Tuesday, January 5, 2016

A Charlotte Russe Memory

Can a food be lost?

Can a bakery be found again?

Saturday, I blogged about being invited to a 104th birthday party for my spouse's last living aunt.  She lives not that far from my childhood neighborhood in the Bronx.   In fact, I grew up about two and a half miles (four kilometers) from the restaurant where the party will be held.  It's in a part of Yonkers that is heavily Irish, and within walking distance of the Bronx border.

I haven't been to that restaurant in over two years, and the first time I ate there (for this aunt's 100th birthday) the strangest thing happened.  I couldn't resist walking after the 100th birthday party - I needed to stretch my legs.  I went out walking with my sister in law and my spouse.

As I walked down the street, I passed a bakery, an Italian bakery.  It had an old sign on it, a sign that may have dated from the 1960's.

Suddenly, something seemed so familiar.  I couldn't shake the feeling that I had been on this street long ago.

My mind took me back over 50 years, back to when many bakeries in the Bronx featured a special treat that is only made by one or two bakeries any more.  It was a street dessert called the Charlotte Russe.

I loved this special treat.

The Bronx Charlotte Russe was simple- a round piece of spongecake, with whipped cream and topped with a cherry.  You bought it in a push-up cup - you pushed it up from the bottom as you ate.  It was more of a cool weather delight.

I remember taking a bus with my mother to a place in the Northern Bronx where I got my hair cut, and she would visit her life insurance agent to make a monthly payment on a small life insurance policy.  Then, she would buy me a Charlotte Russe.

Yesterday, on Facebook, someone from the Bronx posted a picture of a Charlotte Russe.  I knew what it was right away.  Some things you never forget.

The Russe was sitting on a box from the Holtermanns Bakery in Staten Island.  So I went online, and, sure enough, Holtermanns still makes these gems of sweetness.  Although, perhaps, not for much longer, as the push up cups are becoming harder and harder to find.  And, it seems they don't always use the spongecake - they use pieces of pinwheels or other cakes that didn't sell.

But Staten Island is a long way from the restaurant where the 104th birthday party will be held.

So, perhaps before or after the party, I will wander into that Italian bakery with the old sign.  Who knows what I may find there - maybe even a missing piece of my childhood.

Do you have a favorite food that is no longer made?


  1. I remember those gems, too. They were all the rage at weddings and bar mitzvas in the 70s. (Part of the "Viennese" table of desserts that were the last attractions.

  2. I loved Charlotte Russe when I was a kid. When my kids were little I could still find it in a local bakery, so I was able to introduce them to the joys of whipped cream and sponge cake. Can't find it around here these days. You can get all kinds of pastries with whipped cream, but not Charlotte Russe.

  3. Interesting. I wonder why you can't find it anymore. I would think it would be popular in our cake-obsessed culture. Perhaps you should find a way to bring it back.

  4. We used to get cinnamon kuchen (which we pronounced KOO-kah) on Sundays. They were covered with irregular pills of cinnamon-sugar-flour-butter goodness (which we called bumbles). I don't know if anybody still makes them. I have a recipe, and I made it a couple of times, but it's very time-consuming. But delicious!

  5. What a great memory! I'm sure there are lots of foods that aren't available but none spring to mind (pretty sure my tastes have changed!)

  6. How great, 104 year old birthday party! Your adventure to the bakery is such a great memory maker!

  7. A wonderful memory to read..the walk to the memory lane is always thought provoking. My best of the wishes to your aunt on her birthday...

  8. Lemon phosphates, anyone? I don't think I've ever had a Charlotte Russe. Heard about them, yes - but never had the pleasure. It's tempting to try to recreate one! (Especially since the original recipe appears to call for something like a pistachio biscuit... hmm.)

  9. My mother often talked about Charlotte Russe. I know the Italian Bakery you mention in this entry. It is Artuso on McLean Avenue in Yonkers, right near where I lived for almost 30 years. If you are ever in that area again, stop in. They have great canoli and my personal favorite, crumb buns, which can't seem to find here in Connecticut where I currently live. They may even have Charlotte russes: )


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