I have several friends who do not choose their main course at a restaurant until they have checked out the dessert menu, so that they may know how much digestive space they must leave. You know who you are. This post is for you.
If you study yesterday’s menu and other examples of the time, you might think that ‘dessert’ was not given sufficient prominence in the days of service à la Française. Nothing could be further from the truth. In previous posts I have discussed the ‘banquet course’ of fruits and sweetmeats that followed the two or three courses of the style discussed yesterday. This banquet course eventually evolved into the dessert course of a meal served in today’s style (service à la Russe), so I won’t repeat the story here. Suffice it to say, that for many hundreds of years, most of us have loved to end our meal with sweet things.
Today I am going to give you some bills of fare specifically for a dessert course, as they are suggested in The Complete Confectioner: Or, Housekeeper's Guide: to a Simple and Speedy Method of Understanding the Whole Art of Confectionary; the Various Ways of Preserving and Candying, Dry and Liquid, All Kinds of Fruit, Nuts, Flowers, Herbs, &c. ... the Different Ways of Clarifying Sugar ... Also the Art of Making Artificial Fruit ... To which are Added Some Bills of Fare for Deserts for Private Families, by Hannah Glasse and Maria Wilson, published in 1800.
As we have seen, at the dinner time the table was set up with all of the dishes for a course placed on the table at the same time. The arrangement of the dishes was not random. There was a clear protocol, with the most impressive offerings or arrangements being given prominence, and the corners and spaces being filled up with smaller and simpler dishes, the whole to give a balanced and symmetrical appearance. The dessert course was no different. This means that a simple list of dishes, as in a written menu, falls short of giving the full picture. An actual picture is therefore needed.
I give you a dessert course from the above source, by Hannah Glasse:
And here is the ‘Dessert Course of a ‘Fashionable Dinner of Three Courses, with Cheese-Course and Dessert’ (that is, five courses in all) from The Cook and Housewife's Manual (1847 ed.) by Margaret Dods.
Naturally I must give you a recipe suitable for each example. I am sure the ‘gizzard cream’ intrigues you. The gizzard of a fowl is a very useful thing in the kitchen. It is essential for good gravy stock, it is useful for making home-made rennet – and it does help with the texture of a nice dessert ‘cream.’
White Coffee Cream. Creme au Cafe Blanc.
Take a pint and a half of cream; add to it the zest of a lemon and some sugar; roast two ounces off coffee; throw it into your boiling cream; cover, and let it infuse for half an hour; take out the coffee; put into a search three inner skins of gizzards; dry and bruised; when half cold put the cream three times through the search, bruising at the same time with the back of a wooden spoon the gizzards; that done, fill the cream quickly into pots, having care to stir it; put them into hot water; leave them to take in the bain-marie without allowing it to boil; put a cover on the pot and lay fire upon it; when it has taken, take out the pots, and put them into cold water without covering them: when ready wipe, and serve.
The Art of French Cookery (1827)by Antoine B. Beauvilliers 1827
And from Miss Dods herself, (or Christian Isobel Johnstone, if she would prefer her real name) the delightfully named Rose Soufflé Cakes.
Rose Soufflé Cakes.
Pick a handful of rose leaves, [at this time, this meant petals] and give them a boil in a syrup made of a pound of sugar. Have ready an icing made of two ounces of sugar, and the white of an egg well beat up and tinged with cochineal. Stir a spoonful of this into the syrup till it rises; fill the small moulds, and bake.- Obs. Confectioners use carmine or lake-powder for roe-coloured cakes, and so have rose soufflé cakes in full bloom all year round.