Syllabub Recipe – A Hamiltonian Cocktail

Disclosure: I may earn a commission from purchases you make through affiliate links in this post at no additional cost to you.

Syllabub is an English cocktail most popular from the 16th to 19th centuries. Syllabub has a frothed top made from milk whisked with sugar, cider, spices, and cream, and it tastes somewhat like eggnog. I think it’s even better.

looking down slightly at two syllabub cocktails on a silver tray

I am going to go out there and state that you should make syllabub because it is better than eggnog.

Here are five definitive reasons you should be making it:

  1. The recipe as it was originally written calls for a mix of hard cider, milk, cream, and nutmeg, sweetened with a little sugar. Syllabub tastes like a cross between an apple cream pie and eggnog. However, you can make syllabub with any alcohol – many people use wine with some lemon or a combination of wine and brandy. You have options, while you don’t really have any when you make eggnog.
  2. There are no eggs. While some syllabub recipes do call for eggs, they are by no means a requirement. Not having to deal with eggs while still achieving a frothy, boozy drink is a huge win.
  3. Alexander Hamilton would most likely have have been drinking syllabub. (See the whole story by my contributor, Jess Touchette, below.) If you are a musical and/or history buff or are serving one, this drink is a must!
  4. Syllabubs were traditionally served in their own special type of glassware. The glasses were wide at the top to hold the cream and narrower at the bottom (see Food History Jottings for a nice example). You can find the glassware at antique shops and give the recipe and a couple of glasses as a totally unique holiday gift. The glass that we used in the photo isn’t quite the right glass, but it works. Feel free to get a little creative.
  5. Syllabub is simply a fun word to say. (True, nog is a fun word to say, too, but it’s overplayed.)

Now that you fully comprehend how much I love this drink, let’s move on to special instructions and some information about the drink’s history courtesy of contributor Jess Touchette.

How to Make Syllabub

If you’d like to give this whippy (and tipsy) beverage a try, this post includes an adapted version of Amelia Simmons’ recipe for “fine syllabub.”

Some recipes call for wine and/or brandy; this one uses hard cider. Simmons instructs you to milk your cow directly into a tub of sweetened cyder to create the ultimate froth, but for those of you without a milk cow on hand, a whisk should work just as well.

Begin by adding sugar to cider and whisking until dissolved.

Stir in milk and nutmeg.

Here’s the frothing part: add cream and whisk until a thickened, foamy, creamy layer forms on top of the mixture.

a whisk coated in froth from making a syllabubReserve the creamy layer by spooning it into a small bowl and setting aside.

Pour the cider and cream mixture into serving glasses, filling them no more than 3/4 full.

Add a dollop of the reserved creamy layer to the top of each glass, sprinkle with nutmeg, and serve.

Stef grating nutmeg over a syllabub

Hamiltonian Food and Drink

With a hit Broadway musical bearing his name, Alexander Hamilton – America’s “ten-dollar founding father without a father” – is making a comeback. From his too-short childhood in his single mother’s Caribbean shop to his violent death in a duel with Aaron Burr, Hamilton managed to fit a whole lot of life into only 47 years.

He was (among other things) an orphan, a war hero, a father of eight, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, a failed presidential candidate, the primary writer of The Federalist Papers, and the founder of the U.S. Mint, and there are all sorts of questions that we could reasonably ask about his life. So, let’s go with what is clearly most pressing: what did the guy like to eat?

Unfortunately, it turns out that there is little-to-no concrete information about what Alexander Hamilton ate. Between his correspondence and his political writings, Hamilton left behind hundreds of pages of evidence about his life and his thoughts, but not one casual mention (at least that I could find) of the fabulous dish that his wife Eliza ordered for dinner the Wednesday before.

This certainly doesn’t stop us from speculating about what Hamilton may have eaten throughout his life. From records of his mother’s store in St. Croix, for example, we might gather that his diet in early childhood was simple but plentiful. The store carried salted fish and pork, beef, apples, butter, rice, and flour, and his mother kept her own milk goat.

A National Park Service report on the furnishings of the Grange (Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton’s home in Manhattan) implies that Hamilton’s adult diet was more refined. The report, which includes selected entries from his cash books, shows that he spent $15.75 on “Muffins” in February 1798, $500.00 on a silver tea and coffee set in March 1798, and, between 1798 and 1803, over $460.00 on wine and port. These expenditures imply that the Hamiltons were keeping up with the dining fashions of the well-to-do, but reveal very little beyond that.

Even the meal featured in “The Room Where it Happens” – scene of the legendary June 20, 1790 Dinner Table Bargain hammered out by Hamilton, James Madison, and host Thomas Jefferson – is a mystery.

In Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s, popular historian Charles A. Cerami goes so far as to lay out a possible menu for the evening, including only dishes known to have been served by Jefferson during his career. Yet while the dishes outlined in Cerami’s book are tantalizing (who wouldn’t marvel at vanilla ice cream encased in warm pastry?), there is no concrete evidence of what Hamilton ate even then, during what has arguably become the most talked-about (and romanticized) meal of his life.

Early American Cooking

Since Hamilton’s food preferences seem to have been well and truly lost to time, I decided to consult an early American cookbook and indulge in my own bit of speculation about what our founding father would have eaten. For this, I turned to the first cookbook published in America by an American author: Amelia Simmons’ 1796 American Cookery.

Simmons’ cookbook contains a guide to selecting produce, recipes for classic English dishes (such as roast beef and pound cake), and distinctly American recipes featuring ingredients indigenous to North America (such as cornmeal-based “Indian Pudding”). Her sizable selection of dessert recipes includes all of the usual suspects – puddings, cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, and preserves – but also a category for syllabubs.

This cocktail may have egg and can be served beaten smooth or whipped (as, essentially, whipped cream floating on alcohol). Similar in flavor to eggnog, though typified by a frothy rather than a smooth texture, the drink was all the rage in the 18th century.

It’s almost certain that Hamilton would have enjoyed this decadent drink, likely served cold in a globed glass to accentuate the separation of the alcohol from the cream.

The Original Syllabub Recipe

looking down at two syllabub cocktails on a silver traySimmons, Amelia. American Cookery: Or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake. Hartford: Printed by Hudson & Goodwin, 1796.

To make a fine Syllabub from the Cow.

Sweeten a quart of cyder with double refined sugar, grate nutmeg into it, then milk your cow directly into your liquor, when you have thus added what quantity of milk you think proper, pour half a pint or more, in proportion to the quantity of syllabub you make, of the sweetest cream you can get all over it. (p. 31)

Food and Dessert Pairings

Syllabub
If you’re serving syllabub around Christmas, traditional desserts go well with it – consider sugar plums or plum pudding.

For other times, or if you want to mingle the old and new, make double chocolate chip cookies, thumbprint cookies, or gingerbread cupcakes.

I also recommend you check out the Townsends YouTube channel for all manner of 18th century recipe ideas.

Did you make this recipe? Leave a review!

Syllabub Recipe

Syllabub is an English hard cider cocktail most popular from the 16th to 19th centuries.
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 10 minutes
Servings 6 servings
Calories 123kcal
Author Stefani

Ingredients

  • 1 cup hard cider
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar use more or less to taste
  • 1/4 cup whole milk room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup cream

Instructions

  • In a medium-sized bowl, add the sugar to the cider and whisk until dissolved.
  • Stir in milk and nutmeg.
  • Add cream and whisk until a thickened, foamy layer of cream forms on top of the mixture.
  • Spoon the layer of cream into a small bowl and set aside.
  • Pour the remaining cider/milk mixture into serving glasses, filling the glasses no more than three-quarters of the way full.
  • Top each glass with a dollop of the cream topping.
  • Sprinkle with nutmeg and serve.

Notes

adapted from Amelia Simmons’ Syllabub (1796)

Nutrition

Calories: 123kcal | Carbohydrates: 10g | Fat: 7g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 28mg | Sodium: 13mg | Potassium: 28mg | Sugar: 9g | Vitamin A: 310IU | Calcium: 24mg
Have you tried this recipe?Click here to leave a comment and rating!

Jessica Touchette

Jess Touchette is a special collections librarian living in St. Louis, Missouri. A food history enthusiast and an amateur baker, she enjoys poring over centuries-old recipes and attempting to bring them new life in a modern kitchen.
Syllabub Recipe - A Hamiltonian Cocktail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating




4 comments:

  1. Diane Wrightsays:

    5 stars
    I’m so glad I have discovered the syllabub! Can’t wait to make one in the spring, when my home made cider has aged and my goat is in milk. Have you tried it with goats milk??

  2. Mirandasays:

    I’ve never dried syllabub but now I need to try it! It sounds like something I would love!

  3. Serenasays:

    So, so fascinating – love historical recipes that actually work! I’m a retro glassware hoarder. But I need to find syllabub glasses now. I will definitely be serving this weekend…yay to no raw egg issues!

  4. Nancy Pollacksays:

    When are you making it? Sounds like one could happily drink more than one. > would certainly try

Show All Comments