Charleston has lately been on something of a crepe kick, with Breizh Pan’ Crepes and Tokyo Crepes on Spring Street joining existing crepe purveyors Queen Street Grocery and Charleston Crepe Company. But in the late 1800s, the French pastry that riveted Charlestonians was the cream fritter.
Cream fritters were popular across the U.S. in the latter half of the 19th century. Recipes from cookbooks published in Chicago suggest the fried sweet was sometimes made with just water, flour, butter and eggs. Charleston, though, abided by the traditional Parisian preparation, which calls for cream and pounded macaroons.
According to University of South Carolina professor David Shields, who has written a brief history of the cream fritter craze, macaroons “became commonplace in the city in the 1880s.” The Teapot, previously chronicled in this column, kept freshly baked macaroons in its bakery case. Those pastries were often just a few days away from becoming the city’s favorite treat: The Evening Post in 1899 advised housekeepers to “keep on hand ... a supply of stale macaroons” for custards, puddings and cream fritters.
Fritters were served at home, at grand banquets and at the corner of Market and King streets, where M.H. Sisson made hot cream fritters to order. While contemporary cookbooks suggest serving cream fritters with molasses or jam, Shields says Sisson dusted his fritters with confectioner’s sugar. In 1893, when Summerville’s Pine Forest Inn included cream fritters on its spring solstice menu, the cakes were presented as an entree with strawberry sauce.
“This cream may be made au chocolat by changing the macaroons,” chef A.B. Beauvilliers assured readers of “The Art of French Cookery,” published in 1835. Indeed, Shields reports, Puckhaber Bakery on King Street specialized in cream fritters based on coconut macaroons.
But the flavor imparted by almond paste was considered essential by many local cream fritter fans. When the ingredient became unavailable during World War I, the cream fritter fad faded.