On ne fait plus que rarement le blanc-manger, et c’est chose regrettable, car c’est l’un des meilleurs entremets qui se puissent servir, quand il est bien préparé. (Blanc-manger is very rarely made nowadays which is to be regretted because when well made it can be one of the best sweets served.)1

When I happened on this eighty-year old quote from Escoffier, I was somewhat taken aback. I still see recipes for blanc-manger a few times a year in various French cooking magazines I read. I do not recall seeing it on any restaurant menu recently, but then again, it’s not an item I would order, so maybe I just wasn’t looking. Besides, in the magazine pictures it always just looked like Jell-O® or junket — sweet and rubbery.2 But since Escoffier liked blanc-manger, maybe there is more to it than just shakin’ and shimmerin’?

In searching for blanc-manger recipes, it became evident that a certain flexibility with the spelling would be required. In modern French, the word blanc is the adjective “white” and the word manger is the intransitive verb “to eat” — a word combination that makes little sense today. In Old French, manger was written as mengier, a noun meaning “food” or “meal,”3 what today we would probably call a “dish” — a word combination that makes more sense. Based on the recipes I’ve had access to, mengier changed to manger sometime between the 15th and the 17th centuries. Dishes with similar names, meanings, and ingredients also appear common to other European epicurean traditions: blancmange in England,4 bianco mangiare in Italy,5 and manjar blanco in Spain (in Catalan).6

Whereas today the final color of a dish is solely a function of its principal ingredients — unless it’s Jell-O — in the fourteenth century, it was common to add colorants to a dish and to include the color in the dish’s name.7 It has been suggested that appearance was as important for the 14th-century diner as was taste.8 The practice of coloring food, along with the inclusion of pomegranate seeds, rose water, and almond milk reflects a Middle Eastern influence on the French cooking of this era.9

In addition to dishes specifically named blanc mengier, the early French cookbooks often have an additional recipe that seems to be almost identical in principal ingredients and preparation. This recipe is usually a variation of the name blanc brouet, a brouet being Old French for “soup.”10

A quick Google search of the Internet for blanc-manger yielded about 1,700 pages — most with modern recipes. A few pages, however, hinted that blanc-manger has a long provenance. Indeed, there are two recipes for blanc-manger in one of the first cookbooks written in French. Not really a cookbook by modern definition, Enseignements, or “Instructions,” is a manuscript roll from the late 13th, early 14th century with 46 recipes. The manuscript is untitled so the name is taken from the incipit: Vez ci les enseingnemenz qui enseingment à apareillier toutes manières de viandes,11 which can be loosely translated as “instructions for preparing all manner of meats.” I have not seen the original, but apparently, it is quite worn and grease-splotched in a few places.12 Enseignements is one of five cookbooks that remain from this period. Two of the books are in Latin, the primary written language of the time. French and other vernaculars were considered vulgar and for the uneducated. Of the three written in the vulgate French, one was probably written in England, where French was still commonly used for much formal communication. Of the remaining two, Enseignements remains the most significant.13

The seventeenth recipe listed in Enseignements is presented without a title, but it appears to be the model for the blanc brouets of later books.

Por fere blanc brouet de gelines, metez les gelines cuire en vin e en eve, e prenez alemandes, si les breez e destrempez du boullon, puis cuisiez en un beau pot, e coupez les gelines par morseaus e les frisiez, puis metez tout ensemble dedens cel pot boullir; puis prenez alemandes e girofle e canele e poivre lonc e folion e guaringal e safren e çucre, puis destrempez d’un poi de vin aigre e metez ensemble. Si avrez bon brouet.14

For white hen soup, cook the hens in wine and water. Pound some almonds with some of the stock. Next, cook them in a large pot. Cut the hens into morsels, bone, add to the same pot, and boil. Season with almonds, cloves, cinnamon, long pepper,15 spices,16 galangale,17 saffron, sugar, and a little vinegar. Mix. Thus there is a good soup.

Four recipes later is one with blanc mengier in its title.

Por blanc mengier

Se vos volez fere blanc mengier, prenez les eles e les piez de gelines e metez cuire en eve, e prenez un poi de ris e le destrempez de cele eve, puis le fetes cuire a petit feu, e puis charpez la char bien menu eschevelee e la metez cuire ovec un poi de chucre. Si avra non [sic] laceiz. E se vos volez, si metez cuire ris entier ovec l’eve de la geline ou ovec let d’alemandes. Si ara nom angoulee.18

For blanc-manger

If you wish to make blanc-manger, cook the wings and feet of some hens in water. Soak some rice in the stock; then cook it over low heat. Finely shred the flesh [of the hens] and cook with some sugar. This [version] is named laceiz.19 And if you wish, cook all the rice with the stock or almond milk. This [version] is named angoulee.

The first recipe is quite doable, but the second seems to lack sufficient detail. [see demonstration recipe] As in all recipes from the middle ages, the instructions can be a bit brief. After all, most cooks were illiterate and learned their trade through apprenticeship.20 The few cooks that either recorded their own recipes or dictated them to a scribe were probably writing to produce a record of their work rather than to educate other cooks.

The dishes being prepared are not the food of everyday folk, but that of nobility or wealthy merchants. Additionally, cooks in this period had to be adaptable and resourceful. It wasn’t always easy to dash out to the market!

Both recipes show hints of the principle characteristics of later recipes that definitely can be called blanc-mangers. In the first recipe, almonds are pounded in a mortar with some poultry stock. In the second, the almond milk is added as an ingredient. Both recipes are sweetened with sugar. Almond milk and sugar will play an important part in other blanc-manger recipes up well into the 20th century.

Sugar was beginning to gain prominence during the 14th century in France, the time period of these early recipes. It was available in both loaf and granular form.21 The conical-shaped loaves weighed between one and 20 pounds.22 Like many spices, sugar was retained by the household pharmacist and used for its medicinal purposes, as well as for flavoring.23 Among other uses, it was thought to have value as a digestive.24 Sugar remained a luxury food well into the 18th century when a more plentiful supply became available from Caribbean sugar plantations and local beet sugar production.25

Almonds have been a part of the human diet for many thousands of years and are mentioned in the Old Testament.26 In 14th-century France, almonds were grown primarily in Provence.27 Although many recipes call for them to be fried or candied, in blanc-manger, almonds usually appear in the form of milk. Almond milk was a popular substitute in the middle ages for cow’s milk. It had the advantage of not spoiling and could be eaten during Lent or on lean days when the Church forbade the eating of animal products.28

Another common ingredient in early blanc-mangers was rice, having been imported into France by the 13th century, most likely from Northern Italy.29 I have not been able to determine which of the thousands of varieties of rice was prevalent in the Middle Ages in France. Because many of the recipes use the rice as a thickener as much as a cereal, I would assume that whatever the variety, it was a short-grain rice. I also assume that it was polished, which makes starch extraction easier.

Later versions of Enseignements, copied and recopied over the following 150 years became know as Le Viandier de Guillaume Tirel dit Taillevent. And although there is some question as to whether the 14th-century chef known as Taillevent actually penned the original source, he was responsible for one or more of the revisions.30 Today, four manuscript versions of this work still exist.31 In each, the number of recipes and specific wording, as well as spelling, varies. Some of this is undoubtedly due to error on the part of the individual scribes, but some is also due to additions being made by other unnamed contributors.

All four manuscript versions of the Viandier have two recipes that correspond to the two translated above. The versions included in this article are from a manuscript created in the first half of the 15th century and currently residing in the Vatican Library. The manuscript begins: Cy commence le Viandier Taillevent maistre queux de Roy de France (Here begins the Viandier of Taillevent, chief cook of the King of France).32 The first recipe is located in the section labeled potages lyans (thick soups):

Blanc brouet de chappons. Cuis en vin et en eaue, puis despeciez par membres et frisiez en sain de lart; et puis brayez amendes et des brahons de voz chappons, et des foyes, et deffaictes de vostre boullon, et mettez boullir sur vostre viande; puis prenez gingenbre, girofle, garingal, poivre long, grainne de paradiz, et deffaictes de vin aigre et faictes bien boullir ensemble; et y fillez moyeulx d’œufz bien batuz; et soit bien lyant.33

White capon soup. Cook [the capons] in wine and water. Disjoint and fry in lard. Pound almonds and the dark meat with the livers. Mix this in the stock and boil the meat. Add ginger, cloves, galangale, long pepper, and grains of paradise.34 Sprinkle with vinegar and cook the mixture. Stream in well-beaten egg yolks. The mixture should be quite thick.

This version appears very similar to the version in Enseignements with the notable exception that there is no sugar. It has been postulated that since the combination of spices along with the egg in this version will yield a soup that is decidedly not white, the term blanc in the title is a transformation of blant.35 Chicken and almonds were considered suitable for persons with digestive problems and often form the basis of a bland diet in the middle ages.36

The second recipe is located in a section labeled brouetz et aultres choses (soups and other things):

Blanc mengier d’un chappon pour ung malade. Cuisiez le en eaue tant qu’il soit bien cuit; et broiez amendes grant foison et, avec ce, du braon du chappon, et qu’il soit bien broyé, et le deffaictes de vostre boullon et passez tout parmy l’estamine; et puis mettez boullir tant qu’il soit bien liant comme pour le taillier, puis versez en une escuelle; et puis mettez frioler demie douzainne d’amendes pelées, et les asseez sur le bout en la moictié de vostre plat, et en l’autre, des pepins de pomme de Grenade, et les succrez par dessus.37

Capon blanc-manger for the sick. Cook a capon in water until it is well cooked. Pound a large amount of almonds with the dark meat of the capon. When well pounded, mix this with the stock. Strain through some muslin. Cook mixture until it is thick enough to cut. Transfer to a bowl. Fry six blanched almonds and arrange on half the dish. On the other half place pomegranate seeds and sprinkle with sugar.

In this case, the Viandier provides significantly more information about the preparation of this recipe than Enseignements. Additionally, the finished dish now begins to look more like later versions because all the solids are strained from the soup before thickening — leaving a truly white preparation.

The Vatican manuscript also contains an additional blanc-manger recipe called blanc menger party.38 Note that mengier is now spelled menger. This recipe is similar to the previous one except the almond milk is prepared with water instead of stock. The soup is then divided into portions and each colored differently. All the portions are served in the same bowl, but the soup is thick enough so that the individual portions remain separate. With almonds and sugar as the dish’s flavors, this preparation would be closer to a dessert item, as we would serve it in modern times, than to an integral part of the multiple main courses as it would be served in the Middle Ages.

Dated 1393, a few years before the Vatican manuscript, is a work called Le Ménagier de Paris. Many of the recipes in the Ménagier were inspired by those in the Viandier.39 The author of the Ménagier takes care to provide more detail than his predecessor, a helpful aid to those not conversant in the fine points of cooking in the 14th century.40 His recipe for brouet blanc is very similar to the preceding recipe for blanc brouet de chappons, but with more detail. And clearly the soup is plain, sweetened almond milk with added garnish. The meat is used for preparing the stock, but not included in the final dish. This makes sense to the modern cook who discards the meat used in preparing stock after the flavor is extracted and infused in the stock.

Brouet blanc. Prenez chapons, poulets ou poucins tués par avant de temps convenable, ou tous entiers ou par moitié ou par quartiers, et du veel par pièces, et les cuisiez avec du lart en l’eaue et au vin: et quant ils seront cuis, si les traiez, puis prenez des amandes, si les pelez et broiez et deffaites de l’eaue de vostre poulaille, c’est assavoir de la plus clere, sans fondrille ou trouble aucun, et puis les coulez par l’estamine; puis prenez gingembre blanc paré ou pelé, avec graine de paradis, allayé comme dessus, et coulez à une bien déliée estamine, et meslez avec le lait d’amandes. Et si n’est assez espois, si coulez de la fleur d’amidon ou ris qui soit boulis, et luy donnez goust de vertjus, et y mettez du succre blanc grant foison. Et quant l’en aura drécié, si pouldrez par-dessus une espice que l’en appelle coriandre vermeille et des grains de la pomme de grenade avec dragée et amandes friolées, piquées en chascune escuelle sur le bout. Soit veu cy-après à ce propos, de blanc mengier.41

White soup. Cook whole, halved, or quartered capons, chickens, or chicks, killed previously at a convenient time, along with some chunks of veal and a piece of bacon, in some water and wine. When the poultry is cooked, remove it from the stock. Next, peel and pound some almonds. Dilute with some clear stock. Strain the mixture through a piece of muslin. Pound some pared or peeled white ginger42 with a few grains of paradise. Strain through a fine piece of muslin and mix with the almond milk. If the milk is not sufficiently thick, thicken with some starch or cooked rice.43 Flavor with some verjuice and a large amount of white sugar. When serving, sprinkle red coriander44 and pomegranate seeds over the soup, and place some candied almonds and some fried almonds along the rim of each bowl. Another recipe is given below, [Capon] blanc-manger [for Invalids].

There is less difference between the Viandier’s version of blanc mengier d’un chappon pour ung malade and the Ménagier’s version of blanc mengier de chapons pour malades, shown below. The author has, however, placed the recipes directly one after another indicating their similarity.

Blanc mengier de chapons pour malades. Cuisiez-le en eaue tant qu’il soit bien cuit, puis broiez amandes grant foison et du braon du chapon, et soit bien broyé et deffait de vostre boullon, et passé parmy l’estamine: puis mettez bien boulir, tant qu’il soit bien liant et espais; puis broyez gingembre blanc paré et les autres espices contenues cy-dessus ou brouet blanc.45

Capon blanc-manger for invalids. Cook a capon in plenty of water until it is well-cooked. Pound a large amount of almonds and the capon dark meat. When well crushed and loose, mix with the stock. Stain through a piece of muslin. Boil the liquid until it is quite smooth and thick. Then pound pared white ginger and the other spices from brouet blanc recipe above.

In 1420, Chiquart Amiczo, chef to the Duke of Savoy, Amadeus VIII, wrote what many culinary historians consider to be the first true French cookbook.46 In Du Fait de Cuisine there are recipes for both a blanc brouet and a blanc mengier parti similar to the versions already discussed.47

Towards the end of the 15th century, printing with movable type came to France. And although a scattering of recipe collections based on the Viandier were published in the 16th century, no truly new French cookbooks were published during the entire century.48 In 1604, Lancelot de Casteau’s Ovvertvre de Cvisine became the first new work published in French, but not in France.49 The author was a well-known chef in Liège, then the seat of the Bishopric of Liège. The Bishopric was surrounded on the west, north, and east by various Flemish provinces and on the south it shared a small border with France, so it wasn’t too detached from France.50 The book has two recipes for preparing blanc-manger and two that use it as an ingredient in other preparations.51 De Casteau’s basic blanc-manger preparation is as follows:

Pour faire blanc menger. Prennés vn chapon ou pouille qui soit tuée deux ou trois iours, & la mettés cuire, estant bien cuite prennés la poitrine dehors, & la couppés en petites pieces, & les stampés en vn mortier, y adioustant deux ou trois cueillers de laict de vache, puis prennés sept liures & dix onces de laict de vache vne liure de farine de ris qui soit bien fin, & defaictes bien vostre farine auec la chair de chapon, & meslez tout le laict susdict auec, puis mettez liure & demie de succre, qui soit bien blac, mettez le dedans vn chaudron sur le feu, & le tournés tousiours bien auec vne lousse de bois, ayant bouly vn quart d’heure, mettez dedans huict onces d’eau de rose, vn peu de sel, & le laissez encor bouillir vn petit quart d’heure, puis l’hostez ius de feu, & le iettez dedans le plat, ou dedans des tasses, ou dedans des formes quarées.52

To make blanc-manger, take a capon or chicken, killed two or three days ahead, and cook it. When cooked, mince the outer breast. Pound in a mortar along with two or three spoonfuls of cow’s milk. Mix seven pounds, ten ounces of cow’s milk with one pound of fine rice flour. Combine with the meat. Add a pound and a half of white sugar. Place in a pot over heat. Stir continuously with a wooden stirrer for a quarter of an hour. Then add eight ounces of rose water and a little salt. Cook for another quarter of an hour. Remove from the heat. Serve on a plate, in a glass, or in squares.

The most obvious aspect of this blanc-manger is that the almond milk has been replaced by cow’s milk. Also, quantities are given with relative precision. The blanc-manger in this case is essentially sweetened milk flavored with a little chicken-breast puree and rose water, and cooked until thick. His second blanc-manger recipe is a variation of the above where the cow’s milk is replaced by almond milk prepared with white wine. The second recipe is followed by a tourte de blanc manger, a type of covered pastry filled with pre-made blanc-manger. In his fourth recipe, blanc manger frite en la paelle, very firm pre-made blanc-manger is coated with bread crumbs, fried in butter, and sprinkled with sugar for serving.

With the publication of Le Cvisinier François in 1651 by François Pierre de la Varenne, the tide changed. By the end of the 17th century, 75 new cookbooks had been published.53 La Varenne includes two blanc-manger recipes in his book.54

Blanc manger pour servir d’entremets.

Pilez bien dans un mortier de marbre un quarteron pesant d’amendes douces pelées, & les arrosez peu à peu d’un petit d’eau rose, ou plutost d’eau commune, & lors qu’elles ferot bien pilées, adjoustés-y une chopine ou un peu plus de boüillon bien consommé qui soit fait avec de la volaille, du bœuf, du veau, sans qu’il y ait d’herbes, mais seulement deux ou trois clous de girofle, un peu de canel’e, & du sel à discretion. Quand on m’a point d’amandes pour en faire du laict, on peut se servir de quelques cueillerées de bon laict de vache, ou de chevres; le boüillon doit estre degraissé & chaud. Et quand il est meslé avec des amandes, il le faut verser dans un estamine, ou gros linge, & y adjouster deux onces, ou environ de blanc de chapon, ou d’une autre volaille rostie ou boüillie, qui soit hachée & pilée exactemét dans un mortier, apres en avoir osté la peau, les nerfs & les os. Au lieu de volaille on peut se servir de veau, ou de quelque autre viande plus grossiere, mais le blanc-manger sera moins delicat. On peut y adjouster gros comme un œuf de mie de pain blanc, pour rendre le blanc máger plus espais, mais il n’y en faut point si on desire le faire bien delicat. Il y a des persónes qui ne passent point le blanc de la volaille par l’etamine, se contentant de le bien piler, & le dissourdre dans le boüillon quand il est en laict d’amandes; mais quand la viande est broyée on la met avec les amandes & le boüillon dans l’estamine qu’il faut rordre pour en avoir sa liqueur : il faut aussi remuer & refraischir le marc avec un peu de boüillon, & le presser encore pour en titer ce qui reste de fue.

Il faut verser ce laict dans un poislon ou écueille d’argent y adjoutant le jus d’un ou deux citrons, & un quarteron de sucre plus ou moins, & tenir le blanc manger sur le feu de charbon bien allumé le remüant d’abord l’espace de quelque temps, afin qu’il s’espaisisse, & le laissé un petit en repos, puis le remuër derechef quelquefois avec un cueiller, & en mettre refroidir sur une assiete, & lorsqu’il se prendra comme de la gelée en se refroidissant, il sera cuit, & on le tirera hors le feu.55

Blanc-manger (to serve as an entremet56)

Pound well a quarter pound of blanched almonds in a marble mortar. Sprinkle, little by little, a few spoonfuls of rose water, or, if you prefer, plain water. When the nuts are well crushed, add a half pint, or a little more, clarified stock made from poultry, beef, or veal and made without herbs, just two or three cloves, some cinnamon, and salt to taste. If there are not sufficient almonds for the milk, add a few spoonfuls of a good cow’s or goat’s milk. The stock should be degreased and warm. When well mixed, strain it through a piece of fine muslin or linen. Then add about two ounces of capon, or another roast or boiled poultry, breast meat, chopped or pounded in a mortar, after having the skin, sinews, and bones removed. Instead of poultry one can use veal, or some other coarse meat, but the blanc-manger will be less delicate. One can add an egg-sized lump of crust-less, white bread to thicken the blanc-manger, but it is not necessary if a delicate result is desired. There are persons who do not pass the breast meat through the muslin, being satisfied to crush it well and dissolve it in the stock with the almonds. But when the meat is crushed, one puts it with the almonds and stock in the muslin that one twists to remove the liquid. It is also necessary to stir and then remoisten the dregs with a little stock, and then to press again to obtain what remains of flavor.

Pour the milk into a casserole or silver bowl and add the juice of one or two lemons and a quarter pound, more or less, of sugar. Place the blanc-manger over a glowing coal fire. Let it sit for awhile so it will thicken. Stir occasionally with a spoon. Put some on a plate to cool. When it cools like aspic, it is cooked. Remove from the heat.

La Verenne’s basic blanc-manger retains the concept of using a meat broth for preparing the almond milk, but no meat remains in the final presentation. Also the variety of spices present in versions from the middle ages is replaced by some lemon juice and a larger quantity of sugar. Although he doesn’t explicitly state that the dish is allowed to gel before serving, he does imply it.

La Verenne’s other blanc-manger recipe is more reminiscent of the blanc brouets of the middle ages. The blanc-manger is served as a soup, but the flavoring is more 17th century rather then 14th century.

Autre blanc manger pour prendre le matin au lieu d’un boüillon.

Prenez une bonne écuellée de bon boüillon à la viande bien dégraissé, qui soit fait sans herbes, & salé moderement, il sera de plus haut goust, si on y fait boüillir de vin blanc, comme-pour faire de la gelée. Faites-le boüillir à petit feu l’espace d’une heure ou enuiron, & le remuë souvent avec une cueillere, afin que rien ne brusle, & lors que le bouillon sera diminué de la moitié ou environ, adjoutez-y le laict d’un quarteron d’amandes douces pelées & bien pilées dans un mortier avec deux ou trois cueillerées d’eau rose ou d’eau commune froide, ou du laict, ou de boüillon que l’on y mettra peu à peu en les pilant, laissez encore sur le feu le blanc manger prés d’une heure, ou jusqu’à ce qu’il soit épais moderement, remuez-le de fois à autres avec une cueillere, vous pouvez le passer par un linge ou par une estamine pressant le linge, & mettre dans un poëslon ou dans une escuelle d’argent ce qui sera coulé, adjouant un quarteron plus ou moins de sucre rompu par morceaux, & un brain de canelle, on y peut mettre aussi de muse, ou de l’ambre gris, un peu d’eau de fleur d’orange, & du jus de citron ou d’orenge, & faire boüillir le tout ensemble un boüillon ou deux.57

Another blanc-manger to eat in the morning instead of a bouillon.

Take a large bowl full of rich, well-degreased meat stock made without herbs and moderately salted with a strong flavor. It will have a stronger flavor if you boil it with white wine, as in making an aspic. Simmer for about an hour. Stir often with a spoon to prevent burning. When reduced by about half, add milk made from blanched, sweet almonds, crushed in a mortar with two or three spoonfuls of rose water, plain cold water, milk, or stock, that is added little by little while crushing them. Reheat the blanc-manger for an hour, or until it is moderately thick. Stir as before with a spoon. Strain the liquid through linen or muslin, squeezing it. Place the liquid in a sturdy casserole or silver bowl. Add about a quarter pound of sugar broken into pieces and a cinnamon stick. One can also add some muse,58 ambergris,59 orange-flower water, lemon juice, or orange juice. Heat the mixture until it boils.

In 1691, almost a half century after the first publishing of Le Cvisinier François, a 31-year old freelance, Paris cook by the name of François Massialot anonymously published Le Cuisinier Roïal et Bourgeois. In it are two blanc-manger recipes. In the first he says that the blanc-manger can be served as an entremet or as a main course or as an hors d’oeuvre!60 His poultry stock is augmented with a calf’s foot to ensure sufficient gelatin is produced. The stock is used to produce the almond milk. Orange-flower water, cinnamon, and lemon zest are used for flavoring. The finished product is served like an aspic. He notes that the finished dish can be colored various colors like other aspics, and provides suggested sources for the colors later in the book.61

Massialot’s second recipe, blanc-manger de corne de Cerf, starts by using a pound of grated stag’s horn to produce a stock rich in gelatin.62 This is used for the almond milk. The final presentation is flavored with orange-water or lemon juice, depending on the occasion, and served cold.

Massialot presents an additional recipe called potage de cailles au blanc-manger where quail is served in a sweet, cinnamon-flavored almond milk and garnished with macaroons, cookies, and marzipan along with lemon slices and pomegranate seeds. He notes that other poultry can be substituted for the quail.63

By the time Antonin Carême addresses the preparation of blanc-manger in the first half of the 19th century, the dish is intended only as a sweet entremet.64 In his recipe, the meat stock is totally gone.65 The almond milk is prepared with filtered water, sweetened with granulated sugar, and gelled with isinglass.66 The final preparation is served cold. He offers that the blanc-manger can be flavored with rum, maraschino, lemon, vanilla, coffee, chocolate, pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, strawberries, or even whipped cream.

Carême is quoted as commenting on blanc-manger: “These delicious sweets are greatly esteemed by gastronomes, but, to be enjoyed, they must be extremely smooth and very white. Given these two qualities (so rarely found together), they will always be preferred to other creams, even to transparent jellies. This is because almond is very nourishing and contains creamy, balsamic properties which are just right for sweetening the bitterness of humors.”67

Later in the same century, Alexandre Dumas in his Le grand dictionnaire de cuisine published three blanc-manger recipes that were a throwback to earlier times.68 In blanc-manger, suivant l’ancienne recette (blanc-manger, after an old recipe), Dumas starts with the line: “On voit dans les lettres de Mme de Maintenon, que Fagon ordonnait cet aliment dans les cas d’affections ou dispositions inflammatoires.” (One sees in the letters of Madame de Maintenon,69 that Fagon70 ordered this food in the cases of affections or inflammatory dispositions.) He then goes on to describe a blanc-manger that is very similar to La Varenne’s morning soup recipe. This blanc-manger, suivant la recette de M. Beauvilliers (blanc-manger, based on a recipe by Mr. Beauvilliers71), is very close to the recipe from Carême descibed above. Lastly, Dumas presents a recipe for blanc-manger frit, a version of fried blanc-manger that uses sweetened balls of cream and starch flavored with marzipan and macaroons — two almond-based confections. The balls are fried in oil and then dusted with sugar before serving. In the last sentence of the recipe, he offers that roast, skinless, boneless chicken breast, minced, can be added to the mixture before frying.

Fifty years after Dumas and a century after Carême, Auguste Escoffier brought blanc-manger into the 20th century. In his Le guide culinaire, he describes a basic blanc-manger that he terms à la Française [see demonstration recipe] to differentiate it from English blancmange, for which a recipe is also included.72

Blanc-manger à la française

Composition : Monder 500 grammes d’amandes douces et 4 ou 5 amandes amères ; les mettre à dégorger à l’eau fraîche pour les obtenir très blanches. Les piler aussi finement que possible en y ajoutant, cuillerée par cuillerée, 8 décilitres d’eau filtrée ; presser le tout dans un fort torchon, en tordant fortement. Faire dissoudre 200 grammes de sucre en morceaux dans le lait d’amandes ainsi obtenu - environ 7 décilitres ; l’additionner de 30 grammes de gélatine dissoute dans du sirop tiède ; passer à la mousseline et parfumer à volonté.

Moulage : Se fait en moule à douille centrale, huilé, comme celui du moscovite. Faire prendre à la glace et démouler en procédant de même.73

French-style blanc-manger

Preparation: Peel 500 grams sweet almonds and 4 or 5 bitter almonds.74 Soak in fresh water to whiten the nuts. Pound as finely as possible, adding 8 deciliters of filtered water, a spoonful at a time. Strain through a strong towel, twisting it tightly. Dissolve 200 grams of sugar cubes in the almond milk. There should be about 7 deciliters. Add 30 grams of gelatin dissolved in a little warm syrup. Strain through a piece of muslin and flavor as you like.

Molding: Using an oiled funnel mold, proceed the same as when preparing a moscovite. When chilled, unmold in the same manner.

This recipe is expanded in two further recipes by the suggestion of adding various flavorings or fruit coulis to the mixture — it all sounds a bit like Carême’s blanc-manger instructions. Escoffier also suggests a multi-colored version using alternating layers of white and colored (fruit-based) blanc-mangers. [see demonstration recipe] With Escoffier, blanc-manger is firmly a part of the dessert course, a position it occupies still today.

Moving forward another half century, to the mid-1970s, brings forth Paul Bocuse’s publication of La cuisine de marché — his version of Le guide culinaire. Bocuse’s blanc-manger [see demonstration recipe] is a simple combination of almonds, cream, sugar, and gelatin. Of the recipes presented so far, it is the most reminiscent of almond-flavored Jell-O.

Le blanc-manger

Éléments : 250 grammes d’amandes douces, mélanger 2 amandes amères ; 2 verres ordinaires (4 décilitres) de crème fraiche et légère ; 100 grammes de sucre en cason ou en morceaux ; 15 grammes de gélatine.

Methode : Émonder les amandes ébouillantées et rafraîchies ; les faire dégorger une heurre à l’eau fraîche pour les obtenir très blanches ; les égoutter, les éponger et les broyer au mortier en les mouillant, au début, et peu à peu, avec 2 cuillerées à potage d’eau, diluer ensuite la pâte obtenue en lui ajoutant la crème fraîche par petites quantités.

Relever le tout dans un torchen et presser fortement au moyen de deux torsions inverses du torchon placé au-dessus d’un saladier.

Dissoudre à froid le sucre dans ce lait d’amandes. Ajouter 1/2 cuillerée à café de sucre vanillé, puis la gélatine préalablement trempée dans de l’eau fraîche, égouttée, pressée et fondue dans un peu de lait d’amandes tiédi.

Lait d’amandes, sucre et gélatine réunis représentent 3 décilitres 1/2 environ. Quand le mélange est sur le point de prendre en gelée, lui additionner 1 décilitre de crème épaisse et fraîche fouettée et trés légèrement sucrée.

Mouler et mettre à la glace exactement comme les bavaroises. Se sert dans les mêmes conditions.75

Blanc-manger

Ingredients: 250 grams sweet almonds mixed with 2 bitter almonds; 2 glasses (4 deciliters) light cream; 100 grams sugar, granulated or cubes; 15 grams gelatin.

Instructions: Blanch the almonds in boiling water. Cool and peel. Soak the almonds for an hour in fresh water to whiten them. Drain the nuts, dry them a little, and pound them in a mortar along with a couple spoonfuls of water. Continue to dilute the nuts with the cream, added a little at a time, until a smooth paste is obtained.

Place all the mixture in the center of a towel and strain the milk into a bowl by twisting the ends in opposite directions.

Dissolve the sugar in the almond milk. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla sugar. Then add the gelatin, previously softened in cold water, drained, and dissolved in a little warm almond milk.

The almond milk, sugar, and gelatin should yield about 3-1/2 deciliters. When the mixture begins to gel, add 1 deciliter of heavy cream whisked with a little sugar.

Mold and chill in the same manner as making a bavaroises. Serve in a similar manner.

Bocuse’s blanc-manger is similar to Escoffier’s except that cream is substituted for water when making the almond milk. Now at the start of the 21st century, versions similar to Bocuse’s are frequently published in French cooking magazines. These modern versions are differentiated more by what fruit is served with the blanc-manger than with large differences in the basic recipe.76 Additionally, some modern versions tend to use powdered or creamed almonds instead of pounding whole, blanched almonds in a mortar.77 There are also desserts now being labeled as blanc-manger whose only connection with earlier blanc-mangers is that they are white. Some are flavored fromage blanc, while others are gelatins made with coconut milk.78

In the future, if blanc-manger becomes an “in” concept again on French menus, I’m sure we will see variations that range from traditional to bizarre — not only as part of desserts, but also as amouse-bouche, entrées, and plats.

   The author gratefully thanks Michael Herzen, of Redwood City CA, for his superb translating and editing assistance with this article.
1. Auguste Escoffier, Le guide culinaire; aide-mémoire de cuisine pratique., Paris: E Flammarion, 1921, 831, online: Le Guide Culinaire; Auguste Escoffier, Le Guide Culinaire, trans. HL Cracknell and RJ Kaufmann, New York: Mayflower Books, 1982, 545.
2. The box (c1900) from the Peter Cooper’s Clarified Gelatin, the predecessor of Jell-O-brand gelatin, listed a recipe for blanc mange [sic] on the back panel, online: Cooper Archives.
3. Alan Hindley, Frederick W Langley, and Brian J Levy, Old French-English Dictionary, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 200, 420.
4. Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999, 80.
5. T Sarah Paterson, Acquired Taste: The French Origins of Modern Cooking, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994, 180.
6. Martino da Como, recipe no. 41 from the Libro de Arte Culinaria, ca. 1450-60, online: Historia Viva.
7. D Eleanor Scully, Terence Scully, Early French Cookery, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995, 23.
8. Barbara Ketcham Wheaton, Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789, New York: Scribner, 1983, 15.
9. Paterson, Acquired Taste, 1-3.
10. Brouet is a variation of broet, meaning “soup” or “stew,” see Hindley, Langley, and Levy, Old French-English Dictionary, 93-94; Brouet is defined as “espece de boüillon au lait & au sucre,” a kind of bouillon made with milk and sugar, in the 1694 edition of Dictionnaire de L’Académie française, online: Dictionnaire de L’Académie française; Brouet is defined as a “soup made of flesh-broth” in John A Simpson and Edmund SC Weiner, eds., Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, 2:591, online: browet, n.
11. Jérôme Pichon and Georges Vicaire, Le Viandier de Guillaume Tirel dit Taillevent, Paris: Techener, 1892, reprint: Paul Æbischer, ed., Lille: Régis Lehoucq Éditeur, 1991, 115.
12. Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 9.
13. Ibid., 8-9.
14. Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, 121; also transcribed online from Grégoire Lozinski, ed., La bataille de caresme et de charnage, Paris: Champion, 1933, 181-187, online: Enseignements.
15. Long pepper probably existed in Europe before black pepper, which cannot be substituted for it. The taste is both pungent and sweet at the same time. See Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.
16. The “spices” referred to here was possibly a combination of ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and grains of paradise, a spice combination in common use by the 14th-century cook. See Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 55.
17. A valued spice of the middle ages, galangale is not well-known today outside of South East Asia. Although sometimes confused with other spices from the ginger family, galangale has a distinctive taste that cannot be substituted by another spice. See Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.
18. Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, 122; Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 190; also transcribed online from Grégoire Lozinski, ed., La bataille de caresme et de charnage, Paris: Champion, 1933, 181-187, online: Enseignements.
19. This interpretation of this sentence and the last sentence in the recipe, that the recipe’s author is modifying the recipe’s name depending upon how it is prepared, is derived from a note found on page 122 in Pichon and Vicaire (see note 11 above) that states: Il semble que l’auteur qui donne ici une recette du blanc-mengier indique que ce plat change de nom ed devient un laceiz ou une angoulee lorsqu’on y ajoute certaines choses, It seems the author of the blanc mangier recipe here is noting that this dish changes name and becomes a laceiz or an angoulée when one adds certain ingredients to it.
20. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 18.
21. Paterson, Acquired Taste, 3-4.
22. Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, A History of Food, Cambridge (MA): Blackwell Publishers, 1994, 555.
23. Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 24.
24. Terance Scully, The Viandier of Taillevent: An Edition of All Extant Manuscripts, Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1988, 167.
25. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 19.
26. Prosper Montagné, Larousse Gastronomique, ed. Charlotte Turgeon, ed. and trans. Nina Froud, New York: Crown Publishers, 1961, 27; Davidson, Oxford Companion to Food, 12.
27. Reay Tannahill, Food in History, New York: Stein and Day, 1973, 137.
28. Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 60.
29. Davidson, Oxford Companion to Food, 663.
30. Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 10.
31. Scully, Viandier, 3; the bibliography in Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, pages XLIX-LXVIII, lists 15 printed versions of the Viandier printed between 1490 and 1604; according to Scully, 6, “Far from being useful in illuminating obscurities in the extant manuscripts, these printed editions frequently contain such errors and mutilations of the earlier texts that their use by contemporary purchasers must have led to remarkable culinary adventures.”
32. Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, 213.
33. Scully, Viandier, 64-65; Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, 223.
34. In modern French, grains of paradise are referred to as graines de paradis, malaguette, poivre de guinée, or maniguette. During the time this recipe was written, grains of paradise were often substituted for black pepper. See Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages.
35. Although blant is a misspelling of the Old French word bland, it would be misleading to confuse this with the modern English word bland. Bland in Old French means “white” or “fair.” See Hindley, Langley, and Levy, Old French-English Dictionary, 80.
36. Scully, Viandier, 65-66.
37. Scully, Viandier, 166; Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, 241.
38. Scully, Viandier, 252; Pichon and Vicaire, Le Viandier, 262-263.
39. Scully, Viandier, 26-27.
40. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 22-23.
41. Georgina E Brereton and Janet M Ferrier, eds, Le Menagier de Paris, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981, 217; Georgina E Brereton and Janet M Ferrier, eds, Karin Ueltschi, trans, Le Mesnagier de Paris (in French), Paris: Librairie Générale Française, 1994, 654; online: Le Ménagier de Paris.
42. White ginger may refer to fresh ginger that has been scraped and dried in the sun. See Simpson and Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary, 6:519, online: ginger, n1.
43. Rice was a common thickening agent in the 14th century and remained so until the early 20th century. See Henri Babinski, Gastronomie Practique, Paris: E Flammarion, 1907. To prepare the rice to use as a thickener, place 200 milliliters of stock and 25 grams short-grain or round rice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for an hour until the rice is very soft. Puree the rice mixture through a fine sieve. Return the puree to the saucepan and reheat. Puree further with a stick blender and set aside.
44. Possibly coriander seeds that are candied in a red-colored sugared solution. See Reiki.
45. See note 41.
46. Scully and Scully, Early French Cookery, 14.
47. Terance Scully, ed., Vallesia, Sion (Switzerland):1985, 40:101-231 (in French); Terence Scully, ed. and trans., Chiquart’s ‘On Cookery’: A Fifteenth-century Savoyard Culinary Treatise, New York: Peter Lang, 1986, 28-29, 55, 65-66, 74-75; an additional translation is available online, see Du Fait de Cuisine.
48. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 28.
49. Ibid., 31.
50. William R Shepherd, Historical Atlas, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1928, 117.
51. From is an unabridged, online transcription of Ovvertvre de Cvisine by Lancelot de Casteau, Liège, 1604, reprinted by De Schutter in Antwerp and Brussels, 1983, online: Lancelot de Casteau, Ouverture de Cuisine, 1604.
52. Ibid.
53. Wheaton, Savoring the Past, 114.
54. François Pierre de la Varenne, Le Cuisiner François, 3rd ed?, Lyon: Jacques Canier, 1680, 22-25, online: Fons Grewe. This book may actually be L’Ecole des ragousts, ou le chef-d’œuvre du cuisinier de pâtissier, & de confiturier, attributed to the same author, but apparently sold at the time with the mislabeled title.
55. Ibid., 22-24.
56. In the seventeenth century, an entremet was a course of small dishes served between the meat courses and dessert. By the early 20th century, an entremet was equivalent to the dessert course.
57. La Verenne, Cuisiner François, 24-25.
58. “The fruit of a plantain or banana plant; a plant yielding such fruit (also muse tree).” See Simpson and Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary, 10:121, online: muse, n4.
59. “A wax-like substance of marbled ashy color, found floating in tropical seas, and as a morbid secretion in the intestines of the sperm-whale. It is odoriferous and used in perfumery; formerly in cookery.” See Simpson and Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary, 1:384, online: ambergis.
60. François Massialot, Le Cuisiner Roïal et Bourgeois, Paris: Charles de Sercy, 1691, reprint Limoges: René Dessagne, n.d., 134-135.
61. Ibid., 264.
62. Ibid., 135-136.
63. Ibid., 398.
64. At about the same time as Carême was at his peak, a later edition of Le cuisinier françois (Troyes: Pierre Garnier, 1728) was being published that removed La Varenne’s original two blanc-manger recipes and replaced it with two other recipes. Both recipes are essentially the same except the first was based on meat (calf’s, chicken, or stag’s horn) gelatin and the second based on fish gelatin. The first is in the part of the book that presents meat-based recipes (entremets pour les jours de viandes) and the second is in the part of the book that presents Lenten recipes (entremets les jours maigres). In both cases, the blanc-manger is simply almond milk prepared with liquefied gelatin. The final product is served unsweetened, cold, and sometimes colored. See Jean-Louis Flandrin and Philip and Mary Hyman, eds, Le cuisinier françois, Paris: Éditions Montalba, 1983, 181, 272.
65. Montagné, Larousse Gastronomique, 150.
66. “A firm whitish semitransparent substance (being a comparatively pure form of gelatin) obtained from the sounds or air-bladders of some fresh-water fishes, esp. the sturgeon; used in cookery for making jellies, etc., also for clarifying liquors, in the manufacture of glue, and for other purposes. Also extended to similar substances made from hides, hoofs, etc.” See Simpson and Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary, 8:109, online: isinglass, n.
67. Montagné, Larousse Gastronomique, 149-150; “In ancient and mediæval physiology, one of the four chief fluids (cardinal humours) of the body (blood, phlegm, choler, and melancholy or black choler), by the relative proportions of which a person’s physical and mental qualities and disposition were held to be determined ).” See Simpson and Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary, 7:485, online: humour, humor, n2b.
68. Alexandre Dumas, Le grand dictionnaire de cuisine, 1873. Electronic version (3.2MB file size) available online: pitman.com.
69. Françoise d’Aubigné, known as Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719), the second and last wife of Louis XIV. Online: Maintenon, marquise de.
70. Guy-Crescent Fagon (1638-1718) was the chief physician of Louis XIV from 1693 until the King’s death in 1715. Online: Cour de Louis XIV; Scientific Identity; The Entire Memoirs of Louis XIV.
71. Antoine Beauvilliers (1754-1817). Boulanger may have been the first to use the term “restaurant” to describe his eating establishment in 1765, but Antoine Beauvilliers opened the first “real” restaurant in Paris in 1782. He named it La Grande Taverne de Londres because he was influenced by the English, rather than by Boulanger. It was an immediate success because, as the famous gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, it was “the first to combine the four essentials of an elegant room, smart waiters, a choice cellar, and superior cooking.” In 1814 Beauvilliers wrote L’Art de Cuisinier, which deals with cooking and all other aspects of food service (including management) as a science. It became the standard French cookery book of the time. He also collaborated with Carême on La Cuisine Ordinaire. Online: Antoine Beauvilliers.
72. Escoffier, Le Guide culinaire, 831. The English blancmange is a cooked pudding made from milk sweetened with sugar and thickened with starch.
73. Escoffier, Le Guide culinaire, 831.
74. Bitter almonds contain prussic acid, a poison. The poison and much of the resulting bad taste is eliminated by heating. See Davidson, Oxford Companion to Food, 12.
75. Paul Bocuse, La cusine du marché, Paris: Flammarion et Cie, 1976, 421.
76. “Blanc-manger aux agrumes et fruits rouges,” Cuisiner!, summer supplement 1998; “Blanc-manger à l’ananas confit,” Cuisine et Vins de France, December-January 2002.
77. “Blanc-manger aux fruits frais,” Cuisine Acteulle, May 1998; “Blanc-manger aux fraises caramélisées,” Cuisine Acteulle, April 1999; “Blanc-manger au fraises,” Cuisiner!, April 2000; “Blanc-mangers aux amandes et au melon,” Cuisiner!, May 2000; “Blanc-manger à la mangue et au cassis,” Cuisine Acteulle, March 2001.
78. “Blanc-manger à la vanille marmelade d’abricots,” Cuisiner!, April 1997; “Blanc-manger au coco,” Cuisiner!, March 1999; “Blanc-manger à la noix de coco et mangues rôties,” ELLE à la Table, March-April 1999; “Blanc-manger au coco et fruits exotiques,” Bon Appétit Bien Sur, TV3, France, n.d.; “Blanc manger réglissé,” Bon Appétit Bien Sur, TV3, France, n.d.

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