Elizabeth David’s Syllabub

In London, in 1969, I bought Elizabeth’s Syllabubs and Fruit Fools, and read about some of the giants of English food writing and cookery, such as Robert May, Elizabeth Raffald, Sir Kenelm Digby, and Hannah Glasse. At the same time I was reading about Max Beerbohm, in Lord David Cecil’s Max, and the syllabubs served at his wedding (at breakfast no less).

These syllabubs are glorious things, as Elizabeth wrote, “simple and sumptuous. The skill demanded is minimal; the presentation is basic and elegant.” And since they must be prepared a day or two in advance, they are perfect for entertaining.

Ingredients

  • ½ cup Manzanilla sherry
  • 2 tablespoons brandy
  • 1 lemon, finely zested, juiced
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • cups double cream
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • pinch salt

Method

Put the sherry, brandy, and lemon zest and juice in a bowl and let sit overnight. Strain, saving the liquid only.

Put the sugar in a nonreactive bowl with the strained sherry, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the cream, nutmeg, and salt. Whisk the mixture for 5 minutes, or until it thickens enough to hold a soft peak on the whisk. It can become overbeaten in seconds, so be careful.

Spoon the syllabub into small (4-ounce) glasses, filling them to the top. Refrigerate until needed.

Variations

These are perfection when made with the juice of Meyer lemons, or using the whole ripe fruit (seedless) chopped up. Quinces are divine cooked with water and sugar, pureed and mixed with double cream. Then there is the most famous of all fools, gooseberry: cook 2 pounds pink or green ripe gooseberries in a double boiler with ½ pound sugar. When soft, puree and strain off the liquid, reducing it and adding it back to the berries before whisking the puree into the cream.

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