Eggs Benedict – The Breakfast Food of Champions

I strongly believe that the greatest example of human advancement is breakfast foods. A controversial statement, I know. For those who would argue that advances in technology, infrastructure and medical research are more worthy candidates for this honour – I’m afraid that you’re terribly misguided and need to spend some serious time reflecting on your life.

So, why am I of this opinion? Think about it – sweet AND savoury flavours are socially accepted norms at the breakfast table. You simply cannot beat that.

I’d have to say that my favourite breakfast concoction is Eggs Benedict. Why? Because I’m not a commy bastard, that’s why.

As per usual, there are conflicting accounts of how this magically delicious meal came to be. Here’s a couple of the more interesting ones:

The earliest account of the Benedict comes from the 1860s.  Credit is given to Delmonico’s Restaurant – the first restaurant/dining hall to be opened in the United States.  A regular patron of the restaurant, Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, was bored with the menu and asked the chef,  Charles Ranhofer, whether there was anything new he could cook for her. He suggested poached eggs on toasted English muffins with a thin slice of ham, topped with hollandaise sauce and a truffle.

I wish being a demanding bitch resulted in getting a delicious breakfast dish named after me. I suppose having a name such as ‘LeGrand’ would help.

Ranhofer went onto include a recipe for Eggs Benedict in a cookbook that he published in 1894. He called it ‘Eggs à la Benedick’, and had by this time removed the truffle from the list of ingredients.

The Lovely Katie took a photo of the delicious looking Eggs Benedict she had over the weekend. As you may notice it includes spinach. I knew I wasn’t crazy…

1894 seems to be intimately intertwined with the history of the Benedict, because it’s from this year that my favourite account of its creation hails. This story first appeared in an issue of the New Yorker from 1942, and was based on an interview with one Lemuel Benedict, a retired Wall Street broker.

Mr. Benedict claimed that he was dining at the The Waldorf one morning whilst suffering from a particularly nasty hangover. In order to combat his ailment he ordered “some buttered toast, crisp bacon, two poached eggs, and a hooker of hollandaise sauce” The Waldorf’s chef, Oscar Tschirky, was so impressed with this invention that he put the dish on his breakfast and luncheon menus. Are you at all surprised that the Benedict may have started out as a therapeutic hangover cure? Me either.

Meanwhile, I’m going to personally crusade to bring back the term ‘hooker’ as a name for crockery and containers.

“Honey, can you put the gravy hooker on the table?”

So kids, I have a bit of a confession to make. After many years of eating Eggs Bennie, I have only recently discovered that traditional recipes do not include spinach, despite the fact that I always seem to get it in restaurants. As many of you are probably aware, spinach is in fact a substitute for the ham or bacon, which renders the dish as Eggs Florentine. Despite the error of my ways, I stand firmly by the belief that the Benedict is greatly enhanced by the inclusion of spinach, and not just because it makes me strong like Popeye.

My discovery (and subsequent food-knowledge shame) inspired me to look up other variations of Eggs Benedict – and good lord are there a lot of them.  Enjoy the long and fascinating list!

  • Eggs Blackstone – adds a tomato slice. OUTRAGEOUS.
  • Eggs Florentine – As discussed,  substitutes spinach for the ham.
  • Eggs Mornay – Surprise, surprise, it substitutes the Hollandaise with Mornay sauce.
  • Eggs Atlantic or Eggs Hemingway – Substitutes salmon  for the ham. This is a common variation found in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This variation can also be referred to as Eggs Royale or Eggs Montreal in New Zealand, and Eggs Benjamin in Canada. In Australia, I’ve only ever seen it referred to as  ‘Eggs Benedict with Salmon’. Yeah, we’re original like that.
  • Huevos Benedict – Substitutes either sliced avocado or chorizo for the ham, and is topped with both a salsa and hollandaise sauce.
  • Oeufs a la Benedictine – Replaces the ham with salted cod and the muffins with potatoes.
  • Eggs Hussarde – Substitutes Holland rusks (similar to melba toast) for the English muffin and adds Bordelaise sauce.
  • Eggs Sardou  – First served  in a New Orleans restaurant. Originally, it replaced the English muffin and ham with artichoke bottoms, topped with anchovy fillets.  On top of the egg and hollandaise sauce was a dollop of chopped ham and a slice of truffle. A more widespread version of the dish starts with a base of creamed spinach, substitutes artichoke bottoms for the English muffin, and eliminates the ham.
  • Artichoke Benedict – Replaces the English muffin with a hollowed artichoke.
  • Country Benedict – Replaces the English muffin, ham and hollandaise sauce with an American biscuit, sausage patties, and country gravy. The poached eggs are replaced with fried. This is also sometimes called Eggs Beauregard.
  • Irish Benedict –  Replaces the ham with corned beef.
  • Eggs à la Commodore – Poached eggs and béchamel sauce over pâté de foie gras purée spread on grilled buttered toast circles.
  • Portobello Benedict – Substitutes Portobello mushrooms for the ham. This is a popular alternative for Catholics observing the Friday Fast.
  • Eggs John Scott – Replaces the Hollandaise sauce with HP Sauce.
  • Eggs Maryland – Replaces the ham with crab cakes.
  • Waldorf Style Eggs – Replaces the English muffin with toast and is served with poached eggs, sautéed mushrooms and mushroom sauce.
  • Oscar Benedict – Replaces the ham with asparagus and crab meat. Also known as Eggs Oscar.
  • Eggs Billy – Replaces the English muffin with a lightly toasted buttermilk biscuit and the poached egg with fried.
  • Eggs Provençal – Replaces the Hollandaise sauce with Béarnaise Sauce.
  • Russian Easter Benedict –  Replaces the Hollandaise sauce with a lemon juice and mustard flavored Béchamel Sauce, and is topped with black caviar.

I’m willing to bet that there are an abundance of other variations out there. Do share if you have stumbled across any others!

The Wedding Cake: A History

Over the weekend I had the pleasure of attending the wedding of a couple of close friends from highschool. It got me thinking about wedding traditions, particularly the wedding cake. I thought that it would be interesting to explore the its origin, and how it has developed throughout history.

The original concept for the wedding cake can be found in the ancient Roman Empire. Unlike the sweet and heavily iced cakes of the 21st century, these were made of whole wheat flour. Although the preparation and decoration of the cakes was vastly different at this time, it still enjoyed the same attention and focus.

There are some curious wedding cake customs that are now long forgotten. Let’s just say that they are somewhat more eccentric than merely witnessing the newly weds cut the cake together…

For example, the aforementioned ancient bread cake was broken into small pieces over the bride’s head. Upon completing this ritual, guests would eat the pieces, as it was considered it to be a good omen. Can I just say that nobody better try this on my wedding day. I’m not getting up at 5am for styling just to have it turned into bread-hair.

From Medieval England, there are accounts of a custom that involved placing large amounts of sweet buns in front of the newly weds who would then attempt to kiss over the pile. If they were successful, it was considered as a sign that the couple would bear many children. This obsession with child-bearing also explains why fruit cake eventually became traditional at weddings – they were a sign of fertility and prosperity.

Always Impressive – The Croquembouche

Interestingly, the tradition of the sweet bun pile also unwittingly gave birth to a famous delicacy. It is said that a French pastry chef witnessed this custom in England and was inspired thusly to create the Croquembouche – a French wedding cake made out of a tower of profiteroles, topped with a halo of spun sugar. It was to become the signiature French wedding cake…as well as an elimination challenge in every season of Master Chef.

Around late 17th century, the wedding cake came to be known as the bride’s pie. Generally, they were mince pies made from sugary sweet breads. Every wedding guest was expected to eat a piece as it was considered both rude as well as extremely bad luck not to do so. A glass ring was hidden inside the pie, and it was believed that the female guest who found it would be the next one to be wed. This is of course reminiscent of the modern tradition of catching the bouquet.

Another interesting tradition from the 17th century was keeping a piece of cake under an unwed girl’s pillow. The custom was to break the cake into tiny pieces, which then were passed through the bride’s wedding ring. These pieces were then offered to the female guests to be placed under their pillows. By following this ritual, it was believed that they would dream of their future husband.

The 17th century also gave birth to the tradition of having two cakes – the bride’s and the groom’s. Personally, I was under the impression that this was a relatively new concept that allowed modern grooms to have a cake that wasn’t horrifyingly girly. Alas, it’s origins can be found in history.

A somewhat more…modern wedding cake.

Traditionally, the groom’s cake was a dark coloured fruit cake and was quite small in size. Comparatively, the bride’s was a simple, but large pound cake with white icing, which was used to symbolize virginity and purity.

It was during the 19th century that the groom’s cake began to disappear, as the bride’s was becoming more popular. This was largely due to sugar becoming more easily obtainable. However, this sweet commodity was still expensive and as such, only wealthy families could afford to have pure white icing. Consequently, it became something of a status symbol. This was proven only further when white icing was dubbed ‘royal icing’ after Queen Victoria used it for her own wedding cake.

The modern wedding cake, as we know it, originated from the wedding of Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany. He was married in 1882 and his cake was the first in recorded history to be completely edible. It was baked in separate layers and contained very dense icing. When the icing hardened the tiers were then stacked together – a groundbreaking innovation that had never been used before. Modern wedding cakes still use this method, but because of their size, internal support is sometimes added to each layer in the form of dowels.

So there you have it, a very brief history of the wedding cake. I must say that I had a fantastic time researching this topic – there were far more interesting and quirky anecdotes than I expected. In light of modern cakes being so versatile, and more of a reflection of the couple’s personalities, it was fascinating to discover the origins and long dead traditions of yesteryear.

In finishing, I’d like to thank Ryan and Tara for being the inspiration for this post. I know you’re going to have a wonderful (and hopefully cake-filled) life together.

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