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French Creams (and a little Candy History)

Q: Hi Laura and Nancy, Thanks for the lovely blog. Do you have a recipe for French Creams? For a short while we could get real French creams imported from Britain here (Toronto, Canada). Now the candies are more like corn candy shaped like French Creams.  Thanks Pat

Dear Pat,
You’re in luck, as Laura did turn up a recipe for French creams, and I found a bit of candy history that includes a nod to the French for their superior candy making skills. Did you know that India was amongst the first cultures to refine sugar-cane to sugar around 3000 B.C? The Persians and Arabs also excelled at candy making.  During the Middle ages when trade between Europe and the Arab world intensified, sugar and candy found their way to the ports of Europe. 

Columbus planted sugar cane in the Caribbean.  But of course the story of sugar and candy is deeply connected to slavery, and trade.  It’s a complex one. Sugar is also very much a story of class.  Sweetened and refined foods were once considered marks of civilization.  Sugar was scarce and candy scarcer for the Medieval rich who paid dearly for it and in fact, sugar remained a luxury until very recently as I’m sure you know.  Here’s a recipe for French creams from the White House Cook Book, 1887.  Please let us know if you try it.

i>FRENCH CREAM CANDY. Put four cupfuls of white sugar and one cupful of water into a bright tin pan on the range and let it boil without stirring for ten minutes. If it looks somewhat thick, test it by letting some drop from the spoon, and if it threads, remove the pan to the table. Take out a small spoonful, and rub it against the side of a cake bowl; if it becomes creamy, and will roll into a ball between the fingers, pour the whole into the bowl. When cool enough to bear your finger in it, take it in your lap, stir or beat it with a large spoon, or pudding-stick. It will soon begin to look like cream, and then grow stiffer until you find it necessary to take your hands and work it like bread dough. If it is not boiled enough to cream, set it back upon the range and let it remain one or two minutes, or as long as is necessary, taking care not to cook it too much. Add the flavoring as soon as it begins to cool. This is the foundation of all French creams. It can be made into rolls, and sliced off, or packed in plates and cut into small cubes, or made into any shape imitating French candies. A pretty form is made by coloring some of the cream pink, taking a piece about as large as a hazel nut, and crowding an almond meat half way into one side, till it looks like a bursting kernel. In working, should the cream get too cold, warm it. To be successful in making this cream, several points are to be remembered; when the boiled sugar is cool enough to beat, if it looks rough and has turned to sugar, it is because it has been boiled too much, or has been stirred. If, after it is beaten, it does not look like lard or thick cream, and is sandy or sugary instead, it is because you did not let it get cool enough before beating. It is not boiled enough if it does not harden so as to work like dough, and should not stick to the hands; in this case put it back into the pan with an ounce of hot water, and cook over just enough, by testing in water as above. After it is turned into the bowl to cool, it should look clear as jelly. Practice and patience will make perfect.

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