“You and I…muste walke to him and eate a solybubbe!” This is perhaps the first mention of Syllabub in literature, from John Heywood’s play Thersytes (ca. 1537). Suffice to say that Syllabub, sometimes a drink, sometimes a desssert, is a very very old recipe. It’s the sort of thing Old Fezziwig would serve at his holiday party in A Christmas Carol. It’s the sort of thing David Copperfield would serve at his bachelors’ dinner party, the party which resulted in the best description of being drunk in all of literature:
“Somebody was leaning out of my bedroom window, refreshing his forehead against the cool stone of the parapet, and feeling the air upon his face. It was myself. I was addressing myself as ‘Copperfield’, and saying, ‘Why did you try to smoke? You might have known you couldn’t do it.’ Now, somebody was unsteadily contemplating his features in the looking–glass. That was I too. I was very pale in the looking–glass; my eyes had a vacant appearance; and my hair—only my hair, nothing else—looked drunk…Owing to some confusion in the dark, the door was gone. I was feeling for it in the window–curtains, when Steerforth, laughing, took me by the arm and led me out. We went downstairs, one behind another. Near the bottom, somebody fell, and rolled down. Somebody else said it was Copperfield. I was angry at that false report, until, finding myself on my back in the passage, I began to think there might be some foundation for it.”
As with most old recipes, there are many variations, but at its simplest, syllabub combines cream and spirits. The version we’ve been drinking every Christmas since before I was probably old enough to drink tops sweetened red wine with whipped cream mixed with orange & lemon zest and juice and sherry.
These little butter cookies are based on this premise. The cookies themselves are made with orange & lemon curd and a little sherry. They’re iced with a red wine glaze. Their taste is unusual, but very good, very festive! A nice cookie to have in the afternoon with a glass of sherry, or after dinner with red wine.
For the lemon & orange curd. You’ll make more than you need for the cookies, but it’s nice to have some left over. (You can also use store-bought lemon curd and grate some orange zest into the dough to get the orange flavor).
3/4 cup sugar
4 T butter, cut into pieces
1/3 cup juice – 1/2 orange, 1/2 lemon
zest of one lemon and one orange
1 T sherry.
Whisk everything together and put it in the top of a double boiler (or in a small saucepan over a larger saucepan with water in it). Turn the heat to medium and stir and stir until everything is melted and blended. It should take about 15 minutes for the curd to thicken. Be careful not to let it boil or the eggs will cook and it will curdle. It will continue to thicken when it’s off the heat.
For the cookies…
1 stick softened unsalted butter (1/2 cup)
1 cup icing sugar
1 T sherry
2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
1 cup lemon & orange curd
2 T heavy cream (this isn’t necessary, but it does add a nice richness)
Cream the butter. Add the icing sugar and the sherry. Add the flour and salt and mix well. Pour in the curd and cream and mix even more well. You should have a nice stiff dough. Soft, but workable. It’s quite sticky, but you should be able to roll it into little one inch balls.
Place these on a baking sheet, and cook them in a 350 degree preheated oven for about 15 minutes till they’re set and they’re starting to brown on the bottom. Put them on a drying rack to cool.
For the Glaze:
Mix 3/4 cup icing sugar with 2 T of red wine. You should have a glaze the consistency of elmer’s glue. Drizzle a spoonful on each cooled cookie. Leave to dry.