History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

25 June 2008

Summer Coolers, Regency Style: Ice Cream to Melt Over

I wrote this post several days ago in advance of my vacation ... who knew that Regency food would be a theme this week?  So here's another sweet to tempt your period palate.

Jane Austen's novels, as well as those of my own contemporaries are filled with scenes of characters "eating ices," which always puts me in mind of flavored shaved ices or a tart, water-based, palate cleansing sorbet. In fact, there were as many flavors as one might discover at any Italian gelateria, and having tried one of the Regency recipes myself, I found the texture to be much closer to that of a semifreddo than a sherbet (a milk-based ice, as opposed to sorbet, which is a water-based ice).

Ices made it to English dessert tables in the 1670s, but in those days they were an exclusive dish that appeared only on the king's table. The earliest printed recipe appeared in Mrs. Eale's Receipts, a little work on confectionery published in London in 1718.

In the second half of the 18th century, ices become more widely available from confectioners' shops set up by French and Italian émigrés. A confectionary text of 1770 includes recipes for a variety of flavors, including Pistachio and Brown Bread (the latter seems to be a flavor that never made it into our era; one wonders what it might have tasted like).

In the same book one can find recipes for ices made with elderflowers, jasmine, white coffee, tea, pineapple, barberries and a host of other exotic flavors.

According to an article in the Jane Austen Centre's online magazine, When the ice cream had "congealed", it was sometimes put into hinged lead or pewter molds in the form of fruits, or other novelty shapes. The seams were sealed with lard and they were wrapped in brown paper before being plunged into the salt and ice mixture for about two hours to freeze hard. After being turned out of the moulds, the fruits were preserved in their frozen state in an early form of refrigerator known as an ice cave. Ice cream freezers in the traditional sense were not invented until 1846, when Nancy Johnson designed a hand cranked churn which worked much like those used today. These fruits glacés were often colored with edible pigments and provided with stalks and leaves to make them look realistic. Molds in the form of citrons, pineapples, bergamot pears, and apricots were popular. Some in the form of crayfish, asparagus, cuts of meat and truffles were also used.

In France, rich custard-based ices known as fromages glacés were frozen in molds in the form of cheeses. Fake biscuits and canelons (cigar shaped wafers) were also popular. Water ices and frozen mousses were made in a remarkable variety of flavors. Some of them included the alcoholic liqueurs of the day, such as the almond-flavoured ratafia and the spicy rossolis. In England, frozen punches were particularly popular. These were based on lemon, or Seville orange sorbet fortified with rum. One of the confectioners who helped establish a taste for quality continental ice cream in England was an Italian called Domenico Negri. Two of his apprentices published recipe books later in the century, which both have large sections on ice creams. One of these, Frederick Nutt, whose The Complete Confectioner first appeared in 1789, gives thirty two recipes for ice cream and twenty four for water ices.

I'm an ice cream junkie, so I couldn't wait to try the Regency-era recipe for Lemon-Orange Ice Cream.

Lemon-Orange Ice Cream
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 Orange
2/3 cup sugar
7 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
5 egg yolks
1/2 cup minced pistachio nuts

Put the lemon zest and sugar in a food processor and process until the zest is finally chopped. In a saucepan, mix the lemon sugar with 1 1/2 cups heavy cream and all milk. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Place the egg yolks in a large bowl and whisk briefly. still whisking the yolks, slowly pour in the hot cream. When the mixture is smooth, pour it back into the saucepan or into the top of a double boiler.

Cook over low heat or over simmering water, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes a thick custard, about 15 min. Do not let the mixture boil. Place the custard in a metal bowl set over a larger bowl of ice. Stir until very cold and thick. Mix in the lemon juice. Whip the remaining cup of cream until stiff. Fold in the lemon custard. Add pistachios if desired. Pour the mixture into the bowl of the machine and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

(If you do not have an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture in a shallow pan. Once partially set, scoop the ice cream into your mixing bowl and beat until smooth (not melted). Return to freezer and freeze solid.)

Makes about 1 quart.

I chose to omit the pistachios, because I've never much liked nuts in my ice cream. And I used 1% fat milk instead of whole milk (I did use the cream, though, as per the recipe).

I zested the citrus fruits with a handheld microplane, rather than in a food processor. I don't have a double boiler, and found the saucepan worked just fine. Once the mixture had cooled in its ice bath, I poured it into the ice cream attachment bowl for my KitchenAid mixer, churned it for about 15 minutes (or per manufacturer's instructions), then transferred the partially frozen mixture (which will be like very gloppy soft ice cream) into a lidded plastic container, (i.e. Tupperware, etc) and placed the container into my freezer for several hours, to freeze the ices to the proper consistency.

These "ices" are tart and refreshing and exceptionally creamy, although I found that the frozen mixture tended to crumble and flake when I tried to scoop it out of the plastic container, whether I used an ice cream scoop or a large spoon. It had a texture I'd never before experienced in contemporary ice creams and gelati, which is why the dry-ish, crumbly texture of a semifreddo came to mind.

I'd be interested to hear about your Regency recipe experiments!


Blogger Unknown said...

I don't have an ice on the list of recipes for my workshop, but now you've got me thinking . . . I'm just not sure I'll have a way to keep it cold all day. :( Wonder if dry ice would work?

At home I'm a big fan of making Guinness Ice Cream (for use in Guinness Floats!).

8:54 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Ooooh -- I've never tried Guinness Ice Cream ... that sure outdoes any root beer float I've ever tried!

Dry ice would work, I think, but isn't it pricy?

If you can swing it, this ice cream might be a good recipe to try since so many Regencies have their characters going to ices and this texture is so different to the contemporary palate. Adding sensual details to novels always ratchets up the sense of place, and to be able to add taste and texture would be a nice plus.

Of course, we'd be the only ones to realize how accurate those descriptions would be -- but it's nice to feel proud of our work by knowing we got it right.

9:22 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

My period cooking experiments only extend to having my characters eat the stuff -- but it looks like we found inspiration in the same place, Amanda -- or at least your illustration matches the one at the site where I learned about Georgian ices.

While my other group blog, The Spiced Tea Party features trashier yummies today, using alcohol and (no kidding) Kool-Aid. (Sex in the Suburbs? Drinks for Desperate Housewives?)

Feels like summer, up and down the taste scale.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

I've never tried things like Kool-Aid coolers or Jell-O shots. I actually saw them administered in Chicago a few days ago, when we were enjoying one of the best BBQ places in the city, a couple of blocks from Second City. I felt very uncomfortable seeing these Crayola-colored drinks being peddled in plastic syringes to college-age kids who didn't look old enough to drink (I must be getting old, because I imbibed as a late teen ... though it was legal in NY to drink at 18 in my misspent youth).

10:18 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Actually, Amanda, in a contemporary novel by Maeve Binchy, SCARLET FEATHER, they mention brown-bread ice cream. She's Irish, and her characters in this novel are caterers, but from this it appears that brown-bread has survived as an ice cream flavor.

I found this recipe for it on epicurious.com:


It's described in this way on that site:

Considered a luxury in the nineteenth century, this ice cream has flourished in the past decade and has become a modern classic in Irish restaurants. But it is easy to prepare at home, too, because the recipe does not require an ice cream maker. In this version of the ice cream, the breadcrumbs are turned into a praline.

So there you go, mystery solved AND it still exists!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

Jessica, many thanks for the tip on the brown bread ice cream! I may try it. It reminds me of bread pudding.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Deborah Niemann said...

In my experience making homemade ice creams, they are almost always dry and crumbly once you put them in the freezer. Of course, in the 19th century, they didn't have sub-zero freezers. They are definitely best served fresh out of the ice cream maker, which is when they are the consistency of soft serve. I have an electric ice cream maker, and you let it keep going until the ice cream is too thick for it to continue stirring. The other thing that makes ice cream that is more acceptable to our modern palates and tastes is to use a pudding recipe that contains egg yolks and corn starch, which makes it creamier. (I generally double the milk in pudding recipes when making ice cream.) Yesterday, after discovering this blog, I was inspired to pull out my copy of "Forgotten Household Crafts" and was reading about ice cream making. Apparently, women of yesteryear also realized that puddings would make good desserts when frozen, because he talks about "iced puddings."

7:45 AM  
Blogger Amanda Elyot said...

My homemade ice creams are usually about the consistency of Haagen Dazs, sometimes a bit richer, depending on the flavor (coffee, mint), and sometimes a bit less so if I've made a fruit flavor.

I found a couple of recipes recently that call for whole eggs (and few of them) rather than just the yolks, and less milk and cream, so I feel more "virtuous" about eating so much dessert. The consistency is just as creamy, and you don't need to cook the dairy products and sugar and then chill the mixture in a bowl of ice before putting it in your churner.

5:53 PM  

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