Nuhud al-Adra – Virgin’s Breasts

Honestly, you see a recipe with that title… you have to make it work.

Knead sugar, almonds, samid and clarified butter, equal parts, and make them like breasts, and arrange them on a brass tray. Put it in the bread oven until done, and take it out. It comes out excellently.
Kitab Wasf al-Atima al-Mutada Chapter XI (trans. Charles Perry)

And here we have another problem with period recipes… You get ingredients, even some indication of quantity, but not precise quantities and no indication of how to actually combine the ingredients. There are a number of ways of combining butter and sugar for starters. It took about 5 goes to get this recipe right.

I started out with a cup of all the ingredients, creaming the clarified butter and sugar. The clarified butter and sugar didn’t combine well, and the biscuits crumbled if you looked at them too hard. The second attempt I cheated and used more butter, and raw sugar, hoping the molasses in the sugar would add extra liquid. It did… the biscuits ran.

The first breakthrough came when I realised I was making something similar to shortbread, so I found a modern recipe for shortbread that didn’t contain eggs, and adapted it to get the method of combining the ingredients (working with melted clarified butter). The second major breakthrough came when I realised I’d been working with equal volumes (that is, a cup of everything), when all the period recipes went by weight. So I worked out how much a cup of clarified butter weighed, and lo, it worked! There probably wasn’t much difference in weight to volume… but clearly there was enough to affect the outcome.

Ingredients

200g clarified butter 200g semolina
200g caster sugar 200g almond meal

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 180°C.
2. Mix the semolina and almond meal in a bowl.
3. If your clarified butter is not melted, melt it, and then combine with the sugar until the sugar is at least partially dissolved and the mixture is frothy. You can do this step with an electric mixer.
4. Gradually add the combined semolina and almond meal to the butter and sugar – it is better to do this by hand. You will wind up with a crumbly dough that binds when compressed.
5. Take walnut sized balls of dough and press in to “breast” shapes. Bake for around 12-15 minutes, until pale gold.

P3090004

Many thanks to the Mordenvale Company of Cooks, and the populace of Mordenvale, for their help and feedback while developing this recipe.

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