Syllabubs Three Ways

Frothy with cream, wine and citrus, syllabubs are a great palate cleanser. The acids firm the cream, and once separation is achieved, you have a nice two-part dessert blend. Just one never seems quite enough.

The syllabub is a popular 18th century dessert consisting of cream treated with an acid, usually citrus juice, and mixed with wine. The different types of syllabubs are based upon their mixing style. Once placed in serving glasses, syllabubs separate into a two-part mixture when the cream rises and the clear liquids sink. When served on glass pyramids or salvers, they became the centerpiece of the dessert table. Although no refrigeration existed in the 18th century, 21st-century people are accustomed to dairy products served cold, so once made, place them in the refrigerator for storage. The surface of the cream is easily marred, so a small garnish of mint leaves, lemon slices or candied violets can cover any imperfections. There are three syllabub recipes here. The first two are shown on the video for instruction.

To Make Very Fine Syllabubs

18th Century

Take a quart and a half a pint of cream, a pint of Rhenish, half a pint of sack, three lemons, near a pound of double refined sugar; beat and sift the sugar, and put it to your cream; grate off the rind of your three lemons, and put that in; squeeze the juice of the three lemons into your wine and put that to your cream, then beat altogether with a whisk just half an hour; then take it up altogether with a spoon and fill your glasses; it will keep good nine or ten days, and is best three or four days old; these are called the everlasting Syllabubs.

—Smith, Eliza, “The Complete Housewife,” 1753.

21st Century

  • 3 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup white wine (Rhine Wine or a Chablis)
  • ½ cup Golden Sherry
  • 1 ½ lemons (juice and peel)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup sugar
  1. In a large mixing bowl, grate the lemon peel and juice the lemons.
  2. Add the wine and sherry to the lemons, then add sugar and whisk until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add the cream all at once and whisk until it is light and frothy or to a peaking consistency.
  4. Gently fill your glasses. The mixture will separate in about two to three hours at room temperature. Once separated, they can be put into the refrigerator until consumed. If they go directly into the refrigerator, they will take six to eight hours to separate.

Note: These are the syllabubs most often seen when visiting us at the Governor’s Palace Kitchen. For something different, place a tablespoon or so of red wine in your glasses before spooning on the cream mixture. Once the separation occurs, you will have a blush liquid on the bottom that will contrast with the white cream on top.

To Make Whipt Syllabubs

18th Century

Take a quart of thick cream, and half a pint of sack, the juice of two Seville oranges or lemons, grate the peel of the two lemons, half a pound of double refined sugar, pour it into a broad earthen pan, and whisk it well; but first sweeten some red wine or sack, and fill your glasses as full as you choose, then as the froth rises take it off with a spoon, and lay it on sieve to drain; then lay it carefully into your glasses till they are as full as they will hold: do not make these long before you use them. Many use cyder sweetened, or any wine you please, or lemon or orange whey made thus: squeeze the juice of a lemon, or orange into a quarter of a pint of milk, when the curd is hard, pour the whey clear off, and sweeten it to your palate; you may color some with the juice of spinage, some with saffron, and some with cochineal just as you fancy.

-Glasse, Hannah. “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy,” 1796.

21st Century

  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup of Golden Sherry
  • 1 lemon (juice and peel)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Red wine, sweetened if necessary
  1. In a large mixing bowl, grate the peel and juice the lemon. Add sherry, sugar and cream.
  2. Whip this mixture with a whisk until soft to firm peaks form.
  3. Dollop the whipped mixture into a sieve, screen, or strainer over a bowl, and allow to set for two hours.
  4. Fill your glasses three fourths full with the drained wine/juice mixture or the sweetened red wine.
  5. Gently spoon the mounds of strained cream on the glasses to top them off.

To Make Solid Syllabubs

18th Century

One pint of cream, half a pint of wine, the juice and grated peel of one lemon, sweetened to your taste; put it in a wide mouthed bottle, shake it for ten minutes, then pour it into your glasses. It must be made the evening before it is to be used.

-Rutledge, Sarah. “The Carolina Housewife,” 1847.

21st Century

  • 2 cups of heavy whipping cream
  • 2 cups of apple juice
  • The rind and juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  1. Grate the lemon peel, juice the lemon, measure the cream and the apple juice. Place all in a large plastic container with a screw top. Insure the top is on firmly and does not leak.
  2. Pick up the container and shake until the sound changes from sloshing to muffled.
  3. Open the container and taste for sweetness. Depending on the taste and varieties of apple juice, little or no sugar may be added.
  4. Fill your glasses and let them sit until separated. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Note: This non-alcoholic recipe is great for kids to help with in the kitchen.

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23 Responses to “Syllabubs Three Ways”

  1. May 31st, 2013

    Christine Hansley says:

    Hi Foodways Crew,
    Please explain what Rhenish and sack were and what would be the equivalent today? I see the receipts are using Golden Sherry (is this a band name or a generic name?) and various wines. I don’t drink sherry or cognac (I know Hennessy Cognac because of the Doolittle Raiders) often enough to have knowledge of these.

    The non-alcoholic version could also be made with cranberry juice or other fruit juices. Not sure though if using the lemon rind and juice would work with other fruit juices?? I had a cranberry syllabub at King’s Arms several years ago. It was tasty and refreshing.

    As always, thanks for sharing your knowledge so generously with those of us far from CW in body but not in spirit.

    Have a great weekend,

    • June 3rd, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      Hello, Chris.
      Rhenish is the older term for White Rhine Wine and Sack is sherry. We use a Golden Sherry, which is a type not a brand name. As for using other citrus juices, it can be done but remember your cream will be the color of the citrus juice. They can also have a different effect on the cream, it might curdle quicker than that of other types of juices. Feel free to experiment.
      Dennis Cotner

      • June 4th, 2013

        Christine Hansley says:

        Hi Dennis,

        Thanks for the info.

        Have a good week,


  2. June 3rd, 2013

    Allison says:

    What are the approximate number of servings for each recipe?

    • June 10th, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      It really depends on the size glasses you use Allison.

      The ones shown are 4 oz. shrub or wine glasses and it should give you at least 8 of this size, less if the glasses are larger. Hope you enjoy them.

      Dennis Cotner

  3. June 7th, 2013

    Alan Welch (15) says:

    I loved cooking this recipe and my grandparents loved eating it.

  4. June 7th, 2013

    I have made the everlasting version of syllabub several times for special events at the David Bradford House. They always pique the interest of our visitors! So many of them request the recipe, that I’ve started bringing printed copies to hand out on the occasions that I prepare it. I was inspired to try my hand at making this by seeing it done in the Governor’s Palace kitchen. Many thanks to the Historic Foodways staff!

  5. June 12th, 2013

    Jenny-Rose says:

    So it is period correct to allow the syllabub to separate? Or is it okay it eat it all blended together?

  6. June 12th, 2013

    Heidi says:

    Thank you for another wonderful colonial food history video lesson!
    I bought a syllabub packet when I was last in Williamsburg this May, and so it helps to watch them prepare it!
    I can’t wait to try it out with friends…..


  7. July 9th, 2013

    Pamela Graybeal says:

    I made the Very Fine Syllabub this weekend. I was whisking away with things progressing slowly. I went back and looked at the original recipe which stated “beat together with a whisk just half an hour.” Realistically, I could not envision myself whisking for that time and, I am ashamed to say, at that point my electric hand mixer came out. The result was excellent, however, and I will make it again for special occasions! Maybe I can enlist family members to whisk! Williamsburg’s historical recipe website is a winner!

  8. August 22nd, 2013

    Lisa Hrinko says:

    Dan and I have made syllabubs on several occasions for period dinners and they have always been well received. They are light, refreshing, and an excellent choice for a hot summer snack. They store well in the fridge for several days covered with plastic wrap. It helps to use a piping bag to place them in the glasses with little to no mess or fuss.

  9. October 19th, 2013

    Colleen Danyluk says:

    Is there a substitute for the alcohol if someone can not drink alcohol?

    • October 23rd, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      A great substitute is sparkling cider!
      Thanks for the question.
      Melissa Blank
      Historic Foodways

  10. October 23rd, 2013

    Colleen Danyluk says:

    Do you use the same amount of sparkling cider as you would for alcohol? By the way, thank you!!!!

    • October 25th, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      Yes it would be the same amount for either wine or cider!

      Glad we could help! Enjoy!

  11. January 8th, 2014

    Jane says:

    Was lemon obtainable in the 18th century in North Carolina?

    • January 13th, 2014

      Historic Foodways says:

      Yes. Lemons are coming from our other sister colonies to the south: the Caribbean. It was more a question of could someone afford the cost of the lemon. Of the citrus fruits, it was one of the more affordable.
      Melissa Blank
      Historic Foodways

  12. November 27th, 2014

    Lonne Heath says:

    Syllabub is a tradition in my husband’s in Cove City, NC. For the Wine, they used local scuppanong wine. Lemons were not used so maybe these humble farmers could not aford them. Once it was whipped not one was patient enough to allow it to separate and it was spooned into cups or over homemade pound cake. We making a batch today in memory of this past generation.

  13. September 7th, 2015

    Steve McFarland says:

    My wife and I are hosting an 18th century food, and fun fair in October. We are seeking “family friendly” beverages, games, and reciepes for the event. What would you suggest? We have access to some period teas, and coffees, but want to expand the taste buds and historical knowledge of our guests.
    So far we have the following: Boston Baked beans, Anadama bread, Williamsburg sugar cookies, Dutch cabbage, Pecan Pie, and French Onion soup.Considering Virginia ham, and some sort of beef dish. Suggestions?
    We will need to establish an order of serving the items as well. We are aware there was a preferred order of serving unlike todays style.
    Thank you and keep up the great work. Williamsburg is one of our favorite spots to visit.
    Steve & Roxann McFarland

  14. January 1st, 2017

    Myra says:

    I am 76 years old and have the happiest childhood memories of my Grandmother’s syllabub.It was always served after Sunday lunch as dessert. Can you think of any reason why it should have tasted so good? I cannot believe that a Victorian Granny would have served her grandchild an alcoholic dessert!
    I shall be very interested in your reply as I would like to replicate her dish if it were at all possible.
    Many thanks,
    Myra Grimes

  15. February 12th, 2017

    Malyson Haight says:

    For a party, I made some with white wine and some with red and they came out perfectly. One of my favorite early recipes.

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