One benefit of being married is that you get two of all the best holidays: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter. It’s simple math, really: twice the families, twice the food.
At Easter, there is barbecue, deviled eggs, and an egg hunt for the kiddos at the Parents of the Foodie Bride’s house and Sunday dinner, deviled eggs, and an egg hunt for kiddos of all ages at the Grandparents of the Foodie Groom’s farm. By sunset on Easter Sunday, me and my egg-dyed stained fingertips are all egged out.
Aside from the deviled egg buffet and adorable 2-ft tall children dragging around their 2-ft tall baskets, spilling one egg for every two collected, Easter marks the beginning of Pretty Food season.
Spring and summer offer the prettiest food of the four seasons, if you ask me – richly colored berries, vibrant green asparagus spears, and bright citrus mark the end of the cozy comfort foods of winter. After all, the real secret to pretty food photography is pretty food. And I can think of nothing that presents more beautifully in any season than a Charlotte Russe tied with a pretty ribbon.
The origins of the Charlotte Russe are a bit murky, either of French or British origin and named after either a czarina or a queen. While it’s not a real Charlotte as much as it is a Charlotte-inspired cake, the hint of citrus in the cake, sweetness of the frosting, and fresh spring berries combine to make a knock-out dessert on every level.
Orange Layer "Charlotte" with Buttercream Frosting and Berries
A pretty cake decorated with lady fingers and fresh berries.
- For the cake:
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 9 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3/4 cups whole milk
- 2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
- 1 Tbsp Orange zest
- 4 large egg whites
- For the frosting:
- 1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 lbs powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp Grand Marnier
- 1/4 tsp lemon extract
- For assembly:
- Ladyfingers (approx 36 for an 8-inch cake)
- 1/2 pint of blue berries
- 1/2 pint of raspberries
- 1/2 lb strawberries
- For the cake: Preheat oven to 350F. Spray bottom and sides of two 8-inch diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds; spray parchment. Dust pans with flour, tapping out any excess. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and 3/4 cups sugar in large bowl until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla, Grand Marnier, and orange zest. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with milk in 2 additions, beating until well blended between additions. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until foamy. With mixer running, gradually add remaining sugar. Beat egg white mixture until stiff glossy peaks form, about 3 minutes. Gently fold egg white mixture into batter in 3 additions. Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth tops.
- Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto rack; remove parchment paper, turn cakes over, and cool completely. Level the cake layers, if necessary.
- For frosting: Cream cream cheese and butter on low until smooth. Turn the mixer off and add all powdered sugar at once. Turn mixer on "Stir" until the powdered sugar is mostly incorporated and increase speed to low. Add Grand Marnier and lemon extract; mix until smooth (approx 4 minutes). Thin the frosting with water or milk, if necessary (I added a couple Tbsp of milk).
- For assembly: Rinse the berries and pat dry. Cut the top from the strawberries and slice thinly. Spread approx 3/4 cup frosting on bottom layer, top generously with raspberries and blueberries, lightly pressing the fruit into the frosting. Top with second layer. Frost tops and sides of cake liberally.
- Sift powdered sugar lightly over the top of the ladyfingers. Pipe a line of frosting onto the back of the ladyfingers and apply to the side of the cake, allowing about 1-inch of the cookies to stick up over the side of the cake. Press onto the cake. Arrange remaining blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries over the top of the cake, as desired. Tie with a ribbon. Refrigerate overnight if not serving the same day.
Yields: 2-layer 8- or 9-inch cake
Estimated time: 1 hour
More pretty Charlottes:
Lemon Mascarpone Charlotte, courtesy of Tartelette
Pear and White Chocolate Bavarian Charlotte, courtesy of Tartelette
Berry Charlottes, from Nordljus
Strawberry and Raspberry Charlotte, by La Tartine Gourmande