Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation

During the process of creating my pie for KASC, I had to not only do a lot of test cooking, but I also had to do a ton of close reading. Reading a medieval recipe is a complex and nuanced endeavor. Here is an example of my process of interpreting a recipe.

Continue reading “Medieval Cooking is Complex: A Complete Recipe Annotation”

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Marzipan: my go-to dessert for every feast

Marzipan is delicious, relatively easy to make (if you allow yourself modern cheats), vegan and gluten free, historical, and fancy: these factors combine to make it my top choice when planning a feast. You can sculpt it, add colors, or arrange some other sweets (I’m partial to dried fruits and candied ginger as shown here) to serve:

  

My basic marzipan recipe that I’ve been using for years:

  • One part by weight blanched slivered almonds
  • One part by weight sugar
  • Rose water

Grind the almonds and sugar together in a food processor until the almonds are very fine. Add rose water a spoonful at a time, grinding continuously, until the marzipan forms a paste. Continue grinding until it is a smooth and uniform as possible. 

Marzipan is also wonderful to take to events for a sweet treat or to share at a potluck. 

Yesterday I made the marzipan pictured above as desserts for an Italian feast. It all got devoured and I even caught a friend of mine filling his napkin with it to take home!

Pastry from Scappi

My Laurel, Master Refr, is the head cook for a feast on Saturday, and I’m helping him with a couple of things. Somewhat humorously, Refr HATES making pie crust, so I am (not surprisingly) helping with that part. Here is the pie recipe he is working from, which is from book five of Scappi:

“165.  Various ways to make tuna pies en croute

“Get a skinned tuna belly cut up into whatever sized pieces you like, and let them site an hour in the above spice mixture and salt.  Put them into a pastry shell made as directed in recipe 154, of sieved flour, with prunes, dried visciola cherries and sauteed onions in it.  Cover the pie over.  Bake it in an oven. When it is done, serve it hot.” (Then it gives a few variants on this theme.)
The pie crust part of recipe 154:
“That shell should be made of sieved flour and water with no salt, and should be quite firm.  If you want it to be made better, put eggs and butter into it; in Lent, though, you do not use eggs or butter, but only plain water.”
I wasn’t able to find a redaction online for this particular pie crust recipe, though I did find Maestro Eduardo’s version of a pastry-cake from Scappi that has a yeast-leavened dough that is rolled out very thin, almost like pastry. Although they are obviously different in function, the tortiglione dough is similar in that it also contains butter and egg (like the suggested additions to the fish pie pastry).
…Yeah, okay, even I can admit that that’s a reach 🙂 But bear with me, these proportions actually work okay and I’ll explain why.
This is the version of this pastry that I’m trying for this weekend:
1 lb whole wheat pastry flour
1 lb all-purpose unbleached white flour
Generous pinch salt
4 ounces butter
3 whole eggs
1 1/2 cups water
In a large stand mixer, mix together half of the total amount of flour and the salt. Add the butter and eggs and beat on low speed until mixed, then add the remaining flour and mix until combined. It will look crumbly at this stage. Add water and mix until dough is even and smooth.
Divide into four portions. Break off an egg-sized piece of dough from each portion, then form remainder into a coffin (crust) like you are making a pinch-pot. Roll out the reserved portions and use as lids.
This dough handles well for raising coffins. It will be quite tough to a modern palate when it’s baked (lots of water, very little fat), but in my experience it’s very hard to get a functional coffin using butter and eggs in the dough (rather than lard or suet for the fat). I will most likely make a version of this for the high table that doubles the butter and eggs to make a more tender finished product.
Hopefully I’ll have an update on how this went after Saturday!