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What is an Entremet?

Niki Foster
Updated May 16, 2024
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In modern French cuisine, an entremet, literally "between servings," is a small dish served between main courses, or a dessert. However, in the late medieval and early modern period in Europe, the entremet was often an elaborate entertainment course featuring fanciful foods, and sometimes live entertainment. In English, this course was often referred to as a subtlety, from a word meaning "refined," "clever," or "finely textured." Subtleties, however, did not include entertainment.

The entremet has its origins in ancient Roman cuisine, when novelty dishes were popular at lavish court meals. In the medieval era, entremets were originally rather simple dishes such as porridge or chopped liver, but brightly colored with saffron or seasoned with exotic spices. The course was meant to appeal to all the senses, and to showcase expensive and unusual ingredients. The purpose of the entremet was to provide entertainment as well as food, and to set off the boundaries between courses at a formal banquet.

Over the years, the entremet became increasingly elaborate. Poultry and game animals were redressed after cooking to resemble the living animal. Foods were prepared to look like other foods or fanciful animals, to resemble ornate castles, or to depict scenes such as a knight in battle.

Allegorical and political themes became popular, especially at feasts commemorating important political events, like the defeat of an enemy in battle. Some entremet dishes were gigantic, requiring many servants to carry them in. They included special effects such as fire-breathing animals, fountains gushing wine, and miniature archers or musicians.

The entremet also came to include live entertainment in the form of musicians, dancers, actors, singers, and poetry recitals, often depicting political victories and glorifying the host of the banquet. Huge wooden models of cities or ships, or other theatre-like props, could be included. Giant pastries could be created to contain human performers.

Today, entremets usually take the form of a sweet course or a pastry, traditionally served after the cheese course near the end of the meal. In this sense, an entremet is a multi-layered mousse cake featuring a variety of textures and flavors. It is still intended to delight both the palate and the eye and to be a form of novelty and amusement as well as food. The pastry can be made into interesting shapes such as a pyramid or dome, and is often interestingly decorated. There are molds and pastry rings specifically intended for crafting entremets.

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Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By BabaB — On Jul 19, 2011

It's hard to imagine the creative depictions of incidents in history, hugh reproductions of castles, animals and entire cities, all crafted from various foods. These were the creations that were brought in as entremets between courses at grand banquets many centuries ago.

The only entremets I have ever had are a cone filled with sorbet used as a palate cleanser between courses of a meal!

I always thought the special cakes that you see on the food channel and the chocolate displays on cruises were pretty cool. But these amazing entremets that were made centuries ago were probably much more spectacular.

By sweetPeas — On Jul 19, 2011

Entremets must have been quite the spectacular affairs back in the ancient Roman days. I just finished a book about the Roman era. There was plenty of wealth in Rome, so I can see how the rich and famous could afford to have lavish entremets at their dinners.

I can just picture the creations made for between courses entertainment and eating. With musical entertainment along with the food, and I'm sure a good deal of wine, these banquets and entremets must have been a hit and the hosts probably competed with each other to have the best entremets.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 19, 2011

@KaBoom - I think I would feel a little uneasy with that too! However I think the entremet sounds like a great idea. I'm all about some novelty at my dinner table.

I think the French generally have some excellent idea about dining. In fact, once when I was a waitress I totally saved my tip by throwing a "that's how the French do it" at my table.

I had a table that I totally forgot to bring side salads to. At the end of their meal they reminded me they had ordered side salads and wanted to know why they hadn't gotten them. I apologized for forgetting, but asked if they still wanted them. I told them the French eat their salads after dinner, so if they didn't mind they could do it the French way. They laughed and decided to still have the salads. They left a good tip, too!

By KaBoom — On Jul 18, 2011

Maybe I'm a little squeamish, but the idea of redressing the meat to look like the actual animal really freaks me out. I don’t need my food staring at me and making me feel guilty for eating it!

Niki Foster

Niki Foster


In addition to her role as a DelightedCooking editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual...

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