Downton Abbey’s Sweet Syllabub

Part of the allure of Downton Abbey for me is the food -- watching Mrs. Patmore send out all of those regal, rich meals to the noble class, with no modern-day equipment to help (though last week’s issue saw her getting agitated about the invention of the electric mixer). In last night’s episode, amid preparing for a grand dinner with a dutchess and a famous Australian opera singer, I heard “Syllabub” mentioned. While I knew it was a dessert, I couldn’t for the life of me remember exactly what it was. Turns out syllabub, popularized in the 17th century, is basically cream curdled with an acid -- traditionally with wine or hard cider, then whipped within an inch of its life. The resulting froth will be just firm enough to hold itself above the base of spirits, creating two layers.

While Wikipeida tells us “it is reputedly most traditionally made by the milkmaid milking the cow directly into a jug of cider,” it’s doubtful any of us will be employing that method. Likewise, modern recipes tend to call for liqueors like Amaretto, Port or Sherry. I particulary liked this description of Syllabub at the --which delves into its roots and its mentions in classic literature -- and gives a very detailed account of an experiment making one, including procuring birch twigs for stirring it and ideas for implementing a “Syllabub Pot” to eat it in.

Or if you just want a recipe without all of the historical detail, check out this one from Nigella Lawson, who I believe can be entirely trusted to turn out a creamy, decadent dessert of British origin. I can already picture her in her jammies licking it luxuriantly out of the glass as she raids the frig late-night.

I’d love to see a restaurant offer Syllabub on their menu -- preferably with some house-crafted liqueor and seasonal fruits come spring. In fact, I’m kind of surprised that no restaurant (to my knowledge) has tapped into Downton for some grand old desserts. Seems like an easy marketing opportunity.

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