Monday, June 22, 2009

Turkish Delight Syllabub, An English Dessert for Cook The Books: The Little White Horse

A lifelong lover and devourer of books starting when I was very young with my Dad reading to me, they were a huge part of my childhood. That's why every now and then I still love to read a children's book, whether a classic like The Borrowers or Little Women, or something newer like the Harry Potter series. I was happy to see that Rachel, one of my fellow co-hosts, (along with Jo), of Cook The Books (our virtual foodie book club), had selected a classic English children's book, The Little White Horse written by Elizabeth Goudge and published in 1946, for the group to read. I was unfamiliar with the book, but happy to learn that it was a favorite of Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling and it also won a Carnegie Medal. (Not to mention a recommendation from the wonderful Foodycat too).

A beautifully written fantasy about the young, orphaned Maria Merryweather, who travels with her governess Miss Heliotrope and Wiggins, her King Charles spaniel, to the mysterious and lovely Moonacre Manor to live with her uncle and new guardian, Sir Benjamin. The story follows Maria, the last Moon Princess, as she tries to solve the mysteries of Moonacre Manor, right the wrongs of her ancestors and bring happiness to the manor, the valley, her friends and family and herself. The book is full of vivid descriptions and imagery that enable the reader to envision the beautiful setting, the delicious food and the inhabitants of the manor, village and the valley surrounding it. There is a cast of colorful and imaginative characters, both human and animal in the novel and I think my favorite has to be Marmaduke Scarlet, the skilled and diminutive cook at the manor. Described by Goudge as a "little hunchbacked dwarf", with a "smile so broad that the ends of it seemed to run into his ears." Maria determines he must "be very old" because "the fringe of whisker that encircled his whole face like a ham frill was snow white, and so were his bushy eyebrows. Except for the whisker frill, his face was clean shaven, brown as an oak-apple, and criss-crossed with hundreds of little wrinkles." An excellent cook, Marmaduke Scarlet considers it very serious business; the kitchen is his private domain and it can only be entered by invitation. 

The endless array of delicious British food that Marmaduke Scarlett creates is sprinkled through the book and it was difficult to decide what to make. I finally decided on something I had heard of before but never tried, Syllabub, which Marmaduke makes for dessert while meeting Maria for the first time. Defined in The New Food Lover's Companion: "This thick, frothy drink or dessert originated in old England. It's traditionally made by beating milk with wine or ale, sugar, spices and sometimes beaten egg whites. It's thought that the name of this concoction originated during Elizabethan times and is a combination of the words "Sille" (a french wine that was used in the mixture), and "bub" (old-English slang for "bubbling drink")." In The Little White Horse, the syllabub is described as this, "Twelve eggs went to the making of the syllabub, a pint of cream, and cinnamon for the flavoring."

Rather than making the book's version, I went to the great English "Domestic Goddess" herself, Nigella Lawson, to see if she had any syllabub recipes. Perusing her books I found that Nigella had several to choose from, but the one that caught my eye was her Turkish Delight Syllabub from Nigella Bites. Created to taste like a Turkish delight candy, (a sugary sweet, rubbery-textured candy made of cornstarch or gelatin, lots of sugar, pistachios and very often rosewater), it sounded exotic and fun to try. (Plus I love how Nigella's recipes are always written to sound like she is there talking to you while you are making them--very entertaining!)

The recipe can be found in Nigella Bites (page 207) or it is also at the Food Network site here.

About this recipe Nigella says: "This hasn't got the temple-aching sweetness of Turkish Delight, not its palate-cleaving glutinousness, but rather it is a cloud-like spoon-pudding version that attempts to catch the aromatic essence."

Turkish Delight Syllabub

Nigella Lawson
(Makes 6-8 Servings)

3/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur (recommended: Cointreau)
2 lemons, juiced
8 tablespoons sugar
Just under 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons rose water
2 tablespoons orange-flower water
2 tablespoons finely chopped shelled pistachios

Combine the orange-flavored liqueur, lemon juice and sugar in a large bowl (I use the bowl of my freestanding mixer) and stir to dissolve the sugar, or as good as. Slowly stir in the cream then get whisking. As I said, I use my freestanding mixer to this, but if you haven't got one, don't worry - but I would then advise a handheld electric mixer. This takes ages to thicken and doing it by hand will drive you demented with tedium and impatience. Or it would me.

When the cream's fairly thick, but still not thick enough to hold its shape, dribble with the flower waters and then keep whisking until you have a cream mixture that's light and airy but able to form soft peaks. I always think of syllabub as occupying some notional territory between solid and liquid; you're aiming, as you whisk, for what Jane Grigson called "bulky whiteness." Whatever: better slightly too runny than slightly too thick, so proceed carefully, but don't get anxious about it.

Spoon the syllabub in airy dollops into small glasses, letting the mixture billow up above the rim of the glass, and scatter finely chopped pistachios on top. 

Notes/Results: Oh My! Syllabub is decadent and good without being too heavy; it is very light and fluffy. At one point as I was making it, I thought "OK, I am basically just making softer, runnier whipped cream here, what is exciting about that?" But after tasting this cloud-like concoction, I realized that it is on its own level entirely. The combination of the slight tartness of the lemon juice, the sweet and slightly bitter taste of the Cointreau and the floral essence of the rosewater and orange-flower water blend together so well. Then you have the fluffy, creaminess of the syllabub offset by the crunch of the ground pistachios on top. It is simple to make, other than requiring about 10 minutes or so of whipping to get it to the right texture without getting it too firm. I used my electric mixer and I have to say that it was lucky that Marmaduke Scarlet's arms "were much too big for the rest of him", since he had to whip his syllabub by hand! Although Nigella's recipe is more exotic in flavor than Marmaduke's syllabub, I figured that since he made saffron cake and other delicacies, he wouldn't mind the Turkish influence. In fact I garnished my syllabub with a little saffron too. I do think he would have had a big problem with Nigella herself and her habit of sneaking into the kitchen in the middle of the night for a snack and sticking her fingers into things!

I really liked The Little White Horse, it was an enjoyable and easy read. Thanks to Rachel for selecting it! If you would like to join us at Cook The Books for this round, you have until June 26th to read the book and get your entry representing this book posted. For more details on Cook The Books, and to see our upcoming selections, (It is my turn to host the next round and we will be journeying to China for The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones!), visit the CTB site here.  


  1. Hello there...
    Its so great...
    Ma2k ComciComca

  2. You want to hear something funny...I was thinking about making this as well! But I ultimately chose not to for a varied number of reasons. Nigella's recipe was one of the few I could find. I'm glad you made it so that I could find out what it tasted like. Sounds delicious and definitely a great pick for this book.

  3. Great choice, Deb!! I am in total brain shut-down on picking a dish to represent the book...and I'm running out of time!! It looks all creamy and "delight"ful!! Love your spoons, too :)

  4. My mom loved Turkish Delight - I think she would really appreciate this version!

  5. Your book commentary was fun to read and I love your rhapsodic description of your syllabub. Bookmarked again!

  6. My daughter & I actually just picked up that book! She is nine, and has been on a reading orphan stories kick. Don't ask me why cause I couldn't tell you. I too have always wondered what a syllabub tasted like, now I will have to make and see!

  7. Yum, those look wonderfully delicious! Love the pistachios on top!

  8. I don't know where to start. Your review of the book was terrific and I love the choice you made for a food to represent the book. It was a great post. Have a wonderful day.

  9. I'd never heard of syllabub until your post, but it looks delicious!

  10. I love how unique this sounds, it would be a fun dessert to serve at a dinner party!

  11. I love the word "syllabub" and have never tasted it. This version sounds lovely. I can "hear" Nigella in the directions. Great review, Deb.

  12. I think I would really enjoy this book. Your syllabub looks like a heavenly treat. I've never even heard of this before.

  13. I love books too! Nigella is great the way she explains things and expresses herself. I love watching her. The syllabub looks great. I love pistachios and I bet they add just the right crunch. How can you go wrong with cream??

  14. What a gorgeous dessert! I want one. So soft and cloud-like. Marmaduke would approve.

  15. wow that sounds fantastic! I totally forgot about the existence of syllabub!

  16. I have heard of but never had syllabub before - these look gorgeous and are undoubtedly delicious! I love the flavors of this one in particular, especially the rose water and pistachios, but the Cointreau definitely makes this an adult dessert in honor of a children's book!

  17. I am so pleased you liked the book! And that is a wonderful syllabub. I make a ginger syllabub sometimes, so I know exactly what you mean about the "Hey, isn't this just whipped cream?" moment.

  18. I will have to try a syllabub here when the weather warms up - I just love saying the word, and can't wait to taste it. Lovely post about the book - and can't wait for the next one.

  19. I almost made Syllabub myself for this event, but think it was the dozen eggs that stopped me. Yours is a lighter, much more doable version. I'm glad you chose it.

  20. What a fun post. I think Marmaduke Scarlet would be convinced by your choice. Love the photos.

  21. Hi Mahalo

    My name is Rachel and I live in England. I also love syllabub ... gooseberry is my favourite. It conjurs up images of sumptious feasts at the courts of the Tudors. I came across your site by accident . . . I have recently started up my own blog . . . Marmaduke Scarlet! He was a wonderful if curmudgenly cook. But one of things you have to remember is that when the book was published in the UK it was at a time of food rationing after WWII so most of the meals and recipes mentioned could only be imagined by most children then. A real fantasy. Anyway, love your site and will continue to read about your food adventures. :)

  22. We did this twice and ended up with turkish delight butter, don't know what went wrong, as we added the mixture to the cream it went yellow and clumped

  23. That is frustrating Michael Foy. Not sure what to tell you. I have made syllabub a few times with different recipes and no trouble. One thing is making sure to beat/whisk slow (I use low speed on a good hand mixer) and steady and to be careful to stop in time and not over whisk it or it does curdle and/or get too firm and butter-like. You really want it slightly liquidy.

    Hope you have better luck in the future--it really is a tasty dessert. ;-)


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