In the early 1900s, frozen desserts were the most stylish way to end a banquet or a dinner party, all year round.
Nesselrode pudding was a 19th-century frozen dessert created by French chefs to honor the Russian diplomat Karl Robert von Nesselrode, who negotiated the Treaty of Paris following the Crimean War. Nesselrode pudding became popular in the United States by the 1890s, where it was a favorite for winter banquets, including Christmas dinners. Dense with chestnuts and candied fruit and flavored with maraschino liqueur, Nesselrode sounds old-fashioned, but it tastes like rum raisin ice cream’s suave European cousin.
Nesselrode could cost a small fortune to make; even today the candied chestnuts aren’t cheap. Biscuit Tortoni was a more modest but still elegant alternative. Tortoni at its simplest was just whipped cream and crushed cookies. Frozen together, these two ingredients transform into something ethereal and lovely—an almond-scented cloud.
(adopted from the James Beard Foundation and the Fannie Farmer Boston Cooking School Book)
1 16 oz. jar candied chestnuts in syrup*
½ c. golden raisins
½ c. Zante currants
1/3 c. maraschino or rum (or substitute 1/3 c. syrup from the chestnuts)
5 egg yolks
¾ c. granulated sugar
2 c. half-and-half cream
¼ t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. cold heavy cream
Drain and crumble or coarsely chop the candied chestnuts. Combine the chestnuts, raisins, and currants in a small saucepan with the maraschino, rum, or Cognac; heat over medium heat just until steaming, then set aside to cool.
Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is thick and light yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the half and half and salt until almost boiling.
With the mixer running, slowly pour the hot half-and-half in a thin stream into the mixing bowl. Once everything is well combined, transfer the custard into a medium saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thicken enough to lightly coat a wooden spoon. Do not allow the custard to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Cool completely, then chill until cold. Stir in the chestnuts and raisins.
Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks, then add the vanilla. Stir a spoonful of the whipped cream into the cold custard, then fold in the remaining whipped cream. Spoon or pour the Nesselrode into a charlotte mold or 9 x 5 inch loaf pan that has been oiled or lined with plastic wrap. Cover the top with waxed paper and freeze 8 hours or overnight, stirring gently after a couple of hours to help keep some of the fruit from sinking to the bottom. Thaw slightly and slice to serve.
*Hazer Baba or Sera brand chestnuts in syrup from Turkey can be found at international grocers, or simmer 1 pound of shelled fresh or vacuum-packed chestnuts in a syrup made with 3 c. sugar, 2 c. water and a vanilla bean over low heat for about 30 minutes, until the chestnuts are soft.
Biscuit tortoni (serves 8)
Adopted from The Settlement Cookbook, 1903
2 cups heavy cream
1 c. crushed amaretti or flourless almond macaroons
1-2 T. confectioner’s sugar, or to taste
1 t. vanilla
toasted sliced almonds for garnish (optional)
Combine 1 cup of the heavy cream with ¾ cup of the macaroon crumbs and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well and allow to stand at least one hour. Whip the remaining cup of cream until soft peaks begin to form; fold in the sugar and vanilla. Stir a spoonful of the whipped cream into the macaroon mixture to lighten, then fold in the remaining whipped cream.
Arrange 8 paper baking cups on a tray or small cookie sheet; divide the tortoni mixture among the cups. Garnish with the remaining crumbs and sliced almonds, if desired.
Place on a tray in the freezer until solid, 2 to 3 hours. Soften in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before serving.