History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

26 June 2008

Regency Refreshments: Blanc’mange

As in “shaking like a”. Heyer made this phrase a part of my Regency vocabulary, but in my early days as a reader I really had no idea what a blanc’mange was (let alone that it was pronounced “bla-manzh”). When I looked it up (cause I’m that kind of reader) the description made it sound something like a Jello®-mold from my childhood, and that was good enough for me. I could picture it. When I look at period sources I find descriptions such as: “its face . . . quivered, without ceasing, in a very alarming manner, being, it seems, of a paralytic sensibility like blanc-mange” and “He shook, moreover, like a plate of blanc-mange”.

The English Art of Cookery (1788) contains multiple recipes for blanc’mange. The first begins “Take a calf’s foot, cut it into small pieces, put it into a sauce-pan with a quart of water . . . boil it gently, and skim it well, till it is of a very strong jelly.” Making my own gelatin is going a little too far even for me. The other two recipes begin with “isinglass”. This is a fish-based collagen. Per Wikipedia: “Prior to the inexpensive production of gelatin and other competitive products, isinglass was used in confectionery and desserts such as fruit jelly and blancmange.” I opted to use commercial gelatin, as it aligns closely with the first recipe’s requirements and is easy to obtain (and somehow “fish jello” just grosses me out).

The next big challenge was to decide what to do about the fact that all the recipes call for bitter almonds. Bitter almonds are poisonous (they can yield cyanide) and aren’t available in the United States. My options were to use almond extract or apricot seeds*. Neither is perfect, but I went for the extract, as that should give the true flavor (almond extract being made from bitter almonds).

*I work three blocks from San Francisco’s China Town, and I’ve been told that you can usually find apricot seeds in Chinese grocery stores, but I was unsuccessful in my attempts.

Speaking of flavor, the fact that the recipes all call for two or three laurel (bay) leaves seems a bit odd to me, but I went with it (many of the cake recipes call for them too). And then there are the suggestions for how to color the blanc’mange: “When you want to colour your Blanc’mange green . . . put in a little spinach juice . . . If you wish to have it red, bruise a little cochineal and put in; if yellow, a little saffron; if violet colour, a little syrup of violets”. I opted to make a yellow one, mostly because I have a large stash of saffron from my trip to Morocco.

Most modern recipes for blancmange look NOTHING like the period ones. They tend to call for milk thickened with cornstarch. But I did manage to find one that starts with gelatin (from The British Shoppe) and I used it as a starting place.

The English Art of Cookery (1788) :
My recipe:

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin2 cups half-and-half, divided1 1/3 cups sliced almonds1/2 cup sugar1/4 teaspoon almond extract1 stick cinnamon
zest of ½ lemon
½ tsp coriander seeds
2 bay leaves
Pinch of saffron (optional)

Place 1 c. of the half-and-half and almonds in a blender, and process until smooth. Strain through a sieve into a medium saucepan; discard solids. Stir in sugar, spices, zest and extract and bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer and stir constantly. Heat the other cup of half-and-half and stir in the gelatin. Add the gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves; remove from heat.Place your mould or bowl in an ice-filled bowl. Strain into the mould to remove the spices and let it sit until it cools. Place the mould/bowl in the refrigerator until set (4 hours or over night).

My friends’ reactions:

There were only two options, or so we thought: THE most disgusting thing ever of ONE OF the most disgusting things ever (the Korean slime eels I saw on Dirty Jobs still seem far grosser, but then I've never attempted to eat one *gag*). But it turns out it's actually good! It's a milky-sweet-almond base slightly odd undertones but everyone liked it (the baby, Keira, 18 months loved it!). Keira's mom thought it would be better with fruit or a fruit sauce, and I can't disagree. The sort of dry texture (it's vaguely cheese-like) sort of cries out for a fruity sauce. Overall, I'd make it again for a dinner party, so it's a winner.


Blogger Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Interesting post Kalen, although whenever I hear the word blanc'mange I think of the Monty Python sketch of the blanc'mange's taking over Scotland so that they could win Wimbledon.

5:52 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yep. My friend Jess started performing the Python sketch as I served the blanc'mange, LOL!

7:46 AM  
Blogger Susanna Fraser said...

I'd like to try that one. The flavor combination sounds a bit like Indian rice pudding without the rice or raisins. (Which is a good thing, IMHO--I always leave out or eat around the raisins in a dessert, though oddly enough I love them in savory Middle Eastern or Indian dishes.)

10:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I've been having a blast making all this stuff and finding out what it really tastes like (and what the textures are like, I would have totally misdescribed blanc'mange if I'd left it up to my imagination).

10:42 AM  
Blogger Isabella Bradford/Susan Holloway Scott said...

Haha, I KNEW there had to be other people who couldn't help but think that Blancmange was irrevocably linked to Monty Python! But your adventure makes it sound almost...tasty.

Since you seem to have every book I do, Kalen, *g* this will probably be no exception -- but have you come across "Lobscouse and Spotted Dog: Which It's a Gastronomic Companion to the Aubrey/Maturin Novels by Patrick O'Brian" by Anne Grossman and Lisa Grossman Thomas? It's a cookbook, a history, and a companion to the O'Brian novels, and among other things, explains all those uniquely named English puddings (Boiled Baby? Spotted Dick??) that so stun us Americans.

4:09 PM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

I so appreciate your enthusiasm for cooking Kalen, as my interest in it has disappeared. Your progress is fun to follow and the taste treats in store add one more reason to be excited about the conference...

7:03 AM  

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