Experiment: Liechtfesser

A shallow dish like a lamp – maybe

Another of the experiments made this Saturday: Liechtfesser from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

49 Liechtfesser küchlein

Take milk in a pan, salt it like soup and add fat. Half a seidlein of milk and a pletzlein of butter like half a schmaltz. Let it boil, and when it is boiling, take a handful (batzen) of flour and put it into the pan. Stir it well and do not stint the flour so that it becomes thick, like the gewolnen küchlein. Cook it (brenne in wol) above the fire and see there are no lumps (putzen) in it and that it smells nice. Place it in a bowl and beat it well, Break an egg or two into it and beat it well, but do not make it too thin but as thick as the dough for gewolnen küchlein. Make them round like küchle Liechtfesser (?) and put fat into a pan. When it is melted, roll it out on a board and put it into the pan so that the rounds are not too broad. Fry them well again, thus they gain small bubbles (kluntzlein). Let them have a good heat so that they brown.

Cooking at a low temperature (the little pieces are undercooked crumb from the first batch and turned out great)

This was the one I felt least certain interpreting. Clearly it is a choux pastry, and it is meant to be a very firm one since gewolne küchlein means rolled-out fritters. I started out with about 400ml of milk and added a generous teaspoon of salt and a dollop of butter before bringing it to boiling point. Beating in flour was challenging – the paste quickly turned lumpy – and I think I did not add enough, but the resulting dough still detached from the pot as a choux is supposed to. Then I worked in two eggs.

That did not work out

Since the dough I got seemed unsuited for shaping or rolling, I divided it in half and added more flour to half of it. Then I used the original dough to make patties, but was unsuccessful and resorted to dropping it from a spoon. This worked, but since I had also misjudged the required temperature the first batch burned and the second still cvame out too brown. The actual fritters were quite good, airy and moist, but we had to prise the crumb out between the black crust and the undercooked centre. Even if I had done them at the right temperature, I don’t think that was what I was supposed to be aiming for.

More flour – these could be shaped easily

The second batch went in at the correct temperature from the start, and it was much more successful. I had been concerned over adding too much flour, but the fritters still came out soft and airy with a slightly crunchy crust. I started with a batch of relatively thick, flat rounds and pressed the second one flatter and wider to see if it would make a difference. The first patties took on the shape I had thought they might: an expanded rim and a shallow dip in the middle that may explain the name Liechtfesser – lamps – from their similarity to oil lamps. However, this is still just speculation. I should have added more flour from the start and I am not sure how that would affect their behaviour in the pan. This calls for more experimentation.

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Experiment: Wafer Fritters

Another recipe I experimented with Saturday, this one is from the Kuchenmaistrey of c. 1490:

1. lvi. Item fritters of wafers (oblaten) make thus: Take figs and raisins, boil them, and chop them small. Season it with spices and saffron, add salt, and temper it well. Take one wafer and spread (zen{[e]r}g) the figs on it and set another wafer on it. Dredge this through a batter of white flour and fry them nicely.

Oblaten, thin wafers, were probably more substantial then than they are now, but we still use them in German cuisine. They mainly serve as a base for lebkuchen and macaroons and look a bit like edible paper. I used storebought this time and they worked nicely. The filling was dried figs and raisins parboiled in water and pureed. I added actual saffron, but I do not think it did anything. The other spices – cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg, with a pinch of salt – dominated completely. Dipped in a batter of egg and flour and quickly fried in oil, they turned out lovely once they had cooled down a bit.

Interestingly, though the practice is quite uncommon these days, it survived as an idea well into the modern era. Katharina Prato’s very influential Süddeutsche Küche (quoting from the 50th edition, Vienna 1912) describes a very similar preparation:

Oblaten-Krapferl (wafer fritters). With wine batter. Cut wafers into rounds, brush them with egg, fill each two and two with cherry flesh, dip them in wine batter, fry them in fat and strew them with sugar.

With choux paste: You place small heaps of firm rosehip sauce (Hagebuttensalse) on wafers cut square, cover them with wafers cut to the same shape, and only press them together slightly in the middle so that a space remains between the wafers where there is no sauce. Dip the four corners of the wafers into choux paste thinned with eggs to fill the interstices and fry them in fat. The sauce should shine red through the yellowish cooked wafer, the edges be light brown.

This is interesting and really sounds very attractive. I may want to try it out at some point. It also suggests that the various wafer fritters in the medieval and early modern corpus may well hide something more technically and visually sophisticated than what I produced.

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Experiment: Zucker Krepffle

The second in the series of experiments made on Saturday: the Zucker Krepffle from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

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.

We ground up gingerbread in a food processor and moistened it a little with water before adding sugar and a little extra spice. The original recipe called for clarified sugar which would have included some liquid. Then each small ball of the mash was wrapped in a piece of water-based dough. Since the recipe gave the option to bake, I opted to try that and found it locky because these were the only things we made that leaked. They were still good.

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Frogs according to Rumpolt

We conclude our series of recipes for things that live in a swamp with Marx Rumpolt’s instructions for cooking frogs:

Frogs, from the Felix Platter collection of animal drawings for Conrad Gesner’s historia animalium, courtesy of wikimedia commons

There are five kinds of dishes to be made from frogs

1 Fried frogs, salt, pepper and flour them, and fry them in hot butter so that they become nicely crunchy (resch). Bring them to the table warm and strew them with ginger. But if you wish to serve a sour sauce over them, take gooseberry juice (? Agrastwasser) with the berries, also add butter and a little pepper, let it boil with that and pour it over the fried frogs. Thus it will turn out good and well-tasting. And when you wish to prepare the frogs, skin them, take the hind part and parboil (quell) it in hot water. Salt and pepper it and let it lie in that (salt) for a while, that draws out a lot of water. Then you can use it for frying ot to serve in a sauce (zum eynmachen).

2 Take frogs that are parboiled cleanly, pour gooseberry juice (? Agrastwasser) over them, and pounded pepper and fresh, unmelted butter and let them boil quickly (resch) with that. And when you wish to serve it, throw in several gooseberries and let it boil up once, thus it is good and well-tasting.

3 Pan-fried (gefricusierte) frogs with gooseberries and water, prepared with that when they have been pan-fried, well peppered and not salted much.

4 You can also cook them in pastries shaped (aufgetrieben) from white dough with gooseberry sauce, thus they turn out good and well-tasting.

5 Frogs cooked black in carp blood are good and well-tasting.

It is safe to say frogs are not captivating the imagination of the great master cook. The association with gooseberries (at least that is what Agrastbeeren usually are) is interesting, but not really enough to sustain excitement across four recipes. The cooking instructions are nice to have, but all of it combines to illustrate the lack of interest in these things compared to ‘proper’ food animals.


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Experiment: Fig-Raisin Fritters

Today, I met with a few friends and we tried out medieval recipes. The temperatures outside militated for rich and hot foods, so we decided on fritters. One of them was from the Rheinfränkisches Kochbuch:

Lichtfesser, wafer fritters, raisin-fig fritters, cheese fledlein, sugar krapfen, and a failed choux

1 If you would make small fritters (kreppelin) in Lent, take nuts and figs and pound them small with each other and season it according to your will and heat (it in) oil and fry them (wrapped) in a leavened (erhabendem) dough in the way of dumpling-style fritters (kreppelin, modern German Krapfen) in a pan and serve them cold at the table, those are well-tasting fritters.

The filling turned out to be a challenge. The dried figs we had were so hard and dry they could barely be cut with a knife, so I ended up soaking them in hot water before putting them in a blender. Once theý were sufficiently mashed, I added a roughly equal amount of walnut meats and continued processing until they were combined into a paste.

Without instructions for the seasoning, I opted for a simple mix of dominant cinnamon with cloves, ginger, and nutmeg. The crust, too, was simple, a plain water dough leavened with yeast. I made it stiff and elastic to roll out and wrap around the filling tightly, like pierogi or ravioli with Typ 550 flour, a bread flour, and the consistency it produced was quite pleasant. They were fried in oil in a pan, drained on paper towels, and served warm, and they were quite good.

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Snail and Frog Sausage

To continue the series of snail and frog recipes, we have a small section from de Rontzier about hiding them in various dishes to trick people into eating them.

Frogs, from the Felix Platter collection of animal drawings for Conrad Gesner’s historia animalium, courtesy of wikimedia commons

To make small dishes of snails and frogs

1 You chop them with bacon or other fat, fill it into pork guts and make sausages from it, or wrap it in a mutton caul. You can then either boil or roast them.

2 You can also chop them and fry them in an Eyerkuchen etc

3 You also fill them into chickens or pigeons, but the head and feet must be cut off first.

4 You chop them and make small dumplings from it, boil them, and lay the feet or breasts of partridges (Veldhuener) on them when you wish to serve them.

Thus you can feed them (bey bringen) unnoticed to someone who is not willing to eat them readily.

Erm. Ick.

The principle is interesting, and the recipes not completely unexpected. Using mutton caul to wrap a sausage is a common technique in de Rontzier’s book and beyond, and the Eyerkuchen, a kind of omelet, worked with a wide variety of dishes. Using smail or frog meat in dumplings and as a filling for poultry does not strike me as terribly improbable, but it implies a lot of it being on hand. Perhaps such dishes generated large amounts of leftovers? That might explain why the author thinks it a good idea to deceive diners into eating them. Going by what we know of entertainment in sixteenth-century Germany, though, this might have passed for humour.

Franz de Rontzier, head cook to the bishop of Halberstadt and duke of Braunschweig, published his encyclopaedic Kunstbuch von mancherley Essen in 1598. He clearly looks to Marx Rumpolt’s New Kochbuch as the new gold standard, but fails to match it in engaging style or depth. He is thus overshadowed by the twin peaks of Marx Rumpolt and Anna Wecker. What makes his work interesting is the way in which he systematically lists versions of a class of dishes, illustrating the breadth or a court cook’s repertoire. He is also more modernly fashionable than Rumpolt. Looking to France rather than Italy and Spain for inspiration, and some of the dishes he first describes may be genuine innovations.

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Frog Recipes from de Rontzier

Like snails, frog legs – cuisses de grenouille – are usually, and rarely flatteringly, associated with French cuisine. However, there are recipes in some German sources, too, closely associated with the previously posted recipes for tortoise and snail.

Frogs, from the Felix Platter collection of animal drawings for Conrad Gesner’s historia animalium, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Of frogs

Only the frogs that live in the water are good to eat. The others do not serve, except for the hindquarter which you must skin etc.

1 Item you boil them in water, flour them, and fry them in melted butter, drizzle bitter orange juice (Pommerantzensafft) over it, sprinkle them with salt and pepper, and serve them.

2 You mix salt, pepper, and flour, dust them with this and fry them in butter. Throw in parsley when they are almost done, sprinkle them with salt and serve them.

3 You boil them and cut them small, place them in a pot with wine, prepare them with cubed apples, small raisins, ground pepper, ginger, and butter and let them cook until done etc.

4 Item you boil and prepare them with wine, grated bread, large raisins, saffron, ginger and sugar etc.

5 Item you prepare them, with ground almonds, wine, sugar, and pepper, and strew them with sugar when you wish to serve them.

6 Item you prepare them with chopped bacon and parsley, fresh butter, egg yolks, and a little broth, let them cook, and strew them with salt when you wish to serve them.

7 Item you prepare them with egg yolks, wine, mace, and fresh butter etc.

These recipes are not really surprising. The first two are ancestors of the way frog legs are still prepared in France, floured and fried. The next three are fairly typical of the way small meats are prepared in Germany in the sixteenth century; in an apple sauce, a bread-thickened wine sauce, or with almonds. I am not certain whether the final two describe a kind of scrambled eggs with frog meat or a sauce bound with egg yolk. Certainly they all fit the style of their day, and it looks like frogs are basically considered meat, though not a favoured kind.

Franz de Rontzier, head cook to the bishop of Halberstadt and duke of Braunschweig, published his encyclopaedic Kunstbuch von mancherley Essen in 1598. He clearly looks to Marx Rumpolt’s New Kochbuch as the new gold standard, but fails to match it in engaging style or depth. He is thus overshadowed by the twin peaks of Marx Rumpolt and Anna Wecker. What makes his work interesting is the way in which he systematically lists versions of a class of dishes, illustrating the breadth or a court cook’s repertoire. He is also more modernly fashionable than Rumpolt. Looking to France rather than Italy and Spain for inspiration, and some of the dishes he first describes may be genuine innovations.

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Heißwecken – An Exercise in Speculation

Today, I found a baker that still sells what used to be a universal specialty across the Low German-speaking world – Heißwecken. As early as the fifteenth century, we can trace the history of this confection, always eaten around Carnival. Today, the word refers to a sweet, rich bun very close to a Franzbrötchen in consistency, topped with sugar and optionally filled with cream.

Plain Heißwecke from Bäckerei Tackmann, Shrove Tuesday 2023

In 1996, Ernst Helmut Segschneider published the essay Heißwecken als Fastnachtsgebäck im Hanseraum in Günther Wiegelmann’s book Nahrung und Tischkultur im Hanseraum. In it, he traced the history of Heißwecken from the earliest mentions of hete wegghe in the Hamburg hospital accounts of 1447 and 1457. Later sources provide descriptions of the dish: “warm, white bread which is kneaded with melted butter or boiled milk and with which the stomach is filled according to ancient, uncouth habit” (Idioticon Hamburgense, 1755). The wikipedia article on this food is largely based on this essay, and it is remarkably detailed and well sourced for a food entry as a result.

Modern Swedish semla, cream-filled, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Segschneider argues that the Hanseatic hete wegghe is the origin of the Scandinavian tradition of semla, the sweet, cream-filled bun that occurs across the north under a variety of names. Indeed, one of the earliest Swedish names for this is hetvägg, clearly hete weggheHeißwecken. Swedish later adopted the High German term Semmel in place of the dialectal Weck(e), but the two terms were and still are synonymous. Today, both refer to fine, white breadrolls eaten for breakfast. Interestingly, while the tradition of semla is thriving across all of Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, Heißwecken, once ubiquitous across northern Germany, have all but disappeared. The dominant baked good for Carnival is now the Fastnachtskrapfen, a Berliner. Only very traditional bakeries still produce them at all, and I had to check four shops before I found one.

A flaky, soft crumb with raisins hiding inside – very likely quite different from the original

However, the meticulously researched narrative developed by Segschneider looks in one direction only, and thast leaves open some interesting aspects of the Heißwecke phenomenon. There is no reason to think the idea started in the Low German-speaking region of Northwestern Germany to spread across the Baltic. The idea seems to obvious to be a one-time invention. And indeed, the humorous songs of the fourteenth-century poet König vom Odenwald mention the culinary delights of a begozzen semmel – a semmel that has something poured on it. Regrettably, we do not know what, but both milk and butter surely make sense. It is very unlikely this merely refers to bread soaked in some cooking liquid because the name for that kind of dish – Suppe – was already current and the dish was too common to warrant extolling in song. As an aside, one of our sources for the works of the food-minded singer is the Hausbuch of protonotary Michael de Leone, the same man to whose personal library we owe the earliest version of the buoch von guoter spise (an English translation of which exists). Culinary history is rich in unexpected connections like this.

Of course this is a speculative leap of faith. However, it is not improbable at all. German culinary naming conventions in the middle ages are almost nonexistent, so absent an actual recipe, we will find it hard to decide what exactly begozzen semmel meant – or for that matter what exactly the hete wegghe that were served in 1447 looked like. But to illustrate both the folly of attaching too much importance to a name and the perils of postulating the origin of any dish, let alone doing so on a monolingual research basis, we need look no farther that England. To be precise, the fifteenth-century Harleian MSS 279 and 4016. Here, we find a recipe for rastons:

Rastons. Take fyne floure, and white of eyren, and a litul of the yolkes; And then take warme berm, and put al thes togidre, and bete hem togidre with thi honde so longe til hit be short and thik ynogh. And caste sugur ynowe thereto; And then lete rest a while; And then cast hit in a faire place in an oven, and lete bake ynogh; And then kut hit with a knyfe rownde aboue in maner of a crowne, and kepe the crust that thou kuttest, and pile (Note: Douce MS.; pike Harl) all the cremes (Note: Douce MS. cromes) within togidre; and pike hem small with thi knyfe, and saue the sides and al the cruste hole withoute; And then cast thi clarefied butter, and medle the creme (Note: Douce MS. crommes) and the buttur togidre, And couer hit ayen with the cruste that thou kuttest awey; and then put hit in the oven ayen a litull tyme, and take it oute, and serue hit forthe all hote.

And just like that, we have a North European tradition and a very delightful, simple but rich dish to serve on a cold, foggy February day.

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Snail Pie: A Warning from History

Concluding, for now, our series of snailrelated content, here is a recipe and a stern warning from Anna Wecker. It’s been a long day.

Snails from the Felix Platter collection of drawings, courtesy of wikimedia commons

A pastry of snails

Prepare the snails as they should be. Take them out of the water and swing them like lettuce in a clean cloth. Then place them in a platter or bowl, season with plenty of pepper and a bit of cloves, and mix it well.

When the pastry case is ready, put in salt and fresh butter and close it when the case hardens. In the meantime, prepare fresh meat broth with enough finely cut parsley and add sweet butter to it. If the snails are not strongly peppered, add more (pepper) to the broth as it boils. Pour it into the pastry as always, and let it bake half an hour.

Otherwise there is no better way to prepare them than putting them back into their shells and placing them in a deep pan, boiled with a broth made as is described above. You must take it off the fire so that it is not too hot and pour on the broth and boil it about as long as one boils hard eggs.

There is little useful about snails. They mostly serve (as food for) lechers. That is why young people should not eat too much (of them), otherwise great harm can come of it as I know to tell from many examples.

In 1598, Anna Wecker, the widow of a respected physician, published her Köstlich New Kochbuch. The first such work known to be authored by a woman, it would become a bestseller and remain in print for a century. I am working on a full translation and hope to turn it into a book once it is finished.

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Snail Recipes from Rumpolt

Snails from the Felix Platter collection of drawings, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Following the chapter from de Rontzier, here is what Rumpolt has to say about snails:

There are nine dishes to be made from snails

1 Take the snails and set them to cook in water. Let them boil an hour or four. When they are boiled, draw them out of their shells and take their fore and hind parts separately. Rub the front part well with salt, that way the slime comes away, and wash them cleanly in six or seven waters so they are not slimy. Pepper them well and cut green, fragrant herbs very small. Pour good, fresh butter over them and stir it into the snails. Wash the shells nicely clean and then put the snails into them. Place them in a baking dish (Turtenpfannen) together with the shells, set them on the coals and let them boil inside their shells. If there is too little butter in it, pour on more. When they have boiled, arrange them in a bowl and serve them warm. Strew (schuet) a little pepper on the bowl, on the rim, because snails must be well peppered.

2 Take snails once they are boiled, nicely washed, and rubbed well with salt, and cut them small. Add green, fragrant herbs and place it in a fish kettle (Fischkessel) together, and add butter. Set it on coals and fry it well. Take eggs, beat them together, salt them, and let them run through a haircloth. Add pounded pepper and a little saffron and stir it into the snails with the eggs until it boils up. When it has boiled up, serve it, thus they turn out good and well-tasting.

3 Snails for frying. When they are cooked and cleaned, you salt and pepper them well and fry them (coated) with flour. When you take them out of the butter, see that they are served quickly and strew them with ginger. Thus it turns out good and well-tasting.

4 Snails cooked in liquid (eyngemacht) with pea broth, green parsley, and with butter, and well peppered.

5 Take snails that have been fried, pour mustard and butter over them and serve them warm.

6 Take snails and cook (fricusier) them nicely in butter with green, fragrant herbs that are chopped small. Pepper it well and do not oversalt it. Thuis they turn out good and well-tasting.

7 Take the hind part that you have cut off before, rub it well with salt and wash it cleanly. Throw it into hot butter and fry (roest) it thoroughly. Pepper and salt it, thus it will turn out good and well-tasting.

8 Snails cooked in pastries, especially if they are boiled and cleaned, see that they are well peppered and prepared with butter in the pastry. Thus they turn out good and well-tasting.

9 Snails served with olive oil.

These recipes again show Rumpolt as by far the better writer and quite possibly the better cook as well. Still, there seems to be general agreement that snails are seasoned exactly one way, with butter and herbs. It is hard to say whether this was long-standing custom – which is plausible – or a novel, Italianate style that made them acceptable to the wealthy and powerful. Certainly the variety in preparations shows that snails were familiar in the kitchen and served in a variety of ways.

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