There is some doubt about the tradition of the ‘charlotte’, for which a special ‘charlotte mould’ was used in great kitchens in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. However, the name ‘charlet’ (also ‘charlette’) appears in several fifteenth-century recipes. There is ‘charlet enforsed’ and ‘charlet a-forcyd ryally’ in the Harleian MSS.
The recipes are always for pork or veal, chopped small and cooked in milk: in fact, the dish was simply chair = flesh, laitée = milked: i.e. meat cooked in milk, often milk of almonds. Plenty of sweetening was always recommended, and somehow the dish seems to have been translated into a pudding where a smooth, sweet purée was filled into a crisp crust of bread or biscuits.
Apple Charlotte and Charlotte Russe are the most common forms, but other fillings and flavourings were used. Some writers depart altogether from the medieval dish and hold that George Ill’s Queen gave these puddings her name, some that they were German in origin, and called after the heroine of Goethe’s Werther. Yet another view is that charlotte is a mis-spelling of the Hebrew schaleth, which was a sweet spiced purée with dried fruit, and with a lid of crisp crust: in fact, an apple pie. André Simon claims that Carême, most creative of all the great chefs, but for a long time almost illiterate (because of the extreme poverty of his early upbringing, which included no schooling), evolved the charlotte from this dish, and that the more familiar female Christian name was the nearest he could get to schaleth.
Stew the apples with the sugar, lemon rind and a very little butter until tender and a thick pulp; stir constantly to prevent burning. Add the lemon juice and beat a little. Dip one side of the bread in the clarified butter and line the bottom and sides of a small fireproof dish. Put in the apple and cover with remaining slices of bread, dipped in the melted butter. Bake for 20 minutes in a hot oven, 400° F., gas mark 6, until brown and crisp. Just before it is ready, sprinkle with caster sugar and return to the oven. Turn out and sift more sugar over.
Other recipes use finely cut uncooked apples, in which case the pudding should cook for 35–40 minutes at 350° F., gas mark 4, and should be served in the dish in which it cooked, rather than turned out.
Apricot Charlotte and Pear Charlotte are also very good. In all these, the fruit is soft and well cooked, but not puréed.
©1975 The Estate of Elizabeth Ayrton