A Renaissance Pie Workshop

There have not been any new recipes since Thursday, but there is a good reason for that. This weekend, despite feeling somewhat under the weather, I was able to teach a hands-on workshop in my medieval club. The topic was ‘Pies and Pastries of Renaissance Germany‘, and we had a good deal of fun.

I prepared a handout including recipe sources and modern adaptations of different crusts and fillings, and we got to work in a small, but well equipped kitchen. Owing to several people with severe allergies, we used neither nuts nor fish, excluding two standard favourites: the crawfish pie and the almond tart. Nonetheless, we enjoyed a wealth of options.

Owing to time constraints, we used the same crust for all of our pies: An enriched hot water crust from the recipe collection of Sabina Welser. It combines flour, eggs, water and fat (in our case butter) into a versatile, pliable dough and can be made quickly without needing a refrigerator.

To make a pastry dough for all raised pastries

Take flour, the best you can get, about two handfuls, or depending on how large or small you want it, place it on the table, stir in two eggs with a knife and salt it a little. Put water and an amount of lard the size of two good eggs into a pan and let it melt together and boil, then pour it onto the abovementioned flour on the table, make a stiff dough and work it well as you see fit. In summer, you must use meat broth instead of the water and fat ladled from the top of soups instead of lard. When the dough is kneaded, roll it into a round ball and stretch it out well forward with your fingers or with a rolling pin, so that a rim remains, and then let it harden in the cold. Then shape the dough in the measure I showed you and retain some dough for a cover, roll it out and moisten it and the top of the the raised pastry with water, then press it well together with your fingers. Leave a little hole in one place, and when it is pressed together well and no openings are left, blow into the little hole you left so the lid rises up nicely. Then press it together immediately. Put it in the oven, but flour the container beforehand and see that the oven is heated well, thus it will be a good pastry. That is the way you make dough for raised pastries.

(Sabina Welserin #61)

Though trying out different techniques would have been fun, I decided against it because it would have made things too complicated. As with everything described here, instructions are in the handout paper.

Once we had our dough, we got started on the fillings. It was cold outside, so something rich and hearty, but meatless, was appreciated by all, and I settled on the Parmesan Osterfladen from Marx Rumpolt (see last Saturday’s post) .

The second savoury pie I introduced was the ubiquitous green tart. We took the recipe from the Innsbruck MS as our basis, but could not get chard and thus had to settle for spinach as our main green.

146 If you would prepare a tart (durden), take chard and salt and parsley and cut it up small all together. Wash it in fresh water, grate cheese into it, and add fat and eggs. Then prepare sheets of dough and put it into there, and bake (pach ?) it in a pan and put egg yolk on top and let it bake well etc.

It was still delicious. We also wanted something sweet, and it was the tart of plums from Sabina Welser. We used dried prunes, boiled to a mush in very little liquid and seasoned with cinnamon and sugar:

A pie of plums, be they dried or fresh

Let them boil in wine before, pass them and take eggs, cinnamon, and sugar. Let it bake. For the pie crust dough, you begin thus: Take two eggs and beat them, then stir flour into it until it turns thick. Then, turn it out onto a table and work it well until it turn out right. Afterwards, take a little more than half the dough and roll out a sheet as wide as you want your pie. Then pour the plums on it, roll out a second sheet and cut it as you would have it. Put it on the pie, pinch it well together and let it bake. This is how you make all pie doughs.

We used the hot-water crust rather than just eggs, and it turned out very well. To modern sensibilities, it tastes Christmassy, and that felt just right for a cold and wet November day.

Finally, we had a meat dish, Anna Wecker’s pastries of leftover meat:

Pastries of leftover meat

Take of such (meat) as you have that is no longer suitable for the table , it is good for these things. Cut the meat off the bones and chop it well. Make a dough of fine flour and eggs, a little fat, salt it well, or the way you make it for tarts, as you please.

Take two thin sheets, one as big as the other, shape it as you would like it and as you can, round, triangular, or rectangular, into hearts, roses, or stars. The add good spices to the meat, raisins, and what you like to have sweet or sour, as you please. (Add) enough fat from what is skimmed off soups (Suppenschmalz) or beef marrow, according to how fat or lean the meat itself is. If you wish, you can also add good herbs, with or without spices, or eggs as though you wanted to make sausages that go into the fat-lined part of the large intestine (Klobwürste). You may also take coarsely ground almonds, (but) they are better grated, especially if you also add eggs, and grate a little bit of hard white bread if you please. Always add a little meat broth.

If you want to make them, prepare it (the meat) and put a little of it on part of the abovementioned sheets (shaped) according to whatever you want of animals, birds, hounds , hares, as described above. Shape it with the prepared stuff (meat mixture) and then place the second sheet on top. Press it together according to its shape and close it as artfully as you can.

Give each its form: to the sow, bristles with a pastry wheel, give each one eyes from black dried cherries or juniper berries, (arrange) the skin of an egg around it or of red apples or rose petals, each after its kind. As to what else belongs to them, I have kept the little sheep’s trotters and such things as well as the young hares’ feet, those who are artful do not need much description, to those who aren’t it is in vain. Roughly done does not improve them or detract from them. Close them, brush them with egg as is always done, bake them quickly and serve them warm. They are best without egg, but to each as they like it. Almonds and a little bread makes them good.

The book actually includes two versions of this recipoe, and the basic idea is not so much a specific dish as a recycling approach: Meat, enough fat, some dry iungredient, spices, raisins, and egg to hold it all together. Our time limited us to fairly simple hand pies, though a spirited attempt at pastry art was made with some. A longer session might well have produced the kind of playful expression Wecker envisions.

It was a good day, a fun class with active, interested participants, and I wish I could do this more often. And in case you wish to try one of these yourself, do not forget to download the workshop handout.

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