Nineteenth century Philadelphia restaurateur James Parkinson was the master at inventing delicious, eye-catching frozen concoctions. For his famous Thousand Dollar Dinner in 1851, he pulled out every stop, creating a luxurious, rejuvenating sorbet using an extremely rare and expensive Hungarian Tokaji wine, which he served during the coup du milieu, or mid-point of the meal.
But perhaps Parkinson’s best-known signature creation was Champagne frappe à la glacé, a frothy drink made with the French sparkling wine, which literally translated means “Champagne hits the ice”. He chose to feature this popular treat during the “Ice Creams and Water Ices” course at the Thousand Dollar Dinner. Champagne frappe à la glacé was so revered that Philadelphians raved about it. As one local newspaper reported in 1850, "Parkinson, the great Confectioner of South Eighth Street, has added a new "ice" to his list of luxuries; Champagne frappe à la glacé, which is so popular that several have already attempted to wrest its undoubted invention from him.”
He apparently kept this recipe such a secret that I was unable to find a copy of it. However, it was so intriguing that I wanted to try to duplicate the taste and consistency as best I could. Champagne frappe is basically half frozen champagne, and à la glacé means “with ice,” so my take on the recipe was to serve semi-frozen Champagne over Champagne-flavored water ice.
Since alcohol has a much lower freezing point than water, it is rather difficult to freeze. But I attempted the instructions as advised in the 1889 cookbook Practical Cooking and Dinner Giving by Mary Foote Henderson: “The ice should be pounded quite fine, then an equal amount of salt mixed with it. A quart bottle of Champagne well surrounded by this mixture should be frozen in two hours, or rather frozen to the degree when it may be poured from the bottle.”
For champagne-flavored water ice, there were actually quite a few nineteenth century recipes to choose from. I ended up combining elements of a few different ones to create my version of the icy treat, freezing it in my ice-cream maker, but any clean, tinned copper or stainless steel container will work.
TIP: This recipe can take quite a while to freeze, so I do recommend starting it at least a day before you wish to serve it.
Champagne Frappe à la Glacé
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- Three lemons
- 2 bottles Champagne (can substitute Prosecco or Cava)
- Crushed ice
- Ice cream salt
- Mint sprigs for garnish (optional)
- Place bowl of an ice cream maker or a medium sized tinned or steel bowl in the freezer for at least eight hours, until sufficiently chilled.
- Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bringing to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer without stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool completely.
- Using a very fine zester (like a microplane), remove just the outside brightly colored part of the peel (not the white pith which is bitter) of the three lemons into a bowl. Then add the juice from the three lemons, straining out any seeds and pulp.
- Take the ice cream maker or tinned bowl out of the freezer. Add lemon juice and zest to the bowl and then slowly pour in the bottle of champagne. Add sugar syrup to taste – you can refrigerate any syrup left over for another use. Stir well to combine.
- If using an ice cream maker, mix as per the manufacturer’s instructions. When done, return to freezer until ready to use. If using a tinned bowl, transfer to the freezer and freeze for several hours, checking periodically and stirring if necessary.
7. When ready to serve, spoon a scoop of water ice into each Champagne flute and pour the semi-frozen Champagne over. Garnish with a sprig of fresh mint if desired.
What a pretty, refreshing drink! The Champagne's effervescent bubbles were a nice contrast to the water ice (a pleasant mix of sweet and sour which would be lovely all on its own). My taste testers all raved about its delicious, unique taste and icy consistency– a perfect summer cocktail. Parkinson knew what he was doing!