Biscotti and May Dish for a Vigil

A friend of mine who is in the same medieval society as me was inducted into the “Order of the Laurel” last weekend. This is our club’s way of recognising outstanding achievement in the study and recreation of historical things (in her case, dressmaking), and it is kind of a big deal. Part of the ceremony is a ‘vigil’, a period where the inductee is seated in a separate room or tent and is visited by friends and older Order members for congratulations and advice. The vigil traditionally involves finger food, and that is where I came in.

From Marx Rumpolt’s 1581 New Kochbuch comes a recipe for Piscoten – biscotti, crunchy sweet morsels that can be nibbled as they are or dunked:

Take good white flour, add several eggs, anise, coriander, and a little salt. When the dough is made, work it into a long shape, place it on a board, place it by the fire so that the heat touches it, cover it with a warm tablecloth, and allow it to rise. Then put it into a hot oven and bake it. Remove it, allow the cake to cool, cut off the rinds and cut it into broad slices, about a finger thick. Rub these with fine ground white sugar on both sides, place them on clean paper and put them into a cool oven, turning over frequently so that it dries quickly. Keep it and serve it warm or cold. This is called roasted rusks (gebraten Piscoten).

This basically is how we still make biscotti. A leavened dough (which I assume is intended as it is expected to rise) is baked, sliced, and dried. Anise and coriander (that is, dry coriander seed, not the leaves) harmonise well, and while modern tastes would expect the dough itself to be sweetened (and I did), this is by no means necessary. The sugar on the outside is quite enough.

There is a wide range of rusk/biscotti recipes in the Renaissance corpus of German recipes. Many are more interesting, using rice flour, beaten egg, various spices, and in one case suggesting something akin to dry meringue. These are easily the most pedestrian. They are also rather dry and hard, calling for something to dip them in. I provided May Dish.

The mid-sixteenth century libellus de lacte et de operibus lactariis provides a description of Cibus Maiis:

Melca or freshly curdled milk is also seasoned with sugar together with butter, a dish that is served at feasts crowned with flowers stuck into it. It is called May food, since it is mostly eaten at this time, when much springtime sweetness from the feed passes into milk and butter.

This is an extremely luxurious way of consuming fresh dairy, but a mix or quark or curdled cream, sweet butter, and sugar served chilled is a sensual delight. Later recipes also add rosewater, which is a nice additional touch to the freshness. You can vary the viscosity by controlling the proportion of butter, and I went with a relatively liquid mix to be scooped up with the Piscoten.

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