I’ve been putting theory into practice, experimenting with different recipes for making medieval ‘paste’, the stuff which medieval cooks used for making pastries, from baked tarts and pies to fried crispels and fritters.
In this post, I report back on my experiments to make authentic medieval pastry, using both egg yolk paste and whole egg paste.
Medieval paste recipes do not list any other fat besides that found in eggs, so it seems quite evident that butter or lard, for example, were not used. You can read more about this, in my first post about pastry, here.
Egg yolk paste
I experimented first with egg yolk paste. I needed 9 medium egg yolks for 200g of flour (I mistakenly say 100g of flour in the video, below). For those of you who use ounces, that’s just over 7oz of flour. The flour I used was organic stoneground white flour. If you’re in the UK, you can buy it here.
As you see, it looks and feels like something between pastry and pasta dough. I only gently kneaded this before rolling it out to make a pastry case, or ‘crust’, as medieval cooks would have called it. It needed cooking for about 30 minutes (I was cooking it fully), at 180°C/350°F in a fan oven (= 200°C/400°F in a standard electric oven; gas mark 6).
The crust was robust, held its shape well, and was easy to remove from the ceramic dish I used to bake it in. It bore some resemblance to modern short-crust pastry, though noticeably less fragile, and was quite crisp. It would be ideal for using to make most of the tart and pie recipes in Forme of Cury (‘Method of Cookery’), Richard II’s cookery book.
I will probably use the egg yolk paste for Sambocade, the elderflower curd tart I experimented with a few weeks ago. At the time, I used my own gluten-free pastry — so that I could eat it — but it will be interesting to test it, on some willing participants, with this more authentic crust. I will be filming the Sambocade recipe for the Patreon video series, so please look out for that.
I next used the egg yolk paste to make crispels. The recipe in Forme of Cury is as follows:
Take & make a foyle of good past as thynne as paper, kerue hit out and fry hit in oyle oþer in grece, & þe remnaunt take hony claryfyed & flamme hem þer wiþ, alay hem vp and serue hit forth.
Take and make a leaf of good pastry as thin as paper; cut it out and fry it in oil or in fat; and for the rest, take clarified honey and glaze them therewith; layer them up and serve it forth.
The edited text and translation are by Christopher Monk. © 2019. All rights reserved.
I cut the paste into small circles and fried them in hot oil. I used peanut oil, not very medieval, I know, but nevertheless a good frying oil. (I will be posting about medieval oils and fats in a later post.)
The crispels took just seconds to fry to a golden colour. I glazed them with warmed honey. They were very delicate and crispy, and apparently tasted pretty good.
I did have enough paste left to make pasta, so I kneaded the remnant a few minutes, rolled it out very thinly, and formed a raviola, filling it with what I had to hand: cheese and homemade chutney!
The guinea pig, Ray (Camera, Lights, Action! man for the video series), said the edges were a bit rubbery, but essentially the rest tasted fine and seemed rather like modern fresh pasta.
Whole egg paste
The whole egg paste was very interesting. I used 3 large eggs to 250g of flour (the same flour as before) — that’s almost 9oz. This took a lot of kneading to get rid of the stickiness, just as it would if you were making pasta dough.
I again used the paste to make both a pastry crust and crispels. The results were intriguing.
The crust needed even longer in the oven to bake than the yolk paste version, about 40 minutes at 180°C/350°F in a fan oven (= 200°C/400°F in a standard electric oven; gas mark 6).
I wouldn’t go as far as to say the crust was indestructable, but it was very resilient! I didn’t really like it as a tart crust because the sides lost their initial height. Just like pasta dough, the paste was quite elastic and tended to shrink back.
I may have to experiment further to see if I can find a better ingredient combination, probably a ratio of less egg to flour.
The crispels on the other hand were wonderful:
I made them a little larger than the yolk paste versions, rolling out the dough as thinly as possible. I fried them until golden brown in hot, but not too hot, oil: they puffed up and grew in size, rather like poppadoms do. I drizzled them in warmed honey. These were a big hit with Ray. These crispels will likely find their way into the video series.
I still have yet to experiment with flour-and-water and flour-and-almond-milk paste recipes. Once I do, I will get back to you all on the results.
I am going to attempt a gluten-free version, too. It’s only fair!
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P.S. Thank you to Kay, one of my readers, for asking what the second pastry crust was like. Was it edible, she asked. It was. Despite it looking very tough, the texture was not detrimental to my human guinea pig’s teeth. Here, in this short video, you get an idea of how it has the snap of a British biscuit: