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.

Bisket Bread

To make bisket bread.
Take one pound of flower, & one pound of sugar, one ounce of annisseeds, halfe an ounce of coriander seed, mingle these together, take viii eggs beat them verie well, then put in your stuff, then beat it alltogether very well, then take dishes &annoynt them with butter & put the stuf into them, Let the oven be as hot as it is for manchet, when it is brown at top turne it & set it in againe, if you would have it light put the yolks of viii eggs more to it, & beat the sugar with the eggs, before the flower bee put in.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, ed. Hilary Spurling, p 119.

To make bisket bread.
Take one pound of flour, one pound of sugar, one ounce of aniseeds, and half an ounce of coriander seed. Mingle these together, take 8 eggs and beat them very well. Then put in your stuff, then beat it all together very well, then take dishes and anoint them with butter, then put the stuff into them. Let the oven be as hot as it is for manchet. When it [the bisket] is brown at the top, turn it and set it in again. If you would have it light, put the yolks of 8 eggs more to it, and beat the sugar with the eggs, before the flour be put in.

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, like this one, while others were baked once.

There are many other versions of bisket recipe (see, for example, The Good Housewife’s Jewel pp 79-80 and Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book pp 117-121). They are all similar in that they are combinations of equal amounts of flour and sugar, with many well beaten eggs, with added flavourings such as spices and rosewater. Biskets were also probably commercially available; there are recipes that use biskets without actually having a recipe. See for example A.W’s A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin, which specifies in several pie or tart recipes to sprinkle bisket on top, but does not have a recipe for them (a transcript of this cookbook is available online here).

I have seen other bisket redactions where people change the proportion of flour to sugar, possibly influenced by modern biscuits where the biscuit mix holds its form when uncooked. But Elizabethan biskets are more like a cake batter than a modern English biscuit, North American cookie or Italian biscotti.

Lady Fettiplace’s instructions for combining the ingredients are exact, if a little obscure in the writing. The eggs must be beaten “verie well,” then the “stuff” added. However, the final line of the recipe specifies the sugar must be added to the eggs and beaten in before the flour (and presumably the spices). Spurling, who produced the Receipt Book from Lady Fettiplace’s handwritten journal noted the final line is clearly a later addition to the text of the recipe. The order in which the ingredients are added does have an impact on the final texture of the bisket (see notes). Clearly, Lady Fettiplace made some bisket bread adding the sugar and the flour at once and got an unsatisfactory result. She then added an extra note to her working journal to remind herself of the better method. My own working recipe journal is full of similar additions and corrections.

Ingredients

(The recipe is quartered to make it easier to handle.)

115 g flour 2 tsp aniseed, ground
115g caster sugar 1 tsp coriander seed, ground
2 eggs

Method

  1. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs slowly until they are combined, then increase the speed of the blender.

    Lightly_Whipped
    The eggs at the start of the whipping. Note the colour and the volume.

  2. Beat the eggs until they are light and frothy, and increased in volume.

    Fully_Whipped
    The eggs fully whipped. The colour has changed and the foam has nearly doubled in size.

  3. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating until the mix is shiny and is starting to resist the beaters.
  4. Add the flour, aniseed and coriander, and continue to beat until the mix is well combined and stiff.
  5. Take two flat, ovenproof plates with steep sides, and cover them well with butter. Carefully pour the bisket batter into one of the plates.
  6. Bake in a 180ᵒC oven for 12-15 minutes, until the edges of bisket have turned golden and have started to come away from the sides of the plate.
  7. Carefully remove the plate from the oven, then put the other plate on top of the plate containing the bisket. Flip the plates so the bisket falls into the second plate, and the top of the bisket is now at the base. Return the bisket to the oven and bake for a further 10-12 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the bisket comes out clean.
  8. If the business with the plates seems like too much work, you can spoon the mixture into mini muffin pans. Line the moulds of a mini muffin tray with mini patty cases, 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, and bake in in a 180ᵒC oven for 10-12 minutes.

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 eggs to foam properly! When you beat the yolks and the whites together, you are breaking down and re-combining the proteins in the egg, and combining the water in the egg white, to create the 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. You can beat the eggs less, but you won’t get a light, crisp bisket (McGee, 2004, 100-106).
  • The final bisket has a crisp, light texture. In order to achieve this, you need to follow Lady Fettiplace’s method of combining the ingredients. That is, beat the eggs to a foam first, then add the sugar, to stabilise the egg foam, before adding the flour, or your biskets will collapse when cooked (McGee, 2004, 104).

 

Bisket bread

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Black, Maggie (2002). The Good Housewife’s Jewel.
McGee, Harold (2004). On Food and Cooking.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book.
A.W. (1591). A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin.

Succade of Citrus Peel (Candied Citrus Peel)

To make Succade of Peels of Oranges and Lemons.
Chapter xxxii.
FYrste take, offe your Peeles by quarters and seet hthem in fair water from .iii. quartes to .iii. pynts, then take them out, and put to as much more water, and seethe them lykewyse, and so doe agayne, till the water wherin they are sodden haue no bitternesse at all of the Peeles, then are they ready. Now prepare a Syrop as ye doe for quin ces condict in syrop in ye .xiiii. chapter before written: seeth them in the Syrope a while, a keep them in a Glasse or Pot.

(For Syrup, chap.xiiii)
… & put into the liquor being .ii. or .iii. quartes .i. pynte of Rosewater, & for euery quart also of lyquor, one half pound of suger, seeth them againe together on a soft fire of coles tyl ye suger be incorporated with the liquor, then put in your Quinces, let them seeth softly tyll you perceaue that your Syrope is as thick as liue honuy, the set them to keel, and take them out, lat them in a tray or treene platter: tyl they be cold, then take one ounce of brused Cinamon, & some of the Cinimon in the Syrope, and when it is colde lai a larde of quinces in your glasse (called a gestelyn glasse) or an erthe pot well glased, then straw a little of your Cinimon vpon you Quinces, the power some Syrope, lay on an other larde of Quinces, and agayne of your spice, and Syrope, and so foorthe tyll you haue done:
John Partridge, The Treasurie of commodious Conceits (1573)

First take off your peels by quarters and boil them in 3 quarts to 3 pints of fair water, then take them out, and put to as much more water, and boil them likewise, and so do again, until the water wherein they are sodden have no bitterness at all of the peels, then are they ready. Now prepare a syrup as you do for quinces in syrop in xiiii. chapter before written: boil them in the Syrup a while, and keep them in a glass or pot.

(For Syrup)
… and put into a liquor composed of 2 or 3 quarts (of water plus).1. pint of rosewater, and for every quart of liquor, add one half pound of sugar. Simmer them again together on a soft fire of coals until the sugar be incorporated with the liquor, then put in your quinces, let them simmer until you perceive that your syrup is as thick as live honey, then set them to cool, and take them out, lay them in a tray or treene (?)  platter until they be cold, then take one ounce of bruised cinnamon, (and put) some of the cinnamon in the syrup, and when it is cold lay some of the quinces in your glass (called a gestelyn glass) or a well glazed ceramic pot, then strew a little of your cinnamon upon your quinces, the pour some syrup, lay on another lot of Quinces, and again of your spice, and Syrup, and so forth until you have done.

The text of this recipe is taken from the transcript by Johnna Holloway, available here.

I was first taught how to cook candied peel by my great aunt, and when I first read this recipe I realised it was describing her method. This influenced my redacting, especially in some of the timings.

Ingredients

Peels of 6 oranges or lemons 100mL rosewater (see notes)
1 L water (optional) 1-3 sticks cinnamon
225g sugar

Method

  1. Make sure as much as the flesh as possible is removed from the peel, and cut it into pretty strips.
  2. Put the peels into a large pan, with enough cold water to make sure they are well covered. Make sure you don’t put too many peels in the pan – they need to be able to “move around” in the water as it boils. It would not hurt to even nearly fill the pan with water.
  3. Bring the pan to the boil, and boil the pan for around half an hour.
  4. Drain the peels, and return to the pan with another lot of cold water. Return to the boil and boil for around half an hour.
  5. Drain the peels, return to the pan for another lot of cold water, and boil for another half hour, for a third time.
  6. Drain the peels and put aside.
  7. Put the litre of water, rosewater and sugar in a pan, and over a low heat, stir until the sugar is dissolved.
  8. Put the peels in the syrup, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the syrup is reduced to the desired consistency.
  9. If not using immediately, store the peels in a sterilised jar layered with crushed cinnamon, with the remaining syrup poured over.
  10. When you want to serve the peels, drain them and put the peels on greaseproof paper on a rack to dry slightly. The reserved syrup is great spread on sweet cakes or biscuits.

Notes

  • Suckets were an important part of a banquet, whether served as an individual dish or as a garnish for other dishes, such as marchpane. They were sold ready made (Brears, 2016, 531); while it is possible to buy candied peel today, it’s less expensive to make your own, and is not particularly difficult.
  • If you look at modern recipes for candied peel, they are remarkably similar, however the times for the initial three boils varies considerably. Around half an hour was the time my great aunt used, so I went with that.
  • The most important thing to remember while candying citrus peel, is don’t put too many peels in the pan during the three boils. This triple-boiling removes the bitterness from the peels, and if there are too many peels in the pan and not enough water, not enough bitterness will be removed from the peels, and the final result will not be as pleasant to eat.
  • If going by the original recipe, I should be using twice as much rosewater in the final syrup. However, when I tried this, I found the rosewater flavour far too overpowering, and other people found the taste quite unpleasant. Especially seeing as rosewater is one of those love it or hate it flavourings. If you want to make it closer to what the original probably was, use at least 200mL of rosewater.
  • You can use other peels of other citrus, such as lime or grapefruit, in this recipe.

Candied peel

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Brears, Peter (2016). Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England

Marchpane

How to make a good Marchpaine.
First take a pound of long smal almonds and blanch them in cold water, and dry them as drye as you can, then grinde them small, and put no licour to them but as you must needs to keepe them from oyling, and that licour that you put in must be rosewater, in manner as you shall think good, but wet your Pestel therin, when ye have beaten them fine, take halfe a pound of Sugar and more, and see that it be beaten small in pouder, it must be fine sugar, then put it to your Almonds and beate them altogither, when they be beaten, take your wafers and cut them compasse round, and of the bignes you will have your Marchpaine, and then as soone as you can after the tempering of your stuffe, let it be put in your paste, and strike it abroad with a flat stick as even as you can, and pinch the very stuffe as it were an edge set upon, and then put a paper under it, and set it upon a faire boord, and lay lattin Basin over it the bottome upwarde, and then lay burning coles upon the bottom of the basin. To see how it baketh, if it happen to bren too fast in some place, folde papers as broad as the place is & lay it upon that place, and thus with attending ye shal bake it a little more then a quarter of an houre, and when it is wel baked, put on your gold and biskets, and stick in Comfits, and so you shall make a good Marchpaine. Or ever that you bake it you must cast on it fine Sugar and Rosewater that will make it look like Ice.
A.W. A Book of Cookrye, Very Necessary for all such as delight therein. (1591)

How to make a good Marchpane.
First take a pound of long small almonds and blanch them in cold water, and dry them as dry as you can, then grind them small, and put no liquor to them but as you must needs to keep them from getting oily, and that liquor that you put in must be rosewater, in manner as you shall think good, but wet your pestle therein. When ye have beaten them fine, take half a pound of sugar and more, and see that it be beaten small in powder, it must be fine sugar. Then put it to your Almonds and beat them all together, when they be beaten, take your wafers and cut them round with a compass, the size of your marchpane. As soon as you can after the tempering of your (marchpane) stuff, let it be put in your paste, and strike it abroad with a flat stick as even as you can, and pinch the very stuff as it were an edge set upon, and then put a paper under it, and set it upon a fair board, and lay lattin Basin over it the bottom upwards. Lay burning coals over the basin. To see how it bakes, if it happen to brown too fast in some places, fold papers as broad as the place is & lay it upon that place. And thus with attending you shall bake it a little more than a quarter of an hour, and when it is well baked, put on your gold and biskets, and stick in comfits, and so you shall make a good marchpane. Or ever that you bake it you must cast on it fine sugar and rosewater that will make it look like Ice.

The text of the recipe is taken from Mark and Jane Wak’s transcription of A Book of Cookrye, available here.

Marchpane was a centrepiece of any Elizabethan banquet – a small, gathering after a feast, where expensive sugary confections were served. Marchpane features in most Elizabethan cookbooks; all recipes feature almond meal and fine sugar in differing proportions, held together with rosewater. This is my preferred recipe, featuring half the amount of sugar to almond meal. I have seen recipes which call for twice as much sugar as almond meal – incredibly sweet!  Far too sweet for many modern palates – though the Elizabethans probably loved it.

Ingredients

450g almond meal 225g icing sugar 20-50mL rosewater
Icing
80g icing sugar 20-40mL rosewater

Method

  1. Mix together the icing sugar and almond meal, and pass through a fine sieve at least twice to ensure there are no lumps.
  2. Mix the rosewater into the icing sugar and almond meal a spoonful at a time, and incorporate well. It should be stiff and hold together, but not be too wet.  It is easiest to use your hands to do this.
  3. Press the marchpane into a cake pan that is lined with baking paper, and smooth off the top. You can also set aside some to mould into decorations.
  4. Put the marchpane, and any decorations, into a 120⁰ oven for about 15-20 minutes. You are drying the marchpane out, more than cooking it. You don’t really want it to brown.
  5. If you wish to press any decorations such as comfits (see notes) or candied fruit peel into the top, do it as soon as the marchpane comes out of the oven. The marchpane will still be very soft and malleable, but will stiffen on cooling.
  6. To make the icing, wait until the marchpane is completely cool. Sieve the icing sugar, then gradually add the rosewater, mixing well to make a stiff icing. Spread over the surface of the marchpane, and decorate with flower petals, comfits or candied fruit peel.

Notes

  • Icing sugar can also be called confectioner’s sugar. A similar product is available in Australia called icing mixture, which contains a small amount of cornflour to stop it clumping. I prefer to use pure icing sugar.
  • Comfits are seeds, nuts or spices coated in many thin layers of hardened sugar syrup (Brears, 2016, 562). They are often mentioned as garnishes for other sweet dishes, but very few books contain recipes. This leads me to conclude most people purchased comfits ready made from confectioners. Modern equivalents would be sugar coated almonds, or mukhwas, sugar coated fennel seeds available from Indian grocers.
  • I have suggested the weights of almond meal and sugar based on the original recipe.  If you wish to make a smaller marchpane, it is fine to vary the amounts, so long as you keep the proportions roughly the same (that is, half the weight of sugar to almond meal).  However, if you wish to make a larger marchpane, I would do it in two batches, as the mix becomes difficult to work with if you have too much in the bowl.

Iced marchpane
Iced marchpane, decorated with cornflower and dianthus petals.

Marchpane with comfits
Marchpane decorated with sugar coated almonds, mukhwas and candied lemon and orange peel.

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Brears, Peter (2016). Cooking and Dining in Tudor and Early Stuart England

Prince Bisket

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.

To me, the key to this recipe is the instruction to “beat all to batter one whole hour.” You don’t need to mix this for an hour, even by hand, to fully incorporate the ingredients; the only reason I can think of for beating it for so long is to get the eggs to foam, so you wind up with a lighter, fluffy end product. And the problem is, the sugar and the flour, added to the eggs, will actually impede the process of foaming the eggs (see the notes at the end). There are other, better ways to incorporate eggs, sugar and flour to create a light batter. And at least one person in the period we are talking about knew this.

To make bisket bread.
Take one pound of flower, & one pound of sugar, one ounce of annisseeds, halfe an ounce of coriander seed, mingle these together, take viii eggs beat them verie well, then put in your stuff, then beat it alltogether very well, then take dishes &annoynt them with butter & put the stuf into them, Let the oven be as hot as it is for manchet, when it is brown at top turne it & set it in againe, if you would have it light put the yolks of viii eggs more to it, & beat the sugar with the eggs, before the flower bee put in.
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book, ed. Hilary Spurling, p 119.

To make bisket bread.
Take one pound of flour, one pound of sugar, one ounce of aniseeds, and half an ounce of coriander seed. Mingle these together, take 8 eggs and beat them very well. Then put in your stuff, then beat it all together very well, then take dishes and anoint them with butter, then put the stuff into them. Let the oven be as hot as it is for manchet. When it [the bisket] is brown at the top, turn it and set it in again. If you would have it light, put the yolks of 8 eggs more to it, and beat the sugar with the eggs, before the flour be put in.

This is twice baked, but leaving aside the different spices and the extra optional egg yolks, this is basically the same ingredient combination as Sir Hugh’s. However, Spurling notes the end reminder, to beat the sugar with the eggs before the flour, is an addition to the recipe text, clearly made later. And this is after Lady Fettiplace said to beat the eggs first – the order thus being beat eggs, then beat in the sugar, then the flour. My own working journal is full of extra annotations like this (when I can read the scrawl), where I have changed ingredient quantities, timings or methods. Clearly, Lady Fettiplace made some bisket bread adding the sugar and the flour at once and got an unsatisfactory result. She then added an extra note to her working journal to remind herself of the better method.

I often find Lady Fettiplace’s recipes much more trustworthy than other writers (dodgy spelling aside). What we have is her working recipe journal – as with this recipe, she made changes and additions if she found her original written recipe didn’t give the desired result. She used these recipes, and many other printed cookbooks were written by people who weren’t necessarily cooks.

There are many other versions of bisket recipe (see, for example, The Good Housewife’s Jewel pp 79-80 and Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book pp 117-121). They are all similar in that they are combinations of equal amounts of flour and sugar, with many well beaten eggs, spices and rosewater. Biskets were also probably commercially available; there are recipes that use biskets without actually having a recipe. See for example A.W’s A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin, which specifies in several pie or tart recipes to sprinkle bisket on top, but does not have a recipe for them.

I have seen other redactions where people change the proportion of flour to sugar, possibly influenced by modern biscuits where the biscuit mix holds its form when uncooked. But these biskets are more like a cake batter than a modern biscuit, or even an Italian biscotti.

Ingredients

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

Method

  1. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs slowly until they are combined, then increase the speed of the blender.

    Lightly_Whipped
    The eggs at the start of the whipping. Note the colour and the volume.

  2. Beat the eggs until they are light and frothy, and at least doubled in volume.

    Fully_Whipped
    The eggs fully whipped. The colour has changed and the foam has doubled in size.

  3. Gradually add the sugar, and continue beating until the mix is shiny and is starting to resist the beaters.
  4. Add the flour, caraway seeds and rosewater, and continue to beat until the mix is well combined and stiff.
  5. Line the moulds of a mini muffin tray with mini patty cases, 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.
  6. 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 eggs to foam properly! When you beat the yolks and the whites together, you are breaking down and re-combining the proteins in the egg, and combining the water in the egg white, to create the 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. You can beat the eggs less, but you won’t get a light, fluffy bisket (McGee, 2004, 100-106).
  • As one of Elinor Fettiplace’s recipes warns, add the sugar when the eggs have been sufficiently beaten, then add the flour once the sugar is incorporated (Spurling, 2011, 119). You need to beat the eggs to a foam first, then add the sugar, to stabilise the egg foam, before adding the flour, or your biskets will collapse when cooked (McGee, 2004, 104).

Prince Bisket
These were made in a mini muffin pan lined with paper cases, so they could be served easily for afternoon tea at a tournament. 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.
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&quot; target="_blank"A Book of Cookrye Very Necessary for All Such as Delight Therin.

Marmalad of Apricocks

TO MAKE MARMALAD OF APRICOCKS
Take to a pounde of Apricockes a pounde of suger wanting 3 ounces wet yor suger in water & boyle it until yt come to candy then pare the plumes and cut them in quarters so put them into yor suger let them boyle till they will cut still stiringe and breakeinge them as fast as they boyle, when yt is enough put yt in boxes but cover yt not until yt bee cold
Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book

To a pound of apricots, take a pound of sugar. Using 3 ounces of water wet your sugar and boil it until it comes to candy, then pare the fruit and cut them into quarters. put them into your sugar and let them boil until the mixture can be cut. Stir and break them as fast as they boil, and when it is done put it in boxes but do not cover it untl it is cold.

When I first read that Elizabethan marmalade was a solid jelly (Sim, 2005, 158) rather than the somewhat gloopy substance we’re used to today, I was intrigued and began to look for recipes. This recipe from Elinor Fettiplace describes how marmalade was often presented as gifts in little boxes.

Ingredients

450g apricots, peeled and stoned 450g fine sugar approx. 80mL water

Method

  1. Put the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add just enough water to turn the sugar into a stiff paste; how much water will depend on how hot and humid the day is.
  2. Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has completely dissolved to syrup, stop stirring, and allow the syrup to reach 114ᵒ (soft ball stage).
  3. Add the apricots and stir, giving the apricots a bit of a bash. Leave the mix over a low heat and stir it well every few minutes, to make sure the apricots don’t stick to the bottom of the pan, and to break them up. Leave it like this until the apricots have completely turned to mush. This can take at least an hour- do not rush it, and do not turn the heat up, or you will burn the apricots and possibly set the marmelad before the apricots have completely broken up.
  4. When the apricots have completely broken down, turn the heat up, and stir the mix really vigorously. It will start to resist the stirring. When the mix has reached 114ᵒ again, take it off the heat and pour into an oiled pan. Leave to cool completely, then carefully cut it into squares.
  5. If storing, use a layer of parchment paper or baking paper in between each layer to prevent it sticking.

Notes

  • “Marmelade” is derived from marmelo, the Portuguese word for quince (Sim, 2005, 158-159). This recipe is the same as is used to create quince paste (that is, to preserve quinces). As the same method was applied to other fruits to produce a similar result, the name “marmalade” was also applied.
  • Marmelade was often given as gifts in little wooden boxes (Spurling, 2011, 163).
  • When making this recipe, use good quality sugar. I made it once with cheap, generic supermarket sugar, and the end result was quite grainy, even though it set properly.
  • When making this recipe, try not to do it on a very humid day. The process of turning sugar into candy relies on boiling the water out of the sugar. On a humid day, it will take a lot longer, and if the weather is too humid, it won’t set at all. If your hair is wet with sweat or your clothes are stuck to your body, it’s too hot.
  • Unlike water, sugar syrup gets to 100ᵒ and keeps on getting hotter. It is also very sticky. So be careful not to splash any on yourself – sugar syrup burns really, really hurt.

IMAG0839

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Sim, Alison. Fast and Feast in Tudor England. Stroud, 2005.
Spurling, Hilary. Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book. London, 2011.

Cheries in Conserve (Preserved Cherries)

Take suger and Cheries a like Quantity put as much water to yor suger as will wet yt, and boyle yt till yt allmost come to suger again, then stone yor cherries and put them in and two every pound of them put 3 spoonfulls of the Juice of Red Respice wth them let them boyle so fast that the sirop may boyle upp above the Cheries till they are boyled enough, sciminge of yt as the scum ariseth, as soone as you take them of the fier put them presently into a dish of either silver or earth there let them stand until they bee almost cold then put them upp. (Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book)

Take equal quantities of sugar and cherries. Put as much water to your sugar as will wet it, and boile it until it almost come to sugar again, then stone your cherries and put them in. To every pound of cherries put 3 spoonfuls of the juice of raspberries. Let them boil so fast that the syrup may boil up above the cherries until they are boiled enough, skimming off the scum as it rises. As soon as you take them off the fire put them into a dish of either silver or earth. There let them stand until they be almost cold then put them up.

Ingredients

450g cherries, stoned 40mL raspberry juice
450g fine sugar approx. 60mL

Method

water

  1. Put the sugar into a heavy bottomed saucepan and add just enough water to turn the sugar into a stiff paste; how much water will depend on how hot and humid the day is.
  2. Over a low heat, dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar has completely dissolved to syrup, stop stirring, and allow the syrup to reach 114ᵒ (soft ball stage).
  3. Put the cherries and raspberry juice in the syrup and return to the boil. Keep watching until the syrup boils up over the cherries, as described in Lady Fettiplace’s recipe. This is actually when the syrup gets to around 114ᵒ (soft ball stage) again.

    IMAG0269

  4. Allow to cool before serving or storing in a sealed, sterilised jar.

Notes

  • Raspberry juice has quite a tart flavour, and it was probably added to cut through the extreme sweetness. However, it’s quite hard to get hold of proper raspberry juice unless you juice them yourself. Do not add raspberry cordial instead; it is too sweet and actually doesn’t taste of raspberry juice. If you can’t get hold of proper raspberry juice, use rosewater instead as a period appropriate substitute.
  • Use good quality sugar to make this recipe. Cheap sugar can result in the syrup having an unpleasant, grainy texture.
  • Feasts in the Tudor and Stuart periods ended with a banquet course, a gathering of the most favoured or important guests, where they were served a range of sugary confections. A dish like this would have been considered a wet sucket, and served in its syrup. The cherries would have been eaten by spearing them with the end of a spoon.

Cherries in preserve

Further Reading

Click on the links below to buy direct from The Book Depository.
Spurling, Hilary (2011). Elinor Fettiplace’s Receipt Book