Because, Zulabiyya…

Yesterday I decided to give a try at making Zulabiyya which is basically a funnel cake. I used instruction from an anonymous Andalusian 13th century recipe translated by Charles Perry. That directs us to make a dough of fine flour and water and to let it rise some place warm. It also instructs us to make it slacker than the dough for musahhada, the modern day problem being that we are not truly familiar with any of these recipes so we can not take a stir of the dough and say, well… that is not slacker than musahhada dough. As far as I can gather, musahhada is a flatbread and it can be pierced but it doesn’t say how dense or fine the bread is anywhere that I could find, even in the same book, the only other surviving mention seems to be in reference to the “already mentioned” musahhada.

So, from the recipe (in the link above), what we do know is that the dough is made from fine flour and honey and that it is a risen dough, so had yeast, and it is fine enough to run freely through a hole in the bottom of a vessel. We also know that it does not have to be fried in a pan of very deep oik but that there still needs to be a deep enough layer of fat to prevent it from sticking and the given that the oil should be hot enough.

These really are enough clues to develop a batter from. For my test, I took a squeezy condiment jar and filled it with my batter made from risen dough mixed with saffron water (for some colour) and let it run through the hole… it sputtered into the hot oil and made a mess. Too thin! So, I thickened the batter with more flour… had to give the bottle a good squeeze to get the batter through so I opened up the hole a bit more. This made for a little bit of a thicker pastry but still very delicate (the hole was still fairly small) however I still had to use too much effort and found it difficult to get any lacy patterns going…. so…. I thinned it out just a slight bit more… then beautiful, effortless, swirls happened. I found I still ended up squeezing the bottle for speed so am guessing if I did this with a bowl, I would end up making the hole just a bit larger still resulting in a somewhat thicker product than what I produced.

This is an example of why I sometimes wish to avoid creating an exact recipe. An exact recipe would not give this sort of detail on how to troubleshoot one’s way through a recipe in order to get it to work and it doesn’t show that it is a lot of guess work and can be trial and error when dealing with period instructions and often with modern recipes as well. What I can offer, however, is that I managed to get a heaping 10″ platter full of these out of a 12 oz (give or take a bit) batch of batter which was made with flour and water to which I added a lump of previously prepared yeast. This was left to sit for about 40 min to an hour where I then thinned out the dough with saffron infused water and troubleshooted from there.

For those looking for a modern equivalent, Zoolbia/Zulbia/Jalebi is still prepared today, however almost all the recipes call for yoghurt or kefir and cornstarch. Other variations may even include baking powder. There is also a similarity to modern funnel cakes in that it is batter fried in oil though I could make a decent guess (and that is all it is) that these would be smaller than funnel cakes given that they are then dunked in spiced honey. That would be a lot of sugar to dunk something rather large in, it also helps that they tend to come out quite crisp and rather solid. For monetary reasons, my test batch was dunked into a rose syrup which is also done today and was done with many sweets during the time of the original recipe.

Here is what I ended up with:


An English Cheese Pastry

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
Tart de Bry with covers

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.
sambocade version one

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

sabocade two


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.

Tart out of Lent


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).

cheese tart

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.

curde tartI 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.

make a tarte of cheeseAs 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.



Gelatin for Later?

jelloeasyMany of us have grown accustomed to instant, flavoured, Jello along with the simple instructions of adding, and dissolving, one packet of flavoured gelatin in a cup of boiling water and then stirring in a cup of cold water, stirring it and then letting it set in the fridge.  This is easy, it can be done as a nearly last minute dessert (only need time to let it set) and it takes little thought apart from adding various ingredients and knowing not to add things like fresh pineapple to it (this will prevent it from setting).

So, yes, that’s easy enough so what happens when we come across recipes like this:

Gelye de chare.
“Take caluys fete, and skalde hem in fayre water, an make hem alle the whyte. Also take howhys of Vele, and ley hem on water to soke out the blode; then take hem vppe, an lay hem on a fayre lynen clothe, and lat the water rennyn out of hem; than Skore (Note: Scour) a potte, and putte the Fete and the Howhys ther-on; than take Whyte Wyne that wolle hold coloure, and cast ther-to a porcyon, an non other lycoure, that the Fleysshe be ouer-wewyd (Note: See other Cookery, No. 174, wese) withalle, and sette it on the fyre, and boyle it, and Skeme it clene; an whan it is tendyr and boylid y-now, take vppe the Fleyshe in-to a fayre bolle, and saue the lycoure wyl; and loke that thow haue fayre sydys of Pyggys, and fayre smal Chykenys wyl and clene skladdyd and drawe, and lat the leggys an the fete on, an waysshe hem in fayre water, and caste hem in the fyrste brothe, an sethe it a-3en ouer the fyre, and skeme it clene; lat a man euermore kepe it, an blow of the grauy. An in cas the lycoure wast (Note: Waste) a-way, caste more of the same wyne ther-to, and put thin honde ther-on; and 3if thin hond waxe clammy, it is a syne of godenesse, an let not the Fleyshe be moche sothe, (Note: boiled) that it may bere kyttyng; than take it vppe, and ley it on a fayre clothe, and sette owt the lycoure fro the fyre, and put a few colys vnder-nethe the vesselle that the lycoure is yn; than take pouder of Pepir, a gode quantyte, and Safron, that it haue a fayre Laumbere coloure, and a gode quantyte of Vynegre, and loke that it be sauery of Salt and of Vynegre, fayre of coloure of Safroun, and putte it on fayre lynen clothe, and sette it vndernethe a fayre pewter dysshe, and lat it renne thorw the clothe so ofte tylle it renne clere: kytte fayre Rybbys of the syde of the Pygge, and lay ham on a dysshe, an pulle of the lemys of the Chykenys, eche fro other, and do a-way the Skynne, and ley sum in a dysshe fayre y-chowchyd, (Note: Y-couched; laid) and pore thin (Note: Thine) gelye ther-on, and lay Almaundys ther-on, an Clowys, and paryd Gyngere, and serue forth.”
(From: Two 15th century Cook Books)


Isinglass or Gelatine Jelly

“3oz isinglass or gelatine
2 qts cold water
Bring quickly to a boil, boiling very fast till the liquor is reduces one-hald’ carefully remove the scum as it rises, strain it through a jelly-bag and it will be ready for use. If not required very clear, it may be merely strained through a fine sieve, instead of being run through a bag.
Rather more than 1/2 oz of insinglass is about the proper quantity to use for 1 qt of strong calf’s food stock, and rather more than 2 ozs for the same quantity of fruit juice. As insinglass varies so much in strength, it is difficult to give exact proportions. The laarger the mould, the stiffer should be the jelly; and where there is no ice, more isinglass must be used than if the mixture were frozen.
This forms a stock for all kinds of jellies, which may be flavoured in many ways.
The above, when boiled, should be perfectly clear, and may be mixed warm with wine, flavourings, fruits, etc., and then run through a bag.”
The Complete Practical Confectioner, 1890

This is likely not something you are going to prepare last minute and if you’re in a kitchen with staff consisting of one cook and help that is very unfamiliar with the dishes, it’s not going to be an easy production which means we might be less likely to go through with a gelatin dish. However, apart from drying it out and reconstituting for later use, you can at least prepare a concentrated stock ahead of time, taking a little aside to check how much extra liquid you can add (just water will do) and still allow it to set. Note: if you leave it uncovered in the fridge, it will concentrate more as it dehydrates more.

gelatin This picture shows some flavoured JELLO, some clarified gelatin and non-clarified Isinglass gelatin. The first two examples seem to produce a heavier and firmer gelatin but it could also be that the isinglass solution was just not as concentrated as it did get a little more firm over time. To me, the easiest way to deal with gelatin is to make up a clarified stock ahead of time and refrigerate, even if it’s just making it a week ahead to save time before you add all the other ingredients you want such as wine, spices and so on. Just reheat it until liquid and add what you need while it’s still in liquid form. gell2Do not worry about ruining the gelatin by boiling and refrigerating it, this picture is the from the same batch after reboiling and refrigerating several times. The firmness is more or less the same though I did add water over time as some was lost to re-cooking and dehydration in the refrigerator.

Another viable option for those really pressed for time or in need of more refrigerator space, is to freeze it. Yes, I do realize that if you let frozen gelatin thaw, it will not be the same as before you froze it and it’s even a decent way to separate liquids from the gelatin, however, it is still usable. All you have to do it reboil it and re-set it (this is a good time to add whatever you need to add at this point). The pictures below show some prepared gelatin I froze and the same stuff after it was boiled and allowed to set.

frozen gelatin
frozen gelatin
same gelatin reboiled from frozen and let to set again
same gelatin reboiled from frozen and let to set again

As you can see, gelatin can handle a lot of abuse so it’s quite fine to make up batches well ahead for future functions, just so long as you’re just making your base product. A fancy moulded dessert, or object for show, isn’t going to improve with time so that should not be made too many days ahead.

Silly reason not to drink soda

While there are several good reasons not to drink soda such as their being too much sugar or the gas makes me feel uncomfortable or that acid drinks are not great for my teeth, the fact that it could curdle milk is probably… well no, it is quite a silly reason.

Here is the “You’ll Never Drink Soda Again” webpage, showing such horrors as milk being added to dark pop and having it curdle and separate.

A Quick little look at milk in drinks:

If I took some somewhat unhealthy drinks such as sugary lemonade and coffee and compare them to drinks we consider to be healthy such as apple juice and orange juice…


and then add milk to this and wait a little:

IMG_0668 IMG_0683


We would have some pretty gross looking separation in the most acidic drinks, in this case that would be the Apple and the Orange, which are also more healthy beverages than the sugary lemonade (to the far left) and the coffee (to the far right). If anything, the acid is breaking down the milk and creating an easier to digest product. This is also the basis for cheese which can be made from easily found acids such as vinegar or by using rennet, which is commonly taken from the stomachs of animals (so guess what milk might do in our own).  img42-1
This is what we were seeing in the Coke/Milk page, the acid reacts with the milk and it separates into liquids and solids. In cheese-making, this would be the curds and whey.

Back through time, we took this idea and developed posset drinks, caudles and other concoctions to take advantage of this reaction which would help it to thicken, when they included milk. (eggs are another which makes it more custard-like, but not all drinks had them. Sometimes they may be carefully mixed and worked in to create a smooth drink but other times it could be quite curdled. See below for a few recipes. 


Of course, I don’t have to go back too far to find an acid + milk drink, in fact, I would be looking at “milk and Pepsi” which had some popularization due to it being the favourite drink of the fictional character “Laverne” from “Laverne and Shirley” which aired from the mid. 70’s to 1980. I even remember trying it in my youth because of that show.

So next time you read about some food being so awful for such reasons as because “it denatures the protein found in the milk”, do consider that it might not actually be a bad thing or may actually be quite delicious and not overly harmful in moderate amounts.


A sample of recipes that combine acids and milk to make drinks and sauces

To make a sacke creame
“take a pinte of creame and 8 eggs but 2 of ye yolks and beat it very well, and boyle ye creame and eggs together, stire it all ye while on ways, and then put in a quarter of a pint of sacke and still stire it on wayes. Let it but just boyle, lay your mace a litell while in roswater, then take it out and put in ye rosewater and sweeten it with suger.”
(1651, Jane Parker)

to make a (Sack) possett
“take a quart of milke, take 5 eggs, ye whites of but 3 of them, let ye milke boyle and let it be almost cold againe, befor you put in ye eggs, beat ye eggs very well, with halfe a pint of sacke, sweeten it with suger, then put it in to ye milke, and set it over ye fore againe till it begins to curdle, then put it into a bason, set it with embers rond about it, but not uneder ye botom of it, so let it stand till it is whalled, like a custard, stire it with a spone, then take it of and strew sinamon and suger mixt together on ye top and serve it.”
(1651, Jane Parker)

“1 quartyrn of red wyne, 1 quartyrn of whyte wyne halfe quartyrn brandye sugar to taste, 1 bowle of milk, half pound cream quartyr of a nutmeg. Milk the cow into the bowle or pour from a height.”
(Grace Acton, 1621)

For a cup of Zabaglione:
-In a pot heat up 4 egg yolks, sugar to sweeten, some cinnamon and sweet wine (the wine can be diluted with water or broth if too strong), being sure to stir constantly.
-When the drink thickens, take it from the heat and pour into a cup.
-This is served in the evening and at bedtime.
(The recipe for this can be found in: The Art of Cooking, composed by Maestro Martino of Como, 14th/15th century)

Cawdel Of Almaund Mylk.
“Take Almaundes blaunched and drawe hem up with wyne, do þerto powdour of gyngur and sugur and colour it with Safroun. boile it and serue it forth.”
Forme of Cury, 1390

A fine Caudle
“Take a Pint of Milk, turn it with Sack; then strain it, and when ’tis cold, put it in a Skillet with Mace, Nutmeg, and some white Bread sliced; let all these boil, and then beat the Yolks of 4 or 5 Eggs, the Whites of 2, and thicken your Caudle, stirring it all one Way for fear it curdle; let it warm together, then take it off and sweeten it to your Taste.”
The Complete Family-Piece, 1737

To mak a posthot
“put cow mylk in a pan and set it on the fyer and when it is at boiling do ther in other wyne or ale and no salt then tak it from the fyer and kele it and assone as the curddes gaddure take up the curddes with a saucer or a ladille and serue it and straw ther on pouder of ginger and ye may tak the sam curdde and lay it on the clothe and presse out the wyne and drawe it through a strener with swet wyne put ther to pouder of guinger and sugur and mele it to gedure and serue it as a stonding sewe for sopers and straw ther on anise in comfettes.”
A Noble Boke off Cookry, 1468

How to bake a First World War trench cake

Check out the The Telegraph for the official recipe released by the government for a cake sent to the soldiers in WWI.

What is interesting is that this one used brown sugar while in “War Economy in Food” written in 1918 suggests that people not only use less cake but to substitute with corn syrup, molasses, honey and other sugar syrups. This recipe doesn’t even seem to take advantage of stewing dried fruit to sweeten the cake.

Here is a somewhat more economical recipe with even an option to replace some of the flour (which is something that they needed to save on as well as sugar).

This is from “War Economy in Food”, 1918

War Cake

1 cup molasses
1 cup corn syrup
1 1/2 cups water
1 package of raisins
2 Tbsp fat
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
2 tsp baking powder

Boil together for 5 minutes the first 9 ingredients. Cool, add sifted dry ingredients and bake in two loaves for 45 minutes in a moderate oven.
This cake should be kept several days before using. It makes about 20-25 servings.
If desired 1 cup of oatmeal may be used in place of 7/8 cup of flour.