Renaissance Nibbles for a Pity Party III

As the series continues, we come to a favourite recipe tried before, and one that I will surely use again. I included a version of it in the English edition of my Landsknecht Cookbook (soon to be available from booksellers everywhere), but there are so many surviving recipes it will, at some point, deserve an article all its own.

Almond Tart

This is the version Anna Wecker gives in her 1598 Koestlich New Kochbuch:

An almond tart

Take half a pound of finely pounded almonds on the table for one tart. Beat four or five eggs very well and remove the birds (i.e. strain them), and take as much good skimmed-off cream that has been boiled before and cooled again. Also add rosewater and sugar and a little grated white bread, that makes it tender (lucker).

Make a pastry crust as you do all the time and shape it as you please, round or as a heart or however you can. After it is hard, fill in the stuff and bake it at a gentle heat from above and below. When it has firmed up and baked well, brush it with rosewater and strew a good amount of sugar on it, or make a paste from egg white, rosewater and sugar and spread it on it (the tart). Give it a good heat, then it rises and glistens like a marzipan, which you brush the same way. It saves sugar, and when the egg whites are well beaten, you may leave out the rosewater or use very little.

If you like, and if you can, you may cut a very tender lid that is very broad, or a nice rope (braided edge?). Make a dough from egg whites, sugar and rosewater and roll it out well. When the filling has firmed up, place the nicely cut (covering) on it and give it a good heat so that the cut parts stand out yellow and brown and the tart filling white. But it must be broad and cut differently than for other tarts.

And this way, you can also cover other tarts made with dairy products (milchspeiß). If you would make it for a sick person who must not eat milk, use as much almond milk with rosewater or another kind of boiled (i.e. distilled) water that otherwise serve for the need of the sick with the eggs, as much as you need, as always.

I initially suspected the addition of breadcrumbs was more about economies than consistency, but having added a good amount of grated bread this time, I found it does really make the filling softer and lighter. There is no guidance on the amount of sugar here, but given the cost, I went with a relatively modest level of sweetness. The result was very successful and popular.

Among the several suggestions for covering the filling, I decided to go with the “paste from egg white, rosewater, and sugar” that is also described in other sources used on baked marzipan. Apparently this was an early version of meringue, slowly dried and hardened. Unlike we do in modern meringue pies, Renaissance bakers prized smooth whiteness, not browned peaks.

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