To Make bisket​, a recipe from the Baumfylde manuscript

Later this spring, I’m flying to Los Angeles to participate in a workshop entitled “Transcribing and Interpreting Digital Recipe Manuscripts” at the Shakespeare Association of America annual meeting (SAA). I often attend this conference, but I always go to talk about plays.

My research is currently bifurcated between writing a book about plays and cooking historical recipes to post here. SAA is a place where I’ve tried out many of my book ideas in small, collegial seminars. This year, instead of drafting a traditional paper, I’ve been transcribing Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript recipe book, Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.456 alongside other workshop participants. And, in turn, I’ve been reflecting on how I got into this seemingly double practice.

Back in the earliest collaborative google doc draft of our first Cooking in the Archives funding proposal, I wrote the sentence “What are recipes if not instructions for cooking?” A play is a script intended for performance, a husbandry manual tells you how to care for animals, a music book is a provocation to song: What is a recipe book if not a repository of possible action? My simple sentence has migrated from word doc to word doc, abstract to conference paper, paper to article. I keep repeating it, because I keep needing to make this point and this sentence keeps working for me.  I think of recipes as culinary scripts both in my personal cooking and my recipe writing here.

Let’s consider this post a partial recreation of the performance of a recipe “To Make bisket” enacted in December 2017.

When I started transcribing Mary Baumfylde’s manuscript recipe book in preparation for the SAA workshop, these biskets intrigued me because they don’t have any butter in them. Dense, chewy, and nicely spiced, these biscuits were a great addition to an afternoon of Ramboose-fueled festivity. Whitney, Sarah, Phil, and Joseph liked these biscuits more than the accompanying drink.

Stay tuned for more recipes from Baumfylde’s manuscript. I’ll be cooking from this book for the coming months. I’m excited about the recipes for stewed mushrooms and cabbage pudding on this page, and pickled walnuts on this page.

The Recipe

To Make bisket
Take th​e​ yelks of 5 eggs & th​e​ whites of 2 beat
them a quarter​ of an hour & in the beating putt
10 spoonfuls of Rose water then strow in a
pound of dubble refine suger finely beaten
and sifted after the suger is in beat it an hour
then take a pound of flower well dried shake
it in still beating it one way then strow in
your seeds carraway or coriander or both if you​
please. drop them in to butterd pans and
bake them

Our Recipe

Halved from the original,  this recipe still made quite a few cookies.

3 egg yolks
1 egg white
1 c sugar
5 t rosewater (or less to taste)
1 3/4 c flour
1 T caraway seeds
1t  coriander seeds

Preheat your oven for 375F.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with rosewater. Add the sugar and beat until well combined.  Stir in the flour and seeds.

Dollop the batter onto  a buttered baking sheet to make small cookies. Bake for 10 minutes, until golden brown.

The Results

Simple and flavorful, these biscuits are easy to make. They are distinctly chewy and rich from eggs, but not butter. We experimented with larger biscuits and a lower baking temperature, but smaller biscuits and a hotter oven worked better.

It was a good first performance.

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Margaret Baker’s sacke possett & fine biskett, or a year with Folger MS V.a.619

It’s an interesting experience to spend months with a single recipe book. This year I collaborated with an undergraduate student, Rachael Shulman, on a year-long research project centered around Margaret Baker’s recipe book which is held at the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS V.a.619). Working with the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective (EMROC) transcription interface maintained by the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project (EMMO), Rachael and I began with transcription basics, preliminary readings, and went from there. We transcribed together and separately, we read widely and developed our own projects from the manuscript, and we’re still working on a series of blog posts (stay tuned) and an article from our shared inquiry. This spring, Rachael was awarded an award for Information Literacy by the Pennsylvania State University Libraries for her poster presentation at the annual research fair. It’s been energizing to see this manuscript through Rachael’s eyes as well as my own.

I’m thankful to the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program (ACURA) for supporting our collaboration and for funding our trips to the Kislak Center at UPenn and the Folger to look at an array of recipe books. I’m especially thankful to the Folger for allowing Rachael to see Baker’s manuscript in person after she’d spent endless hours looking at it on a computer screen. I’m excited to continue working on this project with Rachael, and other students, in the fall.

While Rachael’s research has focused on Baker’s medicinal recipes (which make up the majority of the volume), I decided to prepare two of Baker’s culinary recipes a few months ago.  I opted for a posset and a biscuit.  Alyssa and I have previously made possets and biscuits, but these versions stood out to me. We’ve made a “Could Posset” and a “Lemon Posset,” but not a “Sacke Posset.” We’ve made the seeded herbal biscuits “Little Cakes” and transformed Naples Biscuits into “Artificial Potatoes” and “Bisket Pudding,” but these “Fine Biskett” seemed like a nice addition to our repertoire.

Recipes

Sacke Possett

To make a sacke possett;
Take one pound of almonds beate them very small
with as much sack as will keep them from oyling
then take one pinte of creme put in your suger into
it sett it one a chafing dish of cols till it be redy
to boyle; then put in your almons sturringe it very
well soe serue it to your table;

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

1 c ground almonds
2 T sherry
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar

Combine the almonds and sack in a small bowl.

Put the cream and sugar in a small pot and heat until they almost reach a boil. Stir in the almond-sack mixture.

Serve immediately.

Fine Biskett

to make fine biskett

take 1 pound of fine suger 2 pound of fine flower 8 or
10 eggs put amoungst it a penny worth of anneece seede &
a few coriander seede beat all well in a bason together &
make it up into cakes after it is baked you may cut it in slicee
& candy that wth suger if you please,

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

3/4 c sugar (4 oz) plus additional sugar to sprinkle on the biscuits
1 3/4 c flour (8 oz)
2 eggs
1t fennel seeds
1t coriander seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Form the dough into pleasing biscuits. I rolled half the dough into a log and sliced thin cookies. I shaped the remaining dough into cookies.

Place on a baking sheet greased with butter or spray (or covered with baking parchment). Sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the biscuits.

Bake 15 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown at the edges.

The Results

Neither of these recipes would make my all time favorites list.

The sacke possett taste like a strange, boozy protein shake. The viscus texture was especially unappealing, although it might have improved if I’d used almond milk instead of the ground almonds I had in my fridge.

I loved the flavorful spices in the fine bisketts, but the dense, floury texture of the biscuit overall showed the lack of butter or cream in the recipe. On the other hand, Rachael prepared a vegan version of this recipe and was very pleased with her results.

The most important part of this process — in the archive and in the kitchen — has been the collaboration between me, my student, and Margaret Baker’s manuscript across time and space.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes and improve on them!

Hannah Woolley’s Bisket Pudding

A few weeks ago I prepared a dish of “Portugal Eggs,” a complicated banqueting dish with  many elements, from MS Codex 785. Like the recipe for “Lemmon Cakes” I posted a while ago, this recipe was copied into the manuscript from Hannah Woolley‘s The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet: Stored with all manner of Rare Receipts For Preserving, Candying and Cookery. Very Pleasant and Beneficial to all Ingenious Persons of the Female Sex (1670). Woolley was an all-around lifestyle guru who not only wrote cookbooks, but also provided guidance on etiquette, homemaking, and interior design. (More on all this coming soon.)

In any case, this complex recipe required many components and one was biskets, neutral, lady-finger-like cookies. These bland, sweet, and slightly floral biscuits compliment the flavors around them.  Alyssa wrote about fixing a similar recipe, Hannah Glasse’s Naples biscuits, when she prepared “Artificial Potatoes.” I made a big batch of “the best bisket Cakes” from MS Codex 785 and I decided I would use them for a second recipe, Hannah Woolley’s “Bisket Pudding,” rather than let them go to waste.

Essentially, this is a bread pudding that starts with a rose-water scented cookie instead of stale bread. You can either make both recipes or use any bland cookie, old cake, or stale bread as the base of Woolley’s pudding.

The Recipe(s)

bisket Cakes

To make the best bisket Cakes

Take four new laid Eggs, leave out two of the
whites, beat them very well, then put in two
Spoonfulls of Rosewater, and beat them very
well together, then put in a pound of double
refin’d sugar beaten and search’d and beat
them together one hour, then put to them
one pound of fine flour, and beat them
together a good while, then put them upon
plates rubb’d over with butter, and set
them into the Oven as fast as you can
but have a care you do not bake them
too much.

 

Bisket Pudding

CCLXXII. To make Bisket Pudding.

Take Naples Biskets and cut them into Milk, and boil it, then put in Egg, Spice, Sugar, Marrow, and a little Salt, and so boil it and bake it.

Our Recipes

Cakes

This recipe was relatively straightforward to update. It makes about 24 cookies.

4 eggs (2 whole, 2 whites only)
2 t rosewater
1 lb sugar (2 2/3 c)
1 lb flour (3 2/3 c)
butter or baking spray to coat the baking sheets

Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease two baking sheets with butter or your preferred baking spray,

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. I used a hand mixer for this, but a standing mixer would also work well. Add the rosewater to the eggs and continue beating. Add the sugar and beat on a high setting until the mixture starts to look fluffy (about 1 minute). Add the flour in three batches, allowing each to mix in fully.

Shape the dough into rough ovals. I did this by picking up about 2T of the dough and rolling it roughly in my hand. Make sure that you leave about a half an inch between the cookies as they expand a lot as they cook.

Bake 15 minutes. The bottom of the biscuits should be nicely browned and the top still a little spongy.

Cool on a rack before storing.

Pudding

Boil then bake this “bread” pudding. Instead of adding bone marrow to the mix, I substituted some butter in its place.

2 c. milk
6-10 biskets, broken into small pieces
2 eggs
2 T sugar
2T butter
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter a baking dish. I used an 8-inch oval ceramic dish, but a glass dish or a baking tin will work as well.

Pour the milk into a medium sauce pan. Add the broken biskets to the milk until you can no longer submerge the biskets in the liquid. Cook over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, sugar, butter, cinnamon, and salt. Add to the pan and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Pour pudding mixture into your buttered baking dish. Bake for 45 min.

The Results

This pudding is delicious. It’s sweet, dense, and sticky like a good bread pudding should be. The rosewater that overpowered the biskets themselves is far mellower with the addition of dairy and cinnamon. The crispy edges are my favorite.

The photos don’t look like much, but I promise that this packs an impressive flavor.