Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday Night Experiment: Hildegarde of Bingen's Small Cakes

I've been a bit lax in bottling last summer's batches of brandy and cordials so there was a bit of a frenzy over the last 2 weekends of straining off brandies and doing a first bottling to let the sediment settle.  The blackberries were too soft after soaking for 12 months to do anything with, but there was a nice quantity of brandied peaches.  And Tourney of the Foxes is next weekend, so I was planning on packing a nice picnic to feed starving fencers.  I'd been thinking peach shortcake but that didn't pass the "easy to eat" test then Mistress Kyra posted a picture of her daughter making peach hand pies on Facebook.  Bingo!  Brandied peach hand pies it was going to be.

At the grocery, I looked at the whole wheat flour, thought about buying it since I'm doing more Renaissance cooking these days and then thought " Nah...I don't have any recipes that need it right now."   Then I got home and was flipping through a copy of Duke Sir Cariadoc's "How to Milk and Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip" that had just arrived to replace an old copy that got lost over the years.  And came across his redaction for Hildegarde of Bingen's small cakes from her Physica.  Which I was immediately curious to make and, of course, required whole wheat flour.  So back to the grocery it was.

The original was from her entry on nutmeg and said "Take some nutmeg and an equal weight of cinnamon and a bit of cloves and pulverise them.  Then make small cakes with this and fine whole wheat flour and water.  Eat them often...It will calm all bitterness of the heart and mind, open your heart and impaired senses and make your mind cheerful.  If purifies your senses and diminishes all harmful humors"1

I remembered Hildegarde von Bingen from college and immediately ordered a used copy of her Physica from Amazon. But I was too curious about these cakes to wait to confirm the reference when the book arrived.  And I  mean..  it's Duke Sir Cariadoc's redaction.  I'd definitely consider him pretty reliable as a source.

So in between straining the last of the peach brandy and making a batch of dough from Scappi's Feast Day Cheese tart to experiment with for the peach hand pies, I mixed up the small cakes.  Cariadoc suggested 1 tsp nutmeg & cinnamon and half that for the cloves and one quarter that for the salt with 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup water.

It took me 1/2 cup of water to get dough that was smooth -I wonder if he was using white whole wheat flour originally.  I also separated the dough into 12 pieces rather than the 4 he suggested.

The end result was sort of a dense, chewy, vaguely clove tasting bread. I think next time I'd use less clove.  "a bit of clove" compared to an "equal measure of cinnamon" and nutmeg seems to me to be less than half the amount and clove has a very strong flavor anyway.  When pretty much proves Cariadoc's never trust a redaction unless you see the original because you never know what liberties the redactor took" advice in the introduction.2    It probably wasn't bad for the middle ages -and the recipe was supposed to be medicinal anyway.  But if I made it again, it would probably be for camp breakfasts and spread thickly with apple butter.

Still it was an interesting experiment.  And I have a whole book of redactions to try and primary sources to track down.  Not bad for a Sunday night!

1 Friedman, David and Elizabeth Cook. How to Milk an Almond, Stuff an Egg and Armor a Turnip. Self published, 2011.  referencing Throop, Prisilla, tr.  Hildegarde von Bingen's Physica.  Rochester Vermont: 1998. Healing Arts Press


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