This classic French Strawberry Charlotte Cake ("Charlotte aux Fraises") makes the most delicious summer dessert. The fresh fruits, the delicate strawberry bavarian cream and the homemade Ladyfinger Biscuits create a super light and creamy celebration cake the whole family will love!
This Fresh Fruit Charlotte Cake is such a Classic French Pastry dessert. Made with Ladyfinger Cookies, a Mousse/Cream filling and fresh Fruits, it makes a delicious summer dessert.
Relatively similar to a "Fraisier Cake", this French Strawberry Cake is great as a birthday cake, garden party or afternoon tea. It has that "wow" factor your guest will love - and the taste that goes with it!
What is a Charlotte Cake
What type of dessert is a Charlotte? A Strawberry Charlotte Cake ("Charlotte aux Fraises" in French) is a Mousse Cake with Ladyfingers Biscuits and fresh Strawberries.
The ladyfinger biscuits ("biscuits cuillère") create the base and edge of the cake that is filled with a mousse and fresh fruits.
The Lady fingers Cake can be filled with a Cream (usually made from fruits like Strawberries, Raspberries or Peaches), or a Mousse (Chocolate, Coffee,...).
How to make a Charlotte Cake with Strawberries
There are three elements needed to make this Strawberry Charlotte:
- Ladyfinger Biscuits: both for the Base and the Edges of the Cake. And optionally inside the cake as well.
- Strawberry Cream: more specifically a Strawberry Bavarian Cream here
- Fresh Strawberries: diced between two layers of cream, and to finish the cake
Homemade Ladyfinger Biscuits
What are ladyfinger cookies? Called "Biscuits Cuillère" in French ( sometimes "Biscuits à la cuillère" and "Boudoirs"), they are small biscuits shaped like thick fingers.
They are super light Egg-based Sponge Biscuits that can be used to make many desserts like Charlottes, Triffles and sometimes Tiramisu.
To make "Biscuits Cuillère", you will need (scroll down to recipe card for all quantities):
- Eggs: White and Yolks separate
- Caster Sugar
- Plain/AP Flour
You will need more Whites than Yolks but keep all the extra yolks - you will need them to make the Strawberry Cream!
If you need to make this cake Gluten Free, you can actually also substitute the Plain Flour for an equal part of Cornstarch. It will work just as well!
How to make Ladyfinger Cookies
You will need a stand mixer (or hand mixer if you do not have a standing one). Making Ladyfingers can always be made by hands as well - as long as you don't mind whipping Egg Whites!
- Separate the Egg Whites and Yolks (keep the remaining yolks to make the cream later on).
- Whip the Egg Whites until you reach soft peaks, then gradually add the Sugar while beating.
- Whisk in the Egg Yolks, then the Flour & Cornstarch. Stop as soon as these ingredients have been incorporated to avoid deflating the egg whites.
- Place the batter in a large piping bag with round piping tip and Prepare two separate flat baking trays with baking paper.
- On the first one, trace the inside of the Pastry Ring you will use to assemble the cake and flip the paper. Pipe in a spiral, starting from the centre of the circle. Stop about 2cm from the edges.
- On the second tray, pipe small lines of batter about the height of the pastry ring. You can make individual ladyfingers or have them all attached (piped next to each other) to create a long strip. Make sure you use all the remaining batter to make cookies that will be used for the edges so you have enough.
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, then set aside on a cooling rack until fully cool.
Strawberry Cream Filling
Recipes for the charlotte filling can very much vary. Some people simply fill them with Whipped Cream, other with Crème Patissière (Pastry Cream) or a Mousseline Cream.
I personally prefer to make a Bavarian Cream as it is much lighter than a Pastry Cream, and much tastier than Whipped Cream!
A Bavarian Cream (Crème Bavaroise) is a Crème Anglaise with Gelatine, mixed with Whipped Cream. It creates a deliciously light cream that can be flavoured with fruits, chocolate or any flavouring extracts.
This recipe is based on a classic Bavarois Cream, but where the Cream used to make the Creme Anglaise is substituted with Blended and Sieved Strawberries.
To make Strawberry Bavarois Cream, you will need (scroll down to recipe card for all quantities):
- Fresh (or frozen) Strawberries, blended then sieved
- Vanilla - Paste, Extract or Fresh
- Caster Sugar
- Egg Yolks
- Gelatine Powder
- Heavy / Thickened Cream
How to make Strawberry Bavarian Cream
This Bavarian Cream is basically made the same way as my other desserts with Bavarian Cream like my Chocolate Bavarois Cream Cake.
- Blend your Strawberries until very smooth and pour through a thin-mesh sieve to remove and seeds. You can also use a pre-made Strawberry Coulis instead if preferred.
- Place in a Small Pot with the Vanilla and heat up on low heat.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the Egg Yolks and Caster Sugar. When the strawberries start to simmer, add the Yolk/Sugar to it. Continuously stir with a stiff spatula (don't use a whisk, we don't want to add air) on low heat until the cream starts to thicken. Remove from the heat.
- Mix the Gelatine Powder with a little bit of cold water, then whisk it in the Strawberry Cream. Cover with wrap on the surface and place in the fridge to cool down.
- Once the strawberry mousse reaches room temperature, start whipping the Heavy Cream until almost stiff. Gently fold the whipped cream into the strawberry mousse.
Make sure the strawberry cream has reached room temperature before you fold in the whipped cream - if it is too hot, the whipped cream will deflate and if it is too cold, the gelatine will have started to set.
To make this French Cake, you will need a few utensils:
- a Large Pastry Ring (I used a 25x5cm / 10x2inch one) - you could also use a large round Springform Pan
- optional: Acetate Strips to run around the edges of the Ring
- Large Piping Bag with Large Round piping Tip
- Small Offset Spatula
Absolutely! Although they usually look and taste slightly different than homemade ones. Store bought ones are often covered in a thin layer of white sugar.
If working with individual lady finger cookies, simply place them next to each other to create the edges of the cake.
For the base, you may want to break them into smaller pieces - or even soak them in a liquid to "mold" them into a crust.
You can use a Charlotte Cake Pan - but it is not necessary. I actually find that using a Pastry Ring makes putting the cake together much easier; you may struggle to fit the ladyfinger cookies into the fluted edges of a charlotte pan.
More Strawberry Desserts:
- Strawberry Custard Tartlets
- Strawberry Hand Pies from Wishes and Dishes
- Almond Strawberry Cake
- Strawberry Coconut Scones
- Strawberry Coffee Cake
- Double Strawberry Panna Cotta
How to assemble the Cake
You should have all of your preparations ready and around you to put this cake together.
- Put your Pastry Ring over a flat tray or whichever flat surface you will be serving it on.
- (Photo 1): Place the round ladyfinger base in the middle of the pastry ring. Then make the edges with the ladyfinger cookies strips. Make sure they fit together really tightly - if place too loose, the cake with potentially crack/spread once you remove the ring.
- (Photo 2): pour about half of the Strawberry Cream over the base. Flatten it with the offset spatula
- (Photo 3): Add the Diced Strawberries - and any leftover cookie bits you may have left.
- (Photo 4): Cover with the rest of the Strawberry Bavarois, and evenly spread it with the spatula.
- (Photo 5): Optional: drizzle some Strawberry Coulis or Sauce over the cream
- (Photo 6): Slice the bottom of large fresh strawberries (so they can stand flat over the cream) and place them over the Coulis.
- Place in the fridge to set for at least 2 or 3 hours
- Optional: to serve, sprinkle with some Desiccated Coconut, Chocolate Shavings and/or Fresh Mint Leaves.
- Carefully remove the ring before serving.
How to store this cake
This cake should be kept refrigerated, and will last for 3 days in the fridge. Make sure the cake is covered with wrap so that it does not absorb any fridge smells.
Alternatively, you can store it in a large air-tight box/container in the fridge.
Can you make it in advance?
Yes, you can. I recommend making it up to 24 to 48 hours in advance. After that, the cream will start to soak the cookies and they will become soggy. If made 2 days in advance, note that you should eat it within a day after being served.
You can also pre-make the ladyfinger biscuits and store them at room temperature in an air-tight container for up to 2 days.
The Cream should be made just before assembling the cake, as it contain gelatine and will start to set as soon as refrigerated.
Can I freeze a Charlotte?
I do not recommend freezing this cake.
More French Pastry Desserts:
- Easy Raspberry Coulis
- Classic Profiteroles
- Lemon Meringue Cake
- Triple French Chocolate Tart
- Sablé Breton Cookies
- Choux à la Crème (French Cream Puffs)
- French Apple Tart
- Choux au Craquelin
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Strawberry Charlotte Cake
- 7 Egg Whites - or the equivalent to 250 gr
- 75 gr (1/3 cup) Caster Sugar
- 4 Egg Yolks - or the equivalent to 160 gr
- 100 gr (2/3 cup) Plain Flour
- 100 gr (3/4 cup + 1 tbsp) Cornstarch
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
- 200 gr (0,4 lb) Strawberries
- 3 Egg Yolks - or the equivalent to 120 gr
- 30 gr (2 tbsp) Caster Sugar
- 1 teasp. Vanilla Paste
- 8 gr (1 tbsp) Gelatine Powder
- 350 ml (1 1/2 cup) Heavy / Thickened Cream
- 600 gr (1,2 lb) Fresh Strawberries
- 120 ml (1/2 cup) Strawberry Coulis or Sauce - optional
- Preheat your oven on 180°C/350°F. Line two large baking flat trays with Baking Paper. Draw the shape of the Pastry Ring (see note 1 for size) you will be using on one of the Baking Paper, and flip it.
- In your Stand Mixer, whip the Egg Whites until you reach soft peaks. Gradually add the Caster Sugar, a little bit at the time, until you get Stiff Peaks.
- Slowly beat in the Egg Yolks, then the Plain Flour and Cornstarch. Stop as soon as all incorporated to avoid deflating the Egg Whites.
- Transfer the Ladyfinger Biscuits Batter into a large Pastry Bag with a large round nozzle.
- Make the base of the cake on the sheet with the circle drawn: start from the centre of the ring and create a spiral around it with the batter, stopping about 2cm/0.8inch from the edges.
- Make the edges of the cake: pipe small lines of batter next to each other in long rows (they should touch and be about the same height as your pastry ring). (see note 2)
- Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until puffed and golden. Transfer on a cooling rack with the baking paper and set aside to cool down.
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
- Blend the Strawberries and pour the liquid through a thin mesh sieve to discard any seeds. Place the blended Strawberries in a small pot with the Vanilla Paste and turn on low heat (see note 3)
- In a separate bowl, whisk the Egg Yolks and Sugar. When the strawberry juice starts to simmer, add the Yolks/Sugar. Continuously stir with a stiff spatula until the liquid starts to thicken (see note 4). Remove from the heat.
- Mix the Gelatine Powder with a little bit of cold water and set aside for a couple of minutes, then whisk it into the Strawberry Cream until smooth. Cover with wrap and place in the fridge to cool (see note 5).
- When the strawberries reach room temperature, start whipping the Heavy Cream until almost stiff. Gently fold in the whipped Cream in the Strawberry Cream in 3 or 4 times. Set aside.
Assembling the Charlotte Cake
- Dice about 200gr (0,4lb) of the strawberries and set aside.
- Slice the bottom of the ladyfinger biscuit strips if needed so they can sit flat. They should be the same height as the Ring (or slightly higher if preferred).
- Place the ladyfinger biscuit base inside the Ring, and the ladyfinger Biscuit strips around it. Make sure the edges are packed in really tight (see note 6).
- Pour half of the Strawberry Cream over the biscuit base. Cover with the Diced Strawberries (and the rest of the ladyfinger cookies, cut into small cubes, if any leftover).
- Pour the rest of the Strawberry Cream over and use a small offset spatula to smooth the top.
- Optional: Cover with the Strawberry Coulis/Sauce.
- Spread the rest of the fresh Strawberries over the Cream and Coulis. Place in the fridge to set for at least 2 or 3 hours.
- Optional: before serving, you can sprinkle some Desiccated Coconut, Dark Chocolate Shaving and/or Fresh Mint Leaves over the fresh Strawberries
- I used a 25cm wide, 5cm high Pastry Ring - or 10 inch wide to 2 inch high. Alternatively, you can use a Springform Pan.
- Repeat the process until you have used all of your batter, piping multiple rows of ladyfinger biscuits if needed. You may want to check you will have enough to create all the edges of your cake.
- If using fresh Vanilla Bean, slice it in half and leave to infuse in the Strawberry Juice on low heat for 5 minutes, then scrap the beans and add them to the juice.
- On low heat, it will take a few minutes to thicken - make sure you do not stop stirring. To know it is thick enough (and cooked enough), dip a spoon in. On the back of the spoon, draw a straight line with your finger over the liquid and place the spoon vertically. If you do not see any of the liquid dripping over the clear line, it means the liquid has thickened enough.
- You do not want the strawberry cream to be cool or the gelatine will start to set. But make sure it isn't hot anymore either, or it will deflate the whipped cream.
- You may need to press two or three strips together, but make sure the edges are very tight or it will split when you remove the ring.