In the Kitchen: Asparagus Forced in French Rolls (1790)

Dear Constant Reader,

It’s been a while since I did any really historic cooking. This late 18th century recipe for asparagus bits in a savory custard sauce served inside a hollowed-out loaf of bread makes a delightful light supper or, as recommended, a side dish.

From The Housekeeper’s Instructor by William Augustus Henderson (1790)
Asparagus forced in French Rolls.
Cut a piece out of the crust of the tops of three French rolls, and take out the crumb; but be careful that the crusts fit again in the places from whence they were taken. Fry the rolls brown in fresh butter: then take a pint of cream, the yolks of eggs beat fine, and a little salt and nutmeg. Stir them well together over a slow fire till it begins to be thick. Have ready an hundred of small grass boiled, and save tops enough to stick the rolls with. Cut the rest of the tops small, put them into the cream, and fill the loaves with them. Before you fry the rolls, make holes thick in the top crusts to stick the grass in. Then lay on the pieces of crust, and stick the grass in, which will make it look as if it were growing. This makes a very handsome side-dish at a second course.

The original recipe makes three loaves, but I cut it down to one, as is my wont.

“Forced” (sometimes spelled “farced”) means stuffed.

Asparagus was well known in the classical world, where it was called “asparagus” by the Romans. The Emperor Augustus is reported to have said “celerius quam asparagi cocuntur” (“quicker than cooking asparagus”) to describe something done very fast. The vegetable didn’t become popular in northern Europe until the 16th century. The English, because they’re like that, mutated the perfectly good Latin name into “sparrow grass” or just plain “grass”, as did our author above.


I start with a small loaf of French bread (you don’t want to use a baguette for this — it’s too long and skinny) and cut a big rectangle out of the top crust. Be careful not to break it when removing (done that). Carefully scoop out all the bread inside without cutting through the crust. I just pull it out with my fingers and maybe use a spoon for the last bits. I save the innards for something that needs bread crumbs. Poke a bunch of holes in the top crust. They should be just big enough to hold an asparagus stalk.

Then melt some butter in a skillet and fry the bread until it is toasted. There’s no butter in the above photo because I forgot it in the fridge. The lid is easy to fry, but the loaf is a bit awkward. I like to brush the interior of the loaf with some of the melted butter.

Cook asparagus until it’s just tender. This doesn’t take long (see the Latin quote above) If you don’t have your favorite method, you can see how I cook them here. Cut the cooked asparagus into small pieces. I think I usually cut them about an inch long. Reserve as many asparagus tips as holes poked in the bread lid.

Warm some cream in a small saucepan. I was using light cream, but you can use heavy cream for a creamier custard. I don’t like whipping cream because it has thickeners added to it. Beat an egg yolk in a small bowl. When the cream gets hot, temper the egg yolk by added a little cream to the egg, beating the whole while. Add the egg/cream mixture back into the cream. Season with salt and grated nutmeg (also missing in the picture — where was my head?).

Cook custard over low heat until it thickens a bit. Add the asparagus bits to the saucepan and remove from heat. You don’t want the asparagus to cook more, just warm up a touch.

Spoon the asparagus-custard mixture into the loaf. Take the reserved tips and stick them into the holes you poked in the lid. Put the lid on the loaf. Voila! It looks like a little grassy hill. Adorable!

I end up cutting this into very messy, but delicious, slices, because the custard oozes out as soon as the structural integrity of the loaf is breached. I suppose one could treat it like a bread bowl, where the loaf is primarily a serving vessel, but I like the combination of bread, custard, and asparagus in each bite.

Asparagus Forced in a French Roll
1 small loaf of French bread (should be crusty, but not a baguette)
Butter
5 oz. cream
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 bunch asparagus (about 30 skinny stalks)
Salt to taste
Nutmeg to taste

Cut out a lid from the top crust of the loaf. Carefully scoop out all the bread inside without damaging the crust. Cut several holes in the lid.

Melt a little butter in a skillet, about a tablespoon or so, and fry the bread until it is toasted.

Cook asparagus until tender. Cut the cooked asparagus into small pieces. Reserve as many asparagus tips as holes poked in the bread lid.

Warm cream in a small saucepan. Temper egg yolk and add to cream. Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg. Cook over low heat until sauce thickens. Add the asparagus bits to the mixture and remove from heat.

Spoon the asparagus-custard mixture into the loaf. Take the reserved tips and stick them into the holes cut in the lid. Replace the lid on the loaf. Serve.

M2These writings and other creative projects are supported by my Patrons. Thank you so much! To become a Patron, go to my Patreon page.

Advertisements
Published in: on 21 June 2017 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

In the Kitchen: Spritzen (1788)

Dear Constant Reader,

Let us return to my kitchen for an 18th century treat. At this time the British monarchs were still basically German, so German cuisine had intergrated itself into English cookbooks. “Spritzen” is the German word for “splash”, “squirt”, or “spray”. These days it’s mostly used for a kind of cookie that is squeezed out of a press. I’m not sure how the name applies to these pastries.

From The Lady’s Complete Guide by Mary Cole (1788)

Spritzen
Mix two spoonfuls of fine flour with two eggs well beat, half a pint of cream or milk and two ounces of melted butter; stir it all well together, and add a little salt and nutmeg. Put them in tea-cups, or little deep tin moulds, half full, and bake them a quarter of an hour in a quick oven; but let it be hot enough to colour them and top and bottom. Turn them into a dish, and strew powder sugar over them.

As we learned from previous recipes, a good rule of thumb for pre-20th century recipes is to cut the number of eggs in half. Everything else seems pretty straight forward except the quantity of flour. How big was a spoonful? Karen Hess, in her excellently researched book Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery, suggests that a spoonful in the later 17th century was equivalent to two of our tablespoons. I decided that it was probably still the case by the time this recipe came around.

I beat the hell out of the egg, since that’s the only rising agent. Added the flour, cream (since I had some from a different cooking experiment), butter, salt, and grated in some nutmeg. I used a standard size muffin tin (I’m pretty sure I greased it) and filled 8 cups.

A “quick oven” is about 375-400F. I baked the spritzen for 22 minutes at 400F.

They puffed up beautifully in the oven, like popovers, but fell completely before I could get them out of the pan. I sprinkled them with a little granulated sugar. If I’d been really authentic I would gave ground it up in my mortar, since “powder sugar” was sugar that was ground fine. Modern powdered sugar isn’t the same and usually has cornstarch added.

Despite being nicely browned and crispy on top and bottom, they were quite custardy in the middle. And very delicious. I’m not sure how well they keep, because they were gone before they even had a chance to cool.


Spritzen
1 egg
1/4 cup flour
1 cup light cream or milk
4 Tablespoons butter, melted
pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Beat egg very well and stir in flour. Mix in liquid ingredients and then seasonings. Pour batter into greased muffin tins, about 1/2 full. Bake at 400F until puffed and brown, 15-20 minutes. Immediately sprinkle with sugar and remove from tin. Serve hot.

Makes about 8.

M2

Published in: on 5 October 2016 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , ,

In the Kitchen: Wine Chocolate (1726)

Dear Constant Reader,

For this foray into historic cooking, here’s something with ingredients most of you love — chocolate and booze!

This recipe comes from The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary: or, the Accomplish’d Housewives Companion by John Nott (1726).

To make Wine Chocolate
Take a pint of Sherry, or a pint and half of red Port, four Ounces and a half of Chocolate, six Ounces of fine Sugar, and half an Ounce of white Starch, or fine Flour; mix, dissolve, and boil all these as before [previous recipe for “To Make Chocolate with Water” which “will be done in ten or twelve Minutes”]. But, if your Chocolate be with Sugar, take double the Quantity of Chocolate, and half the Quantity of Sugar; and so in all.

Untitled

After years of working with medieval recipes which are vague, to say the least, on quantities and cooking times, this recipe was positively simple! I cut all the ingredients down to one-third, which made two generous servings.

Just melt together port (or sherry, but I haven’t tried that version), unsweetened chocolate (you want a high-quality bar chocolate; cocoa powder is not the same thing), sugar, and rice flour (it incorporates better than wheat flour).

Reproduction chocolate pot from Colonial Williamsburg


In the 18th century, this drink would have been served in a special chocolate pot with a hole in the lid. A “mill” or wooden whisk would fit in the hole and the chocolate would be frothed before serving it by rubbing the mill between your palms. I don’t have a chocolate pot, but I do have a molinillo, which is used for making Mexican hot chocolate and is basically the same as a mill, just fancier. Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the mixture to froth at all. Oh well.

The wine chocolate is very rich, but not terribly sweet, and the starch makes it very thick. I couldn’t finish my cup, so I stashed the leftovers in the fridge and had it a couple of days later over ice cream. So decadent!

And here’s my version.

Untitled

Wine Chocolate a deux
1 cup ruby port (or about 2/3 cup of sherry)
1 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, broken into pieces
2 oz. white sugar (about 1/4 cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons rice flour

Heat the port gently in a saucepan and add the chocolate and sugar. Stir until they dissolve. Stir in the rice flour and let the mixture simmer (not boil, despite what the original recipe says) for about 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Froth with a mill, molinillo or whisk and then quickly pour into cups.

Serves 2 generously.

The item on the saucer is an Elizabethan Jumble. Perhaps that will be the next historic cookery post.

M2

Published in: on 10 August 2016 at 10:56 am  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,