This weekend I tested out a handful of 14th century recipes for sweets. It came down to a pie, two kinds of deep fried pastries, an early form of gingerbread biscuits, Lebkuchen, a warm drink called Caudel (I’m not sure this one is 14th century though…) and two kinds of hypocras. It took the better part of the day to fix it all.
Thanks to Astrid and Daniel Serra, I had access to grains of paradise (oh, sweet, rare grains!), and some tips on how to make the best of the hypocras. A lesson learnt is that the original recipes certainly must be divided into three or four – to use all that spice makes a porridge out of it all, and it is mortally expensive. Although I noticed this from the beginning and divided the amounts, it was still too much, and as the cinnamon powder started to react with the alochol, it became slimy like I don’t know what. Hence, it was nigh impossible to sieve. Therefore: Second lesson learned is to not use powdered spice, but rather to grind the spice yourself, and make it kind of coarse. Earlier experiences tell me the same, but I guess I looked into the recipes a little bit to anxiously. As a cook, I should have trusted my instincts… Well. Better luck next time, I suppose.
If you don’t know what Hypocras is, it is sweetened wine, spiced with a lot of different spices. I used a recipe from Le Menagier de Paris and a recipe from Curye on Inglish, a French and an English cook book from the latter 14th century. The recipe contains, among other things, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cloves, ginger, long pepper and so on. These recipes can easily be found online. Just google Le menagier de Paris hypocras (or click this link. When looking through the book, note that hypocras is spelled hippocras), orclick this link to download the Forme of Curye, which is a part of the Curye on Inglish, if I’m not mistaken. Watch out for strange interpretations though. Try to use the original recipe if possible, though weights and volumes might differ quite a lot from our modern ones.
When it came to Lebkuchen (which is from first quarter of the 15th century), I learned that I probably should boil the honey a bit longer, to make the cookies a bit stiffer. Furthermore, I should have ground the dried bread a little bit better. Last but not least, I shall be a little bit more careful with the white pepper. It is quite easy to make – boil honey for five or ten minutes (don’t let it burn), skim it, and let it cool just a bit. Then mix in breadcrumbs enough to make the mixture stiff, saffron and ground white pepper. Grease up a baking plate with butter, pour the thick, hardly running mixture on to it, and let it cool in a dry place. Before it is completely settled, though, cut lines in it, so that you can easily divide it in cookie-sized portions.
When making Caudel (a hot drink), remember this: You must NOT let it boil. If you do, you are left with sweet, scrambled eggs… Caudel is made with sweet wine or sweet beer, depending on who you ask. I used a recipe that looks like this:
5 egg yolks
1,5 decilitres of sweet beer (I used Boddington this time – it was good enough)
An optional pinch of salt
I whipped the beer and the yolks together, put in the saffron and sugar, and started to heat it up. I was not paying attention when making the Caudel, and it started to boil. The result was a very runny batch of scrambled eggs. The mixture is supposed to thicken and get warm. It is not supposed to boil.
It was easy enough to make Crispels. Take pastry dough and go at it with a rolling pin. Deep fry it. Dip it in boiling honey (watch your fingers). Done.
Next one – tourteletes in fryture – wasn’t hard, but craved some work. Chop up figs, 5-6 of them would make about ten tourteletes. Mix with saffron and powder forte (a medieval blend of spice, consisting of ”hot” spice like ginger, black pepper and cloves – google it, and make up your own mind about what you like). Cut two circles of pastry dough (use a drinking glass as measure) per tourtelete, put the fig-mixture in the centre of one of the dough circles, and use the other circle to cover it up. Make a small package out of it, and make sure it is well closed – otherwise the filling will not stay put. Deep fry the packages, and when they are finished, swab them with molten honey.
The last one – Leche Frys in Lentoun – is a fruit pie made from almond milk (almond milk is roughly 1 part finely ground almonds and two parts of water boiled together for maybe five minutes).
Chop up apples and pears, along with dates, prunes and currants (I couldn’t find currants, so I used strawberrys with good result). Mix it with enough sugar, with powder forte, with cinnamon, mace and cloves. Add the almond milk and perhaps some olive oil and a pinch of salt. Mix it all well together, and put it in a prebaked pie-shell. Bake until ready (it should be golden brown at the top, and not runny). Keep the oven kind of hot.
All together I was happy with the results, not least because I learned a lot from them. As I write this, it is not even two weeks left until the Feast of Saint Stefanus, an annual celebration held by Albrechts Bössor. You have probably already made out that I am supposed to make the sweets for that party…