This is the childhood favorite of Latin America—you might say the Latin American equivalent of the banana pudding many of us grew up on. Creamy goodness, softening cookies, favorite fruit. It’s just that Mexico is totally in love with lime, which is the fruit flavor so vibrantly woven in to the creamy goodness here. And the cookies are the crisp Maria wafers, rather than the more crumbly vanilla wafers. And the creaminess comes from sweetened condensed milk, a flavor halfway to Mexico’s beloved, caramely cajeta.
This is the perfect place to feature the aroma and unique flavor of the little Mexican (Key) limes. Just know that if you find them, they aren’t at their peak until the skin is turning from green to yellow—not before. If they haven’t been picked too underripe, a few days on the countertop is usually all they need to arrive at full flavor. Be sure to remove all the zest you need before juicing the limes.
The Maria cookies are made by at least two manufacturers and, from what I’ve seen, are sold in 5-ounce sleeves (or boxes of the sleeves) in every Mexican grocery. Each sleeve contains 38 cookies. They are crisp and not too sweet, and they show off a slight hint of vanilla. Buried in the cream, they soften to a cake-like texture.
As you might imagine, a dish this popular has spawned many variations, though the majority of them build their unique twists around a core of fresh lime juice, sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk. In my version, I’ve replaced the evaporated milk with mascarpone (or a mixture of cream cheese and cream), in a nod toward everyone’s favorite Italian dessert, Tiramisu. A number of versions add other fruit to the mix, which I think is a good idea. Bananas are a no-brainer, but strawberries (or raspberries or peaches or …) add a beautiful counterpoint to the richness of Carlota.
The name, by the way, is the Spanish equivalent of Charlotte, which, in the French pastry making world, is a fancy molded dessert with ladyfingers on the outside (think of them as French vanilla wafers) and something creamy on the inside. Carlota is a very homey version of a Charlotte.
- One 14-ounceecan sweetened condensed milk
- 1 1/2cups mascarpone OR 4 ounces cream cheese plus 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
- 1tablespoon lime zest
- 3/4cup fresh lime juice, preferably squeezed from Key/Mexican limes
- 2teaspoons vanilla extract, preferably Mexican
- 2tablsepoons blanco tequila (optional)
- A 5-ouncesleeve of Maria wafers
- 2cups sliced strawberries, bananas or other fruit, plus a little more for garnish (optional but recommended)
- 1cup heavy cream
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, mascarpone, lime zest and juice, vanilla and optional tequila. If using cream cheese and cream, combine everything in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. In an 8x8-inch baking dish or 6 8-ounce souffle dishes, lay out a single layer of Maria cookies: You’ll need 9 whole cookies plus 4 broken ones for the baking dish, 1 ½ broken ones for each souffle dish. Top with 1/3 of the creamy mixture and 1/2 of the fruit (if using). Build another layer exactly the same, then top with a layer of cookies and the cream. (You’ll be one cookie short for the baking dish, several cookies long for the souffle dishes.)
Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours (preferably overnight). Crumble a few leftover cookies, if you have them, to use for garnish. For serving, whip the heavy cream with an electric mixer or by hand with a whisk until it holds nearly stiff peaks. Cut the Carlota into 6 or 8 pieces. Serve each piece (or each souffle dish) with a dollop of whipped cream, a little extra fruit and, perhaps, some crumbled cookies.