This No-bake French Strawberry Charlotte cake recipe (Charlotte aux Fraises) consists of fluffy ladyfingers in and around the cake filled with incredibly silky Crème mousseline (pastry cream enriched with butter), and delicious fresh strawberries. It is one of the easiest cakes ever with incredible delicious professional patisserie-looking results!
📖 Charlotte cake origin
Each country has its own interpretation of strawberry cake, eg. Victoria sponge cake in the UK, Strawberry shortcake in the US, Fraisier cake in France, and yes because we talk about France, they also have another super delicious and famous strawberry cake called Charlotte cake (Charlotte aux Fraises).
Charlotte cake, also called Charlotte Russe Cake is a classic French cake recipe from the eighteenth century. You might have heard of Charlotte Royale cake, which is similar in terms of overall taste, but very different in terms of design; the ladyfingers are replaced by slices of swiss roll.
Charlotte cake traditionally has layers of ladyfingers, Bavarian cream, and fruit, typically strawberry or raspberry. This cake recipe is filled with vanilla-flavored Créme mousseline that I find creamier and richer than Bavarian cream. Also, mousseline cream is made without gelatin (unlike Bavarian cream), using simple ingredients such as egg, milk, butter, etc.
My Strawberry Charlotte cake recipe is a no-bake version, using store-bought ladyfingers that work perfectly fine without becoming too soft. The cake is the most delicious cross between Tiramisu and Fraisier cake; has the benefit of the lovely ladyfinger biscuits (just like tiramisu) combined with delicious vanilla mousseline cream and strawberries (just like fraisier cake).
🌟 Why this is the best Strawberry Charlotte cake recipe
- It is rather easy – As fancy as it looks, making this Charlotte cake is extremely easy, you do not even have to turn the oven on! Feel free to use store-bought ladyfingers (or make your own, I have an easy homemade ladyfinger recipe). The one part you need to pay attention to is assembling the cake, but I will teach you how to do it easily step-by-step
- It is super delicious – I never compromise on taste! Fluffy ladyfinger cookies, luxurious vanilla bean Créme mousseline, and refreshing strawberries make this Charlotte cake absolutely irresistible! It is creamy, fruity, rich, but very well balanced in sweetness and super refreshing! You will love it!
- It is an honest, detailed tutorial – While this recipe might look long, all the information I have written here, every tip and trick will help you achieve the perfect results without any issues on the way. Remember, baking is science, and every little detail written here is to help YOU!
✨ What is mousseline cream
Crème Mousseline (also called German buttercream) is a silky, fluffy yet stable cream made of pastry cream and butter. It can be used as a cream filling for cakes, and cupcakes and it is also super popular in French-style recipes eg. Sable Breton tart, Fraisier cake, or Paris Brest.
Crème pâtissière (pastry cream) is the perfect base for other custard-like creams:
- Crème Diplomat: Crème Diplomat - also called Bavarian cream - is a lighter version of the French Pastry Cream (Crème Pâtissière). Basically, it is Crème Pâtissière with added whipped cream and gelatin (optionally). Whipped cream makes it lighter and fluffier and the gelatin makes it more stable. Gelatin is not strongly needed, depending on the type of cake.
- Crème Mousseline: Crème Mousseline is classic Pastry Cream enriched with fluffy butter that makes the pastry cream extra rich and also more stable to pipe kind of like buttercream but way more delicious.
This easy Strawberry Charlotte cake is filled with vanilla bean Crème Mousseline, which is a super delicious and stable cream without gelatin, you will love it!
📝 Ingredient notes
For the ladyfinger cookies (savoiardi)
I am using store-bought ladyfingers and it works perfectly fine for this Charlotte cake recipe, however, if you want to make your own savoiardi, make sure you check my homemade ladyfingers recipe where I explain in detail how to make them.
- Egg: For making ladyfingers you will have to use egg white and yolk separately. Egg white plays a key role in getting the airy ladyfinger sponges light and fluffy so make sure you use fresh eggs in order to be able to successfully separate the yolk from white
- Sugar: You can use simply granulated sugar or superfine sugar the point is to cream it with egg all the way up until sugar fully dissolves. If want to learn about the different types of sugar and how to use them in baking, please read my sugar guide
- Pastry flour and corn starch: Homemade ladyfinger recipe calls for a mixture of fine texture pastry flour as well as starch for the fluffiest results. Alternatively use AP flour and corn starch mixture but do not skip the starch. If you want to be a Pro when it comes to deciding what type of flour to use in your baking, please read my flour guide
For the Crème mousseline (also called German butter cream)
- Milk: Use high-fat content milk, the highest you can get! It makes a huge difference when it comes to the deepness of the taste
- Sugar: Simple, white granulated sugar is perfectly fine
- Egg: Some pastry cream recipes call for whole egg however I strongly advise using egg yolk only for the best texture and flavor. Perhaps try my pavlova recipe if you want to use up your egg whites? Another, maybe not so obvious note is that the color of your egg yolk will dictate the color of your pastry cream. Farm eggs make super yellow pastry cream, on the other hand, supermarket eggs are usually way paler
- Flour: Flour is one of the thickening agents in this pastry cream recipe, use All-purpose flour. No, it won’t taste like flour!
- Starch: Corn starch is the other thickening agent in the recipe, theoretically you could only use flour OR only starch however I prefer 50%-50%.
- Vanilla: Vanilla is THE heart of making pastry cream! Avoid using artificial vanilla. There are several great brands for fine, pure vanilla, I use Nielsen massey which I love and really recommend. I use vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract for my pastry cream for the deepest, most delicious vanilla cream
- Butter: Always use unsalted butter as you want to be in control of the quality of the salt. In my recipes, I always use 82% European-style butter. Room temperature is key here. If too cold, it won’t incorporate properly. If too hot/liquid, it will make the pastry cream runny. We will use butter twice, first when making the pastry cream and then when making mousseline cream out of the pastry cream
For the strawberry coulis
- Strawberry: Strawberry is used twice in this Charlotte cake recipe! For the decoration, I suggest using fresh strawberries. For the strawberry coulis both fresh and frozen strawberries can work, I am using frozen and make strawberry puree out of it using a blender. By the way, check this article if you ever wondered how to grow strawberries indoor
- Sugar: A small amount of granulated sugar will be used to make the coulis
- Lemon juice: Small amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice will bring the flavor of the strawberries out and balance the sweetness
👩🍳 How to make this recipe
1. How to make homemade ladyfingers
Ladyfinger is a sponge biscuit shaped basically like a large finger. Home-made ladyfinger is much more like a sponge than its store-bought version that is not as soft and the texture is more like a biscuit. Regardless, the cream will soften the ladyfingers even if you purchase it from the store.
I suggest using store-bought ladyfinger in this easy Charlotte cake recipe as it requires quite some experience to pipe equal-sized ladyfingers for the side of this cake, however, for those of you who are more experienced, here is the step-by-step process of making ladyfingers at home
- Have your baking tray with parchment paper ready or prepare a Silicone baking mat before the whole process. You will probably need 2 baking trays (for 28 ladyfingers)
- Also a good idea to prep a piping template ahead, I usually use an eclair template that is 10cm / 4 inches long
- While beating egg yolk and sugar, make sure you beat it all over until sugar dissolves and the mixture increases in volume. When you take a small amount of egg yolk and sugar mixture between your fingers it should be smooth and not grainy
- Sift the flour as well as starch to avoid lumps and with that unnecessary foldings to fix it
- Using egg white you will be making meringue. The key part here is that sugar needs to be added to the egg white very slowly, one tablespoon at a time while the Stand mixer is on otherwise it might get crystallized and you have to start the whole process all over again. The meringue is ready when it reaches stiff, shiny peaks however do not overbeat it to a point where it would form lumps as that is a difficult texture to fold in with the rest of the ingredients
- After meringue reached the right consistency, it’s important to first loosen up the egg yolk mixture with about ¼ of the whipped egg white then fold the meringue and sifted flour in VERY carefully with the help of a Rubber spatula. The batter should stay very airy before piping. If it gets too runny, you won`t be able to pipe and the mixture won`t be able to hold its shape
- For piping, use a simple small 1A Round nozzle tip. Try to pipe the batter in large finger size, bearing in mind that the ladyfinger will grow a lot in the oven
- The ladyfingers are baked in a relatively high temp (200 C / 392°F) for a short time (10-12min). If they are well baked, they get golden brown and only slightly deflate after removing from the oven
💡 Top Tip: For this Charlotte cake you might want to skip to pipe finger shapes, instead you can pipe the batter close to each other. So instead of individual ladyfingers, you actually pipe the side of the cake in one go
2. How to make the strawberry coulis
Making strawberry puree for this Charlotte cake recipe is super easy and really makes the difference when it comes to softening the ladyfingers and bringing strong natural strawberry flavors.
The process is the following:
- Cook strawberry sauce until slightly thickens: Whether you use frozen or fresh strawberries, first blend strawberry then cook with sugar and lemon juice over medium heat until slightly thickens. You don´t want to cook it for too long (that would be jam texture) just long enough so some water evaporates and it thickens a bit
- Let sauce slightly cool down before using: You will have to use the sauce to drizzle the ladyfingers so use it either cold or at least room temperature
💡 Top Tip: Lemon juice is needed in the recipe to balance the flavors of the strawberry, do not skip it
3. How to make pastry cream for the mousseline cream
Pastry cream is the most delicious, rich, silky, and creamy custard-like cream filling used in many types of desserts. You will have to make a pastry cream first that will be turned into Crème mousseline at a later stage with fluffy, soft butter. I have a whole detailed Baking Guide with tons of tips about making the perfect pastry cream (Creme Patissiere), make sure you read it.
- In a large enough bowl with the help of a Hand whisk, mix together sugar and egg yolk until slightly fluffy for about 1-2 minutes
- Mix in corn starch, flour, and vanilla until thoroughly incorporated and have a smooth paste
- Bring milk to boil in a saucepan on medium heat then remove it as soon as it starts simmering. Make sure it is simmering but not crazy boiling
- Pour the warm milk over the egg yolk mixture slowly while whisking vigorously with a Hand whisk. This stage is effectively tempering the egg yolks and the mixture should already start to slightly thicken
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat for a few minutes until it thickens. Concretely it is approximately 1 min after the first boil. It might get lumpy first, don’t worry just keep whisking and the cream will get smooth and glossy
- If in doubt, strain the pastry cream for a lump-free, creamy end result
- Add in room temperature soft butter and mix with a Rubber spatula until completely incorporated. It is worth adding the butter in 3 stages and mixing well after each addition
Pastry cream needs to be completely cooled to room temperature before using it to make the filling for the Charlotte cake. Place the cream into a shallow bowl or container and cover the entire surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming on top.
💡 Top Tip: It’s worth keeping a good quality (so that the milk won’t burn in it) small/medium-sized saucepan for making pastry cream and other creams for baking
4. The process of making mousseline cream
For this Strawberry Charlotte cake recipe, we will be making a wonderful Crème mousseline. It is a rich, but not overly sweet cream, and very stable to pipe or to fill cakes.
The process is simple, however, you have to be careful with the temperature of the ingredients:
- It is very important that the pastry cream is cooled but not cold meaning either let it cool at room temp or cool it in the fridge then let it come back to room temperature
- The butter needs to be soft. Soft butter means soft enough without hard butter chunks for the mixer to cream it but do not melt it in the microwave as melted butter can´t be creamed
- So once pastry cream is set but not cold and butter is soft, move butter into your Stand mixer fitted with your whisk attachment and start creaming the butter for a few minutes until it becomes fluffy. Alternatively, this can be also done with an Electic Hand mixer but pay close attention to the consistency of the cream
- Once butter is creamy and pale, start adding the room temperature pastry cream in 4 steps (adding always ¼ only) while the mixer is still on
- Cream mixture until it reached a fluffy, pipeable consistency. This will take less than a minute
- Make sure you do not over whip the cream at this point as it can get runny
Use the cream to assemble the cake immediately. Please note that mousseline cream will further set in the fridge due to its butter content, so you have to fill the cake straight after it is whipped up.
💡 Top Tip: You have to be extremely precise with the temperatures when making this kind of cream, aim for room temperature ingredients. If either pastry cream or butter is too cold or too warm, you won´t be able to whip up the mixture properly as either butter will stay in chunks or the entire mixture will break and curdle
5. How to assemble the cake
Building up the layers of this Charlotte is super easy, but a step-by-step process. Prepare the cake elements:
- Prepare the ladyfingers (store-bought or homemade). I recommend cutting the very end of the ladyfingers on one side, so on the bottom of the cake the ladyfingers are straight
- Make the strawberry coulis and let it too to room temperature
- Prepare the mousseline cream: make the pastry cream and let it cool to room temperature then whip it up with butter until fluffy. Move cream into a piping bag
- Wash and clean fresh strawberries then cut them into quarters
Now it´s assembling time!
- Assemble the Mousse cake ring (adjustable in size) and set it to 18cm / 7 inch
- Start to build up the Charlotte cake from bottom to top
- Arrange the ladyfingers neatly and tightly - this will be the side of the cake.
- Arrange the ladyfingers on the bottom of the cake too. Trim the ladyfinger cookies, if needed
- Drizzle the ladyfingers with the strawberry coulis. This will soften the ladyfinger cookies and also brings extra strawberry flavor. Be mindful with the coulis, we want the ladyfingers to soften, but not to get overly soggy
- Fill a Piping bag with mousseline cream and pipe half of the cream on top of the ladyfingers
- Place strawberry pieces on top of the cream
- Place another layer of ladyfingers on top and again, drizzle with the strawberry coulis
- Pipe the rest of the cream on top
- Smooth the top with an Offset spatula
- Place the cake into the fridge for 4 few hours, or overnight. This resting time is needed for the cream to set and the ladyfingers to soften
💡 Top Tip: While assembling the cake, it is critical that the ladyfingers are nice and tight as we want to avoid cream leakage
6. How to decorate
Once your Strawberry Charlotte cake sets in the fridge, it is decorating time!
- Carefully remove the Mousse cake ring (adjustable in size)
- Decorate the top with fresh strawberries, mint, and edible flowers
- Serve the cake shortly. Store in fridge
🥣 Equipment notes
For assembling the cake I am using a Mousse cake ring (adjustable in size) set to 18cm / 7inches
For a consistent, happy baking experience always measure your ingredients with the help of a Digital scale. This is absolutely a MUST
🎓 Expert tips
- While making the ladyfingers, make sure egg yolk and egg white are properly whipped up, then the flour is gently folded in - in order to be able to pipe the batter
- When making the mousseline cream, the temperature is critical. Both pastry cream, as well as butter, must be at room temperature
- An inexpensive Rubber spatula is super useful whenever "fold" is mentioned in the recipe. With the help of your spatula, you will be able to fold the cream gently without breaking it
- Strawberry can be easily substituted in the recipe with raspberry or any other berries
- Mousseline cream can also be substituted with mascarpone - similarly to making tiramisu
Yes, you can use traditional equipment (eg. springform)
Yes of course you can, this recipe works no matter what size or shape of cake you want to bake, however, you will need to adjust the ingredients accordingly
Yes, most probably you can, however, you can´t just replace flour with gluten-free flour 1:1 without reformulating the recipe. When one ingredient changes, some other ingredients need to be changed too in order to keep the balance in the texture and flavor. If using store-bought ladyfingers, feel free to purchase gluten-free ones
Probably you can, however just as making it gluten-free, you will need to adjust the ingredients somewhat if the egg is left out. Sadly, I am not able to provide substitutes for all sorts of allergies and diets and I do not have eggless ladyfinger and eggless pastry cream recipe
You have to start with a pastry cream that is stable. Then, you will want to follow my tips about how to properly whip this kind of cream with the butter without the cream curdling. Just like making most other kinds of frosting, the temperature is key. It is important that you do not overwhip the mixture. Make sure that you stop whipping as soon as the mixture is fluffy and pipeable, as a minute later it will break and become runny. If the cream is not runny but more on the soft side, don´t worry, it will be set in the fridge
Once you assemble the cake, it should be stored in the fridge. I suggest you cover the cake to make sure it does not absorb any smell from the fridge. Leftover cake - if there is any - should be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days in an air-tight container.
Mousseline cream does not freeze well and might break, also the fresh strawberries on the top would become mushy once un-freezed, so overall I do not recommend freezing this cake.
🍓 Other Strawberry Dessert recipes
Strawberry Charlotte cake (VIDEO)
For the Ladyfingers (if store-bought)
- 27 pieces Ladyfingers 220g / 8oz store-bought
For the Ladyfingers (if homemade)
- 200 g Strawberry puree use fresh or frozen strawberry
- 60 g Granulated sugar
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon juice
- 375 g Whole milk
- 75 g Granulated sugar
- 60 g Egg yolk approx. yolk of 3-4 eggs
- 20 g Corn starch
- 20 g All-purpose flour
- 1 Teaspoon Vanilla bean paste
- 75 g Unsalted butter soft - will be mixed into pastry cream straight after it is cooked
- 75 g Unsalted butter soft - will be whipped into the pastry cream to make the mousseline cream
Fresh strawberry filling
- 150 g Fresh strawberries cut into pieces
- Fresh strawberries
- Edible flower
US customary cup measurement is an indicative figure only. Measure the ingredients with a digital scale by weight (gram). Baking is art but also science which requires precision and accuracy.
Start with the pastry cream
- In a large enough bowl with the help of a Hand whisk, mix together sugar and egg yolk until slightly fluffy for about 1-2 minutes
- Mix in corn starch, flour, and vanilla until throughly incorporated and have a smooth paste
- Bring milk to boil in a saucepan on medium heat then remove it as soon as it starts simmering. Make sure it is simmering but not crazy boiling, see my tips above
- Pour the warm milk over the egg yolk mixture slowly while whisking vigorously with a Hand whisk.
- Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook on medium heat for a few minutes until it thickens. Concretely it is approximately 1 min after the first boil. It might get lumpy first, don't worry just keep whisking and the cream will get smooth and glossy
- If in doubt, strain the pastry cream for a lump free, creamy end result.
- Place the cream into a shallow bowl and cover the entire surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming on top. Let it cool
Ladyfingers (if homemade)
- In a saucepan cook strawberry puree, sugar and lemon juice for a few minutes untul slighylt thickens
- Let the mixture cool to room temperature before using
Make the mousseline cream
- Crème mousseline can be made with room temp pastry cream and room temp butter. Make sure everything is at room temp otherwise the mixture might curdle
- Once pastry cream cooled to room temp, prepare the mousseline cream by whipping room temp butter first for 1-2 minutes. Start adding in the room temp pastry cream in 4 stages until cream reaches a stable yet fluffy texture
- Do not over whip the mixture as it can become runny
Assembling the cake
- Start to build up the cake from bottom to top. Arrange the ladyfingers neatly and tightly - this will be the side of the cake. Then, arrange the ladyfingers on the bottom - trim the ladyfingers if needed, in order to fit them close to each other
- Drizzle the ladyfingers with the strawberry coulis. Be mindful with the coulis, we want the ladyfingers to soften, but not to get overly soggy
- Fill a Piping bag with mousseline cream and pipe half of the cream on top of the ladyfingers. Place strawberry pieces on top of the cream
- Place the cake into the fridge for 4 few hours, or overnight
- Once cake sets, remove the mousse ring.
- Decorate with fresh strawberries and edible flowers
- Store in fridge
- Measure your ingredients with a Digital scale for accuracy
- Good quality butter and pure vanilla are the heart of making the cream. Use high-quality 82% fat content European butter and the best quality vanilla you can access
- For the ladyfingers, it is actually totally fine for this recipe to use a store-bought one
- Make sure you read my Expert tips section above to maximize your success. A short recipe alone is not able to cover all the necessary details, and science behind baking.
- While making Creme mousseline, it is crucial that both the pastry cream as well as the butter is at room temperature
- I recommend cutting the very end of the ladyfingers on one side, so on the bottom of the cake the ladyfingers are straight
- Make sure you do not open the cake tin before the cake actually sets