Saturday, January 18, 2020

Weekend cooking: Blancmange

Recently I was reading a historical romance novel by Lisa Kleypas called Devil in Spring where the characters started talking about a dessert called blancmange. Now, this instantly bought me back to home economics classes in high school where we made this dessert. I've never made it or had it since, but I did then.

In the book, our leading lady, Lady Pandora, is a bit unusual for a lady of her day, and she is contemplating all the ways she would need to change in order to be  more ladylike:

What did ladies think about? Things like starting charities and visiting the tenants, and blancmange recipes—yes, ladies were always bringing blancmange to people. What was blancmange, anyway? It had no flavor or color. At best it was only unassertive pudding. Would it still be blancmange if one put some kind of topping on it? Berries or lemon sauce

Now later in the book, Pandora has had a change of heart in relation to this dessert:

Blancmange, incidentally, had turned out to be a revelation. Everything she thought she'd disliked before, its mildness, its whiteness, and lack of texture, turned out to be the best things about it.

In fact, it turns out to become the only thing in her schedule which cannot be interrupted

"Tell him to visit at his convenience," she said. "My schedule is quite flexible, other than my midmorning blancmange, which cannot be interrupted for any reason."

For those who don't know, blancmange is defined on Wikipedia as "sweet dessert commonly made with milk or cream and sugar thickened with gelatin, corn starch or Irish moss[1] (a source of carrageenan), and often flavoured with almonds." The origins of the word are French with blanc meaning white and mange meaning eat.

The first thing that stands out in that definition to me are the words Irish moss and even after reading the definition of that (it's a type of algae), I'm not convinced about it's usage, but apparently it is used as a thickener in desserts around the world. Anyway, I digress.

I did find myself wondering about how it is that blancmange is not ever talked about and yet every smart restaurant has a version of pannacotta on their menu.There is a difference between the two, in that blancmange is generally made using thickeners that need to be cooked and pannacotta generally uses gelatin as the setting agent and isn't cooked.

Maybe it is something to do with the word itself. I say it as bla-monj which in my mind it the kind of sound that it makes as it come out of the mould!

Have you ever tried blancmange? Or flummery? When I was writing this post I kept on coming across references to flummery as well.

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  1. Cool! Irish Moss is still harvested on PEI, and I’ve eaten Irish Moss pie- I didn’t know I was also eating blancmange. It’s very bland, weird texture, but, it is still pie!

  2. Maybe my memory is playing tricks on me, but I thought they ate it in Little Women -- the book, not any of the movies. As a child reader, I also wondered what it was, and I'm not sure I have ever tasted it.

    About using algae (Irish or other) as a thickener: it's used in a HUGE number of highly processed foods, and you've probably been eating it all the time. It's listed as agar or carrageenan.

    best... mae at

    1. I've definitely heard of agar before so you could well be right.

  3. I've never heard of blancmange that I can remember so I had to look at the photos of it. It's quite pretty but doesn't look at all appealing to me.

    1. Me either. I did contemplate trying to make it for the purposes of this post but decided against it in the end.

  4. Yes, this is all foreign to me. I'll be looking it up as well.

  5. That name, blancmange, always brings to my mind the Monty Python joke about it and the giant blancmange, which kept growing.

    1. Ha! I have that kind of association with the word cumquat and the movie The Trip!

  6. I haven't thought about blancmange for yonks! Cheers



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