Prince Bisket (Revisited)

20. To make prince bisket.
TAke one pounde of verie fine flowers, and one pounde of fine ſugar, and eight egges, and two ſpoonfuls of Roſewater, and one ounce of carroway ſeeds, and beat it all to batter one whole hour, for the ore you beat it, the better your bread is, then bake it in coffins of white plate, being baſted with a little butter before you put in your batter, and ſo keepe it.
Hugh Plat, Delightes for Ladies (1602)

20. To make prince biscuit.
Take one pound of very fine flour, and one pound of fine sugar, and eight eggs, and two spoonfuls of Rosewater, and one ounce of caraway seeds, and beat it all to batter one whole hour, for the more you beat it, the better your bread is; then bake it in coffins of white plate, being basted with a little butter before you put in your batter, and so keep it.

Bisket was originally a long lasting, but tasteless and hard to eat food, consisting of flour and water, used as food for soldiers, and there were many complaints about how inedible they were (Brears 2016, 568). They were twice cooked to make them hard enough for weevils to avoid (Spurling, 2011, 117). But then in the sixteenth century, in a form of cultural appropriation, sugar, eggs and spices were added to create a high end version that was often enjoyed at banquets. Some biskets were twice baked, similar to a modern Italian biscotti, while others were baked once, like this.

Some of you may remember my original post about Prince Bisket. This interpretation was highly influenced by the recipe for Bisket Bread; while the ingredients for Bisket Bread are similar to Prince Bisket, Bisket Bread is quite different. For one thing, it is twice baked, and more significantly, the ingredients are combined differently. Hugh Plat simply says to mix the all the ingredients together and beat for an hour. However in Bisket Bread, the eggs must be beaten first, then the sugar added, then the flour. This results in a light, crisp bisket. When I started making Prince Bisket, I was combining the ingredients in the same way, so I ended up with a light, crisp Prince Bisket.

When I put this first recipe for Prince Bisket up on Facebook, it was quite rightly pointed out that I wasn’t using the method described by Hugh Plat, which results in a very different texture – it is still light, but is soft rather than crisp. So I decided to re-do the Prince Bisket, by mixing everything at once rather than adding the ingredients in sequence.

The resulting bisket still tasted the same, but was indeed much softer. When I trialled the two varieties with testers, some preferred my original crisp bisket, while others preferred this softer version. I will continue to make this recipe both ways, but the crisp biskets will be called “Pretender Biskets.”

Ingredients

225 g flour 1.5 tbs rosewater
225g caster sugar 2 tsp caraway seeds, ground
4 eggs

Method

  1. Mix together all the ingredients. If doing this by hand, you will indeed need to beat the mixture constantly by hand for at least an hour in order to combine the batter to the right consistency. It needs to be quite stiff. If you are using a stand mixer (as I do), start slowly until the ingredients are roughly combined, then increase the speed until the mixture is stiff. This should take 20-30 minutes.
  2. Line the moulds of a mini muffin tray with mini patty cases, or grease well with butter, and carefully spoon the mix into patty cases. The mix is quite stiff, so it will help to use two spoons. Fill each mould about ¾ full.
  3. Bake in a 150ᵒC oven for 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into one of the biskets comes out clean.

Notes

  • Normally, I will do things such as mixing, pureeing or grinding at least once manually, to get an appreciation for the process the medieval cooks had to go through (and then I break out the power tools because I don’t have an army of minions; I do have minions but not an army of them). But this is one where I will never do the mixing by hand, because it does indeed much constant beating to get the right consistency for the batter! When eggs are beaten, you are breaking down and re-combining the proteins in the yolk and white of the egg, and combining the water in the egg white, to create a foam that will give the biskets their rise. And the eggs need to be beaten a lot, in order to bring about the protein structures. However, the sugar and the flour both interfere with this re-combining of the proteins, resulting in a less stable egg foam and the softer bisket texture (McGee, 2004, 100-106). If you were to beat the eggs first, then add the sugar, then the flour, the egg foam would have a much stronger structure and the end result will be crisper.
  • Bisket recipes continued to feature in cookbooks well into the seventeenth century. The following recipe comes from The Accomplisht Cook by Robert May, and was published in 1660.

    To make Bisquite du Roy. Take a pound of fine searsed sugar, a pound of fine flour, and six eggs, beat them very well, then put them all into a stone mortar, and pound them for the space of an hour and a half, let it not stand still, for then it will be heavy, and when you have beaten it so long a time, put in halfe an ounce of anniseed; then butter over some pie plates, and drop the stuff on the plate as fast as two or three can with spoons, shape them round as near as you can, and set them into an oven as hot as for manchet, but the less they are coloured the better.(p273)
    To make Bisquite du Roy. Take a pound of fine sieved sugar, a pound of fine flour, and six eggs, beat them very well, then put them all into a stone mortar, and beat them for the space of an hour and a half. Beat it continuously or it will be heavy, and when you have beaten it for the length of time, put in half an ounce of aniseed. Then butter over some pie plates, and drop the stuff on the plate as fast as two or three can with spoons, shape them round as near as you can, and set them into an oven as hot as for manchet, but the less they are coloured the better.

    This will be stiffer than Prince Bisket as it doesn’t contain as many eggs, and closer to a modern biscuit or cookie. As Robert May notes, you will be able to shape them.

 

Prince bisket revisited
These were made in a mini muffin pan lined with paper cases, so they could be served easily at a food competition. You could also make them in a tea saucer or shallow bowl, as Hugh Plat suggests in his recipe. But I suggest using more than a “little butter,” because the final result will stick because of the high sugar content.

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (2002). The Good Housewife’s Jewel.
May, Robert (1660) The Accomplisht Cook
McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book.
A.W. (1591). <a href=”https://www.bookdepository.com/Book-of-Cookrye-Very-Necessary-for-All-Such-as-Delight-Therin-Gathered-by-W-1591-W-W-W/9781171316305?a_aid=leobalecelade&#8221; target=”_blank”A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin.

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