Honey Crispels

If you thought deep-fried sweets like funnel cakes, elephant ears/beaver tails and doughnuts were modern inventions for the county fair, think again. Fried pastries have been around since ancient Egypt and China. The Romans ate something called scriblita, a fried pastry dough. Fried doughs were common throughout Asia, the Middle East and Europe in various forms during the Middle Ages. The Youtiao (a Chinese cruller) originated in China during the 10th century Song dynasty. A recipe for Awameh is found in a Middle Eastern recipe book from 1226. Fritter recipes are plentiful in medieval European manuscripts and were extremely popular street treats just before Lent.

European colonization spread some familiar forms of fried pastries even further across the globe. Beignets were introduced to Canada by French settlers in the 1600’s and gradually made their way down to Louisiana to ultimately become a staple of Cajun cuisine. A century later, the Pennsylvania Dutch (German) immigrants brought funnel cakes to the United States. Fried fair foods became especially popular in the U.S. during the 19th century. It was then that the term “doughnuts” became common for a certain type of fried dough, likely coined by Washington Irving in reference to Dutch oliebollen (fried pastry balls).  Meanwhile, the Navajo Indians developed their own tasty version of fried bread, Puff Puffs became a traditional treat in Nigeria and the popularity of Sopapillas began to spread throughout South America. Needless to say, there is a wide variety of fried dough pastries worldwide, many with histories going back hundreds or even thousands of years.


The Recipe

One type of ancient fried dough is the crispel. This was a popular treat in medieval Europe during the 14th century. It was basically pastry fried in olive oil and glazed with warm honey.

This recipe was composed by King Richard II’s master cooks around 1390 and compiled in what is now called the British Library ms 5016. A duplicate manuscript called the Rylands English ms 7 was created in 1420 (see image below). This collection of recipes is better known as the “Forme of Cury,” which was published by Samuel Pegge in 1780.

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Forme of Cury, 1420 English MS 7 f.76r

Cryspels. Take and make a foile of gode past as thynne as paper; kerue it out wyt a saucer & frye it in oile; oþer in grece; and þe remnaunt, take hony clarified and flamme (flaunne) þerwith. Alye hem vp and serue hem forth. 

Crispels. Take and make a sheet of good pastry as thin as paper; carve it out with a saucer & fry it in oil; or in grease; and the remnant, take clarified honey and baste there-with. Allay them up and serve them forth.

Pastry Dough

1 3/4 c. flour
½ c. butter
1 egg
2 tbsp cold water
Pinch of salt

You will also need

Honey
Olive oil or lard


Step ONE: The Dough

Take and make a sheet of good pastry as thin as paper…

After attempting this recipe with a variety of dough types, I discovered that the absolute best result (and most authentic) comes from basic homemade shortcrust pastry dough.   While it would be nice to use pre-packaged frozen pastry dough sold in grocery stores, it just doesn’t work. Any preferred dough could possibly give you good results, but be sure to avoid puff or extra-flakey pastry. I will explain why in Step Three.

Cut butter into cubes and rub it into flour until the dough is crumbly. Add the salt, egg and cold water to bind into a dough. Add more water if necessary.  

Optional: steep a couple strands of saffron in the cold water prior to adding to the dough. This was common practice in royal kitchens. 

Step TWO: Roll and Fry

Carve it out with a saucer & fry it in oil

Roll the dough out very thin and use a mug to cut into small circles. Fry (not sear) in olive oil or lard. Be sure to fill your pan with enough oil to cover the dough. When one side is golden and crispy (this takes about 30 seconds), flip over to fry the other side. Let your crispel cool on a paper towel.

Note: While you can certainly deep fry in olive oil with no problems, the less refined Extra Virgin oil does have a lower smoke point than other cooking oils. If you are worried about EVOO’s low smoke point, use light or pure olive oil instead.

Step THREE: Baste

Take clarified honey and baste there-with. Do them up and serve them forth.

Meanwhile, bring your honey to a boil and stir often. This is especially important if your honey is raw, hard or crystallized. This process is meant to clarify your honey or simply liquify it a bit, making it easier to baste.

Baste your crispels with the honey using a basting brush. If you prefer, dip your entire crispel in the honey but be aware that basting really is the best way to go. King Richard’s cooks direct us to “baste” for a reason. Serve them warm.

If your dough is too flakey this step will be very frustrating. The result might be a crispel with a gaping hole in the top or a pastry that dissolves in your mouth like cotton candy, but not in a good way. I recommend following the directions above and start with a homemade dough. Do not be afraid to make your own dough! It really isn’t difficult.

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The great thing about working with pastry is that you can roll the whole thing out and cut it all into circles immediately after you make it. Fry what you need and freeze the rest for later. Just wrap the circles in plastic wrap, stack them in a ziplock and put them in the freezer. When you’re ready to wow your friends and family with a quick medieval treat, fry them up frozen or thawed (your choice) and drizzle some honey or even agave over the top. Easy!

If you are interested in trying a similar period recipe, check out cryppys (crisps). This is more of a fritter since it uses a batter instead of a pastry dough.

Additional medieval pastry dough recipes:
“Game of Thrones” shortcrust recipe
Medieval pie crust using lard and hot water
Further reading on medieval era pie crusts


Sources

 

Egredouncye, a Medieval Sweet and Sour Dish

Sometime around the year 1420, a Master chef (or chefs- nobody seems to know exactly who) compiled a bunch of recipes in a manuscript now known as the Harleian MS 279. This manuscript, combined with a few others, was later published as Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books by Thomas Austin in 1888.  Today’s recipe is from Volume One!

Egredouncye, or Egredouce (pronounced egg-ruh-duce), is a medieval sweet and sour sauce inspired by a French dish called aigredoux. This particular recipe is made with meat, almost like a stew. Before we get started let’s take a minute and talk about some of the recipe’s key ingredients.

  • Cinnamon: Called “pouder of canel” in recipes from this era, cinnamon had been imported from Ceylon and Sri Lanka for quite some time by 1420. It was widely available for purchase at the market but was probably still a bit pricey for the lower classes. After the Portuguese began importing cinnamon and other spices in the
    16th century, the price went down and it became more affordable and widespread.
  • Saffron: By the Tudor period saffron was being produced locally in
    England, specifically in Cornwall and Essex. Regardless, it was still a very expensive spice just as it is today.DSC_0059
  • Rosemary, Oregano, Sage: Herbs were used in cooking not only for enhancing flavor but also for their medicinal properties. These herbs would have been quite common in any medieval home and were likely grown in the garden.
  • Verjuice/Verjus: Also called Eysel wine, verjuice was commonplace in medieval cooking. Vinegar was also regularly used to add acidity to most dishes, and the two were often used interchangeably. Verjuice is a sour/tart, unripened and unfermented grape or crabapple juice that heightens the flavor of the dish. It provides a slight fruitiness and is milder than vinegar and lemon juice.
  • Pork: Everyone ate pork in 15th century England! Pigs were inexpensive animals to own and to feed, so even the poorest folks had them. For those in the city who did not own and/or slaughter their own pigs, pork was still one of the most inexpensive meats to buy at the market.

 


The Recipe

Egredouncye

Take Porke or Beef, whezer ze lykey, and leche it zinne zwerte; zen broyle it broun a litel, and zen mynce it lyke Venyson; choppe it in sewe, en caste it in a potte and do zer-to Freyssh brothe; take Erbis, Oynonys, Percely and Sawge, and ozer gode erbis, zen lye it vppe with Brede; take Pepir and Safroun, pouder Canel, Vynegre, or Eysel Wyne, Broze an Salt, and let yet boyle to-gederys, tylle zey ben y-now, and zan serue it forth renny[n]g.

Isn’t this fun? Here is my translation:

Take pork or beef, whichever you like, and cut it thin against the grain, then broil it brown a little, and then mince it like venison; dice it, and put it in a pot of fresh broth; take herbs, onions, parsley and sage, and other good herbs, then layer it up with bread; take pepper and saffron, cinnamon, vinegar, or Eysel Wyne, broth and salt and let it boil together, till they are done, and then serve it with the broth.

You’ll notice that there are no measurements or cook times at all. This was for a few reasons, the most notable being that cook books weren’t readily available to anyone who wasn’t already a trained chef or in an apprenticeship under a Master. Anyone with access to the written version of this recipe would already have a pretty good handle on how much of each ingredient to use.

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Measurements:

Since I am far from a trained chef I based my measurements on those suggested in Cariadoc’s Miscellany by David Friedman and Elizabeth Cook (1988).

  • 1/2 lb. pork or beef
    I used pork. I figured it was more authentic, given the popularity of pork in the 15th century.
  • 1 1/2 c. broth (I used beef broth)
  • 1 small onion
  • Parsley
    Cariadoc suggested 1 oz.  I threw in a big handful of finely chopped parsley without measuring.
  • 5 leaves fresh sage
  • 1/4 c. bread crumbs
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • Saffron
    Cariadoc suggested 6 strands. I probably used closer to 8 or 9 because the strands were of varying lengths.
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • 1/4 tsp. oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp. wine vinegar. (I used verjuice)

Step ONE: The Meat

“Take pork or beef, whichever you like, and cut it thin against the grain, then broil it brown a little, and then mince it like venison; dice it, put it in a pot of fresh broth;”

I sliced up a 1/2 lb. center-cut boneless pork loin into thin (but not too thin!) pieces. I placed all the pieces in one layer in a frying pan with a tbsp or so of olive oil. Once they were browned on one side I flipped them over. The pieces were cut thin enough that they didn’t take long at all to cook.

 

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I then diced the browned strips into squares and put them in a medium-sized pot containing broth (1 1/2 c.).

Step TWO: Boil and Thicken

“…take herbs, onions, parsley and sage, and other good herbs, then layer it up with bread;”

I then added my chopped onions, parsley (probably somewhere around 2 tbsp is my guess) and sage and brought it to a boil. Just as it started to boil I added the bread crumbs.

*Note: Bread crumbs were commonly used as a thickening agent in medieval cooking. You could certainly use flour instead but bread crumbs are more authentic.

Step THREE: Simmer

“take pepper and saffron, cinnamon, vinegar, or Eysel Wyne, broth and salt and let it boil together till they are done”

At this point I added all of the spices and the additional herbs and let them boil together for a minute or so.

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The recipe mentions “other good herbs,” which would have been up to the discretion and taste of the cook. Rosemary and oregano were very common household herbs so it makes the most sense to use those. I would imagine thyme would also have been a common “good herb” that tasted great with the pork.

*Note: Cinnamon powder as we know it (Cassia Cinnamon) is not the same cinnamon that would have been used in the Middle Ages. I highly suggest using Ceylon Cinnamon in this recipe if you can find it.

Once the flavors had been infused a bit I added the verjuice (Eysel wine) and let it simmer for 5 minutes or so. If you can’t find verjuice/verjus you can use wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. I really like the verjuice because it adds the sour acidity without the vinegary flavor. Plus it is strangely satisfying to use a product almost nobody uses today that was a common kitchen ingredient when this recipe was written.

Step FOUR: Serve!

“…and then serve it with the broth.”

When the egredouncye has had a chance to simmer for a bit (5 minutes seemed to be adequate), I poured it in two bowls to serve because I didn’t know what else to do with it. There is no information about how it would have been served or what other foods would have been paired with it. The measurements I used would probably only serve 2 people. 

*Note: Cariadoc suggests adding more broth but I didn’t find it necessary. I suppose if you like your stew on the runnier side then I see no reason not to use more broth than I did. The original recipe doesn’t specify how thick it should be, but I was very happy with how it turned out. If you do follow my instructions and measurements I bet it would taste fantastic over some rice!

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This recipe is DELICIOUS! It smells heavenly and all of the sweet and sour flavors blend together perfectly. Everyone in my household (visitors included) genuinely enjoyed it and my husband thought it was good enough to make it a dinner staple. Not only does egredouncye taste great, it is SO easy to make. From start to finish, it only took about 30 minutes with prep.

If you think that medieval cooking is just for trained chefs or medieval food historians, think again. Give it a try and tell me how it goes!