spatula, gently fold the whipped cream mixture into the egg yolks in the very large bowl. Start with half the whipped cream – once that is mostly incorporated, fold in the remainder of the whipped cream. Repeat with the egg whites. Be very gentle – you don’t want to lose any volume. Stop when the egg whites are mostly incorporated – you will still seem some streaks of white in the bowl.

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Splitting each ladyfinger in half, line a large glass or crystal serving bowl. You may need to use two or more bowls if one isn’t large enough.

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Gently mound the charlotte mixture into the bowl(s), then dot the top decoratively with maraschino cherries. Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Use toothpicks if you cover with plastic wrap to avoid touching the charlotte.

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One Thought on “Christmas Traditions: Charlotte Russe

  1. Ooh, this is like an American tiramisu. Never had Charlotte Russe before.
    You make it look easy. Gotta whip up a batch tonight to take to my sister’s.
    Happy 2014, Carly! xo

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