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To Amanda Hesser’s list of foods whose names alone command that you make them, I add this quirky dessert. Syllabub! Every time in the past two weeks I’ve called it by name, it’s been met with total crack-up laughter. Don’t you want to make it too, just to be able to say you whipped something up and it’s called Syllabub? Ha.

Now that I’ve made it, I can tell you the name shouldn’t be your only motivation for giving Syllabub a whirl. I came across the recipe in an old issue of Saveur (1996, maybe?) that I was reading last weekend at a friend’s lake house in Wisconsin. The picture caught my eye: a big, heavy-bottomed glass was filled to the brim with what looked like vanilla custard, topped with a bit of lemon zest and a sprig of rosemary. Intrigued, I read the piece: turns out, syllabub is basically whipping cream combined with sherry and some flavorings. Something about the alcohol or the acid of the lemon juice (or maybe both) thicken the cream without much whipping — it’s very bizarre! — so very little, if any, work is necessary.

There’s a great little anecdote in the Saveur piece about how people used to milk their cows into a bowl with some wine in it, which had the fascinating effect of thickening the cream on top while letting the whey sink to the bottom. I don’t have any cows to milk, but I knew instantly that I had to make this dessert — if only to see cream whip itself.

The result is both fascinating, and quite tasty. The sherry is joined by lemon zest, sugar, a bit of cognac, and a whisper of vanilla; they mingle overnight (or for five minutes, if you’re me), and cream is added. Et voila, the perfect end to your meal. I could see layering some berries or berry sauce in between layers of the syllabub, as the cream on its own is quite rich. In terms of alcohol, don’t feel bound to use sherry; I also used brandy (not just the 2 tablespoons called for, but in place of the sherry as well) and, while the final product is definitely different, it’s equally tasty.

adapted from Saveur

1⁄3 cup superfine sugar
1⁄4 cup oloroso or other sherry
2 tbsp. cognac or other brandy
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon, reserve a small
amount for garnish
1 3⁄4 cups plus 2 tbsp. cold heavy
cream (preferably unhomogenized)
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 sprigs of rosemary
1. Put sugar, sherry, cognac, lemon juice, and zest into a large bowl. Stir well, then cover and let sit out at room temperature overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
2. Add heavy cream and a pinch of nutmeg (just “a suspicion”, says Day-Lewis) to the sherry mixture and whip with a whisk until soft peaks form. Spoon into 4 glasses and garnish each with a bit of lemon zest and a sprig of rosemary.

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  • Patricia Scarpin January 18, 2010,

    Syllabubs remind me instantly of Nigella – yours look so creamy! Yum!

  • Trinity January 18, 2010,

    That looks so delicious. I’m going to try it and see if the self-whipping trick works with soy cream.

  • aeli January 18, 2010,

    i would recommend pairing this syllabub with a nice lemon-based tort/tarte/torte, naysayer’s aside 🙂

  • rivka January 18, 2010,

    Ignore that Aeli! It was all too bitter, the lemon lemon lemon (oh my!). Try it instead with a slice of toasted chocolate pound cake. That, my friends, was absolute perfection.