Round Gingerbread Fritters

Another recipe from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch for today: Sugary, crunchy, spicy fritters.

A Lebkuchenbäcker from the Hausbuch der Landauerschen Zwölfbrüderstiftung of 1520, courtesy of wikimedia commons

56 To fry sugar fritters (Zucker Krepffle)

Take twice-baked gingerbread (Leckuchen) and grate it nicely fine. Searce it through a colander (durchschlag) but (aber) let it become dry. Cut small pieces (pröcklein). When it is dry, pound it in a mortar. Place it in a bowl, add clarified sugar and Trysanet (a sweet spice mix) and make a dough as thick as for Keßküchlein. Also make a dough with water, roll out small rounds (pletzlein), place a piece of the (other) dough the size of a marble (einer schussers groß) into them and fry them in a kachel (a shallow earthenware vessel). Or place them on a board and when the fire in the oven is out, push the board in. That way they also bake. They are supposed to be nicely white. If you do not wish to use clarified sugar, you may well take the best kind of honey that is also clarified and mix the gingerbread with that. These are good for (their) sugar and spice.

This is an interesting recipe, though it is very close to two others that are less clear. As I read it, very dry gingerbread is ground to a powder and mixed with additional spices and sugar to produce a filling. The suggestion that both clarified sugar and honey are suitable as sweeteners suggests that the sugar would have been used in its liquid state after refining rather than dried out again. This is then wrapped in a plain water crust in pieces the size (and I guess the shape) of a marble and fried or baked at a gentle temperature to keep it from browning. The result could well be quite attractive.

Interestingly, there is another recipe quite close in time and space to this one that also describes fritters as being ‘like marbles’. It is from the recipe collection of Sabina Welser dating to 1553 and likely written in Augsburg. These, of course, are savoury, made with cheese, identified as coming from Nuremberg and – like our parallel recipe from this book – associated with carnival:

173 How people customarily make krapfen in Nuremberg for Carnival

Grate parmesan cheese, or another kind that is nicely dry, break eggs into it and also take a little fine wheat flour so it does not become too crunchy with the cheese. Make this firm enough so it does not flow away. Then make an egg dough as for a tart, make long, narrow sheets of it and place in the middle of the sheet little pieces of the cheese mixture, as large as you like them, with a spoon. Fold it over and press it together with two thumbs, each sheet well in place with its filling, then cut them apart with a metal sheet. When you want to bake them, do not let the fat get very hot, but place many of them in the pan when it is barely melted. Fry them slowly and shake the pan well, then they will become like marbles.

This is clearly not the same recipe, not even close. One is a run-of-the-mill cheese fritter in a rich egg dough, the other a sweet confection. At the same time, the connections are so blatant they almost look like they had been written for a treasure hunt. There is the comparison to marbles, the association (admittedly at one remote) with carnival, and of course the fact that they show up in two recipe collections dated six years apart and from the same city. As an aside, between these two and the Stengler collection, mid-century Augsburg may be the best documented place in Renaissance Germany for cooking recipes.

The short Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch was first printed in Augsburg in 1559 and reprinted in Nuremberg in 1560 and subsequently. Despite its brevity, it is interesting especially as it contains many recipes for küchlein, baked or deep-fried confections, that apparently played a significant role in displaying status. We do not know who the famous cook referenced in the title may have been or if he ever existed.

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