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Cakes: Cooking and the recipe

 

For this recipe I’m going back a little further than usual – the majority of the recipes I cook tend to be mid-17th century, but this one if from the late 16th century. I’m using Thomas Dawson’s The good huswifes jewell (1587) which I don’t think I’ve used before for this blog. This is odd as I am quite familiar with it from my work, and there are some fascinating recipes in there. It’s an interesting book, containing not just recipes but also some information about animal husbandry and some home remedies for various ailments. I think I’ll have to make more of an effort to try out some of Mr Dawson’s recipes in the future – though possibly not his medicines. He also provides the following tip “For to make one slender”:

TAke Fennell, and seeth it in water, a very good quantitie, and wring out the iuyce therof when it is sod, and drinke it first and laste, and it shall swage either him or her.

It seems fad diets and those “weird old diet tips” so beloved of annoying internet ads have a long and proud tradition stretching back hundred of years!

Anyway, here’s the recipe I’ll be cooking today:

To make fine Cakes.

TAke fine flowre and good damaske water you must haue no other liquor but that, then take sweete butter, two or thrée yolkes of egges, and a good quantitie of suger, and afewe cloues, and mace, as your Cookes mouth shall serue him, and a litle saffron, and a litle Gods good about a sponful if you put in too much they shall arise, cut them in squares like vnto trenchers, and pricke them well, and let your ouen be well swept and lay them vpon papers and so set them into the ouen, do not burn them if they be three or foure dayes olde they be the better.

As is often the case, there are few indications of quantities in this recipe, so there is a lot of guesswork involves. As I said in the last post, early modern cakes were more of a “fancy bread” than the sponge cakes we eat today. There is also a clue in the fact that the bread is cut into squares before being baked – clearly this is a kind of dough and not the thick batter that a modern recipe would produce. With this in mind, although this recipe contains all the ingredients of a modern cake (flour, eggs, butter and sugar), I didn’t want to be basing my quantity estimates on a traditional cake mix, but rather I approached this as a bread enriched with sugar, butter and eggs, like brioche or challah. It didn’t turn out much like either though.

Although this cake can’t really be described as a bread, there is some yeast in this recipe – that’s what the “God’s good” is. The etymology is quite interesting. According to the OED, “God’s good” was also used to refer to “property or possessions belonging to God (applied esp. to Church property); also, worldly possessions, food, etc., viewed as the good gift of God”. I would assume that perhaps yeast came to be associated particularly with this as it is a naturally occurring substance, it comes not from man’s intervention but from the “good gift of God”. Whatever the reason, there is yeast in this recipe, but curiously the recipe does not seem to want the cakes to “arise”.

I started by activating some yeast in a small cup. I took 200g flour to which I added 3 tablespoons of water and a few drops of rose water. As I have discussed before, the rose water you can buy today is very strong, and you shouldn’t really use large quantities of it, so it needs to be diluted into normal water. I added 2 egg yolks and 50g each caster sugar and softened butter to the mixture and beat it until it was combined.

I then added a pinch of ground cloves and mace, and then a tablespoon of the foam from the top of the yeast. Sadly I couldn’t get hold of saffron, if you are using it I’d advise steeping it in the tablespoonful of water and then adding it with the rosewater at the beginning.

This makes a stiff dough so you’ll have to get in there and kneed it with your hands. If it won’t quite combine, add a little more water.

At this point, I rolled out the cake and cut it into squares. I then baked it in a medium-hot oven (about 200c) for about 20 minutes.

After letting the cakes cool for a while, I tried one (as did my resident early modern food guinea pig aka husband). They were rather tasty, though not all that much like cakes or even bread for that matter. They are probably best described as a cross between a scone and a biscuit. They were quite sweet, the texture soft crumbly, flaky and a little bit risen. Very tasty, if a little dry. You could, however, ice them which would probably help with this, or spread some jam or other preserve on them to eat.

Fancy making your own early modern cakes? Here’s a recipe:

 

Fine cakes

Makes about 8 small cakes

200g flour

3 tbsp water with a few drops rose water dissolved in it, plus additional water

50g sugar

50g butter, softened

2 egg yolks

Pinch each ground cloves and mace

Saffron, if desired

Dried active yeast

 

If you are using saffron steep it in the water for half an hour (warm the water first), then add the rosewater. Make up the yeast according to packet instructions. This will usually involve dissolving it with sugar in warm water and waiting for some foam to form on top. While the yeast is activating, put the flour in a large bowl with the sugar. Make a well in the centre and add the butter, water with rosewater and egg yolks. Stir to combine. Add the spices with a tablespoonful of the yeasty water, then kneed until the bread comes together. You might have to add more water.

Turn out onto a floured surface and roll out. I rolled mine out to around the thickness of 2 pound coins. Once it it rolled, cut into squares, put onto a greased baking sheet, prick all over with a skewer, and bake in the oven on a medium-hot heat, about 200g. Check after 20 minutes, remove if they seem cooked, leave them in a bit more if not.

 

Enjoy your early modern cakes! They are best when they are warm. If anyone tries this recipe please let me know how you got on in the comments.

 

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Buttered beer: Cooking and the recipe

This is a nice easy recipe, with nice, easy to find ingredients. So why has it taken me so long to make? I blame the weather. It has just been too hot to drink creamy, warm beer – definitely cider weather over the last week or two. But now, the rain is back, hooray! I may be the only person who is happy about this, I am not really a fan of hot weather as it means I can’t wear anything wool (at least 70% of my wardrobe is woollen), I get sunburnt the instant I step outside, and the gallons of tea and coffee I need to get my through the day are a lot less appealing (though I have recently rediscovered iced coffee – yum!). Anyway, enough about me, on to the beer recipe:

Take three pintes of Beere, put fiue yolkes of Egges to it, Straine them together, and set it in a pewter pot to the fyre, and put to it halfe a pound of Sugar, one penniworth of Nutmegs beaten, one penniworth of Cloues beaten, and a halfepenniworth of Ginger beaten, and when it is all in, take another pewter pot and brewe them together, and set it to the fire againe, and when it is readie to boyle, take it from the fire, and put a dish of Sweet butter into it, and brewe them together out of one pot into an other

A good huswifes handmaide for the kitchin 1594

I didn’t really want to make 3 pints worth, especially since my husband voiced his dislike for warm, creamy alcohol back when I made the posset, so he wouldn’t be volunteering to help me drink it. I scaled the recipe down to a fifth. This quantity filled a particularly large mug. I’m not sure exactly how much a pennyworth of each of these spices would be, so I went with a small pinch. You can probably just do it according to taste, a small pinch made for a fairly lightly spiced drink, which I thought was nice, but if you like it spicier then by all means add more.

This is such a simple recipe it doesn’t really warrant a step by step description of the cooking with pictures. I will just skip straight to the recipe:

Buttered beer (for 1)

340ml beer (An ale-type beer is probably best. I used Old Speckled Hen)

1 egg yolk

45g sugar

Small pinch nutmeg, cloves, and half the amount of ginger

25g butter

Whisk the egg yolk and then slowly whisk in the beer until it is all incorporated. Put in a saucepan with the sugar and spices, then warm over a medium heat until just simmering. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, then pour into a mug and serve.

As I expected, this is definitely a drink for a cold and rainy night. I will be reviving this in the winter I think. It’s a lot less heavy than something like posset or egg nog, but it has a similar kind of taste. I really enjoyed it, so I deem this cooking experiment a success! I also can’t go without mentioning that it appealed to the Harry Potter fan in me.

What will be the next food? I am not sure. Any suggestions?

 

UPDATE 10/11/12: I’ve been playing around with this recipe again since the its now definitely the season for it, and I can confirm that this actually tastes much better when made with beers other than Old Speckled Hen – its too bitter and tastes odd with the sugar. Try something darkish but mild, London Pride works well.

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Comfits and custards revisited – recipes

I’ve finally had a second attempt at the custards, and a third attempt at the comfits. Happily, this time both worked very well indeed.

I’ll start with the custard first. You can find the early modern recipe and my initial attempt here. For some background on custards, see this post.

Custard tart

400g plain flour

4 eggs, plus 2 more yolks

75g butter, room temperature

2 tbsp sugar

Few drops rosewater

300ml double cream

4tbsp sugar

Generous pinch each ground mace, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves

Small pinch salt

Caraway comfits

A few dates

Preheat the oven to 150c. Mix the flour with two beaten eggs until a dough is formed. If it’s too dry you can add a little water. Take some of the dough, about a fifth, and roll it out as thinly as you can. If you end up with holes, it’s not too much of a problem as you’ll be layering it up. Spread some of the butter on the pastry, then roll out another piece, put it on top and spread more butter. Continue until all of the pastry is layered up, don’t butter the last piece. Roll out the layered pastry again, then use to line the greased tin. Mix the sugar and rosewater with 1tbsp water, then sprinkle over the pastry case. Bake in the oven for about 10 minutes.

While the pastry case is baking, whisk the remaining eggs and yolks with the cream, spices and 2 tbsp of sugar. Remove the pastry from the oven and scatter the remaining sugar and the currents over the base of the pastry case. Pour the egg and cream mixture into the case. Bake in the oven for 35-45 minutes, until the custard is set. When the custard is cool, scatter over caraway comfits (see recipe below) and stick in some dates.

Caraway comfits

For the background on comfits, see this post. You will find the recipe and first attempt here.

38g caraway seeds (this is the usual amount you get in a small jar)

300g caster sugar

Heat the sugar with 100ml water over a low heat until the sugar is melted and the syrup is bubbling. Let it bubble for a few minutes, stirring all the time, then turn the heat right down as low as you can get it. You need to keep the mixture warm so it stays liquid, but if it’s overheating ad starting to boil you can take it off the heat for a few minutes. Once you have your warm sugar syrup ready, warm a frying pan over a very low heat and add the caraway seeds. Add a very small amount of the syrup – DO NOT add too much the comfits won’t work – see the first attempt post for an example of it going wrong! You probably want only about a tablespoon of liquid, it’s important to make sure that you only add enough to dampen the seeds slightly.

Stir them round with a metal spatula until the liquid is absorbed and the seeds are dry. They look a little bit white, getting more so with each coating. When the seeds are dry, add another small amount of liquid. Repeat this process until all the liquid is done – you will need to apply many coats. Don’t be tempted to rush by adding too much liquid or by turning up the heat, or you’ll ruin them. Once they are done, cool, then store in an airtight jar.

I would recommend trying both of these recipes, they both came out rather tasty. The comfits were particularly nice, you can keep them in a cupboard for a while and use them in biscuits and the like, they would also be nice sprinkled on cereal. They are quite easy to make, as long as you are careful not to use too much heat or liquid.

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Custards: Part 2 – Cooking, no recipe….yet

As I explained in part 1,  an early modern custard is a baked pastry case filled with custard. The recipe I used from Gervase Markham’s Countrey Contentments, or The English Huswife (1623) specifies a pastry recipe from elsewhere in the text – it’s a puff pastry recipe that looks a little more complicated than the last one I tried. Here’s the pastry recipe:

Now for the making of puffe-past of the best kind, you shall take the finest wheat flowre after it hath been a little bak’t in a pot in the ouen, and blend it well with egges whites and yelkes altogether, then after the past is well kneaded, roule out a part thereof as thin as you please, and then spread cold sweet butter ouer the same, then vpon the same butter role another leafe of the paste as before; and spread it with butter also; and thus role leafe vpon leafe with butter betweene till it be as thick as you thinke good: and with it either couer any bak’t meate, or make pastie for Venison, Florentine, Tart or what dish else you please and so bake it: there be some that to this past vse sugar, but it is certaine it will hinder the rising thereof; and therefore when your puft past is bak’t, you shall dissolue sugar into Rose-water, and drop it into the paste as much as it will by any meanes receiue, and then set it a little while in the ouen after and it will be sweet enough.

I have made puff pastry before, and this recipe is quite similar to a modern one with the rolling and buttering of the pastry. Modern recipes don’t use egg though, as far as I recall. The warming of the flour seems odd – I looked this up on trusty old Google and found a few references to it in bread making but I’m not sure what it’s for. I did it anyway, who knows, it might make for delicious pastry.

I started with one beaten egg and then added flour until it came together as a dough. It was about 200g flour.

I then kneeded the dough and split it into 5 pieces. I rolled out the first piece as thin as I could get it and then spread butter on it. Obviously the butter would not have been fridge cold, what with fridges still being a good few hundred years away at the time of printing, so I took it out of the fridge about an hour before I needed it and let it come to room temperature.

Butter would have likely been kept with other perishables in a cool part of the kitchen, or in an earthenware pot kept in water. You can find out more about the history of butter, if you are so inclined, at this page: Butter Through the Ages. By the late17th century some kitchens had ice-houses – underground structures packed with snow and ice during the winter. Being underground meant they were cool enough to keep the ice frozen, and foods cold, throughout the year. Petworth House, where my PhD research is based, has an ice-house, although I believe it dates from a later period.

Anyway, back to the cooking. I used room temperature butter and spread it on the pastry. I then added another later on top and rolled it out again. I repeated this until all of the pastry was used.

Once the pastry was made I cut a diamond shape, then cut a long piece for the sides and stuck it down to the flat piece with an egg yolk, as recommended in the custard recipe. I baked the pastry case, or coffin, in the oven until it started to crisp up. I then mixed 1 tbsp sugar with a few drops of rosewater and a little water, then drizzled this over the pastry, base, returning it to the oven once again.

To bake an excellent Custard or Dowset; you shall take good store of Single illegible lettergges, and putting away one quarter of the whites, beate them exceeding well in a bason, and then mixe with them the sweetest and thickest creame you can get, for if it be any thing thinne, the Custard will be wheyish; then season it with salt, sugar, cinamon, cloues, mace, and a little Nutmegge; which done raise your coffins of good tough wheate paste, being the second sort before spoke of, and if you please raise it in pretty workes, or angular formes, which you may doe by fixing the vp|per part of the crust to the nether with the yelks of egges: then when the coffins are ready, strow the bottomes a good thicknesse ouer with Currants and Sugar; then Single illegible letteret them into the Ouen, and fill them vp with the confecti|on before blended, and so drawing them, adorne all the toppes with Carraway Cumfets, and the slices of Dates prickt right vp, and so serue them vp to the table.

For my custard, I took 4 eggs yolks and 3 egg whites and beat them together. I then added about 250ml double cream. You might have noticed that cream and butter are often referred to as sweet – this does not mean they are sugared but that they are fresh. I added a tiny pinch of salt and ground cinnamon, cloves, mace and nutmeg. I covered the bottom with currants and sugar, then poured the custard over the top and baked it in the oven until the custard was set. I took it out and stuck in some dates.

The custard did leak out quite a bit through the sides, and as the tarts were fairly shallow the currants were still visible as the custard set around them. The taste, particularly of the pastry, was very tasty indeed, but the custard didn’t really set properly, instead it was quite puffed up and fluffy, not set and creamy as I had hoped. I had to guess the measurements for the cream as one wasn’t given in the recipe – I think I might have to look up modern day custard tart recipes for some guidance on getting the quantities right. I won’t post a recipe yet as I don’t feel I’ve perfected it – but this is one I’ll definitely be having another   go at to get it right.

Also, I did have a go at caraway comfits, but that didn’t go very well either! I think I know where I went wrong though so next time I should be able to get them right.

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Easter Special: Part 2 – Eggs in Green Sauce: Cooking and the Recipe

The recipes I found for green sauce seemed to vary wildly between sources, but the one I went for was from the ever reliable Hannah Woolley in The Accomplish’d Lady’s Delight (1675). I’d hoped to use a a recipe from the Elizabethan period to match the source for the Easter banquet (see part 1), I found a few but they all involved ingredients I couldn’t get hold of. Sorrel is usually the herb involved in the sauce, this proved a little tricky to find in itself – thankfully a very kind person donated some from her garden – thank you Maggie! Now, without further ado, here is my Easter recipe – eggs in green sauce:

To make Green Sauce.

Take a good handful of Sorrel, beat it in a Mortar with Pippins pared, and quar|tered, with a little Vinegar and Sugar; put it into Saucers.

First, I hard-boiled the eggs.

Then I washed the sorrel, and put it with a pealed and quartered apple with 1 teaspoon each sugar and vinegar.

I then began to squash and pound it in a pestle and mortar.

I pounded it for about 10 minutes, until it began to turn into a green pulp.

I hard boiled the eggs, then pealed and sliced them and put the green sauce on top.

I quite enjoyed this dish, the green sauce is sharp and sweet and quite tasty. My mum tried them too and said they were rather nice. It would make a nice addition to an Easter buffet. It’s also very easy to make if you don’t mind a bit of work with the pestle and mortar. It is worth seeking out sorrel for this – it’s an underrated herb/vegetable in my opinion.

Eggs in Green Sauce

3 Eggs (hardboiled)

1tsp sugar

1tsp white wine vinegar

1 handful sorrel (you could use spinach or watercress if you don’t have sorrel, but try to seek it out if possible)

1 apple, pealed and cored

Put the sugar, vinegar, sorrel and apple in a pestle and mortar and pound until the mixture turns into a pulp. Put the eggs on a dish and dollop the sauce on top.

So there you have it – festive eggs! Happy Easter everyone!

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Easter Special: Part 1 – Eggs in Green Sauce: History and Background

362 by Jaypeg used under a Creative Commons License – Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This week I’m looking at eggs, or more specifically, Easter eggs. I have previously written a little bit about eggs in general, you can read the post here.

Of course, eggs are associated with Easter today, and it seems that they were in the Early Modern period too. Eggs, amongst other things, were forbidden during lent. Once Easter arrived, they were back on the menu. Easter eggs appear in a proverb, recorded by John Ray in A collection of English proverbs (1678), “I’ll warrant you for an Egg at Easter” – the sense of the proverb (as far as I can tell) is something like “as sure as eggs at Easter”. James Shirley appears to have been particularly fond of a related egg-based saying – he uses the phrase “not worth an egg at Easter” in at least two plays, The Example (1637) and Love’s Cruelty (1640). Incidentally, both of those plays, and several others by Shirley, as in the Petworth collection. . One of these will likely be making an appearance soon on my other blog. Clearly, eggs were considered a common food at Easter time.

Thomas Dawson’s The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell (1597) offers some advice on the foods to be eaten at Easter-time. Here is what he has to say:

Fyrst on that day yee shall serue a calfe sodden and blessed, and sodden egs with greene sauce, and set them before the most principall estate, and that Lorde because of his high estate, shal depart them al about him, then serue potage as worts, roots or browes, wt béefe, mutton, or veale, & capons that be coloured with saffron, and baked meats: and the second course, Jussel with mamony, & rosted endoured, & pigions with bake meates, as tarts chewets, and flaunes, and other, after the disposition of the cookes: and at supper time diuers sauces of mutton or veale in broth, after the ordinance of the steward and than chickins with bakon, veale, rost pigions or lamb, & kid rost, with the heade and the purtenance of Lambe and pigges féet, with vineger and parcely theron, and a tansie fryed, and other bake meates

Quite a feast! Sadly I will only be cooking one of these foods this year, however. For my Easter dish I will be cooking “sodden egs with greene sauce”. “Sodden” means boiled, rather than “wet” or “soaking” as it does today. According to the OED it is the strong past participle of “seethe”, suddenly the phrase “seething with anger” makes sense now I know it means “boiling”.

There seem to be as many different ways of making green sauce as there are cookbooks – it is a herb based sauce, usually made with sorrel, along the lines of pesto, mint sauce, or salsa verde. Henry Butts’ 1599 regimen Dyets Dry Dinner  describes some of the properties of green sauce – “Eaten with flesh (as mustard) exciteth appetite: commendeth meates to the Palate: helpes concoction: breaketh fleame in the stomack”. Butts also gives a “Story for Table-talke” (table talk being a kind of anecdote or other interesting information told at dinner) relating to green sauce:

This kinde of Sauce, I neuer tasted my selfe: yet am bold to communicate and commend it to my friends, as I find it described by the Italian Freitagio. The Italian (as all the world knowes) is most exquisite in the composition of all sorts of Condiments, they being indeede the better part of his Diet. All kind of Greene-sauce, is questionlesse best in season, while herbs retain their full strength and perfect vigour.

I’ll be cooking the eggs in green sauce later today and will post the recipe shortly after.

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Shrove Tuesday special – Pancakes Part 2: Cooking and the recipe

Today’s pancake recipe, like last week’s Valentine’s Day asparagus and chicken, comes from Hannah Woolley. Perhaps I should start doing whole posts about some of the more prolific Early Modern food writers? Something to think about. Anyway, here’s the recipe:

To make good Pancakes

Take twenty Eggs with half the Whites, and beat them well and mix them with fine flower and beaten Spice, a little Salt, Sack, Ale, and a little Yeast, do not make your Batter too thin, then beat it well, and let it stand a little while to rise, then fry them with sweet lard or with Butter, and serve them in with the Iuice of Orange and Sugar.

From The queen-like closet; or, Rich cabinet stored with all manner of rare receipts for preserving, candying & cookery, 1670

I didn’t think I’d need 20 eggs worth of pancakes, so I scaled the recipe down to 4 eggs. There were a couple of other pancake related recipes in the book, including one for making “Pancakes so crisp as you may set them upright”, which involves boiling them in lard (deep frying I suppose) until they “look as yellow as gold”. Don’t think I fancy that one myself! There is also a recipe for a “Sussex pancake” which caught my eye, which is just pastry made with “hot liquor” rolled thin and fried, served with spices and sugar.

So, I decided to go with the “good Pancakes”.

First, I put the yeast granules in some warm water with sugar, as instructed on the pack. If you are using dried yeast, you’ll need to reactivate it. Follow the instructions on the packet, although you will probably have to scale them down somewhat. My packet gave instructions for activating the yeast in 1/4 pint water, I didn’t want that much so had to use guesswork. I used about 1/4 teaspoon of yeast with the same amount of sugar dissolved in about 1/3 espresso cup full of warm water. Once this started to froth I mixed it with 5 heaped tbsp plain flour, 4 egg yolks, 2 egg whites, 1 tbsp sherry (this is the “sack” – see the posset post for more information on this), 2 tbsp ale (I used Old Peculiar), a tiny pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp mixed spice.

I then left it for about half an hour to “rise”, although it didn’t do much in the way of rising really. Lots of bubbles appeared on top though.

Then I melted some butter in a pan and added a ladle full of the batter. I cooked it for a minute or two on one side until mostly set on top.

Then I turned it over and fried on the other side.

It puffed and curled up quite a lot, when I took it out of the pan it stayed curled up at the edges, but the puffed up pancake sank as soon as it was on the plate. I sprinkled over orange juice, sugar and some orange zest as well.

The pancake was different to the milk, eggs and flour version I’m used to. It was thicker and tougher, although not in an unpleasant way. The spices and orange were a tasty addition too. Here’s the recipe if you’d like to try it out:

Good pancakes 

Makes about 4 small thick pancakes

5 heaped tablespoons plain flour

4 egg whites

2 egg yolks

1 tbsp sherry

2 tbsp ale

1/2 tsp mixed spice

A very small pinch of salt

Small amount of yeast, fresh or dried (prepared as directed on the packet – see above for what to do with dried yeast)

Sugar

1 orange

Whisk the egg whites and yolks together, then add the flour, sherry, ale, spice, salt and yeast. Leave to stand for half an hour or so.

Heat a tablespoon of butter in a small frying pan and add a ladle full of batter when it is hot. Cook until the top has mostly solidified, checking the underneath to make sure it isn’t burning. Turn over when bubbles start to appear and pop on the surface of the pancake. It will start to curl up a lot once you have turned it over and will only need about 30 seconds more until it is cooked through. Slide onto a plate and add sugar and orange juice, and a little grated zest for colour if you like.

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