01 July 2014

The history of ornamental confectionery

These instructions on how "To make a Hedge Hog" are from 1817:
Take 1lb. Valentia almonds; blanch and beat them very fine, with a little rose water; mix in the yolks of six eggs; whisk up the whites of four eggs very stiff; mix all together, with half a pint of cream, and sweeten it with beat sugar to your taste; set the whole in a stew pan on a clear fire, and stir it till it is thick enough to model into the shape of a hedge hog; put a small currant for each eye, and stick it all over with cut almonds for the bristles of the hedge hog; then set it on a dish, and pour over it a rich custard.
They may have been reprinted from this 1747 source (hat tip to reader Sylvia).  The photo and recipe were included in an interesting article reviewing the history of ornamental confectionery.
This kind of novelty cake stretches back much further than I realised. I knew about the spectacular sugar sculptures and ices that would have featured in Grand Desserts, the final course of upper class formal dinners in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, but when I started browsing through our holdings of confectionery manuals I wasn’t prepared for the quirkiness of some of the dishes, combining dazzlingly difficult techniques with witty concepts.

The earliest book on confectionery in our rare book collections is the first edition of Mrs Mary Eales’s Receipts, printed in 1718.
More at the link, which I found in a newly-discovered blog: Echoes from the Vault - " a blog from the Special Collections of the University of St Andrews."  There must be an abundance of fascinating material there.


  1. Our local bakery (Ghent, Belgium) sells hedgehog-formed cakes, both in single-portion sizes and larger ones to share. I assume that the recipe comes from the same origin: spikes and center have a lot of almond too. Here, the pastry is covered in chocolat first, so it is brown and the spikes stand out more. Tastes great, by the way! :-)

    1. This page mentions an English cookbook from 1747 as the source for the hedgehog cake recipe. The book was reprinted in 1995.

    2. Good find. I've added the link to the post. Tx.

  2. Decorative food goes back quite far, though decorative meat was more common for much of that history.

  3. Very smooth and not oversweetened marzipan is a treat. Can be discovered in various animal and other shapes at your premium confectioner's. :)

    Cf. coconut Easter eggs--the confection from Hell.



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