Toast: for the weakness of the back

I visited the Folger Shakespeare Library a few times over the summer to develop updated recipes for an upcoming exhibition, First Chefs: Fame and Foodways from Britain to the Americas. I cannot wait to share these recipes with you this winter. If you live in DC or plan to visit, make sure you check this out!

As I looked at printed books and manuscripts that had been selected for display in the exhibition, I had the pleasure of revisiting Margaret Baker’s recipe book, Folger V.a.619. I’ve previously worked on this book with undergraduate researchers and I wrote about it here. Reading through the manuscript again, I noticed a medicinal recipe that looked decidedly scrumptious: toasted manchet bread with egg and spices. As a devotee of toast in all its glorious forms, I knew I had to test this one.

The Recipe

This recipe is “for the weakness of the back” and calls for bread, egg yolk, cinnamon, and nutmeg.  These spices are known for their warming and energizing qualities. From my preliminary research on humoral medical treatments, I gather that the cinnamon and nutmeg might strengthen a phlegmatic patient by warming the body and reducing phlegm. The instruction to eat this first thing in the morning might help the patient disperse phlegm that had accumulated in the back of the body overnight.

for the weakness of the back
take 2 tostes of manchets the take the yolke of a new lead egge
and spread itt uppon the tosts and flinge uppon itt the powder of
sinemen and nutmegge and let the party eate of it first in the
morninge

I tested this recipe on a chilly morning and quickly devoured a slice with a cup of coffee. Somewhere between French toast and cinnamon toast, the combination of the rich egg yolks and the warming spices was delightful.

The original recipe calls for raw egg on toasted bread sprinkled with spices. I assume that bread toasted on a hearth would be quite hot and would interact with the yolk. Cooking mine in a skillet on a conventional stove, I opted to add butter and cook the eggy side of the bread, too. This is a recipe I would love to try again on a hearth or open fire. I hope some of you do so and tell me about it in the comments!

toast

Updated Recipe

serves 1-2

2 pieces of bread
2 egg yolks
1/4 t cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
1 T butter

Heat a heavy pan and add the butter. (I used a cast ion skillet.) Toast one side of the bread in the butter, then flip.

Mix the egg yolks with the spices. Spoon over the first, toasted side. Flip when the bottom is toasted and quickly cook the eggy side.

Eat immediately.

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German Puffs

When I read this recipe for “German Puffs” in (perennially interestingUPenn MS Codex 644, I immediately thought of Dutch Baby pancakes. Custardy sharing pancake-popover hybrids are all over food media these days and the proportions of eggs to cream to flour in this recipe looked really familiar. I had to try it.

The German Puffs were fluffy, rich, custardy, and delicious. Their texture and taste was both familiar and unfamiliar.  I’ve become accustomed to that mixed feeling when testing recipes for this site.

Unsurprisingly, this recipe sent me down an internet rabbit hole investigating various Dutch and German puffs, babies, and pancakes. In Pancake: A Global History, Ken Albala excludes this whole group of eggy-battered preparations from the category of pancakes altogether.

Another distinction must be made with the variety of souffle known as Yorkshire pudding, or in the US, popovers, which is made with a batter very similar to that of the pancake, but usually with a greater proportion of eggs, This is always baked in a mould to achieve supreme puffiness rather than the flatness of a pancake. Yorkshire pudding anointed by drippings, and the perversely named ‘Dutch Baby’ or German pancakes (Dutch here meaning Deutsch) must be set aside. (Albala 10)

The fact that the Dutch Baby, the German pancake, and the Yorkshire pudding all need moulds to rise disqualifies them from Albala’s pancake taxonomy.

All this leads me to ask where did Grandmama Franklin find this recipe? (She is likely the compiler for MS Codex 644 and I wrote about her backstory  here) Did she write it down in England? In South Carolina? Learn of it through her global networks in the East and West Indies? Did she read about German Puffs in a printed source? The Oxford English Dictionary and the database of early print Early English Books Online didn’t offer any conclusive results.  The origin of the German Puffs remains elusive, but the dish is delicious.

The Recipe

German Puffs

4 Eggs, 4 spoonfuls of flour, a pint
of Cream, or good milk. 2 oz of butter
Melted in it: beat them well together
& a little salt & Gratd Nutmeg:
Put them in large Cups well
butterd – bake them a quarter of an hou[r]
in an E oven hot enough to brown them.

Our Recipe

I prepared half of this recipe in a greased six-inch cast-iron skillet and the other half in six greased “cups” of a muffin tin. I greatly preferred the result that I got in a skillet and refer to that in the instructions below, but you could also use this to make somewhere between 12 and 24 small puffs. The full amount would work nicely in a larger skillet. The recipe is also easy to halve.

4 eggs
1/4 c flour
1 pint cream
2 oz butter, melted (plus additional butter for greasing the skillet)
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg (A subtle flavor. Increase to taste.)
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 425F. [edit: optional step. Preheat your skillet in the oven.]

When the oven is hot, grease your skillet with butter. Whisk together ingredients in a mixing bowl or large pitcher. When batter is combined, pour it into the skillet.

Bake 30-35 min, until the puff is puffy and golden brown around the edges.

Serve hot. Sprinkle with sugar or other toppings.

The Results

Somewhere between a Yorkshire pudding and a souffle, German puffs are a rich and satisfying dish. This is a quick and easy historical recipe that makes a tasty breakfast or brunch dish. I’m excited to try them again with fresh berries or a fruit compote on the side. They are even delicious a day later reheated in a toaster oven or oven.