Bavarians, a forgotten food.

01b0c4b204fdf5cf108d2d81255100f3a7da37a43fI wasn’t a picky kid, I would eat pretty much everything, except liver (yes, I tried it) and peas either from a can or frozen, both of these foods revolted me, liver tasted like pee and peas were mushy and green like baby poop. But my palette was never challenged growing up, we ate the same things, meal after meal. But when given a choice as to what I wanted to eat, it would have been something like the Chocolate Bavarian Cream (Gourmet magazine circa 1965?), so obviously Continental, and exotic like a James Bond film. I was never hungry as a child, there was always lots of food in the house, hearty solid food; Canadian food without any pretense or hint of fashion, boiled potatoes, fried bologna, beef stew, cottage roll and perogies were staple supper fare. There was always a towering plate of sliced white bread that had come from a crinkly package in the middle of the table, and then pudding, pie or canned fruit for dessert and, a pot of hot Red Rose tea on the side.  A Bavarian would have been considered too good for us, too fancy, and too intimidating. When I would see pictures of food like this, usually in an old magazine at a doctors office, I would beg my grandmother to make me “one.” And she’d always say the same thing, “well, maybe one day when I have the time.” She never had the time, my Nan, like her sisters married men who rarely made good decisions when it came to money, so all the women worked, they had to. My grandmother may have tried to indulge my whims, but we never bought real whipping cream “too dear,” and we certainly did not own a five cup mold in the shape of a turret, a mountain or anything else.

Bavarians and other desserts that could be moulded and shaped in ornate and delicate ways became the fashion and the trend in the late Georgian period due to the original celebrity chef Antoine Careme. Chef to Napoleon Bonaparte, the Czar of Russia and for a brief period 1816 to 1817, the prince regent of England. Using hand wrought copper moulds and spun sugar, Careme created elaborate, whimsical yet edible desserts. He published three influential cookbooks during his life. But more importantly, due to his celebrity status, French food became the “in thing” among the wealthy and bored, especially in England and the United States. And like all fashions and trends, eventually it all filtered down to the rest of us.

Bavarians were elaborate desserts as they contained gelatin and gelatin had to be made, either from a rendering down calves feet or from “the swimming-bladders of certain fish, chiefly, the sturgeon,” according to Mrs Beeton. Unless the household had a full time staff due to the laborious nature of procuring it, gelatin based desserts were only consumed by the wealthy. However, with the invention of factory made gelatin in the mid 1800’s middle class women with mother in laws to impress and upper class women who were still able to afford a cook could now make the sort of food that before only the very wealthy were able to eat. A sort of democratization of the dessert course. In the early 20th century Bavarians were still a popular dessert for special occasions, but then depression hits and fussy cream based moulded desserts become a luxury. The 1940’s brought war rationing and fancy desserts start to disappear from a housewives repertoire. There’s a brief revival in the 1960’s due to the influence of Julia Child, Graham Kerr and other TV chefs, but now, moulded desserts have disappeared from our tables.

But why? Maybe it’s the mould? Very few of us, including me own fancy hand-made copper moulds, so I used a bowl instead. Could it be the name, it needs be changed, a rebranding for the 21st. century, but what to call it…? It’s not hard to make, especially the vanilla Bavarian, ten minutes prep time, then into the fridge for a couple of hours. I’ll admit that it’s not too interesting to look at once unmoulded onto a plate from a simple bowl, but then you could dress it up. I used fresh raspberries as they’re still in season, but in the fall I could serve it with a warm compote of caramelized apples and pears, and even into the winter I could make a stewed compote of dried fruit. Or drizzle it with a warm caramel sauce. There are options, and this dessert needs to make a comeback. I’m going for it, I’m going to track down a mould just like the one in the picture, and next pot luck, I’m bringing the Creme Bavaroise au chocolat. Call me crazy, but I think I’m on to something.

In the mean time, I’m offering a recipe from the Purity Cook Book, The Complete Guide to Canadian Cooking (1970ish) for a Vanilla Bavarian Cream. It’s good, soft in your mouth like a marshmallow but not sticky or cloying,with a slight hint of vanilla,it’s not too sweet and easy to make and a perfect dessert with seasonal fruit after a heavy, solid Canadian supper.


Vanilla Bavarian Cream (as written in the Purity cookbook)
1 envelope gelatine
1/4 cup of cold water
Dissolve over boiling water.
Scald together
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Stir a little of the hot mixture into
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Return to remaining hot milk. Cook. stirring constantly, about 1 minute.
Stir in dissolved gelatin.
Remove from heat and blend in
1 teaspoon vanilla
Chill until very slightly thickened (45 minutes)
Fold in
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Turn into a (greased) 5-cup mold (bowl). Chill until set
(about 2 hours). Unmould.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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