Friday, July 31, 2015

Baked Ice Cream: A Nineteenth Century Novelty.

My find of the week, which was my source of inspiration yesterday, is The Chicago Herald Cooking School: A Professional Cook's Book for Household Use (1883), by Jessup Whitehead. It contains menus and recipes of course, but ends with a rather fun section of ‘scraps’ of cooking and dining trivia. Some of these fun factoids are culled from newspapers around the English-speaking world, but many, if not most, are not credited at all – such as the following snippet:

The chef of the Chinese Embassy in Paris has introduced Baked Ice Cream as a gastronomic novelty and gives for it the following recipe: “Make your ice cream very fine; roll out some light paste thin and cut into small squares; place a spoonful of ice in the centre of each piece of paste, and fold it up closely, so that no air may get in, and bake in a quick oven. The paste will be cooked before the ice can melt.

This story triggered a vague sense of familiarity with me, and sent me digging through my blog archives. I rediscovered a story from years ago (2006 to be exact.) It was about the Baron Brissé – the man who has a good claim to being the world’s first newspaper food writer. In his newspaper column on June 6, 1866, he reported a dinner held by a Chinese delegation at the Grand Hotel in Paris, at which “baked ices” were served. This event is often quoted as the true origin of Baked Alaska. 

This event in 1866 is also surely the same event described as a novel idea in 1883 in The Chicago Herald Cooking School book. So – what happened to this ‘gastronomic novelty’ in the intervening 17 years?

So far, after an admittedly extremely brief period of research, all I have been able to do is inch the story back by twelve months. There is a mention of ‘baked ice-cream’ in an article in Harper's New Monthly Magazine of January 1882. The piece is called With the Van-Guard in Mexico. The author is William Henry Bishop, who was aboard the Cuba Mail Line steamer Newport when, “taking patriotic pride in her merits” he wrote:

“As I am a voracious narrator, there was served to us off the Pan of Matanzas, with the thermometer at ninety degrees in the shade, a dish which called itself baked ice-cream, and was in fact an ice frozen as solid as one could demand, while a crust above it was brown and smoking.”

I do not believe that such a newsworthy culinary innovation as baked ice-cream completelty disappeared for over a decade and a half, so quite clearly I have more work to do on the mystery. In the meantime, may I give you a rather delicious-sounding fig and caramel ice-cream, from my current book-crush?

Frozen Fig Pudding.
Figs cut small and mixed in caramel ice cream and frozen in brick molds is a most excellent combination— a modified tutti-frutti.
1 quart of milk.
8 yolks of eggs.
14 ounces of sugar.
1 pound of figs.
The caramel gives the flavor, but half a cupful of curacoa improves it.
Take four tablespoonfuls of the sugar to make caramel, put it into a saucepan or frying pan over the fire without any water, and let it melt and become a medium molasses color, not burnt, however, then pour in half a cupful of water, and let boil and dissolve.
Make rich boiled custard of the milk, sugar and yolks, pour the caramel into it, strain into the freezer, and freeze as usual. Cut the figs small as raisins and mix them in. Put the ice cream into Neapolitan molds, and bed them in ice and salt for two hours.

The Chicago Herald Cooking School (1883)

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