Cream through time
It is believed that cream originating from milk has existed since the early days of animal husbandry in the Palaeolithic Era. The Celts and the Vikings were fond of it. In the Middle Ages, cream appeared on dining tables next to vegetables and fresh cheeses. During this period, there was a greater tendency to combine ground almonds, hard-boiled eggs and breadcrumbs. Over the centuries, an appreciation of fat gave way to a taste for acids and there was interest later in its uses in the kitchen. In the 17th century, the famous royal chef Vatel developed Louis XIV’s appreciation for Chantilly cream, a taste that has been passed on to his descendants that live today. For members of the court as well as the populace, cream became an indulgence. In the following century, people ate cream in a frozen form. Le Procope is celebrated for its “Chantilly ice cream.” The images from Épinal of artisanal skimming processes at the dairy were made with industrialisation. Gone were the hours whiled away waiting for the cream to rise to the top of the milk so that it could be collected with a sieve. The 19th century saw the arrival of the centrifugal milk-cream separator, which used conical disks, by the Swedish inventor Gustaf de Laval.
Today, the modern centrifuge leaves less than 0.5g of fat per kilo of skimmed milk. Cream took its place among a bourgeoning middle-class culinary tradition, which was heavy on sauces, stuffing and desserts. The usage of cream became widespread in side dishes and in meat and poultry stuffing. But it was really the father of French cuisine, Antonin Carême, who established its use in cooking and pastry-making. He perfected decorative confectionary, sweets and charlottes that overflowed with flattering cream. His new sauces and famous potato recipes also made use of cream. In the most recent century, regional cuisines appropriated the ingredient to produce their own local specialties. Today, the usage of cream is based on a tendency to lighten recipes while maintaining a fullbodied, clean sense of indulgence.
Cream: a timeless ingredient
During the time of Rameses, cream was among the essential ingredients used for preparing meals served to the Pharaohs.
In 11th century France, cream became an ingredient in one of the oldest pastry recipes: the flan, described then as a “cream tart”. Later, in the 15th century, when being a pastry chef became recognised as a profession, “darioles” and “dauphins”, cream-based preparations, were added to their numerous specialities. This period was characterised by a strong preference for dairy products in France, but it was not until the 18th century that pastry-making achieved a real turning point. This is when pastry chefs started developing their creativity, inventing cakes with poetic names like “Puits d’Amour” (Well of Love) or “Jalousie” (Jealousy) as they fell head over heels in love with whipped cream, the star ingredient of the century. Antonin Carême made his mark on the 19th century with his technical skill and monumental cakes. The next big names were Jules Gouffé and Auguste Escoffier, before Gaston Le Nôtre became renowned in the mid-20th century for using cream in mousse, thus creating the modern dessert we know and love. Pastry chefs have pushed the boundaries of their creativity ever since, working to infuse the great classics of French pastry with a more modern spirit without forgetting the basics. A fantastic example is the Saint-Honoré cake that David Landriot made at the Mandarin Oriental in Paris.
Dessert through the ages
Sugar has been eaten since ancient times.
Though certain sweets like choux pastry and whipped cream were not fashionable then, the most unique sweet at that time was a pancake made of flour, oil and honey. These rustic treats punctuate this period like great rites of passage. Fortunately, humanity quickly developed a taste for cakes. By this time, Pline had mentioned that the pastries of his time included "eggs, milk or butter."
In the Middle Ages
Thin waffles that were either stuffed or rolled were all the rage. Gastelliers and cake-bakers even had transportable furnaces for the holidays. Fruit pies were the specialty of the "pasticiers-hachiers".
The Renaissance saw, among the other arts, theenrichment of pastry making. The first book to call for sugar in a recipe was the Pasticier François (1654). Profiteroles, meringues and mini mignardises were born in this prosperous period wherein nemies of The court were decimated by eating poisoned ginger bread. Italian confectioners excelled in cooked sugar art. At this time, society was also on its way to creating a sweet end to meals: the term dessert meant "to clear the table when the meal was over", but now refers to after-dinner sweets. The line between sweet and salty became clear. Butter, chocolate and coffee were introduced into pastries as reference materials and will never disappear again.
In the 17th century,
Vatel, the famous chef to the king, introduced sweets to the court. In Versailles, stacked centrepieces of sweets were the high point of Louis XIV's celebrations.
The country's sweet tooth remained through the 18th century
At this time, whipped Chantilly cream and ice-creams were very popular: at the famous Parisian restaurant Procope, where one could taste the two simultaneously. Cakes were inspired by the Lenôtre gardens, and flower essences such as violet, jasmine and rose were used in cooking. Caribbean sugar and vanilla spread like luxury products.
And then came the era of Carême
Marie- Antonin Carême elevated 19th pastries to a luxurious art: "There are five categories of fine arts", said Carême, "painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture - of which pastry is the main branch!
At the dawn of the 20th century,
professional pastry-making became an essential component of the culinary arts. Techniques and skills were sought abroad. The spread of refrigeration and electricity allowed for the development of large urban patisseries. Housewives and bakers also began to make cakes. Sunday cakes competed with ice-cream, which became the favourite of holidaymakers upon the implementation of paid leave.
Up until the sixties,
buttercream and other types of desserts were popular. Royal icing and marzipan were a hit as decorations.
After the sixties,
thick custard and rice pudding became the modern desserts of choice. The desire to cut calories led to the invention of lighter desserts. While people were listening to the Rolling Stones, they were also eating Bavarian creams, fruit mousses and Savoy sponge cake.
Contemporary pastries benefitted from shops and big brand names. New techniques allowed for less sugar and fat. In restaurants, the dessert cart gave way to more refined compositions. Young chefs invented cooked desserts by using techniques traditionally used for savoury dishes. Vegetables arrived around the time of coffee and the siphon did away with textures. Design was then applied to desserts: ways of eating and the meaning of taste were revolutionized.