Innovation and Inspiration

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries brought a number of innovations. The ascendance of the French court (and gardens) at Versailles brought with it a new style of dining in both preparation and presentation. Service à la française meant that the number of dishes for each course matched the number of diners and was served simultaneously, with dessert as a separate service. The kitchen was divided between the cuisine, where the meal was prepared, and the office, which was solely responsible for dessert, including ices. See ice cream. Each household department produced complex menus, describing the courses and particular dishes. The office was also stocked with the latest innovations in design: sophisticated containers, molds, and freezing pots. Service en pyramide stacked multiple layers of preserved fruit, sugar pastes, and plant material on successively smaller tiers of silver or porcelain. Eventually, these dessert sculptures grew so extensive that they became entire miniature gardens, which remained on the table throughout the entire meal. And, finally, cookbooks with engraved plates of elaborate, expressly axial table plans rivaled design treatises on architecture, landscape, and fortification. Tables became landscapes unto themselves, in which the desserts represented statuary, plants, or buildings. The period’s quest for verticality as a mark of (royal) triumph over a landscape was achieved far more easily with towers made of sugar on a dining table than with any building materials in a city or countryside.