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

 

Apple Muse: an Ancient Applesauce

Apple Muse was an extremely popular medieval dessert, likely enjoyed in some form at every level of society due to the availability of the three core ingredients.

There are many versions of this recipe found in a variety of manuscripts but often under different names: Appylmoes, apulmos, appillinose, etc. All versions I’ve found call for apples, almond milk and honey and are to be thickened with bread crumbs or egg yolks. Some versions add spices for sweetness and flavor, others simply for color. Depending on the recipe and personal taste, Apple Muse (or perhaps “Mousse”) could be thin like applesauce or thick and mushy like a bread pudding. There is a lot of room here for interpretation.

As always I like to provide some basic history about certain ingredients, especially when presenting a dish so common to the the Medieval world.


Apples

Apples were probably the most accessible fruit in medieval Europe. Every culinary manuscript contains a large percentage of apple-based recipes. Desserts, mostly.

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I am the type of person who will get derailed by a tiny detail such as which kind of modern apple might be considered most authentic to the Middle Ages. After much research and deliberation I’ve found that there aren’t any. No modern varieties of apples existed back then. A few period varieties can be found but are grown in specialty antiquity/heirloom or research orchards in Europe. Like today, there were many types of apples, some better for eating raw and others used only for baking. Generally speaking, medieval apples were smaller than ours and not quite as sweet.

Some of the most popular varieties in the 13th through 15th centuries were the Copstard, Queene, Pippin (an ancient variety, not just any Pippin) and Old Pearmain. There are thousands of varieties of modern apples but only a handful are available to me locally. Among those that are most common in U.S. grocery stores the varieties I believe are best to use are the Golden Delicious, McIntosh and Granny Smith (a descendent of an ancient French crab-apple). Many popular apples like Pink Lady, Jonagold and Gala are actually descendants of the Golden Delicious. At the end of the day, any apple you want to use will probably do.

If you’re interested in reading up on apple varieties, Orange Pippin is a fantastic place to start!

Honey

Until sugar became more accessible and affordable, honey was the sweetener everyone relied on. It was highly valued in medieval society, not only for its flavor but also for its medicinal properties. Honey has been an important worldwide agricultural product pretty much since the beginning of time.

Further reading on the history of honey:
Medieval Beekeeping
The Honey Association

Almond Milk

Almond milk is one of the most common ingredients in medieval cooking and is a must for any period culinary enthusiast. Due to the large number of days when animal products like cow’s milk and meat broth were off-limits, almond milk was often the go-to substitute.

You can read up on the history of almond milk and even learn how to make it at home by reading my previous posts:
Almond Milk the Medieval Way
Almond Milk the Medieval Way: Pt. 2


The Recipe

This recipe is from Harleian ms 279, a manuscript written in approximately 1430. It was transcribed by Thomas Austin and combined with another Harleian manuscript and 3 extracts. Austin’s collection was published in 1848 under the title Two Fifteenth-Century Cookbooks.

Apple Muse. Take Appelys an sethe hem, an Serge hem þorwe a Sefe in-to a potte; þanne take Almaunde Mylke & Hony, an caste þer-to, an gratid Brede, Safroun, Saunderys, & Salt a lytil, & caste all in þe potte & lete hem sethe; & loke þat þou stere it wyl, & serue it forth.

My translation:

Apple Muse (Mousse)- Take apples and boil them, and force them through a sieve into a pot; then take Almond milk and honey, and add, and grated bread, saffron, sandalwood, & a little salt, & put all in the pot & let them boil; & see that you stir it well, & serve it forth.

Ingredients

The measurements below are a result of more than one attempt at this recipe to find a pleasant texture somewhere between runny and congealed.

  • 2 apples
  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 tbsp honey
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs (2 slices of toast)
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of salt
  • Red sandalwood powder for color (optional)

Step ONE

“Take apples and boil them, and force them through a sieve into a pot;”

Core and peel your apples and boil them in water until they are nice and soft, easy to mash. Depending on how many apples you use this could take about 10 minutes. Drain the water.

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Without the use of modern blenders, purees were made by mashing and pushing the food through a sieve, a type of strainer. While you’re welcome to sieve your boiled apples by hand, it will save a lot of time and energy if you use a blender or food processor. You could even mash with a mortar and pestle. It doesn’t matter much which tool you use as long as your puree is relatively smooth. No need to be a hero.

Step TWO

“…take Almond milk and honey, and cast thereto, and grated bread, saffron, sandalwood, & a little salt, & cast all in the pot & let them boil; & see that you stir it well”

Add the remaining ingredients and simmer long enough to heat it through and thicken. This takes around 5-7 minutes.

A few notes:

  • Adjust the honey according to taste. Three tablespoons is perfect, in my opinion, if using a sweeter variety of apple.
  • Commercial bread crumbs aDSC_0017nd Panko should be avoided at all costs when making this recipe. These products aren’t generally advised for authenticity purposes anyway, but while they are acceptable in other recipes, the texture is what will make or break this dish. Experience taught me that using the ultra-fine breadcrumbs results in an apple muse that is extremely thick and unpleasant. Instead, toast a couple pieces of bread and dry them out before crushing (or sieving) into crumbs.
  • Saffron does add a bit to the flavor. However, as was typical in medieval cooking, it was intended to be used as a food colorant. You could throw a pinch right into the pot or steep it in the almond milk ahead of time. Saffron is pricey so if you want to omit this ingredient you certainly may, or you could even replace it with a little yellow food coloring.
  • Sandalwood powder can be difficult to find in its edible form. During the Middle Ages it was commonly added to food to color it red, not enhance the flavor. By all accounts the sandalwood is either unpleasant or not even noticeable so its use is entirely optional here. If you still desire that red color, use food coloring. But you’ll need enough to turn it red, not pink!

Step THREE

Serve it forth!

Apple Muse is great served right out of the warm pot, but I personally prefer eating it cold. There is no indication in the recipe of any spice toppings to dress the Apple Muse for serving. I suppose you could sprinkle some Ceylon cinnamon or nutmeg on top, but I left mine plain.

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Photos by Nathan Berry


This is a pretty simple and tasty dish, but it is a bit…odd. It is not quite an applesauce, not quite a pudding, not quite an oatmeal. The flavor is wonderful regardless of texture. The super-thick version I made was just awful, but that might just be my texture preference. I don’t believe Apple Muse was intended to be runny, but you could easily adjust the measurements to suit your personal taste. Have fun with it and don’t be afraid to experiment!

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Sources

Minnehaha Cake, Chicago World’s Fair (1893)

Today’s recipe is brought to you by The World’s Fair Recipe Book by J.F. Landis, which featured over 600 recipes for food, medicine, remedies for various human and animal ailments, etc. Because it was published in April of 1893, I would assume it was sold at the Columbian Exposition (“Chicago World’s Fair”) beginning the following month.

Access the entire digitized book here: The World’s Fair Recipe Book

magiccity1893

It is difficult to find any specific information about the collection. I have so many unanswered questions: Whose recipes were they? Was this intended to be a souvenir or what?  Were these recipes for foods sold and featured at the Exposition? Were these recipes collected by the Ladies’ Auxiliary or submitted by Exposition vendors?

What I do know is that The Ladies Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition put out their own souvenir cook book, called The Home Queen World’s Fair Souvenir Cookbook. The Souvenir Cookbook had vague, simplified recipes (a 19th century woman probably knew kitchen basics), and many of them were even signed by individual Auxiliary members. This book included hundreds of recipes, etiquette guides, homemaking tips, pictures and bits of other pertinent info. Some sources suggest this book was not sold as a souvenir during the Fair, but given to all the Exposition’s Lady Managers, the many members of the Ladies Auxiliary who participated, and the wives of governors or other important people. So the Home Queen souvenir collection may or may not have been available to the general public but a decent number of copies were out there.

As for The World’s Fair Recipe Book, we can only assume it was available for purchase but I don’t know. There don’t seem to be any surviving copies! At the very least, it was submitted to the Library of Congress and a request was made on the cover for salespeople (“Agents wanted everywhere”). Why bother publishing such a book if not intending to sell it at the World’s Fair?

For the sake of understanding where the following Minnehaha cake recipe came from, we know it probably didn’t originate with a Ladies’ Auxiliary member (they published their own book), but instead was gathered by J.F. Landis from some other source. Regardless of where the recipe came from, it’s a valuable piece of American food history from the 19th century.


Minnehaha Cake

There is such thing as a traditional Minnehaha cake and a few different versions can be found online. Basically it’s a layered butter cake with raisin filling and sugar icing. It was apparently very popular in the U.S. around the turn of the century. There is no definitive source for the name that I can find, but it is widely assumed to be named after the Indian princess Minnehaha from Longfellow’s 1855 poem Song of Hiawatha. 

The Recipe

 

minnehaha

Step ONE: The Batter

“Four eggs, leaving out the whites of three for filling. One-half cup butter, one cup sugar, one-half cup milk, two cups flour, one teaspoon soda, two of cream tartar.”

Pretty much every cake-from-scratch from this era, or really any era, suggests creaming the sugar and butter before blending all the wet ingredients together. This recipe doesn’t say it specifically but I’ve baked enough cakes to know creaming is the first thing to do. After that was done I added the remaining wet ingredients (milk, 3 egg yolks and 1 full egg), then the baking soda and cream of tartar and mixed well. Flour was added last.

While not a common practice in modern cooking, flour definitely would have been sifted in the 19th century. Commercial flour these days is refined enough that it doesn’t contain the bugs, chaff, or other things that it used to. However, sifting helps with exact measurements and actually gives the flour a lighter and less lumpy texture, which is especially useful in cakes. Dry ingredients could be sifted with the flour if you want to blend them together extra well.

I poured the batter into two 8″ rounds and baked at 350 degrees. It took between 20-25 minutes for my cakes to be done, but you may need to add a few minutes if necessary.

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Step TWO: The Filling and Frosting

“Whites three eggs, one and one-half cups granulated sugar, one cup chopped raisins, add a little water to sugar, and boil till it will hair, then add the beaten whites, and to part of this add the raisins…”

I will admit that after attempting to follow the vague directions in the recipe with zero sugar-working or confectionery experience, this experiment was a total failure.

After a couple tries, my baking partners and I decided to abandon hopes of making an 1893 boiled sugar icing that day. We also ran out of eggs. So I divided what frosting I happened to have on hand into two portions. Chopped raisins were added to one portion and the rest was left as is.

Luckily for you, I’ve done a bit of research and discovered that it is helpful to use a candy thermometer to get the sugar to the correct temperature or bad things will happen. Also, “beaten eggs” in this case means beaten to the point where peaks form, such as in a soufflé. To make life easier in the future, simply use this Fluffy Boiled Icing recipe. While not exactly like the World’s Fair version, the resulting flavor and texture will probably be close enough.

Step THREE: Layer and Frost

When the cakes have cooled completely, level one with a knife or a cake leveler. Spread the raisin-frosting filling on top of the leveled round and stack the other on top of it.

Use the plain icing to frost the entire exterior of the cake and unless you want to decorate it further, your Minnehaha cake is done!


Despite the issue with the icing and not having enough backup frosting to cover the entire cake, the Minnehaha Cake was delicious. It is hearty, sweet, and the raisin filling was way better than I expected. I would definitely make it again (and I will), but perhaps after I have figured out how to make the boiled icing.

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The cake looks terrible but tastes great!