Blancmange (from the Old French blanc-manger or white dish) first appeared in the Middle Ages as a meat course. Minced chicken, or any other white poultry meat, was mixed with almonds, rice and cream and served as a warm pottage.
The recipe evolved over the centuries, and by the time our unknown Georgian ladies were compiling the Cookbook, poultry (thankfully!) was no longer part of the dish.
Take three pints of cream, an ounce and three quarters of iceinglass. Put as much boiling water on the iceinglass as will cover it. A good stick of cinnamon, two ounces of Jordan almonds, well pounded. Sweeten it to your taste. Put it on a slow fire to boil, constantly stirring it. The first boil, take it off. Put in three spoonfulls of orange flower water or ratifie. Strain it in a dish & let it stand till cool as milk warm. Take of ye scum and put it in what you please.
Although this recipe is more like the blancmange we know today, there are still some significant differences in its preparation.
The recipe is set with isinglass rather than gelatin, and is left to cool in a dish rather than a mould. Writing in 1733, Mary Eales suggested that to serve it, one should “cut it with a Jagging-Iron in long Slips, and lay it in Knots on the Dish or Plate”.
The suggested flavouring, ratafia, might also be unfamiliar. In this recipe, it refers to a fruit brandy or liqueur, usually prepared with apricot stones. In the 18th century, some cooks tried to mimic the taste of ratafia by distilling water from laurel leaves and mixing it with brandy. Both preparations had their dangers: raw apricot kernels contain poisonous prussic acid, and although laurel leaves had a lovely almond fragrance, they were also toxic.
So, if you’re planning on try out one of blancmange recipes at home, use a fruit brandy instead of ratafia or choose . Alternatively, play it safe by sticking to William Kitchiner’s version of 1817:
Put a tea cupful of whole rice into as little water as possible till it almost bursts them. Add half a pint of milk and boil till quite a mash, stirring it while on the fire. Dip a shape in cold water and do not dry it. Put in the rice and let it stand till quite cold, when it will come easily out of the shape. It is eaten with cream or custard & preserved fruits. It should be made the day before. You may sweeten the milk with loaf sugar or flavour with any spice you like.