Syllabubs evolved in the eighteenth century into the dessert we recognize today. For a seventeenth-century syllabub, a cow would have been milked over a bowl of ale or cider. So be grateful my novel is set in 1727.
Syllabub is very rich and sweet, which is why it’s important to introduce a note of sharpness as well. Hannah Glasse wrote one of the most popular recipe books of the period, and her recipe suggests sherry or white wine and the juice and rind of one lemon.
I was inspired by the dessert when I came to introduce one of the main characters in The Devil in the Marshalsea. Kitty Sparks is sharp-witted and quick-tongued, with a very fast temper. This rather appeals to the narrator, Tom Hawkins, who writes: “Her ill-humor was intriguing, like the sharp tang of lemon in a syllabub.”
This modern recipe brings in rhubarb for that necessary sharpness and ginger for warmth and spice. If you’re not keen on rhubarb, Nigel Slater’s classic syllabub is also wonderful—and he has lots of tips for additional options. (I particularly like the idea of serving it with ginger marmalade. Mmmm.)
Finally—don’t forget to serve it with some really good, crunchy cookies. Gingersnaps are perfect.
I wish I could say that I’ve lovingly hand-reared my cow, grown my own lemons, forced my own rhubarb and spent years developing this recipe. Truth is, it was created by a popular British chef named James Martin, who specializes in desserts. Trust me, I’ve sampled my own cooking. Be grateful that I cheated here.
Martin also notes you can make a healthier version by swapping the cream with natural yogurt. But let us not dwell on that.
Recipe from Good Food magazine, April 2012
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
A rich dessert, sweet and tart with a slight bite of ginger, to pair with Antonia Hodgson’s THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA
14 ounces rhubarb (about 3 large stalks), cut into small cubes
1 thumb-sized piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1/3 cup white wine
½ cup mascarpone
1-1/4 cup heavy cream
¼ confectioners’ sugar
2 (2-inch) pieces crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Crunchy cookies, such as gingersnaps
- Combine the rhubarb, gingerroot, superfine sugar, and white wine in a pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 4–6 minutes until the rhubarb has softened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- In another bowl, whisk the mascarpone, cream, and confectioners’ sugar to soft peaks. Remove four tablespoons from the cooled rhubarb and mash with a fork. Fold mashed rhubarb into the cream mixture.
- Divide the rest of the rhubarb between four glasses, reserving a bit. Spoon the cream mixture over the rhubarb, then top with a few pieces of crystallized ginger and the rest of the rhubarb. Can be chilled for several hours before serving. Serve with gingersnaps or other crunchy cookies.