Charlotte Russe Imperial Sous Vide (adapted from What Mrs. Dewey Did with the New Jell-O!, 1933)

One of the more extravagant-sounding recipes in What Mrs. Dewey Did with the New Jell-O! is the Charlotte Russe Imperial.  For those unaware (as I was), a charlotte is a dessert that uses bread or a cookie in place of a conventional crust or pastry.  The filling might be anything from fruit to chocolate to custard; a “Charlotte Russe” is usually a Bavarian cream with a ladyfinger ‘crust’.   I’m not sure what’s so “Imperial” about Mrs. Dewey’s Charlotte Russe;  the recipe presented in the cookbook is a variant on Bavarian cream that’s made with pre-packaged Lemon Jell-O.

Like any decent Bavarian cream or custard or Hollandaise recipe there’s an element of eggs and milk and sugar and “whisking constantly” until it coats the back of the spoon or whatever.  Despite years of practice making ice creams and creme brulees I still screw this up more often than I’d like.  For the last year or so I’ve gotten in the habit of using sous vide for these sorts of things – it takes a little bit of advance planning but it also takes out the guesswork.  Most interwebs sites recommend making custard in jars, but I’ve had perfectly acceptable outcomes with plastic bags.

Bavarian cream usually calls for unflavored gelatin to provide the signature texture.  This recipe uses flavored Jell-O instead- the texture is spot on but the lemon flavor comes through loud and clear.  It’s still delicious, but no one’s going to be surprised there’s a box of lemon Jell-O in there. As written the recipe produces a heterogeneous mixture, almost like a Jell-O parfait.  The gelatin/custard is partially set when you add the whipping cream and the gentle folding doesn’t produce a uniform end product.  You’ll get some parts that are lemony custardy and others that are airy and creamy.  This suits me just fine, but if you prefer a more homogeneous texture you can be more aggressive when folding in the whipped cream.  Just be aware that you’ll lose some of the lightness in the process.

The final result more like a deconstructed Charlotte Russe, with cookies served on the side.  Charlotte Russe is traditionally made with ladyfingers, but pretty much any type of cookie will do.  When I made these most recently I used  the leftover striped fudge cookies from Cookies ‘N Fudge Salad, which was a huge hit with the family.  This would also pair well with Pepperidge Farm Milanos or those Danish Butter Cookies.


Charlotte Russe Imperial Sous Vide (adapted from What Mrs. Dewey Did with the New Jell-O!, 1933)

  • Preparation: 15 min
  • Cooking: 1 h
  • Ready in: 5 h 15 min
  • For: 8 servings
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  1. Set the sous vide bath to 175 F
  2. Whisk egg yolks for a few seconds, then whisk in sugar, salt, and milk. Remove to an appropriate container (see note) and place in the water bath for 60 minutes. (A little bit of extra time in the water bath won't hurt anything) Pour mixture into a large bowl.
  3. Mix Jell-O and warm water. Stir in to egg mixture and chill for an hour or two, until mixture is slightly thickened but not fully set.
  4. Whip cream and vanilla extract and fold into Jell-O mixture. Spoon into individual ramekins or large dish and chill completely, at least four hours.


Most of the sous vide custard recipes out there have you pour the custard into a glass jar to immerse completely in the water bath.  At the same time, the water bath runs on the hot side here and I’m always afraid that the thermal shock of the water bath is going to break the glass.  I know there’s a lot of you home canners out there who are laughing at me, but I just can’t be bothered to figure out how to do it right.   Plastic bags work just fine.  If you don’t have a vacuum sealer and rely on the water displacement method, be sure to use a freezer bag at these temperatures.


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