We’re dancing to the sound of zouk on 196 flavors with a traditional blancmange!
On October 28th is celebrated the International Day of the Creole language and culture or Jouné Kréyòl Touwonlatè. It is celebrated in many countries of Creole language, particularly in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, but also in nations with large creole speaking communities, such as the United States/a>, Canada, and France.
The association Eritaj took the initiative to create this day in 1982 in the Creole-speaking countries to celebrate and honor the 13 million people who speak Creole in the world.
What does creole mean?
The word “Creole” has two origins, the Portuguese with crioulo and the Spanish with criollo, which both come from the same Latin word criare, meaning either “feed” or “raise” or even more precisely “servant fed in the house”.
A person called “Creole” initially meant someone who was “raised locally”, that is to say “from the country.” The word was used primarily to designate the white child born and raised in the colonies overseas: Martinique, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Reunion, or Louisiana.
Later, the Creole word was used to describe the black population, while people would also say “Creole of color”. The word was even extended to animals, objects, and food: cows, chickens and coffee could be Creole, provided that they come from the colonies. Being “Creole” therefore meant, first and foremost: coming from or having been raised in the colonies.
The Creole word has long been used in this sense in Louisiana and still is today when referring to “white Creoles”, usually members of wealthy families owning plantations. This term was used in contrast to the concept of “alien to the local culture”.
In the French Antilles, people generally use the term béké to talk about “white Creoles”.
What are the origins of blancmange?
Today I have chosen to prepare a very old dessert that has been around for centuries: blancmange.
Blancmange has traveled extensively and although its origins are not Creole, it is one of the most famous Caribbean desserts.
Its origins are found, according to Pierre Leclercq, food historian at the University of Liege, towards the East, and specifically Persia in the form of boiled meat thickened with flour, rice and/or almonds. According to him, mamuniyya (Syrian blancmange) which includes chicken meat, rice, milk, almonds and pistachios, could be the starting point.
Historian Jean-Louis Flandrin quotes another dish known as isfîdbâdj (Arabic word of Persian origin meaning white broth), made from chicken breasts cooked in flavored broth for a long time, with crushed almonds, and topped with ground cinnamon.
And to get an idea of what the original blancmange was, let’s turn to Lancelot de Casteau, author of Ouverture de cuisine (1604). The book includes two recipes of blancmange. One with almonds and one without, which shows that almond is not an essential element of blancmange.
Lancelot de Casteau’s recipes are just characteristic of recipes that appeared in European cookbooks from the late thirteenth century. The result is a white porridge, smooth and thick, flavored with rose water and combining the taste of chicken with sugar. Aren’t you glad this recipe has evolved!
So originally, this dish was only prepared from white ingredients, poultry meat or fish, and intended primarily for sick people. Its whiteness, a sign of purity, was supposed to restore appetite… (was it, really?) Its soft texture and its mild flavor, in an era strongly marked by spices, sought not to disturb the more sensitive stomachs to any unknown product.
Fifty years after Lancelot de Casteau, Le Cuisinier François by François-Pierre de La Varenne was published. This marks the renewal of French cuisine in the seventeenth century where blancmange has undergone a radical transformation. Finally!
Blancmange is not just thickened meat broth but a jelly, crafted based on a collagen-rich broth (chicken, veal shank), flavored with almond milk and served cold. It is not intended for sick people anymore and is now considered a meat pudding, served between courses. It will later be served before dessert.
We are getting closer to the modern version of blancmange with the clear distinction between savory and sweet dishes, while in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, people would easily mix the two flavors.
From the seventeenth century, and even more in the eighteenth, sweet dishes started to be served after the meal, giving way to the desserts we know today.
By dropping poultry meat and rice, blancmange became a simple dessert, lighter and refreshing to which gelatin is added. And finally it is Antonin Carême himself, the renowned nineteenth century’s pastry chef called who finally categorized blancmange as a dessert and suggested to flavor it with maraschino, rum, vanilla or citron. He even gave a blancmange recipe with added whipped cream which turned to be the ancestor of the Bavarian cream (Bavarois).
Blancmange around the world
There are many similar dishes to blancmange. To name a few, the hwit moos from Danemark, Anglo-Norman blanc desirree (white Syrian dish), calijs from the Netherlands or even Italian panna cotta that Mike had judiciously flavored with lavender.
Blancmange eventually traveled to the West Indies and it is inconceivable today to discuss West Indies cuisine without talking about this dessert. In the West Indies, it is prepared with coconut or almond, with either almond milk or sweetened condensed milk. I chose the version with condensed milk.
“Bon biten pa komen… anba latè, pa ni plézi ! (Good things are rare… Under the earth, there is no pleasure)” – French Antilles proverbs
I prepared it for my dad who was visiting Paris and is, like me, a big fan of coconut. I served it very cold with a mango coulis.
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1¾ cup condensed milk
- 2 oz. fresh coconut , finely grated
- Zest of 2 organic limes
- 1 pinch ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon rum
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 vanilla pod , cut lengthwise and scraped
- 1 oz. agar (or 6 gelatin sheets), softened in a bowl of cold water
In a large non-stick pan, pour the coconut milk, grated coconut and sweetened condensed milk.
- Add cinnamon, vanilla seeds, salt and the zest of limes.
- Stir in constantly and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
- Add rum.
- Off the heat, add the agar or squeezed gelatin.
- Whisk until dissolved.
- Pour into a greased large mold with patterns or in individual ramekins.
- Allow to cool before putting the blancmange in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.
- Serve plain or with a tropical fruits coulis.