Blancmange (white food) was found on tables throughout western Europe during medieval times and the Renaissance, although it was then part of the first course and prepared in a very different form than the dessert we know today. According to the late food historian Alan Davidson, “the 14th- and 15th-century English blancmangers were made with shredded chicken breast, sugar, rice, and either ground almonds or almond milk,” though he added that there were many variations to be found. Although there is speculation that blancmange originated in the Middle East, its provenance is uncertain. By the eighteenth century, the dish had evolved into the sweet jellied dessert that would have been known to the Washingtons.
Appearing in the second course at dinner, blancmange was, according to Hannah Glasse, a “fine side dish.” She suggested serving Stewed Pears as an accompaniment. This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original. It was created by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.
4 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons unflavored powdered gelatin
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rose water
2 teaspoons orange-flower water
Sugared grapes for garnish (optional)
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the cream slightly.
2. Combine the gelatin with 1/2 cup of the cream, and set aside for about 5 minutes to soften. Add to the warm cream and heat until it comes to a slight simmer, stirring constantly to dissolve the gelatin. Do not let the mixture boil.
3. Remove from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until it is dissolved. Set the custard aside to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming on the surface. When it is lukewarm, add the rose water and orange-flower water, combining well.
4. Rinse a 4- to 6-cup mold in cold water. Pour in the custard, cover, and refrigerate until firmly set, about 6 to 8 hours.
5. When the blancmange is set, quickly dip the mold in very hot water and turn it into a serving dish. Cover and keep refrigerated until ready to serve.
6. Serve garnished with sugared grapes, if desired.
Serves 6 to 8
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