Meringues – To Make Lemmon (or Chocolett) Puffs

Quite a few recipes are labeled “puffs” in seventeenth and eighteenth-century recipe books. Last month, I was (wistfully) looking through the notes that I took on Clark Library manuscript fMS.1975.003 during my residential fellowship last summer and realized that a recipe for puffs that I’d flagged looked markedly like modern recipes for meringues. The instructions describe whipping egg whites and sugar until “light and stif” and baking the puffs on sheets of paper. In my non-historical baking life, I love making Yotam Ottolenghi’s gorgeous, giant rosewater and pistachio meringues and I knew I needed to give this recipe a try.

“Lemmon” or “Chocolett Puffs” uses the alchemy of eggs and sugar to showcase imported citrus and chocolate. The original recipe begins with instructions for lemon-flavored puffs, but then includes an option to make a chocolate variation in a note at the end. Like the recipe for “The Ice Cream” that I tested this summer, this recipe for puffs is from Elisabeth Hawar’s late-seventeenth-century London manuscript. The contents of this manuscript coincide with a drop in commodity prices for sugar, citrus, and chocolate. This was due to an increase in cultivation on plantations in the Americas worked by enslaved African laborers. Lower prices made these luxury items more accessible to middle-class consumers in England. (Read more about these commodities via the links.)

The Recipe

Lemon Puffs cropped

To Make Lemmon Puffs
Take a pound of Double refined shugar sarted very fine
2 Large Lemmons, scrape the Rhind of them very small &
rub it well into the sugar, then beat up the whites of
3 eggs with a twigg, and as the froath rises putt it into
the shugar, by a litle att a time, rub it up the side of
the bason till you find it light and stif enough to
drop, or sc[xx]e it upon papers, then sett them upon papers
into the Oven aftr after bread bake them pale.

Chocolett puffs are the same only putt in Chocolett
instead of Lemmons as much as you think fitt
a litle serves.

One can do amazing things with whipped egg whites and sugar. As I stood in my kitchen with my hand-held electric mixer, I was grateful that I didn’t need to use a twig to beat my egg whites as the original recipe instructs. That said, I did find that the proportions of eggs whites and sugar needed to be adjusted to achieve the stiff peaks that I knew I needed to produce a luscious meringue – crisp on the outside and soft in the middle. After some trial and error, I ended up liking the texture best with six egg whites to a full pound of sugar. Feel free to experiment with fewer egg whites – the original recipe calls for three – and let me know how it goes!

Updated Recipe

This recipe made about two dozen puffs.

2 cups sugar (1 lb)
6 egg whites
lemon zest
cocoa nibs, finely ground, or cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 225F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.

Separate the eggs and place the whites in a large bowl. Beat until just frothy with mixer.

Slowly add the sugar to the eggs. You can do this in batches or maintain a slow stream with a mixer running.

Beat until the mixture is glossy and will hold a stiff peak on a spoon or beater. The time this takes will vary widely depending on your eggs and sugar and the temperature and humidity of your kitchen. When in doubt, keep beating. Given the amount of sugar in this meringue, it is very unlikely that you will over-mix the meringues.

When you have achieved stiff peaks, add the flavoring.

For lemon meringues: Zest two lemons. Add most of the zest to the mix. Sprinkle the remaining zest over the top of the meringues.

For chocolate meringues: Grind 2T cocoa nibs. Cocoa powder should be a reasonable substitute here. Add most of the ground cocoa nibs to the mix. Sprinkle the ground cocoa nibs over the top of the meringues.

For a batch that is half lemon and half chocolate: Divide the meringue mix into two bowls. Use the zest of 1 lemon to flavor and decorate meringues from one bowl and 1T ground cocoa nibs to flavor and decorate meringues from the other.

Dollop meringues onto the paper-covered baking sheets. Leave space in between for expansion. Sprinkle with zest or cocoa nibs.

Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes until the meringues are hard on the outside and still soft in the center. Remove from the baking sheets and allow to cool completely. Meringues can be stored in an air-tight container for a few days.

The Results

Crunchy and yielding, these meringues have a delightful texture. The flavors are subtle: the citrus zest is first a smell and then a faint taste; the cocoa nibs add a nutty chocolate flavor that varies bite-to-bite. When I shared these with friends, I was asked if rosewater was one of the flavorings because of the floral smell of the citrus. I might increase the flavorings next time, but sometimes a subtle delight is best.

meringues – lemon or chocolate puffs

Kidney-bean pufs

I’m excited to tell you about three things today: Kidney-bean pufs (a tasty vegetarian dish), Folger Shakespeare Library manuscript V.b.380 (a recipe book that I’ve been investigating alongside students and collaborators since January), and an upcoming event in Philadelphia (organized by my students).

Kidney beans

As someone who loves eating beans, greens, and other vegetables, I’m always on the lookout for delicious vegetarian recipes in manuscript cookbooks. Kidney-bean pufs caught my eye when I was paging through the manuscript in the library a few weeks ago. I can’t resist a good fritter and I thought (correctly) that they would make a great vegetarian side dish or appetizer for upcoming holiday gatherings.

Beans were a staple of early modern diets, especially for those avoiding meat during the Lent season. In Food in Early Modern Europe, Ken Albala explains the complex class implications of beans and bean-eating. He writes, “…they were associated with poverty, and few sophisticated diners would condescend to eat beans for fear of debasement. For everyone else though, beans were critical for survival. When dried they could last through the winter and be boiled into soups, mashed and cooked into more substantial dishes with many ingredients. They were one of the most frequently eaten foods throughout the early modern period” (27). Necessary, if déclassé, beans were a dietary staple.

Europeans were excited to add new world beans, such as green beans, to their diets alongside old world beans such as fava beans, black-eyed peas, peas, chickpeas, and lentils (Albala 27-8). And, of course, Europeans were not the only people sustained by beans. Michael Twitty’s delicious recipe for akara, black-eyed pea fritters, is a powerful reminder of the food traditions that enslaved Africans brought with them to the Americas (as Amanda Herbert writes in this post for the Folger’s First Chefs exhibition).

142989.jpg

Until recently, my students knew more about the source of this bean recipe – Folger manuscript V.b.380 – than I did. A few years ago, I made a chocolate cream from the manuscript, but, as a group, my students completed a full transcription of the manuscript between January and August. One by one, they have copied out every word on every page. It’s been a pleasure to learn from them and alongside them. They told me about the frequent appearance of the name “anne Western” (a later owner who may have been preparing this manuscript for publication as a printed cookbook), notes about recipe donors and medical authorities, the distinct handwriting of particular users or contributors, the decorated clasps that can hold the manuscript closed, sections that contained more medicinal or more culinary recipes, the wax seals stamped on the book’s cover, and last, but not least, the beautiful calligraphy in the book: the flourishes, lines, and decorations in black and red ink on display in the image above.

A few weeks ago, the students selected recipes for us to cook together and I developed updated recipes that we tested, tweaked, and ate. It is my pleasure to say we’ll be serving Almond Pudding (tartlets) and Knotts (spiced cookies) at our upcoming event in Philadelphia and I’ll be sharing the recipes here soon. We decided to call this event “A Taste of 1677,” the year to which we can date the manuscript’s paper. In addition to learning about the manuscript from prepared posters, digital images of the original manuscript, and conversations with student researchers, we will also invite guests to smell medicinal remedies, handle herbs, taste recreated recipes, and try out writing in secretary hand with goose quills and iron gall ink.

In the meantime, whether you’ve added this event to your calendar or are on the other side of the world, you can try this recipe for puffs.

Original Recipe

142989 - cropped.jpg

Kidney-bean pufs

anne}
Western

Take a quart of Kidney-beans Boyle them till they be
enough, then drain them & beat them in a Morter; and 6 Eggs
the whites of 3, a pint of Cream, a little yeast & a little drawn
Butter, with fflour to make it of a convenient thickness
then beat them altogether and fry them. G 1712

Anne Western may have been using V.b.380 to organize her thoughts for the production of a printed cookbook or another manuscript recipe book. This specific recipe, like many others, is marked with her name. The recipe is also marked with the year 1712, a rarer feature for this manuscript, that may denote that it was prepared in that year.

Although this recipe is relatively simple, it raises a few questions about cooking beans and leavening puffs. In the process of updating this recipe I consulted The Spruce guide to dried bean conversions as well as the bean section in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook EverythingI made the recipe with both dried kidney beans and with canned kidney beans. Although I preferred the texture and depth of saltiness in the dried bean version, the canned bean version was also great and much quicker to prepare. In addition, the recipe calls for yeast, but not for letting the puffs rise. I added yeast to one batch and left it out rise on my counter for two hours. I also made an un-yeasted batch. In the end, the batters behaved the same way during frying and the eggs ultimately provided most of the rise to the finished puffs. I’ve left the yeast out in the recipe below, but you are welcome to add it back in and play with longer rising times. Let me know how your experiments go in the comments.

cooked beans versus dried beans

Updated Recipe

1 cup dry kidney beans or 3 cups canned kidney beans (2 15 oz cans)
1 egg and 1 egg white
1/2 c heavy cream
2T butter, melted (plus 2T for frying the puffs)
1/4 c flour
salt
pepper

Dry Beans –  Put 1 c dried beans in a small pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Then add 1/2 t salt and turn down heat to low. Simmer covered, stirring every 15 minutes or so until the beans are tender. For me, this took an hour. It might take as little as a half hour if your beans have spent less time in the kitchen cupboard or on the supermarket shelf. Alternatively, it might take longer than an hour. Once cooked, drain the beans. The cooking liquid can be saved to use in soups and stews.

Canned Beans – Drain and rinse the beans.

Heat a skillet or large frying pan.

Roughly mash the beans in a large bowl with a potato masher or large fork. Add the eggs, cream, and melted butter. Season with ground pepper, any additional flavorings you like,  and, if using canned beans, 1/2 t salt.

Add butter to the skillet and lower the heat to medium. Dollop the puff batter into the skillet using a 1T measure for “appetizer sized” puffs. For larger puffs, use 2-3T batter per puff. Cook for 1 minute on each side until golden brown and slightly crispy.

Serve hot.

Kidney-bean pufs

The Results

Satisfying, lightly fried, and substantial, Kidney-bean pufs are a welcome accompaniment to hearty fall dishes. The browned butter and bean base gives them a nutty flavor. Since their base is fairly simple, you might consider adding another spice to the puff mix such as thyme or coriander.

It would be very easy to make this recipe gluten free by substituting chickpea flour, rice flour, or a gluten-free mix for the wheat flour that functions as a binder. I also think a vegan version could be easily achieved with oil, non-dairy milk, an egg replacement mix, and perhaps the addition of more flour if the mixture isn’t binding as effectively.

If frying fritters or puffs right before company comes over is a daunting prospect, you can make these in advance. I learned long ago from Deb Perleman’s Smitten Kitchen that reheating puffs like these on a baking sheet in a 325F oven before serving is a great party strategy.

I would like to thank the students (past and present) in my What’s in a Recipe? independent study (run through the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program); my collaborators Christina Riehman-Murphy and Heather Froehlich; and Shivanni Selvaraj and the PSU Outreach Seeding Change Engagement Grant for supporting my students in their research, event planning, and engagement with  Philadelphia.  

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.

Carrott Puff.

Carrot pudding was one our early experiments in this project, and it’s a recipe that we consistently mention when asked for our favorites. So when I found this recipe for “Carrott puff” in UPenn Ms. Codex 1038, it seemed like a good candidate for some more carrot experimentation. A go-to for us, this recipe book has also given us the caraway-studded Desart Cakes, the perplexing Artificial Potatoes, the satisfying Herb Soop, and the wonderful maccarony cheese.

Speaking of which: Marissa worked with Carley Storm Photography to make and photograph some of our favorite dishes. As we’ve joked about before, this project features a lot of beige food that can be hard to photograph, but Carley did so wonderfully. Here is the maccarony cheese’s glamor shot, and we’ll be featuring more of Carley’s photographs.

Photo by Carley Storm Photography http://www.carleystormphotography.com

Photo by Carley Storm Photography http://www.carleystormphotography.com

The Recipe

carrott-puff-ed

Carrott Puff.

Boyl some Carots very Tender, Scrape them, then Mash them, and
take good Cream, and Eggs, and the Whites of two–Beat them with a little
Salt and Grated Nutmeg, Mix all with a little Flower to thicken them,
then Fry them in Liquor.

Our Recipe

6 carrots
1/4 c. heavy cream
1 egg + 1 egg white
salt to taste
pinch nutmeg
5 tbsp. flour
oil, for frying

The Results

This was one of those choose-your-own-adventure recipes: with the exception of calling for two egg whites, it lacks specific measurements. I was thinking these would turn out something like fritters or like pancakes made with leftover mashed potatoes, which was … optimistic. But we write about our first attempts with these recipes, successful or less so, and here’s how my attempt at carrot puffs fell into the latter category.

I decided to mash the carrots by hand with a potato masher, which left them just a bit chunky. (Already sounds appealing, right?) I guessed at the cream, eggs, and flour based on general fritter-/pancake-making experience, though I played with flour along the way. The raw mixture was, shall we say, not entirely appetizing. But I maintained hope!

I fried the first few “puffs” and realized as soon as I went to flip them that they were way too soft – they slid and slumped and were generally uncooperative. I added more flour to the next batch and used more oil and a higher temperature for frying them, which helped, but they were still just not very solid. You might think, as I did, well, maybe these would taste better than they looked? Not particularly. I like carrots – carrot cake, carrot sticks, carrot salad – but these just didn’t taste like much. And they were just too fragile. As Marissa said when I told her my carrot puff woes, “I feel like the carrots have failed us this time.” The carrots, or my ingredient guesses, or a bit of both.

img_7573

I still think these sound good, and I’m reasonably sure that additional tinkering with the proportions might help. (I was running low on carrots, though, and didn’t want to waste additional supplies trying right away.) I did a little digging and found this recipe from Nigel Slater for carrot fritters, made with grated carrots and held together not only with egg and flour but with the help of parmesan. This recipe is actually similar to the proportions I used, except with less flour, so I think that additional tinkering might yield successful puffs. I was running low on carrots, though, and didn’t feel like taste-testing any more carrot puffs immediately. When and if I tackle these again, I’ll report back. In the meantime, I’ll be eating carrots as soup for a little while instead.