Monday, April 6, 2015

The Birth of the Waldorf and Escoffier's Ham Mousse

Original Waldorf-Astoria on 33rd Street

It’s official –– following Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes’ next project will be based in New York City’s Gilded Age. To get myself in the golden swing of things I’m pouring over books and recipes from and about the period –– it's really one of my favorites for art, music, architecture and, of course, FOOD. I can’t think of a better place to start than the original Waldorf-Astoria.

One of the great bashes of the 19th century, the Bradley-Martin Ball set the opulent tone for the Waldorf-Astoria in 1897 –– the best of everything.   Pretty much all of Gilded Age society poured through the Waldorf’s doors and sashayed down its famed “Peacock Alley” (a gorgeous, 300-foot-long marble hall that ran between The Palm and The Empire Room where the rich would parade in their finery to see and be seen).

Peacock Alley in old Waldorf-Astoria

Fin de Siécle society enjoying Peacock Alley

1898 Worth Gown

The Waldorf before the Astoria addition

The Waldorf opened its doors on March 15,1893. In 1897 the hotel expanded to become the Waldorf-Astoria, built where the Empire State Building now stands.

                              John Jacob Astor  (1864-1912)                      William Waldorf Astor (1848-1919)                                                                     
The hotel was named after the Astor family’s hometown, Walldorf, Germany and built by Astors on Astor land (William Astor built the Waldorf and John Jacob Astor built the Astoria). In fact, one of the Astor family houses was demolished to build the luxury hotel –– way out up on 33rd Street and 5th Avenue. But The Waldorf may never have happened if luck and a generous heart hadn't intervened.

George Boldt (1851-1916)

George Boldt became the proprietor of the Waldorf thanks to a good deed. A relative of the Astors took a sick child for a cure at the Jersey Shore. Although there were no rooms at Boldt’s small hotel, Mr. and Mrs. Boldt gave up their own rooms for the family and the child recovered. You could say the Waldorf Astoria was born from a generous act. Boldt was introduced to the Astor brothers by the grateful parents and his reputation for excellence did the rest. Within no time the deal was struck, the hotel was built and leased by Boldt from the Astors.

I read all about the hotel in a charming short version of Edward Hungerford’a 1925 book, The Story of the Waldorf Astoria. Would you believe that it was a huge gamble to open the Waldorf? In 1893, New York business and social activity was much further downtown so many wondered who would want to stay so far away from the action in a residential neighborhood (in an upper-class neighborhood that wasn’t amused with a giant hotel in their midst)?  It was doomed to fail they said.

At first it seemed the naysayers were right, on its first day in 1893, the hotel had 32 guests. That summer The Waldorf had 40 guests with 970 servants on the payroll. So many bad ideas! Because of the odd choice of location,  full electrification, not to mention the bold extravagance of installing bathrooms and a phones in most of the rooms ––  the hotel was called Boldt’s or Astor’s Folly. The laughing stopped when the Winter season rolled around and the hotel filled up, the Waldorf-Astoria made $4.5 million its first year – an enormous amount for the time. People liked the lavish modern amenities that had been laughed at. Pretty soon all hotels were built with them. Success came without advertising –– Boldt promoted his new hotel by showing off its quality to people of quality.

Dancing at the Waldorf, Soulen (1896)

From the very beginning George Boldt’s wife Louise had the idea to use the hotel to host charity functions. This was costly but it brought the best people through the doors and they liked what they saw. The hotel opened with a benefit for St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital with Mrs. Vanderbilt paying the New York Symphony orchestra to perform.

Boldt was one of the first hoteliers to subscribe to the customer is always right policy. The rich liked it, a lot. Since Boldt tried to have the best of everything in his hotel, I imagine they didn’t have to bow down terribly often.

Henry IV drawing room
 Pompeii bedroom

The rooms were fairly spectacular at the Waldorf but the Astoria addition was over the top. It seems Mr. Boldt had hit it out of the park with his hotels –– his crazy idea turned out to be brilliant. Not only did NYC move uptown with lightning speed, New Yorkers were moving out of town into giant estates and wanted an urban haven for the city side of their lives. Hungerford reflected, “ Sharp observers of our social customs began to perceive a definite tendency on the part of well-to-do folk to make their real homes in the country, coming to New York for but three or four or possibly five or six months in the winter…. Gradually it was to become slightly less a hotel for the mere feeding and housing of travelers and considerably more a semi-public institution designed for furnishing the prosperous residents of the New York metropolitan district with all the luxuries of urban life.”

The hotel was beautiful, the service perfection –– so what about the food?

Turkish Salon

Boldt was a perfectionist in all things. “In no department of the hotel – not even the office – did Boldt show a keener interest than in the cuisine. Here his stickling for detail became almost a passion.”

Waldorf restaurant

To that end, he made sure all the waiters could speak French, German and English. He once said, “I intend to have my force so selected that a man from Berlin or Paris can come to the Waldorf fresh from the steamer and have his orders perfectly understood.”

Oscar Tschirky (1866-1950)

To accomplish this perfection of service he wooed Oscar Tschirky away from Delmonicos  to come to the Waldorf as the maître d'hôtel. He stayed there for decades and became know as Oscar of the Waldorf. He was famous for inventing Waldorf salad, veal Oscar, Thousand Island dressing and Eggs Benedict (for that alone he should be canonized). His Oscar of the Waldorf's Cook Book is jam packed with lovely recipes.

Waldorf Kitchen

Waldorf Kitchen

At the beginning the kitchen was not up to the tremendous load it had to bear and had to be redesigned – there were not many industrial-size kitchen models to emulate in those days. Hungerford observed, “ It was part of their task to establish precedents, to help in that bygone day to win for the house her title of “the mother of the modern hotel.” There was, “ no skilled or experienced efficiency hotel engineer to say: so many square feet of space for the kitchen, so many for the laundry, so many for refrigeration –– all the rest of it. Instead Boldt and Oscar and the late Tom Hilliard… were puzzling their shrewd heads nearly off, trying to plan efficient working quarters–– and then finding in that fearful summer that much of their work had to be entirely done over.” In no time the kitchen was up to any challenge.

For the Prussian Boldt, his “... hour of greatest triumph arrived in the visit of Prince Henry of Prussia) to his hotel in February, 1902. His pride on that occasion was almost unbounded. The preparations for it were without a parallel. He drilled the servants and he re-drilled them.” Prince Henry’s visit was front-page news on papers all over the country.

The dinner for Prince Henry 1902

Waldorf Ballroom set up for Prince Henry

According to a book devoted to Prince Henry’s visit to the United States, “The banquet was held amid a perfect wilderness of flowers and greens, and no small part of the decorations was the brilliant assemblage of women in the balconies. The decorations of the banquet halls, for there were several of them, were declared to be the most brilliant ever seen in New York….

Waldorf Florist

“The guest table was literally piled with American Beauty roses. They were in heaps a foot high, and at intervals enormous sheaves stood four or five feet high…. The boutonniere at his plate was of white orchids and hyacinths while all the others were white roses. At the guest table the service was of gilded Dresden china, and the cut glass was traced in gold.”

 Lamm Dresden china of the period

Baccarat glasses of the period

Silk Menu for the Dinner for Prince Henry

There was a lovely silk menu that announced the dishes for the dinner. It began with oysters that were followed by clear green Turtle soup. Next was a Mousse of Ham-Venetian Style was followed by Terrapin–Philadelphia style, then Sweetbreads-New Century, Breast of Chicken Financier, and new peas sauté. Sherbet Admiral came as a palate cleanser before the canvas back duck with lettuce salad and the meal finished with fancy ices and cakes. The book described these beautifully, “The punch was served with souvenirs in the shape of small plaster bust of the Prince, but the serving of the ices evoked that greatest enthusiasm. The army of waiters filed in with miniatures of the German Emperor, Prince Henry, President Roosevelt, that latter both in civilian attire and as a Rough Rider: Liberty, Columbia, Germania, crowns and mitres, and many huge German coats of arms –– all done in Ices.”

I’ve done a duck financier for you and canvas back duck is a lost delicacy (the wild celery that made it famous isn't around much anymore). I’ll never do Turtle soup because, well, I’m terribly fond of turtles. I've made wonderful sweetbreads but what caught my eye on the menu was the mousse of ham. I am very partial to ham dishes and always love to find ways to use left-overs creatively. I’m crazy about devilled ham but this intrigued me. I looked at Oscar of the Waldorf's cookbook and there was no ham mousse to be found. I hit pay dirt with Escoffier. There were a few ham mousse recipes both hot and cold. Looking in my little magic book of cooking terms,  Le Repertoire De La Cuisine, I discovered that something ‘Venetian’ would have a wine sauce made with tarragon vinegar, chervil, shallots and green butter (a spinach-dyed butter) –– that made me think it was a hot mousse. The Escoffier mousse that I decided on was cold, Mousse Alsacienne. To a ham mousse is added a foie-gras parfait and the whole is covered in aspic. It’s pretty easy to make and delicious with a light texture and fabulous flavor from that magic Escoffier spice mix. Even if it's not exactly what was served that night, it's a wow of a dish.

I think it will give you a taste of the Gilded Age to get you ready for the new series, and hopefully have you curious for more gilded age cuisine which will be forthcoming.

Ham Mousse Alsacienne from Escoffier

Take a deep, square dish and garnish it, half-full, with fine, ham mousse. Even the surface of this layer of mousse, and, when it has set, arrange upon it some shells, cut by means of a spoon dipped in hot water, from a foie-gras Parfait. As soon as this is done, pour over the foie-gras shells a sufficient quantity to cover them of half melted succulent chicken aspic with Madeira, and let this jelly set. When about to serve, incrust the dish in a block of ice

Ham Mousse Alsacienne (based on Escoffier's recipe)

½ pound D'Artagnan Applewood smoked ham, skin removed and roughly chopped
1/3 c velouté or meat gravy
½ c aspic (recipe follows)*
2/3 c heavy cream, whipped
½ to 1 t Escoffier spice mix (recipe follows)
salt to taste (some ham is very salty so you may not need it)
½ to 1 c D’Artagnan foie gras medallions with truffles (depending on size of your mold)

Put the ham in a food processor and process till finely chopped. Add ¼ c of the aspic, the velouté and the heavy cream with the spice mix. Process till smooth. Taste for seasoning and spread smoothly in a dish. Chill. While this is chilling, take the foie gras and put into a mold. Put into the freezer for about 20 minutes. Take the ham mousse out of the fridge. Warm the mold with your hands or a hot towel and then tap the foie gras onto parchment -- smooth any rough bits. Use a wide spatula and place on the ham mousse. Pour the remaining aspic over the mousse. It will just cover the molded foie and pool on the ham mousse. Chill until the aspic is set and serve with cornichons, mustard, green peppercorns and bread or toast.

* If you don't want to make aspic, you should add 1 T Madeira to the ham mousse.  The aspic is delicious though so I do encourage the extra step.


1 cup of chicken stock
1 package of gelatin
1 egg white and shell
salt to taste
1 T Madeira

Put ¼ c stock in a pan and warm and add the gelatin. Stir till dissolved. Add the rest of the stock, the egg and the shell, stir and simmer for 15 minutes. Pour the stock and egg through 2 thicknesses of cheesecloth. DO NOT SQUEEZE. Just let the stock drip to keep it clear. Add the madeira and reserve.


1 T butter
1 T flour
1 c stock
2 mushrooms, chopped
pinch of salt to taste.

Put the butter and flour in the pan and cook for a few minutes, add the stock slowly, stirring until all the stock is added. Put the mushrooms in the veloute and simmer at very low heat for 15-20 minutes. Strain.

Escoffier Spice Mix

1 bay leaf
3 pinches thyme
3 pinches coriander
4 pinches cinnamon
6 pinches nutmeg
4 pinches cloves
3 pinches ginger
3 pinches mace
10 pinches pepper
1 pinch cayenne

Blend all in a spice grinder or  mash the bay leaf and blend with the rest.


La Table De Nana said...

Thanks for the tip about JF's next series..Very fitting I find.
What a beautiful hotel..and what a feast for Prince Henry..

Deana..your mousse is beautifully presented in that scallop /shell shape~

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Wow -just crazy...... Love hearing about places like this and can't WAIT for this new series!

Rhodesia said...

Oh wow that gown, china and glasses are amazing. What an interesting post and that mousse looks fantastic. Hope all is well Diane

Unknown said...

I so enjoy your posts Deana. This one was lovely and I am at some point going to try making the mousse. So interesting!!

Marjie said...

JF has a new project planned! I'm excited, and my daughter in law will be, too. I love that Worth dress; I wish I could wear it to my daughter's wedding. Wouldn't that be over the top for a garden wedding, but ever so elegant.

I had no idea of the history of the Waldorf or the Astoria; your posts are always very informative and entertaining.

I hope Dr. Lostpast is doing well, and that you had a nice Easter weekend.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I'm really excited to see his newest show as a big Downton Abbey lover! And I love the start that the hotel had-hotels could tell so many stories! :D

Barbara said...

I had read about Fellowes’ next project and can't wait! I know you'll keep us posted. This would be such a great project for you to be part of! Right up your alley and who could do it better?

Such fun to read about the Waldorf Astoria, but in particular about Prince Henry's visit. That photo of the tables is amazing.
Your ham mousse is divine and such a lovely presentation!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

It will be exciting to look forward to the gilded age project after Downton Abbey ends. What an age it must have been! The Waldorf Astoria must have been a sight to behold in that time. Gilded indeed! What a beautiful mousse and so perfectly presented. Fit for a fine dinner at the Waldorf!

lindaraxa said...

Wonderful! I had no idea about Boldt's involvement. Don't miss this story I posted about three years ago. Vintage Waldorf!

Jimbo said...

Your description of how the Waldorf-Astoria came to be may have had less to do with the hospitality of George Boldt and more to do with a feud within the Astor family. The lot of land the hotel was built on was previously occupied by the homes of two Astor siblings. A feud between the son of one of the two brothers and his aunt next door over who was the true "Mrs. Astor" —his aunt or his wife— led William Waldorf Astor to demolish his father's home upon his death. On the site he built the Waldorf Hotel to spite his aunt, Mrs. Caroline Schermerhorn Astor. Having this commercial building next door now overshadowed the mansion of his aunt. Eventually she was forced to move uptown and her son, Jacob Astor IV razed his mother's home and built the Astoria Hotel to compete with the Waldorf. Soon the two cousins saw the folly of their competition and decided to join the two hotels to become the Waldorf-Astoria.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your so cool post,it is useful,i love it very much. Please share with us more good articles.
birth time chart

Tom Lee said...

Lovely; already thinking ahead to Christmas dinner, maybe... Two questions: how many servings is this? What's the volume of that beautiful shell bowl?