Potingall/Portugal Cakes

This recipe has also been featured in the Washington Post, in Sarah Kaplan’s wonderful article on our project.

Check it out here.

Like the fantastic Desart Cakes, these Potingall Cakes caught my eye because of their intriguing name and relatively simple ingredient list. Unlike the Desart Cakes, which are what we would call cookies, these are little cakes. And pretty tasty ones at that.

This recipe comes from the first volume of UPenn Ms. Codex 631, dated 1730. (This two-volume collection has become one of our favorites.) “Potingall” is probably a stand-in for “Portugal,” since the recipe closely resembles the fairly common recipe for “Portugal cakes” found in many seventeenth- through nineteenth-century cookbooks. Getting “Potingall” from “Portugal” doesn’t seem unreasonable: the two words are visually similar, and the writer copying the recipe into Ms. Codex 631 could have been working from another recipe that was difficult to read or itself mistaken. (Like an eighteenth-century game of telephone!) “Portugal” named a type of orange in the period and might refer to the recipe’s use of orange flower water. However, Portugal cakes’ name more probably relates to one of their ingredients: sack, a sweet, fortified white wine originally produced in Portugal.

The Recipe

potingall cakes

To Make the Potingall Cakes

Take a pound of flower well dryed & a pound of Loafe sugar beat fine seatel (i.e. settle?) them
both & mingle them together, then take a pound of Butter & wash it well in rose water
or orange flower water, then work it well in your hand till it be all very soft & then strew
in your sugar & flower by degrees tell (i.e. till) it be half in, still working it with your hand, then put
in 6 yolks of eggs & 5 whites & beat them up with two spoonfulls of sack, then by degrees
worke in the half of the sugar & flower & when your oven is hott, then pick wash & dry a
pound of Currants over the fire, your pans must be ready Buttered, then fill them half full
& scrape double refine sugar on them, Let your oven be pritty hot & set up the Lead

Our Recipe

[Note: I halved the recipe because these cakes taste best within one to two days.]

1/2 lb. all-purpose flour

1/2 lb. granulated sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 lb. [2 sticks] unsalted butter

1 tsp. rosewater or orange flower water*

2 whole eggs + 1 egg yolk

1 tbsp. sherry**

scant 1/2 lb. currants

optional: sugar for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter, coat with cooking spray, or line your pans.***

Mix together flour, sugar, and salt; set aside.

In a stand mixer or with a hand mixer****, cream the butter and flower water until light and fluffy.

With the mixer running at low speed, blend half of the flour mixture into the butter mixture; scrape down the bowl. Add the eggs and sherry, then mix at low-medium speed until combined; scrape down the bowl again. With the mixer at low speed, add the rest of the flour mixture; mix until the batter looks uniform. Add the currants and mix at low speed until they are distributed evenly.

Spoon batter into your pans (a cookie scoop works nicely here) and even out slightly with a buttered spatula. The cakes won’t rise much during baking but bake best as smaller cakes, so fill madeleine pans to the top, mini-cupcake pans nearly full, and cupcake pans 1/2 to 3/4 full. Optional: lightly sprinkle granulated sugar on top. (This adds a slight sparkle to the cupcakes but isn’t essential to their taste.)

Bake until cakes are firm to the touch at the center and golden brown around the edges. (A toothpick inserted into a cake should come out clean.) This will take around 12-14 mins. for mini-cupcakes, 14-16 mins. for madeleines, and 18 mins. for cupcakes. Let cool in pans for 3-5 mins., then remove onto cooling racks.

NOTES:

*Note on flower water: I tried these with both rosewater and orange flower water; I preferred the rosewater version because the flavor was subtler, but both flavorings played nicely with the currants.

**Note on sherry: I replaced sack (a sweet, fortified white wine) with the similar and more readily-available sherry. If you prefer a non-alcoholic cake, orange juice or white grape juice (or water) would most likely be a fine substitute. Raisins could also substitute for currants in a pinch.

***Note on pans: This recipe works best as small cakes: cupcakes, mini-cupcakes, or madeleines, for example. Use whatever combination of pans you’d like. The recipe yields approx. 18-32 cakes: 12 large madeleines (filled with 3 tbsp. batter each) + 6 cupcakes / 12 small madeleines (filled with 2 tbsp. batter each) + 10 cupcakes / 24 mini-cupcakes + 8 cupcakes.

****Note on mixing: In the spirit of updating this recipe to modern kitchens, I used a stand mixer rather than blending the dough by hand. However, the original method would also work – and be satisfyingly messy.

The Results

These are not light and fluffy cakes. They’re moist and dense, like a weightier muffin, with a rich flavor from the flower water, sherry, and currants. I liked them best as madeleines because that shape provides the highest edge-per-bite ratio – the crisply browned edges are particularly tasty. They also made an excellent snack alongside our old favorite, carrot pudding.

IMG_4455

To make maccarons of valentia Almonds

Today’s Cooking in the Archives post is also published on ABO-Public: An Interactive Forum for Women in the Arts, 1640-1840. Check out a slightly longer version of this post here.

What do ladies bake? Ladies bake macaroons, tasty almond macaroons.

This recipe “To make maccarons of valentia Almonds” is from MS Codex 627 The delights for ladys: to adorne there persons beautyes stillyris banquits perfumes & wators. MS Codex 627 is designed to look like a printed book and includes a title page with the date 1655, a full table of contents, and a running header “The delights” on the verso and “for ladies” on the recto of on each opening. We’ve only worked with one other manuscript with these features in this project to date: MS Codex 625 where we found “Shrewsbury Cakes.”

Another important feature of this manuscript is obscured, rather than revealed, by our digital images: its size. It’s very small! It fits in the palm of your hand. It could be easily carried in a pocket. As such, it may have also been somewhat difficult to use in the kitchen. Many of the other manuscripts we’ve surveyed have been substantially larger and would be easier to prop open on a table for kitchen use.

Although this manuscript is specifically designed as a book for women, it was likely written by a man. After all, the volume is modeled on Hugh Plat’s Delightes for Ladies (1602) which you can read about in more detail here. The introductory letter, partially missing from the manuscript, is signed by a Jose: Lovett and the hand is consistent throughout. This led the Penn cataloger to suggest that this may be Lovett’s book and written in his hand. However, the back of this book contains a reverse recipe book in a few hands signed “Mabella Powell Her Booke.”

Regardless of who wrote the bulk of this book, Mabella Powell was an owner, composer, and reader of its recipes.

The Recipe

To make maccarons
of valentia Almonds

Take one pound of blanched al-
monds and beat them in a marble
mortor with a woden pestill and in
beating of them now and then
about 12 times drop into them
a sponfull of red Rose water and
and when thay are small beaten
put into them one li [pound] of fine suger
well beaten & searsed then take
one grane of muske and a little
amber greece or siuet and dissolue
it in a little Red rose water
and mingled well a mongst it
then take up your past into a faire
Silu[er] or pewter dish and spread
it with a spoone all ouer the
dish and set it in an ouen

when your bread is new drawne &
when it dryes and begines to looke
white upon the topp then stirr it
& spread it againe and soe use it halfe
a dozen times and within one halfe
quarter of an howre it will bee drye
enough then take the whits of halfe
a dozen new layd eggs and straine
them through a fine Cloth and beat
them alittle and then mingle them
with the almonds & suger & soe
with a little slice lay them upon
a sheete of pure whit papor & set
them in the ouen, the ouen being
then in the sme temper it was in
when bread was newly drawne out
of it, and lay under them for feare
of borning some plate or some such
thing and soe bake them and keepe
them for your use in some cobbord
or some box not farr from the
fire.

This is a fairly simple recipe and the method for cooking it is explained in great detail.  It’s rare to see such specific instructions for the oven heat or cookie storage. Beyond halving the quantity I made very few changes.

 Our Recipe

1 1/3 C ground almonds (1/2 lb)
rosewater (1-2 T total)
2 T butter
1/2 C sugar
3 egg whites, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 F.

Mix ground almonds with 6 drops rosewater stirring the mix after each drop (approximately 1T total.) Melt butter with a drop of rosewater. Stir aromatic butter into the ground almonds mix. Stir in sugar.

Spread the mixture on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Check at 5 minutes and stir to ensure the edges do not burn.

Return the fragrant, toasted almond mix to a mixing bowl. Stir in 3 lightly beaten egg whites. A sticky dough should form. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Use a 1 tsp spoon to scoop this sticky mix onto your baking sheet.

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bottom of a macaroon is brown and the top is beginning to brown slightly. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before eating. Although they will smell incredibly tempting.

Ladies (and gentlemen) these macaroons are delicious. They are fragrant and nutty. When I served them at a holiday party, my guests simply devoured them. But they are just as nice to eat in a more solitary manner with a nice cup of tea.

Since I used store-bought ground almonds, I imagine my mix was much less oily than it would be if ground from fresh almonds. I added 2T of butter to restore that oil and compensate for not using greasy ambergris, suet, or musk as suggested. The recipe talks about slicing, but there was no way I could slice my sticky cookie mix.

While I think that toasting the almond mix deepened the flavor, I think you could skip that step if you were in a hurry or concerned about burning the mix. However, I think either baking parchment or very well-greased pan is essential to getting these cookies onto a plate in one piece.

Try them with whole almonds or ground, with orange blossom water or other spices.

to make a Brown Frickasey

As the end of November approaches each year, I get increasingly excited about two things: Thanksgiving turkey and the annual re-run of the “Poultry Slam” episode of This American Life. Like it or not, November and December are the very height of poultry season. Unsurprisingly, there are lots of recipes for cooking poultry in Penn manuscripts from making chicken pot pie and fried chicken (two ways) to numerous instructions for roasting.

When I cooked this recipe last Tuesday it was raining in southern California. It was a major news event out here. It was also one of the first dark, chilly, and damp days I’ve seen in ages. I decided to try a recipe “to make a Brown Frickasey” from MS Codex 252 and it was a perfect dish to warm the house and the belly.

The Recipe

frickasy

to make a Brown Frickasey

tak the Rabbits ore Chickens and cut them into littill pesses then set it
ouer the fire with a Littill butter and burne brown then flowre the meat
before you put it to the butter then put it in to fry it Brown and when it
tis brown put in some strong broth A couple of anchoves season it
with salt and pepper, mince some oynion and strowe it with some
parseley cut smalle you may put in some oyesters sweet breeads
Lamb sones and sausage meat let this stew well together better then
a quarter of an howre if it be not thick enough you may thicken it
with the yolks of too ore three Eggs then squese in the Juice of
Lemon and sarue it up

This is a simple and delicious recipe with lots of room for variation: Brown a delicious mix of meats in butter then add more meat, stock, and flavors. Ken Albala’s Cooking in Early Modern Europe, 1250-1650 describes a fricassee as a method for frying meat and adding a flavorful sauce. As this recipe demonstrates, it is a very flexible method that works well with poultry and other meats. I decided to use chicken breasts, pork sausage, and chicken stock, but I also could have faithfully followed this recipe using rabbit, oysters, sweet breads, or other offal.

Our Recipe

3-4 T butter
2 chicken breasts, sliced into 2-inch strips
4 T flour (for coating chicken)
1/2 lb. pork sausage meat (either sausage removed from its casing or sausage meat sold uncased)
1  onion, medium sized, chopped
4 anchovies, chopped
1 1/2 -2 c chicken broth
salt and pepper (to taste)
the juice of half a lemon
2 T chopped parsley

Lightly flour the chicken strips by rolling them in a plate or bowl of flour. Finish chopping the onion and anchovies and readying the sausage meat . Make sure your stock is also ready to go if you’re defrosting it or using a concentrated boullion preparation.

In a dutch oven or large pot, heat the butter until it melts, smells nutty, and starts to darken in color. Add the strips of floured chicken slowly. Don’t worry if all the chicken doesn’t fit at the beginning because the strips will shrink as they cook. Turn the meat over so that it cooks on both sides. When the outside of the chicken starts to brown, add the sausage meat and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped onion and anchovies and cook for 1 minute more.

Add the broth and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes. When the gravy is thick and everything is well cooked, squeeze the juice of half a lemon into the stew. Sprinkle parsley on top. Serve hot.

Results

My spouse and I devoured this delicious stew with some roast butternut squash, kale salad, and a bottle of fine, west-coast IPA. It was warming and satisfying meal. We both picked additional mouthfuls of sausage-y chicken out of the pot after we’d cleaned our plates.

I started by browning 2 T butter and added about 2 more as the chicken cooked. The sauce thickened into beautiful gravy on its own. I used homemade chicken stock that I (try to) always keep in my freezer. Homemade stock from pork bones would also be a delicious addition. Store-bought or concentrated stocks will work well here, too. But be sure to taste the mix before adding additional salt.

I can see how this method of preparation would work well for a variety of poultry and other meat. The strips of chicken stayed tender and flavorful, but this would be great with dark meat chicken. I used peppery pork breakfast sausage meat from a local farm. I think a pork and sage or even a pork and apple sausage would work well here. Finally, the anchovies added an unexpected note that was more umami than fishy. I suggest that you give them a try if you’re an anchovy skeptic, but not if you absolutely despise these small, flavorful fish. The lemon adds an essential bright note that complements the fat and savory flavors of the dish.

 

 

Notes towards roasting a lobster

To take a break from roast poultry, I wrote about a recipe for roast lobster from MS LJS 165 for The Appendix Blog. You can click here to read the full post.

Since I haven’t yet tried the recipe and roasted a lobster in my own kitchen, this post does not follow our normal format. But I didn’t want you, dear reader, to miss out on a potentially delicious archival preparation for this mighty crustacean.  I’ve copied  my transcription of the recipe and a few notes below in case any of you are brave enough to give it a try. Let us know how it goes!

We’re working on some tasty holiday recipes to share with this season. Until then, consider roasting a lobster. Or give this brilliant Financial Times article about cooking traditional Christmas dishes with food historian Ivan Day a read.

roast lobster

To Roast a Lobster
Take Lobsters alive tye them to a spitt with tap[e]
when they begin to be hott baste them with white wine
Vinegar, & salt mixt, when turn red baste them with
butter very well & still as they dry baste them as l[on]g
as they roste, you may know when enough by the
gravy. when leaves dropping they are enough –

sawce see below

Sawce for Lobsters
1/2 pint white wine or to your quantity put in some swe[et]
hearbes 2 anchovis a litle horseredish a litle lemonpeal
& onion boyle it well then take out the time & oinion & put
some grated nuttmeg the gravy of the Lobsters and then
boyle it again & stirr in a good pees of butter, if
they are large they will be 2 howres aroasting

Tied to a stake, the lobsters are roasted over a fire and basted with butter for approximately two hours. An accompanying white wine and butter sauce, seasoned with anchovies, horseradish, lemon, onion, and nutmeg, complements the rich flavor of the lobster itself.