A couple of days ago I decided that I wanted to compare a variety of English Cheese Pastries so I dug up 8 different recipes ranging from the end of the 14th century to the end of the 16th century.
To compare, I made a basic batch of paste and used a small tart pan to shape the pies. I did this mainly for consistency as it was more about trying the different fillings. The cheese used was a basic fresh cheese that was lightly pressed and somewhat firm, a ripened cheese that I had bought (age and name unknown but had a decent tang and for comparison was harder than cheddar but not as hard as Parmesan) and then another I had to make on the spot (details in the recipe/instructions).
On following the recipes, I went by taste, texture and feel, basically with the yolks you are adding enough to bind and with the sugar, I added enough for it to be sweet which can be about 1/3 the amount as the cheese. Spices, when used, were to taste and saffron enough to colour (does not take much) and so on.
All the items are on white plates, which has become my plate of choice for showing off the food, even though I did not attempt to make pretty pastries this time around as, again, it was more about just getting to test the fillings.
#1 and #2 are Tart de Bry. I did not use Bry but I have played with it before and it makes a lovely tart, as would any similar type of cheese, it’s just a bit of a pain to prepare while avoiding too much waste and it can be quite expensive. Bry, which is also a place, of course, which in fact could be what the recipe is alluding as was common in many recipe names.
Tart de Bry #1-(Forme of Cury- 1390) an inch deep vessel is lined with pastry. Filling: raw egg yolks, “Cheese rauyn” mixed together with powdered ginger, sugar, saffron and salt. Fill it up, bake and serve.
Tart de Bry #2-(Forme of Cury- 1425) A coffin is made and filled with: Raw egg yolks mixed with good fat cheese and powdered ginger, cinnamon, sugar and saffron. The coffins are filled and baked and served forth.
**note: I covered these pies but am guessing they were probably cooked uncovered. I had made them uncovered before and was curious about the difference, there really doesn’t seem to be any, however if one wanted to make a really white pie, a removable cover would be useful.
Pie #1 is the whiter pie as it has no cinnamon, #2 is the darker one
The texture was actually softer and nicer than it looks, the flavour profile is going to be subjective, I really enjoyed the subtleness and balance of #1 where my other taster preferred the slightly more robust flavour of #2.
#3, Sambocade (also from Forme of Cury): Line a vessel with pastry and make a filling with curds wrung from their whey, strain and fill the pastry. On top of this add sugar, egg whites and elderflower blooms with a little rose water.
This is version #1 where I mixed all the ingredients together rather than layering them in. Version #2 to come, however version #1 worked out quite well and was probably my favourite tart of the day.
And…. here is #2
It’s pretty thin but I only achieved a tiny little bit of cheese curd (I was prepared to only make up enough for one), it sure makes for a different, but not entirely unpleasant, look. The taste is actually not completely different than the first version but the sugar top is more enhanced with quite a punch.
#4 (with notes about #8 which was not made) Tart out of Lent (MS Pepys 1047, 1500): Filling: take soft cheese and remove any outer skin then grind it in a mortar adding eggs, butter and cream, mixing this all together. (not adding too much butter if the cheese is fatty) Make a coffin of dough, fill it, and close it up. Colour the top of the pie with egg yolk and bake it well and serve.
This is the only tart I made without sugar, however there was another recipe from A.W., 1591 called a “Tart of Cheese” which is very similar. The differences being the paste is driven fine so presumably done in a vessel and is covered with a fair cut cover (decoratively cut covers became “a thing” at this point in time), the filling differed where the filling was just mixed with egg yolk and clarified butter so suspect it would be just a bit more dense than these but the overall flavour is likely quite similar. BTW, these were quite tasty and a welcome change from all the sweet tarts I tried.
#5. Tarte of Cheese (William How, 1575): Hard cheese is broken down via soaking in water (or sweet milk) for 3 hours and then pounded in a mortar. This is drawn through a strainer with 6 yolks, seasoned with sugar and sweet butter and baked (it is presumed one knows to put it into a pastry shell).
This is the first of the bunch that I made that just felt more like what we would expect a modern “cheesecake” to taste like but it was pleasant in it’s own right as simple as it was. This picture shows it baked with and without a cover, I suspect is was baked without as a tart should be and it was a little better that way but not entirely different.
#6 To Make a Curde Tart (Housewives Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1590’s): Take cream, yolks of eggs, white bread and cook these together in a pot, then add a saucer-full of rosewater or Malmesey (a sweet white wine, possibly fortified) to turn it (curdle it). Put this onto a cloth to let the whey drain out, then strain it and add cinnamon, ginger, salt and sugar then lay it in the paste and bake it.
I basically kind of rushed the curd production so I didn’t get quite as much curd as it should have had but it turned out quite a tasty pastry over all in an almost butter tart fort of way which is probably due to the extreme freshness of the curd and the caramelizing of the sugar as it cooked. I would like to try it again but with more time and patience to make better, and more, curds.
#7 To Make a Tart of Cheese (Housewives Handmaide for the Kitchen, 1590’s) Take “Bamberie Cheese” (I shall admit that I have no idea what Bamberie cheese was like) and pare away the outside of it and cut it into small pieces and put them in the tart (assuming you already made a pastry and either formed a shell or lined a pan with it). When the tart is full of cheese, add two handfuls of sugar (I read this as being a fair bit of sugar, possibly similar to the 1/3 part sugar measure as mentioned earlier), cast in 5 or 6 spoonfuls of rosewater and close it with a cover and lay sweet molten butter upon it and fine sugar and bake it in the oven.
As you can probably tell, I forgot to ice it! This was a shame because that is one of the features of period tarts that I really love be it just butter and sugar or icings as fancy as egg white, rosewater and sugar. Sugar on the pastry did happen though, the sugar boiled up and caramelized the bottom of the pastries… much care needs to be taken with these, perhaps a deep pastry style and a good, tight, lid with a small vent.