Saturday, March 15, 2014

An Illusion Food -- "Deviled Eggs" for Dessert!

Illusion foods -- foods designed to fool the eye or the palate -- were very popular in the Medieval era.  I have several recipes that describe them but never tried any until today. 

This particular illusion food is of my own design.  The idea came from making a dish called "A White Leach" which is basically milk gelatine that is sweetened and flavored with rose water.  I have made it as a demonstration food and served it sprinkled with edible gold dust over the top.  People who tried it commented that it had the same texture as the whites of a hard-boiled egg.

This got my mind to contemplating the illusion of deviled eggs:  making the leach to look like the whites and then making a filling out of colored marzipan.  So here is my attempt for your culinary pleasure!

I could try this because I have an egg mold made by a gelatine company in the U.S. about 15 years ago.  I recently was told that an alternative is to use a blown eggshell with one end sealed off.

First, the recipe for the leach.  I got the recipe out of The Good Housewife's Jewel by Thomas Dawson, page 89.  These are recipes originally published in 1596 in England.
ISBN 1-870962-12-5
A White Leach

Take a quart of new milk and three ounces weight of isinglass, half a pound of beaten sugar; stir them together.  Let it boil half a quarter of an hour till it be thick, stirring them all the while.  Then strain it with three spoonfuls of rose water.  Then put it into a platter and let it cool, and cut it in squares.  Lay it fair in dishes, and lay gold upon it.

My redaction to work with the mold:

1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 packages of plain gelatine
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 tsp rose water (optional)

plus corn syrup and some yellow food coloring
Put the milk in a glass measuring cup and heat it in the microwave about 2 minutes.  You want the milk boiling or nearly so.  Sprinkle in the gelatine and stir until the gelatine is dissolved.  This could take several minutes.  Add the sugar and rose water and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Pour into the lightly oiled mold (a funnel helps) and refrigerate at least three hours.  While this is going on, make the filling.

The Filling   

7 ounces marzipan (I used store-bought)
3 drops of yellow food coloring
1 teaspoon light corn syrup

Oil your hands very lightly, then knead the marzipan with your hands to warm it up.  Flatten it out on a platter, then scatter the drops of food coloring and drizzle the corn syrup over the top.  Roll up the marzipan to capture the liquids inside it.  Knead it until the color is uniformly distributed.  If the marzipan does not feel very soft and pliable, add a little more corn syrup and continue kneading.  

Wrap the result tightly in plastic and place in a plastic bag.  Refrigerate until ready to assemble the eggs.


Unmold the eggs and cut in half lengthwise.  Use a spoon to scoop out a small dent in the widest part of the egg half.  Do this for each half and set aside.

Take the marzipan and cut it into twelve pieces.  Warm a piece in your hand until it is pliable.  Roll it into a ball then hold it in the palm of your hand.

Using the other hand, gently twist the upper half of the ball to form a blunt point.  This makes the filling look like it was piped into the white.

Place the marzipan into the white.  Voila'!  Deviled eggs.  In medieval times, this was called "Farced Eggs."

 Keep cold until you serve it, which should be soon. 

My Notes

I took this to the Society for Creative Anachronism's West Coast Culinary Symposium as my contribution to the Friday night potluck.  I did all the preparation at home, which means the whites had to travel.  I kept whites and yolks in separate containers until it was time to assemble them at the site.  The whites didn't travel as well as I'd hoped and some had split or broken up a little. 

The next thing I noticed is that the filling appeared to be too heavy for the whites.  After an hour or two more whites had split apart.  This could have been because the whites got warm.  Also, when I ate one, I felt that there was too much filling for the amount of white.  I wanted more of a balanced flavor blend and the almond flavoring dominated. 

My solutions are two-fold.  First I think I would make the leach even firmer by using more gelatine in the milk.  Perhaps 2 packages for 1 1/2 cups milk.  Second I would use about half of the marzipan filling per egg.  The bonus part for this idea is that you can now make two dozen halves from one package of marzipan!  Just make a second batch of leach.

The Verdict


I liked it, which to me spells success.  The best part was that people at the potluck (who didn't know I made it) said they were fooled by the illusion.  Those who tried it said they liked it and the broken whites didn't bother them because sometimes the whites of deviled eggs break, too. 

Overall, I loved the flavor combination.  The rose water in the leach was delicate and not overpowering.  It was also so very lightly sweet that it almost didn't seem sweetened.  This was good because the filling was sweet.  The marzipan had a strong almond flavor which went well with the rose water.  The texture combination was interesting, too:  the smooth and cool white with the slightly grainy and firm filling. 

If you try this, please leave me a comment on this board telling me of your results.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Shrewsbury Eastertide "Cakes"

Sometimes judging a book by its cover turns out to be a worthwhile decision.  That's what happened when I came across The English Biscuit and Cookie Book by Sonia Allison.

Published by St. Martin's Press in 1983
I was perusing the cookbook collection in a used bookstore that was new to me.  It was almost time to leave when I saw this little, tan book tucked into the side of a crowded shelf.  On a whim, I grabbed it.  A few days later, I read it.  What fun!

In the introduction Ms. Allison writes,
The biscuit tin is to the English what the cookie jar is to Americans, and no British household would be complete without a store of assorted biscuits on hand for nibbling, as the mood takes one, with midmorning coffee, afternoon tea, and a light night drink of milk or chocolate to soothe away the cares of the day and induce sweet dreams laced with sugar and spice and maybe a sprinkling of nuts for good measure!
She categorizes the recipes as Rolled Biscuits, Unrolled Biscuits, Shortbread Selection (quite a selection!), Savory Biscuits, Petit Fours, and Specialty Biscuits.

The Shrewsbury Eastertide "Cakes" are on page 64, under Specialty Biscuits.  She points out they were mentioned in a publication from the mid-nineteenth century.

2 cups all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup light brown sugar (I packed it)
1 level teaspoon caraway seeds
1 medium egg (I used large)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp sweet sherry 
Gosh, I had to buy sherry.  What a pity!  : )

1.  Sift the flour, salt, and allspice into a bowl.  Rub in the butter until finely blended.  Add the sugar and caraway seeds.

2.  Beat the egg thoroughly with the vanilla extract and sherry.  Add to the ingredients in the bowl.

3.  Using a fork, mix to a soft dough.  Wrap in foil or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate for 45 minutes.

4.  Form into 24 small balls.  Arrange on 3 cookies sheets lined with wax paper or foil, first lightly greased.

5.  Press flat with the base of a tumbler dipped in flour, then prick with a fork.

6.  Bake until light brown, allowing 15 to 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

7.  Cool on a wire rack.  Store in an airtight tin when cold.

My Notes

I used the wire whisk of my mixer to rub the butter into the flour mixture.  When ready, it looked like cornmeal.

The flavor combination of sherry and vanilla smells delicious!

I was concerned at first that I was using a large egg instead of medium.  I thought the dough might be too moist.  However I was surprised at how crumbly soft it was and then I worried it wasn't moist enough.  It did form a ball when squeezed, so I left it as it was before wrapping it.

The dough was still pretty delicate after chilling but held together well as I was rolling the balls and pressing it with the tumbler. 
Rolled, pressed, and pricked.
The Verdict
Success!  I liked them.  They are very much like a shortbread with a dominant flavor of caraway and the sherry, vanilla, and allspice in subtle support roles.  They are not very sweet, which was appreciated.  I preferred the thicker ones as they were a little bit more moist inside.

One batch was slightly overcooked, which means the edges were browner and the whole cookie drier.  That batch went to 17 minutes so I would recommend trying 15 minutes first.  Also the flavor was better when the cookies were completely cooled.

I'm not sure why these are recommended as Eastertide treats and I would offer them year-round.  They are "something different" from the regular cookies we have here in the U.S.