Monday, July 18, 2016

Adventures in Renaissance Cooking

My dear friend Alessandra  Fioravanti's elevation to the Order of the Laurel was at Royal University Meridies this past weekend and Baroness Leda Sands and handled the food for her Vigil. This gave me an excuse for playing with some Renaissance recipes and I enjoyed it enormously.  I also learned a good bit about feeding large quantities of people.

The first hurdle to surmount was food allergies of various people that would be in attendance.  Pork, beef, melon, green peppers, mushrooms & tomatoes were all immediately off the ingredient list. Since I am allergic to mushrooms myself, I was very sympathetic, but it did make finding recipes a bit more complicated.

The menu we ended up with was a mix of period and modern dishes loosely on the theme of "breakfast"

Baroness Leda did:
Biscuits and gravy
Chicken sausage
Fresh strawberries
Orange Juice
and Champagne for the mimosas that Mistress Alessandra would offer her guests

and  I made:
Candied citrus peel
Lemon curd
Cheese tartlets
Rice pudding topped by spiced plum mousse with honey
Honey nut clusters


I had this crazy idea in my head that the cookies should be stamped with the giglio on Mistress Alessandra's heraldry and the giglio on the cookie should be in edible gold.   It took some mad google fu but I found a lady in Australia that sold a fleur de lis cookie stamp. The only giglio stamp I could find was $80 so a fleur de le lis  would have to be close enough. I used the shortbread recipe she provided to make sure the stamp would work (the only significant difference from my usual shortbread recipe was that there was a small amount of rice flour added and  it called for caster (superfine) sugar.

The stamp worked surprisingly well,  although the rough edges  needed to be cut off with a paring knife after each cookie was stamped.  Not difficult, but it took more time than I anticipated.

I got liquid edible gold and cake decorating brushes to gild the cookies.  Despite my non-existent illumination skills, I can paint a cookie well enough and the gilding went off without a hitch, although the cookie surface was a little rough since each ball of dough had to be rolled in sugar to keep the cookie press from sticking.

Finished cookies.  I'd intended to paint in stamen to make 
the Fleur-de-Lis a Giglio, but alas there wasn't time

Candied Citrus Peel 

There is a recipe in Menagier de Paris for Candied Orange Rind that has you soak the orange rind in water for 9 days, boil it in honey and then let it sit for a month before eating it.  I chose a simpler, more modern recipe using sugar.  It was still a lot of work.  Mistress Serafina and I spent an entire afternoon peeling a dozen oranges and a dozen lemons and the end product was a little over a quart ziploc bag of candied peels. Still, the finished product was absolutely delicious and  I will probably put them on the regular rotation of things to make for events, regardless of the amount of work involved. At some point I may try the Menagier de Paris recipe once  just because I'm curious, though.

orange peel boiling in simple syrup

Lemon Curd

I can't document lemon curd earlier than the early 1800s, but Leda and I both love it and I needed something to do with the rest of the lemons for the candied citrus peel. It was surprisingly easy to make and I may need to work harder to see if there is any case whatsoever for it being eaten pre-1600. And it would go beautifully on the shortbread or with the fresh strawberries, so it stayed on the menu.

Cheese Tartlets

I used Scappi's Feast Day Cheese Tourte (Scappi V 81) which called for ricotta, cream cheese, fresh mozzarella & Parmesan, eggs, cinnamon and raisins in a crust. Thanks to a serendipitous Goodwill find of 6 mini muffin tins for $1 each and an amazing little tool I found on Amazon,  I decided to do bite sized tartlets rather than a full pie. This was a great idea, but these were the last thing I  made the night before and after the first 72 tarts, I ended up putting the rest of the filling in a single pie crust.  I

A tart tamper.  You put a ball of dough in the mini muffin tin
 and press the tamper in to make a little cup of dough

Rice Pudding with Almond Milk
This was a combination of several recipes.  I prepared the rice by soaking it in warm water for 30 minutes then drying it in a 200 degree oven for an hour as per Scappi, but I heated my almond milk before adding it to the rice and added rose water.   Preparing the rice was time consuming but it cooked up perfectly and was worth the extra effort.  I have to admit I did not make my own almond milk, though.  I used Trader Joe's Unsweetened Vanilla almond milk, which I picked up by mistake, thinking it was the plain unsweetened.  I was very glad there were left overs, because I could eat this for breakfast every day and not get tired of it.

Spiced Plum Mousse with Honey
This is found in Forme of Cury and the original recipe calls for fresh plums.  I had just finished racking a batch of plum brandy and had the re-hydrated dried plums that had been soaking in brandy for 6 months, so I used those instead. I'm curious to try it with fresh plums, but I am very happy with the current result.   It's not terribly pretty Not only was this tasty atop the rice pudding, it was delicious spread on a biscuit.

Honey Nut Clusters (Nucato)
I found this recipe in Redon's The Medieval Kitchen:  Recipes from France and Italy which lists the source for it as Libra della cuicina del secolo XIV.  That is not a text I am familiar with, and in the interest of full disclosure I did not independently corroborate the source. The original recipe and other mentions of it I have found on the Web say to spread the hot mixture out on parchment and cut it like peanut brittle.  Thankfully, I did a test run on this to take to Artsy Crown, because spreading it on parchment was an epic failure.  The parchment stuck to it, it wouldn't cut and I ended up reheating it in the oven to be able  to scrape it off the parchment.  I  also realized that it was very sensitive to heat and humidity.  By day two of Artsy Crown it was one big lump you had to rip a chunk off of to eat.  Knowing this, I used mini peanut butter cup molds and lots and lots of spray coconut oil to keep it from sticking and kept it in a cooler until it was time to set out the food.  It still managed to melt on the tray by the end of the day, but it was far more successful than try #1.

Nucato, already on the way to becoming  melted blobs

What I Learned
The finger foods (cookies, tartlets, strawberries, nucato, candied citrus peel) were the most popular. Very few people were interested in what was in the chafing dishes.  Perhaps lifting the cover was too intimidating?

Labels with what the food was and the ingredients in each dish are absolutely necessary.  I'd cut them from my to-do list due to time constraints and ended up using blue sticky notes because there were so many questions.

Do a test run with everything!  I'd never used sterno for chafing dishes before but it seemed easy enough.  But the sterno canisters were too large for the dishes and after 5-10 minutes had to be extinguished because the sausages were already burning.  It was far from the worst thing that could have happened, but it was a failure that was totally avoidable.

Over all, it was a fun experience and I was happy to make Mistress Alessandra's day a little more special.  There is definitely more experimenting with period recipes in the future!

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