Tag Archives: cream

Syllabubs

Today the syllabub is rather an unfamiliar dessert but from the 17th and early 20th centuries it was a pudding staple. It has gone through some minor changes along its way but its essence has remained the same. Originally milk was sweetened and mixed with cider sack – a sweet fortified beer not unlike sherry – and left to curdle and treated as a drink served hot or cold. At the same time at more solid version was being made with cream and wine and spirits. More recently less alcohol and more cream was used producing a dessert that could stand in a cool place that would remain delicious, soft and fully whipped – this was known as an ‘everlasting syllabub’.

The Sense of Taste Philip Mercier (1680-1760)

Detail of The Sense of Taste by Philip Mercier (1680-1760) showing a salver of syllabubs

The word syllabub comes from the name Sille, an area in the Champagne region of France that made the eponymously named wine, and the word bub, an Elizabethan slang word meaning a bubbling drink, hence Sille bub – wine mixed with a frothy cream. In fact it was a case of the frothier the better, and the best way to achieve this is to spray milk straight from the udder (which has a natural froth) into the wine, this kind of syllabub was also called ‘Hatted Kit’ and a recipe appears for it in Elizabeth Raffald’s 1769 book The Experienced English Housewife:

“To make a Syllabub under the cow

Put a bottle of strong beer and a pint of cider into a punch bowl, grate in a small nutmeg and sweeten it to your taste. Then milk as much milk from the cow as will make a strong froth and the ale look clear. Let it stand an hour, then strew over it a few currants well washed, picked, and plumped before the fire. Then send it to the table.

elizabeth raffald Elizabeth Raffald

Charles II found this sort of syllabub so delicious that he kept cows at the palace in case he got a hankering for some Hatted Kit – he would walk up to one and squirt some milk into his flagon of wine, sack or cider.

If you are a tee-totaller, don’t worry because Sir Kenholm Digby, writing in 1669, gives recipes for syllabubs flavoured with plum juice, cherry syrups and Seville orange.

By the 19th century, the syllabub was generally made from whipping cream together with sweetened wine. The wine was flavoured with lemon and fortified with a little brandy, and it is a recipe for one of these everlasting syllabubs that I give below. It comes from Elizabeth David’s 1969 pamphlet Syllabubs and Fruit Fools (which can be found in her book An Omelette and a Glass of Wine).

Elizabeth David’s Everlasting Syllabub with Almond Biscuits

Elizabeth David

The ingredients of a syllabub, we find, are simple and sumptuous. The skill demanded for its confection is minimal, the presentation is basic and elegant.

Elizabeth David

These syllabubs were the original topping to trifles before plain whipped cream took over. They are often served with jellies or with sweet biscuits so I’ve given a recipe for some simple crisp almond biscuits too.

The most important ingredient here is the wine; you can use any sweet or dessert wine, by personal favourite being a nice Muscat. I managed to get hold of an excellent and very reasonably-priced organic free-trade one from Case Solved Wines in Manchester.

2012-12-29 20.42.01

This recipe makes between 4 and 6 servings

Ingredients for the syllabub

8 tbs sweet or dessert wine

2 tbs brandy

pared rind of one lemon

60g (2 oz) sugar

300ml (½ pint) double cream

freshly grated nutmeg

The day before you want to serve the syllabub, mix the wine and brandy in a bowl, add the lemon peel and steep overnight.

Next day, strain the wine into a large bowl and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Pour in the cream and whisk until thick. Be careful not to over-whip the cream. Spoon into glasses and scatter a few raspings of nutmeg over them.

For the biscuits:

100g (4oz) butter

50g (2oz) caster sugar

150g (6 oz) plain flour

50g (2 oz) ground almonds

Cream the butter and sugar together and then mix in the flour, and finally the almonds. Bring the mixture together with your hand to form a dough – it’ll be very ‘short’, i.e. crumbly, but it will come together – don’t be tempted to add any water or milk because it will result in a biscuit that is not crisp, and you don’t want that. Roll out the mixture to the thickness of a pound coin (about 3mm) and cut into rounds.

Bake for 8-10 minutes at 200⁰C (400⁰F) until tinged with golden brown. Cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight tub.

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Possets

I expected this post to be a simple recipe with a short history of the creamy dessert. However, as is so often in writing posts for this blog, it ends up being rather more complicated.

When I think of a posset, I think of a simple affair of sweetened cream thickened with an acidic fruit. However, this is very much a modern posset (by modern I mean twentieth century).

King Charles I

Originally the posset was a dessert or drink made from curdled milk enriched with sugar, alcohol (the most popular being sack, a sweet ale similar to sherry). It was often used as a curative for colds or fevers; it is mentioned in the Journals of the House of Lords in the year 1620 that King Charles I was given a posset drink from his physician. These drinks were kept warm and made in a special cup rather like a teapot so that the liquid could be drunk from beneath the foam that develops on the surface. Shakespeare mentions possets several times in his writings, in Hamlet, Act 1 Scene 5, he mentions the posset’s medicinal properties and that it is made from curds:

And with sudden vigour it doth posset,

And curd, like aigre [sour] droppings into milk,

The thin and wholesome blood.

Possets were eaten for pleasure too though:

Yet be cheerful knight: thou shalt eat a posset to-night at my house;

Where I will desire thee to laugh at my wife.

The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 5, Scene 5

William Shakespeare

Kings and lords had their cream and curd possets, whereas we normal folk had to use bread to thicken ours.By the time we reach the mid-18th century, possets have changed; they are made from milk, but now are thickened with biscuits, bread, egg yolks or almonds, or a combination. Sack seems to still be the most popular and lemon possets make an appearance. Sack possets were drunk at weddings when it came to toasting the bride and groom around this time, though I don’t know where this originated from.

Possets 1769

Grate two Naples biscuits into a pint of thin cream, put in a stick of cinnamon and set it over a slow fire. Boil it till it is of a proper thickness, then add half a pint of sack, a slice of the end of a lemon, with sugar to your taste. Stir it gently over the fire, but don’t let it boil lest it curdle. Serve it up with dry toast.

Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper 1769

 Mrs Raffald also highlights the fact that you don’t want your posset to curdle: ‘always mix a little of the hot cream or milk with your wine, it will keep the wine from curdling the rest’. In the 19th century, Richard Cox in his Oxford Night Caps (1835) mentions those made from curds and those thickened with cream and egg yolks, so technically a custard, I suppose. Sometimes they were thick, and sometimes drinkable like egg nog. He mentions a black pepper flavoured posset that will ‘promote perspiration’ in order to sweat out a fever.

Here’s a strange thing though; if you rewind time back to Shakespearean days and look for a recipe for a trifle, what you seem to get is a recipe for a modern-day posset:

Take a pint of thick cream, and season it with sugar and ginger, and rose water. So stir it as you would then have it make it luke warm in a dish on a chafing dish and coals. And after put it into a silver piece or a bowl, and so serve it to the board.

Thomas Dawson, The Good Housewife’s Jewel 1596

You can see why a matter of no concern is called a mere trifle – they used to be so simple, but now they are complex and as the trifle changed over time so did the posset and it seems to have filled the niche left behind by the trifle. Possets, however, are no longer that popular. They are easy to make when cream is the sole thickener.

Orange Posset 2012

Here’s the recipe I devised for an orange posset, which I think works very well. You can make a lemon one from two lemons and perhaps an ounce or two more of sugar. I have kept to its historical roots with the addition of a little orange flower water. This makes six helpings.

Ingredients

1 pint (20 fl oz) of double (heavy) cream

4 oz caster sugar

the juice of two oranges and the zest of one

juice of half a lemon

1 to 2 teaspoons of orange flower water (optional)

Bring the cream and sugar slowly to a boil and let it simmer very gently for 5 minutes. Allow to cool before adding the juices and zest whisking well; the acid thickens the cream noticeably. Add the first teaspoon of orange flower and taste, adding more if you like. Pour into six serving dishes and chill for several hours, or overnight. Eat with a crunchy crumbly almond biscuit or some shortbread.

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