The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Medieval Cake Challenge

Abe's picture
Abe

Medieval Cake Challenge

“Take flower & sugar & nutmeg & cloves & mace & sweet butter & sack & a little ale barm, beat your spice & put in your butter & your sack, cold, then work it well all together & make it in little cakes & so bake them, if you will you may put in some saffron into them or fruit.”

Found this interesting article and thought it might be nice to turn it into a challenge to see what we come up with ourselves.

Over to you!

DesigningWoman's picture
DesigningWoman

I tripped over this yesterday. Looks like one for you though, it's got barm!

Keep on baking!

Carole

Abe's picture
Abe

I've only ever tried to use barm once. I'm fascinated to use it but it's not in ready supply nowadays unless you brew your own beer or know where to get some.  Perhaps you'll need to make a mock barm with beer and yeast. I'm thinking about how I'd make this recipe with my biggest issue being butter. 

DesigningWoman's picture
DesigningWoman

coconut oil? Or olive oil? In which case you knock 20% off the amount indicated for the butter in your recipe (if you're using one!). Neither one very medieval, at least in Europe, but what do we know? There's always lard or suet :-D

Abe's picture
Abe

The coconut or olive oil. Knock 20% off and add that back in as liquid. But since there's no measurements anyway where to start!? 

Lard and Suet sound medieval. 

DesigningWoman's picture
DesigningWoman

In Christmas pudding?

Then there's goose or duck fat. I'm a real pushover for sautéing potatoes or mushrooms in duck fat, not sure how it would play out in cake 😮

You have heard of the French paradox, right? 😄

AlisonKay's picture
AlisonKay

I've used lard quit a bit in sweet baking and it's great!

Not sure why you can't use butter, but if it's an allergy thing, ghee is fine for me as an alternative and I think it tastes good.

Rube Goldberg's picture
Rube Goldberg
Abe's picture
Abe

But a very good find.  Thank you Rube. 

DesigningWoman's picture
DesigningWoman

and the recipe looks like a good, basic shortbread, no?

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

Thanks for posting this Abe. While I’m not big on baking challenges or historical authenticity of foods (I care too much about flavor and not wasting ingredients), I may participate in this one via my more modern take on Pan Meino (aka Pan de Mej), an ancient Lombardian crumpetesque sweet shared on Ognissanti (All Saints).  I’ve been wanting to try to work up a levain version. It could happen. 

And Carole, thanks for posting Karin’s challenge from back then. Brought back warm memories of fine folks from a bygone era of TFL.  And Gastro Obscura. Some great stuff on there!  Viva Bialetti!

Tom

Abe's picture
Abe

From what i read it's a sweet shortbread like biscuit with spices so can't go wrong with that. While there are takes on this rarity there is no specific recipe available so I thought it would be an interesting challenge to see what you come up with. There's no right nor wrong. Miami's your chance to combine the two ideas. 

I will be doing this but in two weeks time as I'm away this weekend. 

mutantspace's picture
mutantspace

some craft beers are bottle conditioned which means the yeast is alive in the beer - ive had success with that and used it to make up a sponge...not quite a barm although the same company gave me buckets of barm so if you do live near a small brewery ask. They dont need the barm. Otherwise ask your local off-license, beer seller, etc...Oh and its where we get the word 'barmy' from...frothy and excitable.  

good challenge Abe. 

Abe's picture
Abe

Go barmy with it :) 

I might make my own barm with sourdough starter or yeast with beer and flour. However I'm not sure if it's used for leavening. Is it mixed and baked straight away or left to rise then shaped and baked. 

Will probably take ideas from the conundrum recipe and the recipe Rube has posted. 

mutantspace's picture
mutantspace

I used the bottle conditioned beer instead of sourdough and basically made a levain with it - it was all a slower process but had s wonderful aroma off it

mutantspace's picture
mutantspace

Dan lepard has a version in his ‘handmade loaf’ book

Abe's picture
Abe

You're right it is a lot slower though and needs loads of patience till the yeasts "take". Do you think it's mixed, shaped and baked straight away or is the barm given more time for the leavening? How much leavening can there be if it's mixed and baked straight away? Just enough for a biscuit? 

Don't have his book so can I find his version of the recipe online? 

That's why these challenges are good. No sooner do I post this now rare treat I get to hear others have learned about it and have come up with their version.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

We lot never fails t' send me soul searching.... in the direction of ye good ole dictionary or abouts.  

    So me friends, returning ta de ole recipe from the pages of time,  what is a "sack?"    

My best guess is a shot of dry white wine, preferably imported from France, most likely a sec or bubbling dry white.  Spirits for the spirits none the less.  :)

Abe's picture
Abe

Yes I had to look that one up too. A sort of fortified white wine?

7oaks's picture
7oaks

Some say that the word sack is derived from sec, a dry wine. However I believe that this recipe calls for, as Abe says, a fortified wine from Spain or the Canary Isles. Of the types of wine formerly known as sack, only sherry remains widely available, internationally at least. Some say that sack comes from the Spanish "sacar" to draw off (as from a sherry barrel). Indeed there is a brand of sherry "Dry Sack".

I think that a sherry is the easiest option to use today, and despite Dry Sack, itself a medium sweet sherry, I think that a medium or sweet sherry will be closest to what would have been used back in the day (16th Century?).

Hopefully this helps.

Abe's picture
Abe

I was wondering what wine to use. This helps a lot. Educational. 

7oaks's picture
7oaks

Abe,

We do not know exactly how sack from sherry tasted back in the 16th Century. Many suppose it would have been a sweet fortified wine but that does not help much as fashions in taste alter so much. I remember many years ago sherry was a sweet wine for the elderly! In the UK today it tends to be somewhat drier. Indeed it has almost become trendy with bars in London dedicated to sherry.

As an ingredient in a biscuit or cake then perhaps a sweeter version might be best but then it might depend whether you have a "sweet tooth" or not. I think that a dry fino sherry might not be right, but a richer dry sherry such as oloroso might work well. Amazon here in UK have very good selection of oloroso from major shippers such as Lustau and Gonzalez Byass. If sherry is not so widely available in US then I daresay that some specialist California vineyards might produce similar wines?

Abe's picture
Abe

I'm no mavin when it comes to sherry but I suppose with all the extra sugar in the recipe perhaps a dryer sherry wouldn't make too much of a difference. It'll depend on how sweet you want it to be.

Since it's the time of the year for it, it's cheaper and it has spices in it then how about a mulled wine? Or a ginger wine which is basically ginger infused raisin wine - like Stones. It may not be exactly like Sack but I'm sure as a substitute it'll make a nice ingredient.

7oaks's picture
7oaks

That sounds like a good call. Indeed I had been thinking that I might use some crystallised ginger if I were to bake these. Not sure that would be very authentic though!

I am very new to baking of any sort so this would be something of a leap in the dark for me!

Alan

Abe's picture
Abe

Sounds like it'll go just perfectly. I have never made biscuits so I'm as new to this as you are Alan.

albacore's picture
albacore

Somewhere, I have an ancient recipe for Cock Ale, where you boil up chickens and add the stock to ale, I hasten to add!

One of the ingredients is a "quart of canary". I made the recipe once, many years ago and I think I probably used a sweet sherry in its place. Perhaps canary has an equivalence with madeira, which is another fortified wine from the island of Madeira, not too far from the Canary Islands?

Lance

DesigningWoman's picture
DesigningWoman

you were going to say mace doesn't mean weapon in this medieval context!

I had always thought mace was the outside shell of a nutmeg... 🙎

Abe's picture
Abe

I think you're right. Don't see it much though.

DesigningWoman's picture
DesigningWoman

you're right. I don't remember seeing it on this side of the pond.? Stateside, it's pretty much a staple, along with cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon for things like pumpkin pie.. 

7oaks's picture
7oaks

I think that UK supermarkets would stock ground mace?

Abe's picture
Abe

I just never looked for it before. A quick google search.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I couldn't resist. :)

Abe's picture
Abe

For a bit of a hit.

Joleek's picture
Joleek

I was wondering if I could substitute sour (yogurt) whey for the sack and ale barm.  Thoughts?

Abe's picture
Abe

Perhaps the ale barm has some leavening purpose in the biscuit and the sack wouldn't be sour.

You can make your own ale barm and use any wine instead of Sack.

  • 1 part flour
  • 5 parts beer/ale

by weight!

Gently heat the beer/ale but do not boil. Take off just before the boil and add in the flour. stir till fully dissolved and it gels. Leave to cool. When ready add in some yeast or sourdough starter and give it enough time to activate. Use when bubbly.