If you don’t live in Staten Island, or have a car, it’s tough to get to Holtermann’s Bakery. Most trekkers begin with a trip on the ferry, followed by a one-hour bus ride. But such is the price of traveling back in time. Holtermann’s, in operation since 1878, is committed to preserving the art of several retro baked goods.
Much about the bakery, from its warehouse-like stacking of its white-and-blue crumb cake boxes to its Pullman bread (so named because its perfect rectangular shape led to easy stacking and storage on Pullman train cars in late 1800s), feels like it hails from a simpler time. But Holtermann’s most beautiful throwback treat is the Charlotte Russe, a jam-filled mini sponge cake topped with a swirl of whipped cream and a single cherry. The single-serving sweet comes wrapped in a polka-dotted, scalloped container.
The Charlotte Russe has its roots in France, where a famous chef is said to have served a ladyfinger-lined, cream-filled cake to a visiting Russian (i.e., Russe) czar. (Another theory suggests the Russe was added as a reference to the a la Russe style of guests serving themselves at dinners.) The New York City adaptation became popular in the early 1900s, but by the century’s end, it was all but extinct. Holtermann’s is one of the last places still selling the real deal.
To those accustomed with the high-octane decadence of modern desserts, the Charlotte’s simple tuft of whipped cream atop a sliver of sponge cake might not seem like much. But to some nostalgic city-dwelling seniors, it remains a delicious treasure.