Cryppys, Crisps: 14th-century Fritters?

Cryppys, often called crisps, are another type of fried honey-flavored treat from 14th-century England. Unlike crispels, crisps are considered fritters because they are made with batter instead of pastry dough. Many sweet fritters of the era contained fruits (especially apples) or other ingredients like almonds. This particular recipe is very basic, containing only flour, egg whites and honey.

The Recipe

The transcription below is from Ancient Cookery (Diversa Servicia), c. 1381, a Bodleian manuscript that was included in the second half of Samuel Pegge’s 1780 edition of the Forme of Cury.

xxvi. For to Make Cryppys

Nym flour and wytys of eyryn sugur other hony and sweyng togedere and mak a batour nym wyte grees and do yt in a posnet and cast the batur thereyn and stury to thou have many 2 and tak hem up and messe hem wyth the frutours and serve forthe.

Crisps. Take flour and whites of eggs, sugar or honey and mix together to make a batter. Take white grease (lard) and place in a posnet and cast the batter therein and stir it until you have many and take them up and plate them with the fritters and serve forth.

The Ingredients

I based my recipe on the redaction created by the popular cookery website Medieval Cuisine: See Cryppys. I quartered their recipe for practical reasons but I had to make some slight adjustments. The recipe below makes around 10 “fritters”.

1/4 c. flour
2 egg whites
1 tsp honey
1/4 c. water
lard

Rather than walk through each step in detail like I usually do, I’ve just written some brief directions to do it the way Medieval Cuisine suggests. See below for additional notes.

Combine egg whites, water and honey and whisk together. Add mixture to flour and mix to create the batter. Drop a tablespoon of batter into the lard (or oil) and fry over medium heat until golden brown. Flip to cook evenly. Drain on a paper towel and serve.

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You may need to add more flour to thicken the mixture. Medieval Cuisine’s measurements do not result in a thick batter. Mine was still on the runnier side like pancake batter, even after adding some flour. If you want something more traditionally fritter-like you’ll probably need batter that is closer to biscuit dough in thickness. I added additional honey after tasting a finished crisp because it needed it. Eat the crisps plain or top with honey or powdered sugar. I didn’t mind the crisps, though I definitely prefer crispels as my go-to medieval fried treat.

 

 

posnetAs for history, one term worth noting is posnet, as in “place in a posnet.” A posnet means “small pot,” referring to a type of early cast iron skillet with legs. Because all cooking was done directly over a fire (often in a hanging cauldron), it would have been necessary to put the pot right on the coals in order to melt the lard and fry the batter properly.


Some thoughts

There are a few things about this recipe that make me wonder…

  • Cast the batter therein and stir it until you have many” is a strange phrase for making a fritter. Crepes are made by spreading the batter around the pan. Or maybe this simply means drop in batter, stir and repeat until you have many fritters? It could also mean drizzle the batter around in the hot oil and stir it around until you have many swirls, much like you would a funnel cake. The latter possibility could support the “crisp” idea, especially since the word crisp at the time often meant curly rather than brittle. (Walker)
  • There is no leavening agent here and nothing to dip into the batter as directed in most other period fritter recipes. The final product turned out to resemble a little frilly pancake rather than a true crispy fritter, despite the use of the word “frutours” in the recipe. The distinction between fritters and pancakes can get a bit hazy.
  • There is another recipe in the Forme of Cury called Cryspes (crisps), which is very clearly a funnel cake. If cryppys are “crisps” then these are either supposed to be made the same way or a different chef used a similar name for an entirely different type of treat.
  • Could the title itself, Cryppys, actually mean crepes instead of “crisps?” There are no other crepe recipes in the Forme of Cury to easily disprove this theory. There was no standardized spelling in Middle English so people often wrote things out phonetically according to dialect. Seems to me that medieval foodies simply use the same commonly accepted translation without considering the possibility that it might be wrong.

 

There are some medieval recipes that are based entirely on guesswork combined with a lot of trial and error, even for the seasoned food historians I look to for guidance. This is definitely one of those recipes.  That said, I personally do not believe Medieval Cuisine’s redaction for cryppys is completely accurate. Next time I try this recipe I’ll try it a few different ways to compare:

  1. Spread a thin batter around (using measurements above) to make a sort of crepe.
  2. Drizzle the batter in a spiral into the hot oil to make something more like a crispy funnel cake. Not a fritter, but it would be “crisp.”
  3. For a crisp that is more fritter-like, increase the amount of flour and/or reduce the water to make a doughy batter.

Stay tuned for updates!


Sources and Suggested Reading

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