Consomme Royale in the Hotel Biltmore: Recipe and Atmosphere

The Hotel Biltmore opened on New Year’s Day in 1913 and was a luxurious building in the center of New York City. There were two other hotels that were built as a part of this same development near the Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan: the Commodore Hotel and the Roosevelt Hotel. Its original owner was Gustav Baumann and the architects were from the firm Warren and Wetmore who wanted to create a hotel that had its own station for arrivals on the train. This was quite a cutting-edge technique that had not been created in other hotels during this time. The resort was actually equipped with many advanced features including: elevator access to the lobby from the train terminal (Also known as “The Kissing Room”), a private elevator to the Presidential Suite, and a grand ballroom on the 22nd floor called the Cascades. 

I was originally familiar with the Vanderbilt family through a visit to the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina, and through this project I learned much more about the extent of this family’s influence.

The Hotel Biltmore was home to many historical events, for example, the signing of the Treaty of the Danish West Indies in 1916. It is also where J. D. Salinger met William Shawn, a famous editor of the prominent newspaper, The New Yorker. These two met under the infamous Biltmore Clock and it is a common belief that the well-known phrase, “Meet me under the clock,” originated from this reunion. In 1942, the hotel hosted a meeting of Zionist groups who created the Biltmore Program. An author named Frank McCourt wrote about his experience working in the Hotel Biltmore in a memoir named, ‘Tis. F. Scott Fitzgerald even mentions the Hotel Biltmore when she states several times in her short story, May Day, that one of the main characters, named Edith, was staying there. My favorite scene is the feminist groups in the 1960’s and 1970’s who protested outside of the hotel due to the fact that the hotel had a male-only bar for many years which was even named the Men’s Bar. Eventually, the Human Rights Commission ordered the hotel to allow both men and women in the bar and they soon after changed its name to the Biltmore Bar.

The hotel was also home to a grand dining room which produced several different foods including the Consomme Royale. This dish, also known as Eierstitch, originated in France but is now most popular in Germany. Only the elite in the United States consumed this dish, not because of the ingredients, but because of the tedious process to make a single bowl of this clear soup garnish. Also, some chefs use meat in their recipes in order to give the consomme more flavor. When doing this, a large quantity of meat only yields a small amount of the soup. Therefore it can be an expensive dish to serve, allowing only the richest to be likely to consume it. Below are pictures of the hotel’s menu, and while they are almost impossible to read, I believe it is quite interesting to see the original menu from 1913.

The process is quite challenging, but the ingredients are simple. The recipe I will give only yields four servings, unlike that of the hotel which would make larger scale batches in order to serve many customers at once. In order to make this dish, you will need: 1/2 cup of milk/cream, 1 egg, 2 egg yolks, freshly grated nutmeg (to taste), and 1/4 tsp. of salt.

First, you will need to make a water bath for the royale custard. In order to do this, you need two baking pans: one can be a heatproof teacup or a small, circular dish that fits inside the second pan. The purpose of the second pan is to hold hot water while baking the custard in order for it to not curdle in the oven. Then, you must preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and while that is warming up, boil enough water to fill the large pan. 

While the water is boiling, go ahead and butter the small pan, then line it with a piece of wax paper and coat the wax paper in butter as well. Then you will want to heat the milk/cream in a pan just before it gets to a boil. Next, beat the egg, eggs yolks, nutmeg and salt together while also pouring in the hot milk/cream. If foam appears, let it settle before pouring it into a sieve while not allowing any leftover foam to flow through, as it will create a less than appetizing appearance after baking.

After these steps are completed, you will need to place the larger dish in the oven with the custard dish placed inside of it. Then, pour the hot water around the outside until it is almost full, but not enough to overflow. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the royale is set and a jelly-like consistency. Let this cool for at least 20 minutes and then use a knife to separate it from the wax paper.

You may customize the royale by cutting it into different shapes after baking or by adding in tomato paste, for a red color, or parsley, for a green color, to the egg and milk mixture before baking. To serve, place multiple small pieces or one large piece into a soup bowl and then pour hot broth over it so as to melt the royale. You may garnish with herbs or leave it plain, it is up to your liking.

Some tips: do not cook the royale in the soup broth because it will become cloudy and consomme royale is infamous for its clear appearance. Also, a perfect consomme royale is known for its smooth texture, much like that of tofu. If the water in the oven returns to a boil, the consomme royale may become porous and not separate well from the wax paper. 

Consomme has been a popular dish since the Middle Ages, with many varieties of the dish stemming ever since. One variety in particular is still used quite often today. This is the technique of adding sugar in place of salt when making the consomme, creating what we know today as a gelatin dessert or, Jell-O.

Other dishes that were featured on the Hotel Biltmore’s menu consisted of: Breast of Chicken Sauté A La Polonaise with Fresh Garden Peas, Supreme of Sole with Bonnefemme and Potatoes Persillees, Archiduc Salad, Pave Place Tricolore, and Demi Tasse among several other options to choose from.

While the Hotel Biltmore was a place for many to stay while traveling, it was also a common dining spot for many of New York’s elite families. I can only imagine walking into the hotel to see the incredible architecture, the elegant guests and smell the tediously-made, fresh food coming from the kitchen. Eventually, in 1981, the Hotel Biltmore was stripped down to its structure and rebuilt as a Bank of America Plaza. The building now hosts several different businesses, although the bank still covers the largest area. It is now commonly referred to as 335 Madison Avenue.

References:

The Spruce Eats – Jennifer McGavin – October 8, 2019 – https://www.thespruceeats.com/eierstich-recipe-royale-as-soup-garnish-1447340

Life Magazine – “Under the Biltmore Clock” – April 21, 1952

“New York Biltmore Hotel” – Last edited November 18, 2020 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Biltmore_Hotel

“Consommé” – Last edited June 13, 2020 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consomm%C3%A9

Hotel Biltmore Menu – New York Academy of Public Education – February 16, 1939 – http://menus.nypl.org/menus/30279

The Sifter – Archambault – “Consomme” – https://thesifter.org/Home/Search?searchText=consomme%20royale