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The Hungry Historians: Apicius’ Honey Fritters

MimCarmKitchen

Above: Mim’s kitchen, North Devon (UK)
Below: Carmen’s kitchen, Attica (Greece)

The Hungry Historians first met when working in the deep, dark recesses of our local authority’s HR department where we  bonded over our mutual frustration at our jobs, but more importantly, our backgrounds in Classics and obsession with food. When you meet someone who shares the same off-beat, niche and plain bizarre interests as you, you know its the start of something good, but when that person turns out to be as gastro-centric and generally hungry as you are, you know it’s the beginning of truly glorious gastronomic adventures.

Divided by Carmen’s desire to run away to Greece to study a Masters degree, we have taken to the internet to maintain our constant stream of discussion regarding buying food, cooking food, eating food and, of course, Benedict Cumberbatch. We thought it would be a good experiment to unite our shared interests (ok, perhaps not Cumberbatch) to both create an ancient dish in our very different kitchens, seeing how we could each cope with finding the same ingredients and how we would each interpret the recipe. Here is the first of many…

This recipe is basked on the one from Sally Grainger’s book Cooking Apicius (which will certainly be making future appearances), with some of our own additions and variations.

Aliter dulcia. ‘Another Sweet’
Take a preparation similar to the above and in the hot water bath or double boiler make a very hard porridge of it. Thereupon spread it out on a pan and when cool cut it into handy pieces like small cookies. Fry these in the best oil, take them out, dip into hot honey, sprinkle with pepper and serve.

– Apicius 7.11.6

Ingredients pic

Above: Carmen’s ingredients
Below: Mim’s ingredients

Ingredients

400ml goats’ milk
2 tbsp olive oil
100g plain white flour
100g wholemeal flour (sieved)
250ml olive oil for frying
100g runny honey
black pepper to serve

Method

  • Put the milk and olive oil into a pan to heat
  • Once warm, add the flour, beating with a whisk until it comes together in a solid mass
mixtures

Above: Mim’s milk and oil heating, finished batter
Below: Carmen’s milk and oil heating, finished batter

  • Turn out onto a plate and allow to cool completely
  • Once cooled, roll dough into cylinder shapes or small balls (they will need to cook for longer if the latter)
  • Heat the olive oil for frying in a pan and test the right temperature for frying with a single fritter – when it turns golden brown, the oil is ready
final mix

Above: Mim fries her wiggly fritters
Below: Carmen attempts not to get burnt frying her meatball-fritters

  • Fry the fritters in batches until golden brown, then drain on kitchen paper
  • Place in a bowl and stir in the honey, ensuring each is covered, season with black pepper and serve warm

Mim

FrittersDespite vaguely resembling fried worms, these were surprisingly tasty! Once they’d cooled, I found them a little less appetizing, as they become more noticeably dense and heavy, but fresh and crispy from frying and smothered in honey they had a very moreish quality.

The obvious difference between my worm-like fritters and Carmen’s meat-ballesque ones is the shape, I just couldn’t get them to fry properly as dough balls and had to roll them out to get them cooking evenly. Slightly envious of Carmen’s non-worm looking fritters, no matter how much they remind her of Ikea meatballs!

Carmen

 DSCN1376The fantastic thing about having Mim make this recipe first was the great tips she was able to give me about the cooking times, ideal consistency etc. The downside of that was that when my fritters looked nothing like the mixture she had described making I found my ugly-looking ‘Ikea meatballs’ rather funny. Luckily the finished article didn’t taste like a plate of low-cost meatballs*, but instead were pleasantly dense and sweet. They also didn’t remind me of  loukoumades as much as I thought they would, which are a lot lighter but also as a result soak up a lot more oil and are greasier, which can sometimes be a bit unpleasant. Contrasting to Mim, I preferred the fritters cold the next day, with a bit more honey drizzled on them. υπέροχος!

*I do love Ikea meatballs, but there’s a time and a place for that, and both of these are whilst shopping at Ikea, not making ancient sweets

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Flavouring the Garden: Pastries, Cinnamon and Stardust

After three out of four recipes resulting in dishes of varying shades of brown, I resolved in my last post that my next recipe would not be brown. I’ve been saving this one for a rainy day – and rainy it is, with flooding across the county and storms all week. So as Devon drowns, I shall make pastries…

Pastries are one of my greatest weaknesses and greatest joys. My post Saturday morning rowing ritual is two warm pain au chocolat fresh from the local deli with a massive mug of yorkshire tea. Sometimes the one thing that gets me through a really grueling winter training session when its wet, windy, I’m numb from the cold and wondering why I’ve got up at the crack of dawn on my day off to torture my body in this way, is the promise of pastry waiting for me at the end of it (at this point I’m hoping my coach doesn’t ever see this post, as he would not be impressed at my poor choice of post-training nutrition). Many of you will be familiar with those t-shirts bearing the slogan, ‘run like <insert your celebrity crush here> is waiting at the finish line’, well for me, even Benedict Cumberbatch comes (an admittedly close) second to those golden parcels of buttery flakiness waiting for me at home.

Cinnamomum_camphora

Cinnamon Tree (gen. Cinnamomum)

It is cinnamon that gives the sweet, warmly spiced flavour to the pastries I’m making today, a spice derived from the bark of trees from the genus Cinnamomum. An expensive spice imported from India in Roman times, cinnamon was given as an offering to the gods, used in perfumes, medicines, aphrodisiacs, cooking and even to flavour wine. As well as lining the nest of the phoenix (Metamorphoses 15.397), Ovid describes how cinnamon originates from the mythical Panchaea, an island east of Arabia:

The land of Panchaea may boast her fabulous riches in balsam, cinnamon, spices, frankincense sweated from trees, and her various scented flora, so long as she keeps her myrrh to herself.

Metamorphoses 10.304

By the Renaissance, cinnamon was used extensively in cooking, giving rise to the heady cocktail ‘Renaissance stardust’: a flavour bomb of cinnamon, sugar and a pinch of salt used to season a multitude of both sweet and savoury dishes that is still used today and I will be using as the dusting for Scappi’s pastries.

To prepare a filled twist.
Sprinkle the dough with four ounces of sugar and cinnamon. Then get a pound of currants, a pound of dates cut up small and a pound of seeded muscatel raisins; combine all those ingredients and mix them with sugar, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Spread that mixture out over the sheet of dough, along with a few little gobs of butter. Beginning at the long edge of the dough, roll it up like a wafer cornet, being careful not to break the dough. A twist like that needs only three rolls so it can cook well: it should not be too tight. Grease its surface with melted butter that is not too hot. Begin at one end and roll it up, not too tightly, so it becomes like a snail’s shell or maze. Leave to rest. Bake it in an oven or braise it with a moderate heat, not forgetting to grease it occasionally with butter. When it is almost done, sprinkle sugar, cinnamon and rosewater over it. Serve it hot.

The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, Book V, Recipe 122

IngredientsIngredients

500g Danish pastry
100g dates
100g currants
100g raisins
50g sugar
50g butter
2 tsp cinnamon
1tsp nutmeg
couple cloves
rosewater
pinch salt

Method

  • Line a baking tray with baking paper
  • Combine the chopped dates, currants, raisins, sugar, butter, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg in a bowl
  • Roll the dough out to a rectangle onto a lightly floured surface

Dough

  • Spread the combined ingredients evenly over the dough and roll into a tight sausage

Roll

  • Cut the sausage into 3cm slices

Cutting

  • Transfer to a baking tray with plenty of room between each roll, then leave to rise for approximately 2 hours until doubled in size

Baking Tray

  • Preheat the oven at 200°C
  • Brush the surface of each roll with melted butter
  • Bake for 15-20 minutes until golden
  • Sprinkle with rosewater and combined sugar, cinnamon and pinch of salt ‘stardust’ mix

Glazed

The recipe for these cinnamon twists is similar to pain aux raisin, so I thought it would be an interesting point of comparison to make both – any excuse for more pastries! For the pain aux raisin (left), I used Paul Hollywood’s recipe from How To Bake.

Pastries

My guinea pigs (aka friends and family) were pretty happy to be served these after the aforementioned plethora of brown dishes! They were intensely buttery, even more so than the pain aux raisin, because of the  butter used as both binding and glazing agents rather than crème patissiere and apricot jam, as with the latter. They were also less sweet than the pain aux raisin and had more of a natural sweetness that came from the dried fruits which had almost candied in the butter during baking time. The combined flavour of the fruits and spices, dominated by the cinnamon, gave them a pleasantly aromatic, Christmassy taste.

The fact that they were wolfed down so eagerly, (and it must be said, without the suspicion my other recipes have been met with) and when asked to comment on the taste there was a general chorus of ‘Mmmmms’ and nodding of heads in response before reaching for seconds, made us conclude this was the best Renaissance recipe so far!