English Tart

A continuation of yesterday’s cheese tart, this recipe from Philippine Welser’s collection is referred to as ‘English’, putting it in the direct tradition of a number of earlier sources.

49 If you want to make an English tart

Prepare as tart base (bedalin) as for any other tart, and take a cheese filling (kes tayg) as for the cheese tart described before. To bake it, you must do as follows: Put it into the tart pan and bake it for a good while until you think it is half baked. Then take it out and pour hot fat over it. Then put it back in straight away and let it bake well. When you want to take it out, take it out again and brush it with dissolved sugar (er lasnen zucker) and put it back in for a while. That way, it will turn nicely brown from the sugar. It should also be sprinkled with rosewater, that way it is proper.

There are a few interesting aspects to this, and it resolves that the er lasnen zucker of both this and yesterday’s recipe very likely is a clarified and caramelised sugar syrup. It also suggests that what made a tart “English” was at least in part a method of preparation, not just its ingredients. The sequence of baking the tart, removing it from the pan to soak it in hot fat, baking again, then brushing with sugar syrup and browning it over is fascinating and suggestive of the things that may be left unsaid in terser instructions elsewhere.

The filling is that of yesterday’s tart:

First take a good, sweet, fat cheese that is not old or crumbly (resch). Grate it small and put the grated cheese into a bowl, as much as you please. Add 2 times as much egg and 4 times as much butter so it can become like a thin batter (diner tayg), and add a very small amount of flour to it. Stir it well in the bowl, but do not make the batter too thin, so that you can keep it on the tart base (boden). Last, add some dissolved sugar (der lasnen zucker) to it. Then bake it nicely small, and when it is baked, sprinkle sugar on it while it is hot. Thus it is proper and good.

Like I said before, the proportions feel off to me, but not so much as to suggest an error. Depending on the relation of flour to egg and the consistency of the cheese, this could work. Here, the cooking technique involves a higher heat and may produce soome rising, especially if the egg is beaten thoroughly. I wonder what the purpose of applying hot fat may be, given there is already so much butter in the mix. It may be for browning, or to prevent sticking, or perhaps the crust is expected to absorb so much of it. This is certainly a recipe worth playing with.

Finally, it is a recipe we should keep in mind when inmterpreting earlier instructions for making “English” tarts such as this one from the Meister Hans collection of around 1460:

Recipe #95 Ainen ennglischn fladen mache den also

Make an English fladen (flat pie) thus

Item (take) soft cheese, butter and pepper, mingle it together, make a pastry case of dough and fill it with the cheese over half (halfway full). Let it bake in a pot (baking dish). This is called an English flad(en)

Clearly this is not the same recipe. However, it may be aiming for a similar technique, a certain fluffiness produced by high top heat, and maybe browning on top. I haven’t tried this or its parallels yet, but if I do, I will certainly take the recipe in Philippine Welser as a guideline for my experiments. Extrapolating backwards is perilous, especially in a tradition as allergic to proper names as the German one, but the recipes are too similar to be unrelated. It is at least a plausible approach.

Philippine Welser (1527-1580), a member of the prominent and extremely wealthy Welser banking family of Augsburg, was a famous beauty of her day. Scandalously, she secretly married Archduke Ferdinand II of Habsburg in 1557 and followed him first to Bohemia, then to Tyrol. A number of manuscripts are associated with her, most famously a collection of medicinal recipes and one of mainly culinary ones. The recipe collection, addressed as her Kochbuch in German, was most likely produced around 1550 when she was a young woman in Augsburg. It may have been made at the request of her mother and was written by an experienced scribe. Some later additions, though, are in Philippine Welser’s own hand, suggesting she used it.

The manuscript is currently held in the library of Ambras Castle near Innsbruck as PA 1473 and was edited by Gerold Hayer as Das Kochbuch der Philippine Welser (Innsbruck 1983).

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