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.
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
500g Danish pastry
2 tsp cinnamon
- 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
- Spread the combined ingredients evenly over the dough and roll into a tight sausage
- Cut the sausage into 3cm slices
- Transfer to a baking tray with plenty of room between each roll, then leave to rise for approximately 2 hours until doubled in size
- 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
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.
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!