Pistachio Cream

“Creams” were a popular 18th century dessert, similar to a custard or flummery. Nearly every 18th century cookbook I’ve seen contains at least a few recipes for different flavors of cream. This pistachio-flavored version comes from the cookbook of John Farley, who was the head cook at the London Tavern, a popular tavern and meeting place during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Mr. John Farley, 1785. The British Museum.

The City of London Tavern, Bishopsgate Street, 1809. The British Museum.

The London Tavern was evidently a fairly swanky joint. Writing in 1899 (after it had been demolished), Edward Callow described it fondly: “The London Tavern was par excellence the City temple of gastronomy, where a man hardly dared to say ‘he had had his dinner,’ but with unctuous respect would tell you ‘he had dined’…had anyone entered those respectable portals in Bishopsgate Street and asked for a chop or steak, the hall porter, if he survived the shock and recovered his power of speech, would have directed him to Joe’s or Simpson’s.”

Pistachio Cream, however, was apparently fancy enough to be served there and to be included in John Farley’s book.

Pistachio Cream:

  • 5 oz pistachio kernels, plus extra for sprinkling on top
  • 1 tbsp brandy
  • 1 pint cream
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar, to taste
  • spinach juice (optional, see note below)
  1. Put the pistachio kernels in a food processor or blender and grind them into a fine powder.
  2. Combine the ground pistachios, cream, egg yolks, brandy, and sugar together, and gently heat in a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed over a saucepan of boiling water.
  3. Stir gently until the mixture thickens, about 15 – 20 minutes.
  4. Stir in spinach juice, if desired (I used about 4 teaspoons).
  5. Pour the mixture into your serving dishes. Refrigerate until the custard is set, about 4 hours. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios to serve.
Ground pistachios.
The custard mixture, just before it was taken off the stove.
Spinach juice!

Although I primarily followed John Farley’s recipe, I also took some suggestions from a similar pistachio cream recipe from Hannah Glasse. She says to add sugar, which is not mentioned in Farley’s recipe (but I would highly recommend it). She also suggests coloring the pistachio cream with spinach juice if it is not green enough. Although my pistachio cream was actually fairly green on its own, I decided to give spinach juice a try.

I made my spinach juice by putting a handful of spinach and a little bit of water into a blender, blending it until smooth, and then straining it. I poured one cream out without spinach juice for comparison, then added 4 tsp of spinach juice to the rest of the mix. In the photo below, the glass on the right is plain pistachio cream and the glass on the left contains added spinach juice. The colors are fairly similar, but you can see that the natural pistachio color is a little yellower, and the spinach juice gives it a slightly brighter green.

Tasting notes:

The pistachio cream has a very soft, pudding-like texture. There is a slight graininess from the ground pistachios; if you wanted to get a smoother custard you could strain it before pouring it out. However, none of the cream recipes I’ve seen mention straining, so maybe the texture is supposed to be like that. Plus, there are extra chopped pistachios on top anyway, so there will be a little crunch.

The pistachio flavor was really lovely, and luckily even the ones with spinach juice didn’t taste like spinach. There’s just enough in there to give them the color without the flavor. The custard was very rich. I used coupe glasses for mine, but even smaller portions might work better. This is definitely a very decadent dessert, fit for a swanky “temple of gastronomy.”

References:

Callow, E. (1899). Old London taverns: Historical, descriptive and reminiscent, with some account of the coffee houses, clubs, etc. London: Downey & Co. https://archive.org/details/cu31924000630602/page/n99/mode/2up?view=theater

Farley, J. (1792). The London art of cookery. London: J. Scatcherd and J. Whitaker. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_London_Art_of_Cookery/PNUqAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0

Glasse, H. (1760). The complete confectioner: Or, the whole art of confectionary made plain and easy. London. https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Compleat_Confectioner_Or_The_Whole_A/5UanCwPCF2gC?hl=en&gbpv=0

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