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. 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
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 cups water
- Zest and juice from three lemons
- 2 bottles champagne
- Place bowl of ice cream maker or other tinned or steel bowl in freezer overnight or at least eight hours, until sufficiently chilled.
- Make a simple syrup by combining the sugar and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer without stirring until the sugar dissolves, about 3 to 5 minutes. Cool completely.
- Take the bowl out of the freezer. Pour lemon juice and zest into bowl and then add a bottle of champagne. Add sugar syrup to taste – I recommend starting with just a cup and adding more if needed. (I did not want mine too sweet so I ended up using about half the syrup and refrigerating the rest for another time).
- Mix using an ice cream maker as per the manufacturers instructions. When done, return to freezer until ready to use. If using tinned bowl, transfer to the freezer and freeze for several hours, checking periodically and stirring the mix if necessary.
6. When ready to serve, spoon a scoop of water ice into Champagne flutes and pour the semi-frozen Champagne over.
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!