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Blancmange is a type of sweet pudding which has been made in Europe for centuries. The dish is also known as “shape,” a reference to the fact that it is usually set in elaborate molds. The flavor of traditional blancmange is mild, and the dish is popularly dressed with sauces or fresh fruit. The history of blancmange is long and quite old, and the true origins of the dish are shrouded in mystery. Monty Python fans may be familiar with blancmange in the form of alien sentient beings which invade the planet Earth during “Monty Python's Flying Circus.”
It is believed that the origins of blancmange can be found in the Arab introduction of almonds to Europe, since the dish traditionally contains almonds. As early as the 1200s, recipes for blancmange were being prepared in Germany. The original blancmange was actually a thick, neutrally flavored stew with chicken stock, sweeteners, almonds, shredded meat, rosewater, and rice flour as a thickener. At some point during the 1600s, blancmange became the snowy white dessert pudding which most consumers know today. Both foods have traditionally been thought of as good for invalids, since they are easy to digest, gently flavored, and nutritious.
The name for the food is taken from the French blanc for “white” and manger for “eating” or “food.” The “white dish,” as it was called, was popular among the upper classes of England especially. Some cooks added colorings for especially festive occasions, and modern blancmange is sometimes colored as well. In the early days, blancmange would have been largely white, due to the ingredients used, and it may have been heavily spiced on occasion, since access to spices was a status symbol.
To make a variation on 17th century blancmange, start by toasting two cups of almonds. While the almonds are toasting, gently heat two cups of half and half and mix the dairy with one quarter cup of sugar until the sugar dissolves. Grind the almonds with the half and half until the mixture is smooth, and force it through a small grained sieve or cheesecloth into a bowl. You will end up with approximately one and one half cups of liquid, to which you should add four drops of almond extract or essence.
Next, dissolve three teaspoons of gelatin in one third cup warm water, and allow it to sit for approximately 10 minutes. Stir the gelatin into the almond mixture, and stir the bowl over a bath of ice so that the blancmange begins to firm. Next, whip one cup of cream, and fold it into the blancmange. Pour the pudding into molds to set under refrigeration for several hours, and turn it out onto plates to serve, garnished with fruit or a sauce of your choice.