Sunday, February 17, 2008


Ever since the first time I read Little Women, I've wondered what blancmange is. In an early scene in the story, Jo brings Laurie (her neighbor, whom she is curious to meet) a blancmange as an introductory gift (and 'medicine', as he is sick with a cold). I'm trying desperately to keep my thoughts about this book to myself until I finish and can write about it fully, but I do remember wondering very hard what this dish might be. I eventually found out that it's a molded pudding/jelly-type dessert, very simple and lightly sweet. I somehow got it in my head that it was strawberry-flavored although I don't quite know where I got that.

Today I was seized with a need to finally make it for myself. Apparently it is traditionally made with almond milk and gelatin -- I found a few different versions online and went with the simplest, as I didn't have almonds or gelatin or half-and-half or anything fancy in the house. I do want to make a rice-and-coconut-milk version I found, and chocolate blancmange sounds lovely too. But I went ahead with the quick-and-easy version, since this is what I imagined Meg gave Jo to carry over to Laurie's house back in the 1800s. I added a little cardamom, cinnamon, and almond extract.

3 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons granulated sugar or
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla , clear if possible
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate (optional)

Mix the cornstarch, sugar, and salt with 1/4 cup of cold milk. In a small pot, heat the remaining milk over low heat (Do not boil!). While whisking, slowly add the cold milk mixture to the heated milk, stirring constantly, in a heavy bottomed pan or a double boiler. Continue to cook over low heat, whisking constantly, for 15 minutes until the raw taste of the cornstarch disappears and it thickens. (Do not boil!). It will thicken all at once at the end of the cooking time. Let cool, then add the vanilla (and various flavorings). Cover and chill.

For Chocolate Blancmange, when you heat the milk, add 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate and stir until smooth.

So, what's it like? It's good. It's like a very light pudding, very simple and easy to eat. I'd like to have some small pretty molds to make it in, just for fun. I kind of love it. It's sort of like rice pudding, but without the rice. It would indeed be good with strawberries. And I think I'll have to make the chocolate version very soon. It would be much more photogenic if it had been molded into some beautiful shape.

As a side note, while researching the type of blancmange mentioned in the book, I came across this old article about Little Women. I liked reading someone else's perspective, but I have to disagree with her when she "urges the skeptical new reader to dismiss all its sentimental and foolish moralizing as mere conventions of the time" -- the moralizing and sentimentality is kind of why I'm in love with this book -- it was a guiding light when I was young and I was surprised to realize, reading it now 20 years later, how many of the lessons I've carried with me in some form or another. (and wouldn't I love to see the Alcott house and Concord in general??)

Oh, it is so hard not to go on about this book! I love it so much and I'm racing through it. If I'm good and finish tonight, I'll write about it tomorrow. I stayed up until 2:00 in the morning last night reading it.

1 comment:

D'Arcy said...

I have also always wondered what blancmange was. Blanc is French for white, and mange is French for eat, but I couldn't figure out what it might be from that. I read a book when I was a kid about a girl in the Depression whose family was on some kind of assistance, and she lost the "privilege" of having the free lunch at school because she complained about the blancmange. Now I know.