I enjoy experimenting in the kitchen. I learn so much. I find the process of practically working out medieval recipes complements the translation and research work I do.
Well, last week, I decided to further my understanding of medieval pastry by exploring the dish Payne Puff(e) and also a number of references to pastry made with cream.
This post develops some earlier research I did about pastry in which I looked at pastry made with egg yolks and whole eggs. I pointed out in that research, and elsewhere, that medieval pastry makers didn’t use butter or lard to make their ‘paste’, the word they used for their pastry dough. However, they did occasionally use cream.
‘Payne puff’ appears on the menu for a feast held for King Richard II and John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, by John Fordham, Bishop of Durham, at Durham House in London, on September 23rd 1387. It was served on the third course which also included pottages (an almond broth and a stew in the Lombardy style), roasted meats (from venison to larks), as well as a dish of jelly and one of ‘long fritters’ [see Austin, p. 68].
The evidence points to payne puff being, at least initially, a kind of pie. The name suggests that the pastry of the pie puffed up to some degree. It may have been the use of cream in making the paste that created this somewhat lighter type of pastry.
Intriguingly, though, in Richard II’s own cookery treatise, Forme of Cury (originally penned around 1390), cream is not specified as an ingredient in its, admittedly rather vague, recipe for Payn Puff. Let’s take a look at this recipe as it appears in a later copy of Forme of Cury:
Eodem modo fiat* payn puf, but make it more tendre þe past, and loke þe past be rounde of þe payn puf as a coffyn & a pye.
Puff bread should be made the same way, but make it softer, the paste, and look that the paste of the puff bread is round like a pastry case or a pie.The Middle English text, here, is taken from the digital facsimile of the British Library roll version, Additional MS 5016, f.12v, which manuscript dates to the 1420s. The earlier John Rylands Library version, dating to Richard II’s time, i.e., about 1390, does not contain the recipe. It may have been included on a folio that is now missing. Translation is my own. © Christopher Monk 2021. *The first three words are are in Latin.
We should note at this point that though I have translated ‘payn puff’ literally as ‘puff bread’, there is no indication from the immediate context that we should understand this dish as a type of bread, though I will explore, below, the possibility that payne puff becomes more like a bread in another, later recipe collection.
That it is not a true ‘bread’ can be deduced from the allusion the recipe makes to the previous dish: ‘Puff bread should be made the same way’. The same way as what? Well, as the previous recipe. And this recipe is one for a pie, with a filling of bone marrow and dried fruits; and it is called ‘pety parnant/pernaunt’ (there are various spellings for this dish throughout the cookery literature):
Take marrow, hole parad and kerue hit rawe, poudour of gynger, sugur, & ȝolkes of ayroun, dates mynced, raysouns of corauns, salt a lytul, and loke þat þou make þy past wiþ ȝolkes of ayroun and þat no watur come þerto, and fourme þy coffyn and make up þy past.
Take [bone] marrow – pared whole and carve it raw – powder of ginger, sugar, and egg yolks, minced dates, raisins of Corinth, a little salt; and make sure that you make your paste with egg yolks and that no water is added to it; and form your pastry case and make up your paste.Middle English text edited from the digital facsimile of Fourme of Cury in the John Rylands Library, MS English 7, folio 89v. Translation my own. © Christopher Monk 2021
Forme of Cury makes it clear that there is a pastry case (‘coffyn’) for this delicacy and that the paste for it was to be made using egg yolks but no water, making it far richer than standard pastry, which was made by kneading flour and water (see below, ‘Did medieval cooks use hot water pastry?’, for further information).
Thus, payne puff was to be, as the context shows, the same as pety parnant but with a ‘more tendre’ – a softer – paste. Using cream certainly makes for a softer pastry dough, as I observe in my adapted recipes, which are given below; but we don’t need to guess at this, since a fifteenth-century recipe stipulates that cream is an ingredient for when making payne puff.
Let’s take a look at this next:
12. for payne puffe.
Take creme, floure, ȝolkis, suger; herof make þy past & let it rest an hure or ii. Than tak marw cut of gobetes, reysons corans, dates cut, ȝolkis chopped, suger; medil all þese & put it in þe middes of þy lof & bake it in opyn ovyn; close hit ȝif þu lest or let it be opyn.
Take cream, flour, yolks, sugar; make from these your paste and let it rest an hour or 2. Then take marrow, cut into gobbets, raisins of Corinth, cut-up dates, chopped yolks, sugar; mix all these & put it in the middle of your loaf & bake it in an open oven; close it [?the pie] if you like, or let it be open.Middle English text is from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Ashmole 1393, folio 20r, edited by Constance B. Hieatt (see Hieatt, p. 24). Translation is my own: © Christopher Monk 2021
First, let’s note that the filling is essentially the same as for the pety parnant and payne puff of Forme of Cury, which reassuringly confims that we are talking here about the same dish. Indeed, it is possible that the two payne puff recipes are contemporary with each other.
True, it is difficult, based on the information available to me, to date the Bodleian Library manuscript, in which this second payne puff recipe is found, other than to say it is generally understood to be of the fifteenth century; though Constance Hieatt, the editor of the text, suggests, in a somewhat roundabout way, that the recipes in the collection may be earlier than this [see Hieatt, p. 22].
The important thing, however, in terms of making payne puff, is that cream is an essential component. It’s cream, it would seem, that makes for that ‘more tendre’ pastry.
Cream in pastry dough probably works in a similar way to how fats (butter and lard) in modern flaky and puff pastries work, creating little air pockets which give the final texture comparitive lightness. These modern types of pastry are, of course, given even more lightness by means of the process of dough lamination (layering).
Payne puff doesn’t stand still, so to speak. Around the middle of the fifteenth century, it appears in a collection of recipes somewhat modified. Let’s read this:
212. For to make Payn puffe.
Take smale floure & new ȝeste & hete þe ȝest with water, & put hit togeder, & make paste with þe same ȝest & ȝolkes of eyrene & sugur, safroun & salt & pouder of gynger; and make þy stuffe of ȝolkes of eyrene rawe & more poudre of gynger, sugur, dates mycede, smal reysouns of coraunce, safroun & salt. & take þe forseyde paste & make cakys of a schapmonde brede. Take a porcion of þe same stuffe & put hit ynne, and take & wete þe sydes with water & lappe hit togedyr upryȝt, & sete hit in an hote ovenne & loke to hit for brennynge.
Take fine flour and new yeast & heat the yeast with water, & put it together; & make paste with the same yeast & yolks of eggs & sugar, saffron & salt & powder of ginger; and make your stuffing from raw yolks of eggs & more powder of ginger, sugar, minced dates, small raisins of Corinth, saffron & salt. & take the aforesaid paste and make cakes of a bread shape. Take a portion of the same stuffing & put it in [the cakes], and take & wet the sides with water and enfold it together, upright; & set it in a hot oven & watch it does not burn.Middle English text is from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Rawlinson D 1222, folio 50r-v, edited by Constance B. Hieatt (see Hieatt, p. 84. Translation is my own: © Christopher Monk 2021.
So, no cream! And yeast is added to the paste mix. And, of course, yeast causes a rising effect. It’s tempting, then, to think of this particular payne puff paste as, what we today call, an enriched bread dough, into which the typical payne puff ingredients of eggs and dried fruit are stuffed – though note that raw eggs are used and there is now no bone marrow.
It is extra tempting when we consider that the recipe says to form the paste into bread-shaped cakes – like little buns, perhaps. I’m reminded of brioche.
However, there is in this version no mention of resting the paste – as was, intriguingly, stipulated for the earlier, yeast-free, cream-based payne puff – which we would do today if we were attempting an enriched bread dough, or brioche, since they require proving.
So, bread or pastry? Well, first I have to acknowledge that I have not experimented with this mid-fifteenth-century version, which seems to me somewhat bready or cakey from the description given, though perhaps less like bread and more like a quicker, “cheat’s way” of creating an ultra-puffed payne puff. In other words: no need to rest the pastry dough, folks, just bung in some yeast and hey presto!
Supporting the idea, perhaps, that payne puff remains essentially a kind of pie are the directions for serving payne puff in John Russell’s mid-fifteenth-century work Book of Nurture, in which Russell’s fictional apprentice is told to ‘pare þe botom nyȝe þe stuff, […] Kut of þe toppe of a payne puff’ (‘pare away the bottom near the filling; cut off the top of a payn puff’) [see Russell, lines 497-98]. This does sound like a pie to me.
It is possible, however, even likely, we might say, in view of other medieval recipes that share names, that what we are really seeing with these different versions of payne puff is culinary evolution: medieval cooks experimenting with new forms of old recipes, learning, adapting, rejecting former methods in favour of new ones, and as a result creating divergence to such an extent that the recipes can end up being almost completely different.
I would love to know what you think, so please feel free to disagree with me, or add your own thoughts on this in the comments section.
Other pastry made with cream
Before I finally get around to giving you the recipes from my own experimentation (I’m making you work hard for them!), I want to mention another medieval recipe in which cream is given as an ingredient of pastry. It appears in a manuscript collection that Hieatt dates to the fifteenth century, based on the hand-writing, and which contains copies of other recipes which go back much to the fourteenth.
It is the only other recipe that I’ve come across where cream is used in pastry. This seems significant. There are plenty of allusions to egg-based pastes throughout medieval English culinary texts, but just two (payne puff and this one) in which cream is an ingredient, so I’d suggest that either pastry made with cream was thought of as extra special or it didn’t catch on quite the same.
If anyone knows of later, post-medieval pastes being made with cream, please let me know.
The recipe below follows on from another for a mixture of ground dry figs and wine which is split into two parts; it describes what to do with the second part:
A bake mete.
Do to þe other pertye canell, gyngur, sugur, & corauns, & toyll hem well togedere. & then make your paste with rawe creme & sugur, & rere hem & set hem in a hote place aȝens þe son, & couche your stuff in þe coffyn & plant hem with cloves, & strewe over with blaunche pouder inogh, & serve yt forth.
Add to the other part cinnamon, ginger, sugar, & [raisins of] Corinth; & toil them well together; & then make your paste with raw cream & sugar; & rest them & set them [i.e., pastry cases] in a hot place against the sun; & couch your stuffing inside the pastry case & stud them with cloves; & strew over enough white powder [i.e., ground ginger and sugar]; & serve it forth.Middle English text from Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS E. Mus. 52, folio 70v, edited by Constance B. Hieatt (see Hieatt, p. 49). Translation is my own: © Christopher Monk 2021
The same recipe appears in another manuscript, almost word-for-word, except sugar is not mentioned as an ingredient of the pastry and the proviso ‘when they or styffe’ (‘when they [the pastry cases] are stiff’) is given before the direction to fill them is made [Hieatt, p. 93].
The richness of this absolutely delicious fig tart (I’m making a version of this for my forthcoming Medieval Christmas Canapes video) is enhanced by the choice to make the pastry with cream.
Egg yolks are not mentioned, however, as they are in payn puff recipes. And the rather strange-to-us method of drying out the pastry cases in hot sunshine, akin to our blind baking, is not stipulated for payne puff, which is oven-baked.
Now for my own experiments:
Payne Puff pastry
Wheat flour version
125g/ml (10 tablespoons) organic double cream (heavy cream, US)
4 teaspoons icing sugar (powdered/confectioners’ sugar)
2 large egg yolks (40g)
2-3 teaspoons cold water, if needed
150g/ml (12 tablespoons) organic double cream (heavy cream, US)
4 teaspoons icing sugar (powdered/confectioners’ sugar)
2 large egg yolks (40g)
1-2 teaspoons of cold water, if needed
*If your gluten-free flour does not already contain xanthan gum, as does Doves’ bread flour, then add 1 level teaspoon of xanthan gum when sieving. This is really important.
Method (the same for both wheat flour and gluten-free)
Sieve your choice of flour (including xanthan gum if using this) and icing sugar into a mixing bowl.
Make a well in the flour and add the egg yolks and cream. Combine the ingredients thoroughly with a cutlery knife, until clumps of dough form. If you feel the dough is a bit dry, incorporate the water.
Bring together the clumps with your hand to form a ball of dough.
On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 2cm (¾ inch); this makes it easier to roll out later. Wrap in baking paper, not too tightly.
Place either into a cool room such as a pantry for 1 to 2 hours or into the fridge for 30 minutes.
After this resting period, roll out your dough to your own requirements.
Why not try making some open mincemeat tarts?
On a floured surface, roll out your dough quite thinly, about ¼ to ½ centimetre, and use a pastry cutter, one that is larger than the wells in your jam tart tray, to cut out circles of pastry. Don’t use a deep muffin tray as the pastry will likely crack when you push it in.
Press the circles of pastry into your tart tray and bake blind in the centre of a hot oven (180°Fan, 200°C, 390°F): for about 8 minutes for the wheat flour pastry, a minute less for the gluten-free pastry. They should be light-golden brown and will have puffed up somewhat.
After this, remove from the oven and spoon in your mincemeat. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who supplies me with her own boozy mincemeat, which is just incredible, but you should be able to find a decent enough jar of the stuff, even in the USA (look for the British food aisle in the supermarket). Don’t worry about pushing the mincemeat into the puffed-up bits. These don’t have to look like French patisserie! Though be careful not to overfill, as mincemeat bubbles and expands when heated.
Finish them off in the oven for 5 minutes maximum. Allow to cool a little, just enough to prevent your mouth from blistering when you scoff six in one go.
The amount of dough should comfortably make 12 tarts.
The gluten-free dough is easy to mix and comes together very well, whereas the wheat flour dough is stretchier, due to the gluten, and requires a little more work to bring the clumps together. In theory, you could gently knead the wheat flour dough for a minute before resting it, though I didn’t do this.
I tried out both the medieval method (2 hours in my pantry) and modern method (30 minutes in the fridge) when resting both types of dough. Resting is important when making pastry, so don’t be tempted to skip this stage. It makes the pastry more malleable and easier to roll and move about without it falling to pieces.
There was, though, no appreciable difference between the doughs that had faced medieval and modern treatments. All doughs seemed equally rollable.
If you are an experienced pastry maker, you will notice the difference in the feel of payne puff pastry compared to modern short crust. Both the wheat flour and gluten-free doughs were softer, more like a flaky pastry dough.
When lining a larger tray, rather than the tart trays, the gluten-free dough was a little prone to tearing – all gluten-free pastry makers understand this problem – but not seriously so. And, when this happens, it’s very easy to patch things up.
© Christopher Monk 2021
Did medieval cooks use hot water pastry? Though reenactors often use a hot-water pastry of flour and water, to my knowledge this is not documented anywhere in medieval English recipes. So ‘medieval’ hot-water pastry is best understood, I’d suggest, as something born from experimental knowledge rather than based upon historical fact.
But what works best? As there are fifteenth-century references to raising pastry cases, suggesting medieval cooks made free-standing cases as well as typically forming crusts inside a trape, an earthenware dish, it’s fair to ask what would work best in this case. Evidently, using boiling water creates a dough that is easier to handle and shape free-form than a cold-water dough. This maleability and stability appears to be due to the immediate softening of the gluten in the flour that boiling water causes. So ‘experimental knowledge’ points to hot water pastry.
What about egg pastry? Egg-based pastry doughs, incorporating either whole eggs or just egg yolks, were being made in England at least as early as the thirteenth century: ‘un past de oefs, ‘a paste from eggs’ appears in a late thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman collection (found in British Library, MS Additional 32085). Egg pastry doughs are potentially good at holding their shape, depending on the ratio of egg to flour, and I have certainly found them to be very robust (see image).
See Brears, p. 129, and his egg-based pastry recipe for Castelettes, p. 137.
Thomas Austin (ed.) Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (Ppublished for the Early English Text Society by N. Trübner & Co, 1888)
Peter Brears, Cooking & Dining in Medieval England (Prospect Books, 2012)
Constance B. Hieatt (ed.), A Gathering of Medieval English Recipes (Brepols, 2008)
John Russell, The Boke of Nurture: Followyng Englondis Gise, ed. Frederick J. Furnivall, online edition.