Tuesday 19 June 2012

Spanish Paps and Steeple Creams

Or The Wobbliest Jelly In The Universe

A 1655 piramidis cream garnished with pine nuts ('Pine Apple blown')

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries one of the most widely used food moulds was simply a conical wine glass. Early modern period English dishes like Spanish Paps, Pirimidis Creams and Steeple Creams were all moulded in ‘an old fashion drinking-Glasse’. When released from their glasses each little cream would pop out in the form of a miniature steeple, thus one of the popular names for this type of dish. Spanish Paps, so called because they were reminiscent of little breasts, were thickened with ground rice, while Pirimidis and Steeple Creams were a type of opaque white jelly rendered solid with various types of collagen. Hartshorn, isinglass, calves foot jelly, gum tragacanth, gum Arabic and even ivory shavings were all used to set them. One of the earliest printed recipes for this type of sweet was published in W.M.’s The Queen’s Closet Opened (London: 1655). As you can see it is a fairly complicated procedure.

To make Piramidis Cream

Take a quart of water, and six ounces of harts horn, and put it into a Bottle with Gum-dragon, and Gum-arabick, of each as much as a small Nut, put all this into the Bottle, which must be so big as will hold a pint more; for if it be full it will break; stop it very Close with a Cork, and tye a Cloth about it, put the Bottle into a pot of beef when it is boyling, and let it boyle three hours, then take as much Cream as there is Jelly, and halfe a pound of Almonds well beaten with Rose-water, so that you cannot discern what they be, mingle the Cream and the Almonds together, then strain it, and do so two or three times to get all you can out of the Almonds, then put jelly when it is cold into a silver Bason, and the Cream to it; sweeten it as you like, put in two or three grains of Musk and Amber-greece, set it over the fire, stirring it continually and skimming it, till it be seething hot, but let it not boyle, then put it into an old fashion drinking-Glasse, and let it stand till it is cold, and when you will use it, hold your Glass in a warm hand, and loosen it with a Knife, and whelm it into a Dish, and have in readinesse Pine Apple blown, and stick it all over, and serve it in with Cream or without as you please.

The kind of wine glass used to make these conical creams and opaque jellies
Some recipes published in the second half of the eighteenth century, like that of Elizabeth Raffald's 1769 receipt for Steeple Creams with Wine Sours, instruct us to turn the little set creams out of the conical glasses made specifically for jellies. Round about this time the Staffordshire potteries started producing specialist ceramic moulds in either salt glazed stoneware or creamware, which enabled the cook to turn out these creams in more sophisticated shapes than was possible with a wine or jelly glass. It was discovered that a conical jelly, though stable at the base possessed the ability to wobble in a most suggestive and amusing way. This was particularly the case if the mould was made in stepped form.

A medley of late eighteenth century creamware pyramid and steeple moulds by Wedgewood. The large one  in the middle is an early version of the kind of stepped steeple mould that was destined to become one of most popular of all English jelly moulds
Spode and Minton copied Wedgewood's idea and were still marketing this particular steeple mould in the early twentieth century
In my long career I have come across a large number of these moulds, both in the antique trade and in collections. The reason for their enduring popularity is easy to understand. They must have provided a great deal of hilarious amusement to generations of diners. Watch this brief video and you will immediately appreciate what I mean by this. The second sequence in the video shows an attempt to travel with a steeple cream on my lap as a car passenger. As you can see the journey rapidly ends in disaster as the jelly self-destructs as the car goes over over a speed bump. The third sequence shows the sensual contortions of a Solomon's Temple in Flummery, another wobbly creature which I have already dealt with in a previous post.

Not all occasions were suitable for cavorting wobbly jellies - sometimes something more elegant was required. In the 1780s Wedgewood started producing two part pyramid, obelisk and steeple moulds which had an inner core decorated with flowers and other ornamentation. Their outer moulds were filled with clear calves foot jelly, so that the decorations could be seen through a thin film of transparent jelly.

Some steeple jellies were stiffened with a ceramic core decorated with flowers. Very beautiful, but  rather stiff and not half as amusing
These lovely Wedgewood ceramic cores have been separated from their outer moulds 
Stiffness and wobbliness combined. When unmoulded this core jelly has a very wobbly top. If you have watched the video above, you will understand the mirth that must have greeted it when it was placed on the table
A 1790s Neale and Co. obelisk mould and decorated core in my collection. The obelisk has been coated with a thin layer of transparent jelly
As a postscript to all this, a few years ago I was visited by Patrick Furlong, the producer of Heston Blumenthal's first Feast television series made for Channel 4. This was about a month before they started filming. Heston had suggested to him that I came on board the series as an historical advisor. I gave Patrick lunch and for his pudding served him a steeple cream similar to the one in the video above. He filmed the very amusing way that it cavorted and wobbled on his camera and showed it to Heston, who was knocked out by it. As a result Heston and his team made a giant conical jelly in a large stainless steel mould in one of the programmes. It swung dangerously from side to side when it was brought to his guests' table, but it did not have anywhere near the remarkable sensitivity to movement of the original jelly that inspired it. You can see Heston's jelly perform on YouTube on the link below. Sorry Heston - my jelly is wobblier than your jelly!!


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Food Machinery

  2. what fun...do you have idea of the commercial value of old molds such as mine that appear to be in poor condition compared to your photo of similar...I suppose what I mean is are they easy to come by or rather rare?

    1. Hi Sue,

      Your moulds look pretty well used and rather stained - the sort of stains that are difficult to remove, though I find if you put them in a bucket of water that has had a generous quantity of biological detergent it sometimes helps to clean them up, but you need to leave them in for quite a few days. Worth trying, but it does not always work. As to value, ones in good condition of this particular design vary according to the manufactory. Early marked Wedgewood creamware examples can be worth quite a few hundred pounds, but these are very rare. I have seen many of these marked Spode or Minton - good quality clean ones can be between £40-80. I hope this helps. Ivan