Carnival Fritters

It is not often we find foods associated with a particular occasion. This recipe from the Kuenstlich und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch is:

Augsburg Carnival, seventeenth-century woodcut courtesy of wikimedia commons

48 Carnival Fritters (Fasnacht Küchlein)

Take good, twice-baked gingerbread (leckuchen), pound it small, and add Trysanet. Mix it well and make a dough with (as if for?) gingerbread cookies (Leckuchen pletzlein). Place it on the rolled-out pletzlein, lay it on the one half and fold the other half over it so that the dough (the filling) remains in the centre. Bend it like a sausage. Then take a pastry wheel as you use it to cut out Schnepalen (lit. snowballs – a kind of fritter) and cut the dough with that, thus is gains “baskets” (koerblein – a weave pattern?), but not too strongly so the gingerbread does not come out. Fry them in a pan and put hot coals underneath, thus they remain and become nicely crisp.

This is the clearer of two recipes for gingerbread-based fritters in this source. Basically it seems to me that aside from things remaining unspoken – how exactly do you make that dough? – it is a fairly clear recipe. Gingerbread is grated and turned into a filling, wrapped in another kind of dough that is then bent into shape and decorated with a pattern pressed into the surface with a pastry wheel. Gingerbread is, of course, exactly right for carnival – it is rich and luxurious, available even in deepest winter, and does not need any fresh ingredients to be enjoyed. And it can be used for sauces, fillings, and baked goods.

Fried confections are a winter staple in German festive culture, and like the now ubiquitous New Year’s Berliner, Faschingskrapfen are a South German tradition. Today, these are basically the same thing – a sweetened, yeast-leavened dough with a sweet filling – but in the past, there was a good deal more variety.

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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Double-Cooked Fritters

Thanks to the great generosity of a wonderful friend, I now own a 1912 copy of Katharina Prato’s Süddeutsche Küche ans have already discovered some fascinating parallels in it. However, today being an eventful day, I will make do with another recipe from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch for now:

47 Schar küchlein

Take flour and eggs and prepare a batter as thick as streublein batter. As often as you wish to have one, take an eggshell full of milk and always as much milk as there is of egg, and otherwise prepare it like streublein dough. When it is made, take a flat pan and put in fat to cover the bottom. Do not let it get too hot. Put in the dough like an ayer platz and put a lid (schart) above the pan. Stack glowing coals on them and do not let it be too hot below, thus it becomes nicely thick. Stir (loosen) it so it does not stick, then take it out. Put it on a plate and cut it into pieces like rolled fritters (gewolne kuechlein), lay those in a pan and fry them like other fritters.

This is another variation on the theme of frying eggs, milk and flour. This time, you first prepare a thick pancake that is made fluffy by applaying heat from above. This cake is then sliced (on the assumption that gewolne küchlein is broadly the same thing as angestrichens in other sources and thus also cut into strips) and fried in fat. I am fairly sure this is not an unattractive dish, but personally I see it much more as a technical challenge. Working with top heat is something I still need to get used to.

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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Almond Wafer Cookies

We continue with the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

46 Marcepan Cookies (Küchlein)

Take half a vierdung of almonds and a vierdung of sugar. Blanch the almonds and pound them as small as possible, pour rosewater on them, and when they are pounded very finely, add sugar, thus they will become finer still. When it is well mingled together like a thick dough, you must spread it out (ausstreichen). Watch out that you do not add too much rosewater. You can always make it thinner with rosewater. Take it out of a mortar into a bowl, add a little mace and rub it between your hands. Then take a wafer (blat, read oblat) and cut it like the lozenges of windowpanes. You may make it large or small. Then take of the same wafer thus cut and spread the almond on it as thinly as possible, the thinner the nicer. Then take the white of an egg, two or three spoonfuls, add some fragrant rosewater and beat it well with a spoon until it develops a foam. Take the beaten (egg white) and spread it on the almond-covered wafers. Detach them (schneyd es ab), place it on the oven, heat it well and bake it gently. They often attach to each other, but they are supposed to stay white. When they bend upwards where you spread the rosewater, they become nicely hard and prettily white. Thus they should be baked.

Another recipe for küchlein, but this one is not deep-fried. This is a reminder that a lot of the cooking vocabulary on Early Modern German is counterintuitive to us. Küchlein does not refer to a mode of preparation, but to a shape and size, and a culinary role. These are interesting, rich, and very delicate, and they do not quite fit into any one slot of traditional preparations. Baked marzipan is spread on wafers, covered with egg white glaze, and baked, and clearly these are related. The filling, though, is not proper marzipan. Marzipan recipes tend to involve more almonds than sugar, at best 50-50, whereas here, we have twice as much sugar as almonds. Also, the shape is off. Lozenge-shaped wafers are typically used with fritters where a filling is placed between two wafers and the whole is battered. I wonder whether this is an incidence of deliberately playing with expectations.

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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Berliner

New Year’s Eve would not be complete without the traditional Berliner, known in much of the south as a Krapfen and in Berlin, confusingly, as a Pfannkuchen.

Berliner, Hamburg Christmas market 2019

This sweet fritter has an august lineage, going back at least to the sixteenth century. Hence Marx Rumpolt:

Make a dough of milk, eggs and good white flour, add some brewer’s yeast to it and make a good dough, not too stiff. Do not oversalt it. Leave it in a warm place to rise… (there follows a raisin fritter recipe)

Take such a dough and roll it out, wrap cherry sauce in it, cut it up with a pastry wheel, deep-fry it in butter and serve it warm, sprinkled with sugar. These are good Krapfen of cherry sauce. You can make them with all kinds of sauces.

(Rumpolt, Gebackens #41 and 42)

This is basically how we still make Berliner. Krapfen by the lights of the sixteenth century meant all kinds of filled dough pockets, usually deep-fried, but also boiled or baked. The use of leavened and enriched yeast dough with a sweet filling (the ubiquitous and popular cherry sauce) sets this recipe apart. Today, Berliner are usually filled with jam, but also with alcoholic confections, chocolate spread, and – by tradition – one of each batch with mustard. Like their close relative, the donut, they have entered a spiral of escalating adornment with coloured frostings, sprinkles, and other fanciful additions, but the traditional style is still either powdered sugar or a plain glaze. Berliner are traditionally circular and quite possibly always have been. A foldover shape is known as a Tasche, and usually filled with things like marzpian or fruit preserves.

Deep-fried Taschen from the Hamburg Christmas market 2019

The Berliner has become part of modern folklore and integrated into the time zwischen den Jahren though, like the donut, it is today available year-round. Its most famous appearance on the international stage was in the aftermath of President Kennedy’s famous speech at the Schöneberger Rathaus in West Berlin. Contrary to the popular urban legend, his words “Ich bin ein Berliner” were not misinterpreted by his audience. In Berlin itself, they are known only as Pfannkuchen. Neither is the sentence grammatically wrong – unlike “Ich bin Berliner“, it is ambiguous, but clear from the context. Kennedy likely added the indefinite article ein to parallel the correct translation of the Ciceronian civis Romanus sum he was referencing in his speech. Classical education was ubiquitous enough in 1963 for listeners to have faulted him for failing to do so.

KN-C29248 26 June 1963 President Kennedy’s address to the people of Berlin. Rudolph Wilde Platz, West Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany. Photograph by Robert Knudsen, White House, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Modern Berliner recipes do not differ materially from the 1581 version, though they are usually more detailed and precise. The 1891 Davidis-Holle Praktisches Kochbuch has instructions for making them in the classic fashion:

196. Berliner Pfannkuchen (Krapfen). For the dough, 1/4 l milk, 250g clarified butter, 1 egg and 5 yolks, 50g yeast, 50g sugar, a teaspoon of salt and 1/2 kg of fine flour. Further to fill them, any kind of preserve: three-fruit mus, currants, cherries, jelly that is no very firm, of best of all, a fine fruit jam.

Flour and butter are warmed before beginning. Then the eggs are beaten and the lukewarm milk is mixed in along with the yeast, butter, sugar and salt and made into a light dough with the flour. This is beaten until it throws bubbles and no longer sticks to the spoon. Then it is placed on a floured board to rise slowly. Once this is done, it is rolled out half a finger thick and you use a teaspoon to lay on preserves without liquid or a fine jam of apricots, skinned plums etc. on the dough in rows about 7cm from the edge and at about similar distance from each other. You fold the edge of the dough over the fruit always grasping it with both hands, and press it together all round the elevations formed by the fruit using the tips of your fingers. – Now you cut rounds with a cookie cutter or a glass and lay them on boards or pieces of paper that are dusted with flour to let them rise in the warmth. Meanwhile, heat butterfat (Schmelzbutter) to a high heat (kochend heiß) and let the Kuchen fry in it one after the other, floating on one side, as many at a time as will fit. Further proceed as described before (the previous entry describes general procedure for frying leavened doughs). The Pfannkuchen must attain a dark yellow colour and are rolled in powdered sugar while still hot, strewn with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar, or which is finer still, covered in a glaze of your choice. They are eaten fresh.

There is very little to add to this. Other than first cutting out the rounds and then adding the jam, this is how I make mine. Bakers producing larger quantities usually inject the jam after cooking, using an electric pump. That leaves holes in the side which sometimes betray the filling – not a problem as such, but it can spoil the surprise if you have a mixed batch.

Happy New Year 2023. May it bring you all good things.

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Piped Fritters

Predictably, again from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch.

44 Piped Fritters (Spruetzen Kuechlein)

Item take half a seidlein of blue (plae) milk into a pan and let it boil. When it is boiling, add flour so that it turns thick. Then cook (roeste) this well in the pan so it does not become stinking. It should be thick. Then, beat it well in a bowl. Set eggs atop the oven so they become warm, beat them nicely in a pot, salt them, leave out the birds (i.e. strain them) and always pour in a little egg and then beat it (the dough) thoroughly again. You must prepare it so no lumps (puetzlen) remain in it and thicker than for pruete Kuechlein. Put the dough in a syringe and press it out into the fat. Move it about in small circles (fare fein gerings). Moisten the syringe with water beforehand or the dough will not come out. It is thick. You must press them out quickly. Lay them in the fat hot, like pruete kuechlein, and move about with the syringe. If you have a broad pan, you can make them all the better, as wide as the pan. If you want to make them smaller, take a smaller pan. Turn them about carefully and do not break any of them.

This is an interesting recipe, basically choux pastry piped through a syringe into rings. The finished dish very likely would have looked like piped crullers or round churros. The rise a good choux pastry – known in German today as Brandteig or Brühteig, cognate of the pruete kuechlein mentioned here – produces likely obliterated any surface detail on the finished fritter. I have seen several varieties of this recipe and really want to try this.

The syringe in the kitchen is interesting in its own right. Hans Sachs lists it in a poem on good housekeeping as needful for fighting fires, no doubt a concern where live embers, hot fat, and plenty of timber architecture met. Yet it is clear that the instrument quickly found other uses – or possibly had them from the beginning. Kitchen syringes are found in antique stores and flea markets all over Germany, most of them not suitable for any kind of firefighting, though twentieth-century cooks tended to favour meat grinders (Fleischwolf) for the purpose. Large supermarkets still occasionally sell small models with discs for extruding dough at Christmastime. Specialised mechanically operated syringes with a variety of nozzles known as Gebäckpressen – some of the newer ones electric – are also still popular seasonal items. Today’s Spritzgebäck is usually baked rather than deep-fried, though.

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.

I plan to go on a long excursion to see the exhibition on Islamic cultural influence in medieval Europe in Hildesheim tomorrow and therefore will not be able to post a recipe. Apologies in advance.

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‘Italian-Style’ Egg Pancakes

Another small recipe from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

40 Pletzlein (Pancakes) as they are made in Italy, thin as the back of a knife

Take eggs, beat them well for an egg pancake (ayerplatz), salt it, and take a pan for fat (schmaltzpfendlein). Put in a little butter and let it run around the pan, about half a spoonful. When it has become hot, take a spoonful of egg and put it in. This fries out nicely, as wide as the pan is. Turn it over so it becomes nicely brown. Then lay two or four on each plate.

As happens so often with this source, this recipe is most interesting for its remarks on technique and at the same time raises more questions than it answers. What it describes is a kind of thin pancake made entirely (or at least largely) of egg. The detailed description and the remark that these are made this way in Italy suggests that this was not a familiar preparation. At the same time the author writes that the eggs should be prepared as for an ayerplatz which would describe a flat pancake. What exactly distinguished this familiar preparation from the Italian manner is left unclear. It might have been the thinness, or the size, or the fact that these are served on their own. Many descriptions of a platz or plat suggest it is large enough to serve as the basis for a pastry-like dish or to wrap significant amounts of filling. They are by and large treated as ingredients. That may be the key difference. But of course pancakes were served as a dish in their own right in Germany before the 1550s.

Simply taken as a dish, these pletzlein sound attractive enough.

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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Fried Cheese Sandwiches

Another recipe from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch:

Cheese and Semmel loaf, 1611, courtesy of wikimedia commons

34 To Make Good Fledlein

Take semel bread and cut it like for golden slices (tostes dorées, like French toast), and take grated cheese as though for frying kuechlein. Break eggs into it and do not make it too thin, but thinner than for cheese fritters (keßkuechlein). Spread it on one side, one finger thick. Then make a batter as though for baking strewblein (a type of fritter) and dip it into the batter on the other side that has not been spread (with cheese). Set it into the fat so that the cheese is above. Thus it gains a poitlein (crust?) like a fledlein. Spoon (hot fat) on top assiduously, thus it will be brown like the fladen should be.

This recipe is interesting in how basic it is. A slice of bread topped with a cheese and egg mix and dipped in batter below, fried to crispness. I can see it as a successful lunch dish today, though it would more plausibly have served for a nightcap or drinking snack at the time. The cheese fritters referred to in the description of the cheese batter are a varied and popular class. Here, the batter that would usually be made stiff and mouldable with flour is left fairly liquid and spreadable. The bottom batter very likely was just a simple egg and flour mix with some wine or milk added. Strauben were a kind of leavened fritter made from elastic batter that was pulled into strings to drop into hot fat, but the term served to cover a great deal of variety. In this case the likely consistency is relatively thin. Frying the slices on only one side and spooning hot fat over the top to brown it will make the cheese topping look much more attractive. Needless to say, this is a very rich dish suitable for winter days.

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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Frying Raisins and Pear Fish

Two short recipes from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertefflichs Kochbuch:

35 To Fry Zyweben (large raisins)

Take Zyweben and wash them well in wine or raynfal, thus they will grow large. Prepare a batter with the wine as for repuntzeln and soften them. That way the batter will stick to them, otherwise it will fall off. But if you soften them, the batter sticks to them.

36 To Fry Pears (Regelpiern)

Cut the pears like (in the shape of) gobies (Gruendelein, a small fish), and moisten them with wine. Dust (Schwing) them with wheat flour and fry them.

Zibeben, according to wikimedia commons

We have seen before that Renaissance German cuisine was inordinately fond of deep-fried foods. These two recipes belong in that tradition, but they are interesting in their own right. In #35, instead of fresh fruit, raisins are first soaked in wine to make them swell up and then battered and fried. The word Zyweben, modern Zibeben, is our third term for raisins in this source, after rosine and weinbeere. In modern times, Zibeben are particularly large and soft raisins. The Regelpiern in #36 are hard and tart cooking pears. What makes them remarkable is that they are cut into the shape of small fish before being fried. Of course playing with your food is an ancient and venerable tradition, but this takes us remarkably close to the origin myth for French fries. The repuntzeln mentioned in #35 for comparison are probably the roots of campanula rapunculus, the rampion bellflower, though the name was also applied to lamb’s lettuce (valerianella locusta). Unfortunately I have yet to find a recipe specific to them.

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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Sixteenth-Century Liver Skewers

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate. Just a quick recipe from the Kuenstlichs und Fuertrefflichs Kochbuch today:

38 Who Wants to Roast a Liver

Take the liver and cut it into pieces as big as walnuts. Stick lardons (spick specklein) into the pieces throughout and salt them like birds. Wrap each piece into a caul individually and stick them on a skewer. Roast them like a Koeppen (?), baste (treffs) it and prepare a sauce (bruielein) over it with meat broth. Season it well with cloves, thus they are good.

This is an interesting iteration of the ‘liver wraped in caul‘ recipes. More typically, these are sausage-like preparations, chopped and mixed with seasoning. Here, pieces of liver are skewered and roasted, larded ad wrapped in caul to prevent them from drying out. They are quite similar to fegatelli di maiale. Cooking things on skewers is, of course, a fairly universal idea and likely quite ancient. Similar foods are likely to show up the world over.

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A Late Antique Feast

Today, I finally have a little time to write about one of the things that kept me so busy I could not post daily recipes this month. It is a bit of a war story, so if you would rather not read all of that, you can cut straight to the recipes here.

As some of you may know, I am active in a medieval society, the Society for Creative Anachronism, in Germany. Most of what I do there is cook approximately historic food for events, traditionally in the form of evening feasts on Saturday. A few months ago, the queen of Drachenwald – that translates into normal English broadly as the chairperson of our European branch – announced she would be in Southern Germany the third weekend of December and would anyone care to meet. I replied that if there was a social get-together, I would be happy to come down and cook for it. Things snowballed from there, and we ended up renting a local shooting club’s premises for an event for forty people with archery, armoured fighting, arts classes, and a feast. That part was my job.

Ofellas garatas, honey-roast pork, with must bread in the background

The queen eats neither meat nor fish, so I started looking into options that would give her a satisfactory meal. Most medieval Lenten food relies on fish, so that was not an option. However, one reasonably well documented culinary tradition that does not treat meatless food as a penance is the Roman one. I had done Roman food before and also had good experiences with Late Antique recipes. Some of the research translated into a cooking session this autumn which is also documented on my blog. By then, the menu had taken on a viable shape.

Date and olive patina, meatless, but rich

As the number of participants grew and more and more armoured fighters registered attendance, I expanded the feast to include more meat. Thanks to a donation of venison, I was able to include two more dishes, which meant pork, beef, and deer for anyone who wanted it. at the same time, replacing the Roman fish sauce garum with vegan soy sauce made the rest of the feast suitable for vegetarians. I was happy with that solution.

Beef stew, rich and spicy

By that time, preparations for the event were well under way. I had recruited a second in command (always important in case the primary cook falls ill) and serving and cleanup coordinators and was writing ingredient lists and menu cards when the cold season of 2022 struck. While I was recovered enough to be able to cook on the 17th, my writing had fallen far behind. In the end, I only finished the ingredient list on the train Friday evening and e-mailed it to the event coordinator who printed out ten copies for posting in the hall and distributing on tables. We do this to ensure everyone can check for allergens and intolerances.

Potluck Lunch – hair-raising, but ultimately delicious

Cooking began inauspiciously. Over the course of the week, I learned that my kirtchen staff had all fallen ill and I would be working with temporary volunteers. Once in the kitchen, the stove refused to light. We were able to get it working (a valve had frozen), but it took a nerve-racking hour and we found that the main oven had no bottom heat. A quick rearrangement of plans worked around this problem, but then shortly before lunch someone observed that the crockpots the stews were in had been plugged into a dead outlet. With an hour to go, we transferred their content to the main gas range and got everything ready.

Apicius’ beetroot salad

The rest of the day went smoothly. I had a series of volunteers cycle through the kitchen who proved skilled and dedicated, and there were no more equipment failures. We did find that the ingredient list printouts had disappeared, but one volunteer transcribed the list by hand three times from the screen of my laptop before the battery ran out, a truly medieval experience. In the end, we served the feast in time as an enthusiastic team of volunteers coordinated by a head server with just one of the handwritten lists for instruction worked miracles.

I am very proud of everybody who pitched in to make this happen. The result was delicious: We started out with honey mustard, horseradish sauce, epityrum olive relish and must bread on the tables. The main course consisted of honey-roast pork, beef stew, venison stew, an asparagus frittata and one of dates and olives, lentils with chestnut puree, beetroots in a mustard-vinegar sauce, and carrots in cumin sauce with barley polenta. For dessert, we had dairy fritters, honey-glazed dates, white cheese with honey, quince bread, nuts, and fruit.

The menu card and ingredient list that should have been available to the feasters as well as the cooking instructions that I forwarded to my kitchen staff are now available online. I wish I had been able to have all of it available on the weekend – it would have made things so much easier – but at least it is here now. I hope some of you will enjoy cooking some of the recipes yourself.

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