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This extraordinary French sweet almond jelly must be the best food that survived the Middle Ages. My final and most tasty dish in the Hattonchatel castle serie.
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The next day, we moved to the castle's original kitchen, which opens into the banquet room through a secret door. Dan's wife Hanne kindly helped us unmold the blanc-manger into individual plates.

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I nearly had a heart attack when I saw the blanc-manger had split in two phases, with the water-rich almond milk predominantly at the bottom - now the top - and the cream soaked with air bubbles firmly at the bottom. We feared a disaster.

With all eyeballing me, I slowly ate a blanc-manger, then another, and then yet another before passing my judgement with a grave composure: This is seriously delicious.

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Blanc manger is very sweet and, without a kick, would be quite bland. It needs a touch of acidity and color contrast to work. We bought 2 kgs of red currants and rasberries which we stem ...

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... drop into a saucepan ...

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... and simmer for a few minutes until really soft. You can add a little sugar but it needs to be seriously tart to balance the sweet richness of the dessert. Don't make it too sweet.

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Hanne garnishes each little blanc-manger with a bit of red currant compote.

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Out of the 20 little blanc-manger molds we did, we forgot to unmold one (picture). We did not realize this at the time, but fortunately it did not fall on the Préfet de la Meuse but on good old Dan, who made the hypocras and squeezed the milk out of the almonds. Dan told me the glass provided a well-needed note of crunchiness.

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I asked for each plate to be garnished with an almond tile to provide crunchiness or texture, as chefs incorrectly call it.

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FX Cremel, who sold the castle to its present owner, provides after-sale service by kindly lending a hand to bring the desserts to the table while I'm having a game of hide the camera with Francine, the caretaker's wife.

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Some of the French big enchiladas that were sitting around the huge table next to the fireplace were already quite far gone in the appreciation of our hypocras. I managed to draw their attention with the following speech:

I began to speak and said

This dessert, in his modern-day version, gives a brilliant illustration of French culinary genius. It is built around a number of contrast. Color contrast - the white blanc-manger versus the red coulis. Taste contrast - the bland, sweet blanc-manger versus the tart berry coulis. Temperature contrast - the cold blanc-manger against the warm coulis. Texture contrast - the soft dessert verus the crunchy biscuit. This simple dessert is built on this strong architecture of antinomous poles, each calling and answering the other.
>

You should have seen their faces when I said «French culinary genius».

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The guests rushed to the dessert buffet...

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... and started digging in. We made a bowl of almond sorbet from the extra almond milk, served with brioche (picture).

Out of all the dessert we served that day, there is no question that modern blanc-manger was the most tasty. People just kept coming and coming until they could no longer walk. The almond jelly is cold and sweet and has a delicate almond taste with none of that grit you get in your teeth when eating regular almonds. It really captures the soul of the almond and freezes it into a white jelly. The dish works because of the intensely tart red coulis that makes for a stark contrast with the relative blandness of the blanc-manger. White versus red, soft versus hard, sweet versus tart. A simple and powerful culinary statement straight from the Middle Ages.

Published 16/10/2008
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43 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Rosa
  • on: 16/10/2008
Delightful! Those Blanc-Manger looks absolutely fabulous!

Cheers,

Rosa
  • FX's answer→ Rosa, it really is one of those dishes you can never forget once you've tried them!

  • #3
  • Comment by Jo
  • on: 16/10/2008
Wish I was there, the separation of the layers looks planned - a feature not a problem! I love your site. I guess an almond tile is a tuille?
  • FX's answer→ Jo, indeed an almond tile is a "tuile aux amandes" like in this article http://fxcuisine.com/default.asp?Display=52

  • #5
  • Comment by Mona
  • on: 16/10/2008
Very elicious and nice.
I want to know what you will do with the almonds after you get the milk?
From my experiance, when I use the Agar-Agar, which we have it here in huge quantity ( middle-east ), I cook or boil it with water and not milk first as it is faster than milk
We can find geltine papers in Egypt & Tunise as it is vegetarian and not pork or animal gelatine.
I love your site :)
Thanks ,,
Mona
  • FX's answer→ Mona, I'm sure you can give the squeezed ground almonds as food for cattle - nor sure cats would eat it, certainly not humans. Agar Agar is great too, but I just wanted to use something more "medieval" on this one.  

  • #7
  • Comment by CKfusionist
  • on: 16/10/2008
Looks seriously good enm hmm ! Can't wait to try it hahaha...Thanks for the recipe Francis !
  • FX's answer→ CKfusionist you should definitely try this one - well worth the work!

  • #9
  • Comment by ariun
  • on: 16/10/2008
Hi Dan! What a pleasure seeing you again. Are you not the embodiment of blanc-manger? Tough seaman arms, but the adorable cheery smile of a cherub; rough-lookin' manly demeanor, yet able to cook this delectable dessert; confined to an ancient medieval kitchen, while zooming around the world faster than light over the Internet. WE LOVE DAN THE MAN!
  • FX's answer→ Ariun, glad you still like Dan the Man, a very nice person as is his wife Hanne whom you see on the first picture!

Again, a nicely constructed post. Today's blancmanger is a lot better than those served back in medieval times. IIRC, the dish originated as a way to feed the sick and the elderly protein, especially if they had a hard time keeping something down.

We serve something similar to this called "panna cotta."

Either way, a great post. One thing to note: if you are folding in the cream to the mixture, remember to fold it in a "J" motion, not unlike paddling a canoe. You can mix it faster, and still maintain the fluffy airiness to the mix.

Thank you again for the great post.
  • FX's answer→ Jason thanks, indeed it's a panna cotta on steroid. I'll call in sick any day just to eat this in bed!

  • #13
  • Comment by chef4cook
  • on: 16/10/2008
I guess you could say it's a middle ages "Panna Cotta". Looks delicious!
  • FX's answer→ I never thought about it like panna cotta but you are right. However, panna cotta today is often synonymous with bland, easy-to-prepare-in-advance restaurant dessert and I've never had one that tasted like blanc-manger. If you try this in your restaurant and tell the waiters to sell it as "Medieval Almond Milk Panna Cotta" I'm sure people will be back for more!

  • #15
  • Comment by Liliana
  • on: 16/10/2008
What a wonderful article! I didn't realize how many steps it took to make blanc-manger.  I really enjoyed the step by step pictures.
  • FX's answer→ Liliana, many people today use almond powder to make blanc-manger, but this is really an inferior ingredient. If you buy shelled and skinned almonds and use a food processor, it is much faster than it looks in my article.

  • #17
  • Comment by leila karlslund
  • on: 16/10/2008
Deat Francois, here in Denmark we make a dessert called "Citron Fromage". It consists of egg yolks whipped with sugar, the egg whites whipped seperately until stiff and whipped cream, the juice of a couple of lemons and the grated peel from one of the lemons. We use the leaf gelatine (soaked in cold water first) and melted in what little water, that clings to it.

The trick to avoid the gelatine settling at the bottom is adding it in a thin stream while stirring to the yolk mixture with the peel and lemon juice and then wait until the it starts thickening before folding in the whites and whipped cream. You really have to keep your eyes peeled and do it at the right moment, otherwise the gelatine mixture will sink to the bottom.
  • FX's answer→ Leila, thanks for the gelatin tip, we should have done that but we all had spent 4 hours cooking and it was well after midnight when we finished filling our molds. I also showed our Danish hosts how to make orecchiette from scratch and we made enough for 8 with clams sauce. So no time to watch the gelatin that night!

  • #19
  • Comment by jmz
  • on: 16/10/2008
...WOW...cannot wait to try this one!!!!
  • FX's answer→ JMZ, you will have great fun with this recipe - a real winner and super for parties.

  • #21
  • Comment by Suzanne
  • on: 16/10/2008
Oh God I love your blog.  Thank you
  • FX's answer→ Suzanne, thanks for visiting! Do you have an almond tree up there in Vermont? If yes there are scores of fun things you can do with the almonds.

  • #23
  • Comment by hong
  • on: 16/10/2008
Dishes look rather pretty and delicious.  I feel so joyful at seeing the fresh food and certainly make me hungry.
  • #24
  • Comment by Andy
  • on: 17/10/2008
Very cool indeed!! I just discovered your website and am simmering your 'serious ragu bolognese' right now. My family and I are living in France for six months and so I'll certainly whip up some Blanc-Manger while we're here. Great pictures, clear instructions, interesting recipes - I'm hooked. (No more epicurious for me!!)
  • FX's answer→ Andy glad you like my site, Ragù Bolognese is definitely a great recipe to start with. The blanc-manger should also yield exceptional result. Let me know how it works for you!

  • #26
  • Comment by Laura D.
  • on: 18/10/2008
Really lovely dessert.  For North American readers, who may have a difficult time finding sheet gelatin and find it quite expensive when they do, a general rule is one packet powdered gelatin to three sheets gelatin.  Or to be more on the safe side, since each packet varies slightly in measure, 3/4 tsp thickens one cup of liquid.

I also have a comment about folding in the whipped cream.  I have found that folding works much better (no globs or lumps) if the more liquid element is incorporated into the thicker element; in this case, pouring about one-third the almond milk into the whipped cream, folding until incorporated, then pouring another third and folding, then the last third and folding.  The liquid should be poured down the side of the bowl with the cream in it so as not to deflate the cream.  

Of course, with mixtures that are thicker than whipped cream, the process is reversed, with a third of the cream being folded into the thicker mixture (like pastry cream), then the rest of the cream added.

Sorry for sounding so bossy here, FX.  I love your blog.
  • FX's answer→ Laura thanks for the tips, not bossy at all, cheffy rather! I must say that I admire the many American cookbooks printed these days where proportions are immaticulately listed in several units (both by weight and volume) and many alternatives proposed. I'd need a recipe editor or tester to make sure this is done properly in case I ever publish a cookbook!

  • #28
  • Comment by Shu
  • on: 18/10/2008
"If you mix the whipped cream with the delicate movements of the drummer of AC/DC, your air bubbles will go the way of the stock market."

I just can't stop laughing when I read this line. FX, you have the soul of a poet as well as a gourmet!
  • FX's answer→ Shu, indeed air bubbles are very sensitive and so many chefs squeeze them with manic paddle movements!

  • #30
  • Comment by Colin
  • on: 19/10/2008
Hi FX,

Great post as usual. I was wondering if you found out the reason for the separation of your blanc manger? I've recently had problems with my panna cotta separating as well, and I have yet to discover why.

Panna cotta (at least the recipe I use) does not used employ whipped cream, though it does use a heavier, thickened cream, but this is heated with milk. Strangely, even though I've used this recipe at least ten times, I've only had separation problems on my last two or three attempts...
  • FX's answer→ Colin, another reader suggested we let the gelatin harden up before adding it to milky part so that air-bubbles-filled cream can't rise up to the surface.

  • #32
  • Comment by carmen
  • on: 20/10/2008
Hello Francois Hope your doing well. This looks a lot like Panna Cotta. Must try it one day. Hope you have a great day.
GBU! Carmen
  • FX's answer→ Carmen this is waaaay better than panna cotta!

  • #34
  • Comment by Rei
  • on: 11/01/2009
Chinese cuisine has a sort of almond jelly as well. It is a very delicate dish. Try it out one day! But I am not sure whether or not you like Chinese food.
  • FX's answer→ Rei I have had Chinese and Japanese almond jelly, very nice too!

  • #36
  • Comment by Alex
  • on: 16/01/2009
Great recipe, Francois!
I was wondering what the powdered sugar is for. It's listed in the ingredients. Is it for the whipped cream? I'll definitely be doing this and the baked pineapple for my father's birthday party.
  • FX's answer→ Well Alex there is a quantity of sugar in this recipe, otherwise you'd end up a with a bland almond jelly.

  • #38
  • Comment by Alex
  • on: 16/01/2009
And another little question: do you have any particular way of skinning the almonds? I usually soak them in boiling water for a couple of minutes and remove the skins.
  • FX's answer→ Alex, boiled water is the way to go for almond skinning.

  • #40
  • Comment by Alex
  • on: 17/01/2009
Thanks, FX. What I meant was that you have two sugars listed:
250gr (0.5 lb) sugar
375gr (13 oz) white powdered sugar

So when you say "add the sugar", do you mean we should add both sugars to the almond milk and gelatin mixture?
  • FX's answer→ Alex, thanks for your question -  a fair question indeed! Both sugars go in, I will revise the recipe so that it is clearer.

I'm doing some blancmange research and came across fxcuisine. Stunning photos! To answer Mona's question about what to do with the squeezed-out almond pulp, it is good added to breakfast cereal, a fruit smoothie or muffin batter, providing tasty fiber.

Kathleen
  • #43
  • Comment by Angello
  • on: 22/01/2011
Very detailed and solved a lot of questions. Found your web page on a link in wikipedia.  Recommend the powdered almond drink found at Asian markets, it is powdered and mixed with bits of almond.  This may cut the time in half for you. Now I have to find a coconut flan recipe and coconut does not behave like regular milk to my surprise.  Again thank you for the fotos, instructions and ingrediants.

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