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What is Syllabub?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Syllabub is an English dessert traditionally made from a mix of white wine, cream and sugar, along with some sort of acidic juice. Syllabub is normally served cold, and it comes in varying consistencies depending on how much wine is used, what kind of cream is mixed in and the method of preparation. In some cases, syllabub has a consistency that requires people to eat it with a spoon like ice cream, but it can also be more of a drink. The flavor varies a great deal depending on the exact recipe and what kinds of additional spices or flavorings are used. Some syllabub is very sweet and sugary, while other recipes can have a milder level of sweetness.

Most people today make the dessert with whipped cream, but in historical times, chefs would milk cows directly into a container that already held a portion of an acidic substance, such as citrus juice. The chef would remove any curdled particles and then mix in some cream, sugar and wine. After combining everything, chefs whipped the concoction to thicken it, then served it immediately. It is generally made these days by using chilled whipped cream along with chilled wine and citrus juice. The ingredients are mixed together in a way that is very similar to the traditional approach, but once everything is mixed up, it is usually allowed to chill in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

Beyond wine and cream, the ingredients used for the dessert can vary. Lemon and orange juice are both very common, and chefs frequently add additional spices like ginger or nutmeg. Various kinds of nuts are often added on top, including grated pistachios and walnuts. Vanilla flavoring is a common ingredient, and stronger alcohols like brandy can be mixed with the wine, which is often some kind of sherry in modern recipes.

In the early days, people didn’t serve their syllabub cold and may have even preferred it lukewarm, but as refrigeration technology was developed, chilled syllabub eventually became traditional. The fact that syllabub was never a hot dish had side benefits. Glassware in those days was very fragile, and it would often crack with hot foods, which meant that chefs would generally use ceramics instead. Syllabub, on the other hand, could be served in the finest glassware without any fear of damaging expensive keepsakes. The tradition of serving it in glass still remains.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By lovealot — On Oct 20, 2011

I think that it is just great that we have so many traditional drinks and desserts, and other food, that we can choose from. Just think of all the many immigrant groups that came to live here and brought their best recipes with them.

All the sharing of recipes and the tweaking here and there of the recipes has given Americans a rich collection of traditions to enjoy.

Even though families usually use the traditions and recipes from their heritage, a lot of families adopt some from other ethnic group also. All the more fun!

By Misscoco — On Oct 19, 2011

Even though part of my heritage is English, I have never tasted syllabub. I'm definitely going to have to try it. It sounds very simple to make and you can make it using many different ingredients.

Centuries ago when the English first started making it, raw milk was the main ingredient. That must have been delicious. I have had raw milk and it tastes so creamy and smooth. They added a citrus juice, probably orange. The recipes today call for all kinds of ingredients.

Since this drink tastes best when cold, you can use your fanciest glasses to serve it in. I would use it after Christmas dinner as a nice relaxing dessert drink.

By lighth0se33 — On Oct 19, 2011

I like my syllabub with just a light touch of sweetness. I’m not big on sugar, so I adjust the amounts found in recipes to my liking.

I use orange juice as the main element of flavor in my syllabub. I probably add more than most people, but usually, others add different spices.

Sometimes, I add a teaspoon of orange extract to the dessert to pump up the flavor. It’s like a sister to the orange juice, and it really intensifies the taste.

My friends find the flavor too intense when I add the extract, so if I intend to bring it to a party, I leave it out. I do save a separate portion for me with the extract in it, though.

By wavy58 — On Oct 18, 2011

My syllabub is more like a mousse than like ice cream. I whip it until it gets stiff, but it is still fluffy enough to have the aerated texture associated with mousse. It reminds me of the truffle centers that I make, and this is my favorite kind of dessert texture.

I love to add almond extract, because it gives the syllabub a hint of cherry flavor with nutty undertones. I use just enough alcohol to give it a sophisticated touch. Also, it makes the dessert last longer, because my kids can’t eat it!

By shell4life — On Oct 18, 2011

@Perdido - I made syllabub with mint a couple of times, but I wouldn’t recommend using lemon or orange juice with it. The first time I made it, I used lemon juice, and the mint totally clashed with it. The flavor was confusing to my taste buds, and I ended up throwing it away.

A better complement to mint is lime juice. Use just a little of it, because it goes a long way. It has more of a powerful green flavor than the other citric juices, and it works with the mint to create an intense, pleasing dessert.

By Perdido — On Oct 17, 2011

Syllabub sounds a lot like egg nog! Both are alcoholic cream with spices, and both seem like good things to serve at parties.

I personally have never had syllabub, but it sounds like an interesting new thing to try out and take to a family gathering. I imagine none of my friends or relatives have ever heard of it.

I wonder how syllabub would taste with mint added to it instead of nutmeg. Has anyone ever made mint syllabub? It would be the perfect flavor for winter get-togethers.

By bagley79 — On Oct 16, 2011

Syllabub is one of those desserts that I like to eat slowly and savor every bite. When I have friends over for dinner and we want to linger over dessert, I will often make syllabub.

We will often head outside to the deck with our dessert as we visit and enjoy every bite. Many people have never even heard of this dessert, so it is fun to introduce them to something new.

I love adding ginger to my syllabub. It adds a little extra spice and flavor. I also like to top it with some crumbled macaroons. This adds a little bit of crunch and looks very appetizing in the tall parfait glasses I serve it in.

By LisaLou — On Oct 15, 2011

I have had both lemon and orange flavored syllabub, but the lemon is my favorite. When this is served in a tall glass, it looks elegant and is a perfect light dessert after a big meal.

If you are looking for a new dessert recipe, this might be a fun thing to try. The recipe I usually use can be served as either a punch or a parfait.

I love the parfait, but since it has alcohol in it you wouldn't want to serve it to kids. When it is served as a parfait the creamy texture is really appealing.

I like to make this in the summer, and enjoy the combination of lemon juice, lemon zest and nutmeg with the whipping cream. Lemon slices and mint leaves also work great as a garnish.

By SteamLouis — On Oct 15, 2011

I like syllabub, but I always have it as topping for another dessert, never on its own. If I only have syllabub, it's not very satisfying because it just tastes like alcoholic whipped cream to me. But it's absolutely delicious on meringues or puff pastries. It's a nice combination because you've got the density of the meringue or pastry which makes the dessert a lot more satisfying and filling.

Next time, I'm planning on making it as a topping for pie. I think it would be really good if I made the syllabub with spiced rum and added it to pumpkin pie. A vanilla syllabub on cherry pie would be delicious too. It sounds perfect for Thanksgiving and Christmas, doesn't it?

By burcidi — On Oct 14, 2011

@alisha-- I tried that version once too! It was really good!

I also like it with ale, eggs and pistachios. My mother tells me that syllabub was originally made with ale and egg whites and she still makes it that way sometimes. I personally like it with wine or liqueur better, but ale is not such a bad alternative either.

Especially if you have kids that want to eat syllabub, it's nice to have an alcohol free version for them with non-alcoholic ale. That's what I do for my niece because she will do anything to have some syllabub. I certainly don't want her getting used to wine or liqueur at this age.

By discographer — On Oct 14, 2011

I heard about syllabub for the first time in my favorite food writer's book, who also happens to be British. I do enjoy British food a lot but I'm not entirely familiar with all the recipes. I'm really glad I was introduced to syllabub though because it's such a great dessert. I love any recipe which is simple to make but ends up tasting very rich with different flavors.

My favorite version of syllabub is an amaretto syllabub that's made with amaretto liqueur instead of wine. I also use amaretto almond cookies in this recipe which is optional.

This is such a great way to end dinner because you get your sweet and liqueur in one. My family traditionally has always enjoyed a little bit of liqueur at the end of big dinners and celebrations to clear the palate. So this amaretto syllabub is such a hit with us.

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