Pastry perfection

If you’ve been following the culinary adventures of our Cooking Up History team, you’ll have noticed we’ve taken a couple of short-cuts here and there when recreating our Regency recipes in the Archives kitchen. The Unknown Ladies  of our Cookbook didn’t have access to kitchen luxuries such as the electric blender or the fan-assisted oven, and when it came to pastry-making there was only one way to go about it: by hand.

Kitchiner’s method for puff pastry, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Kitchiner’s method for puff pastry, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Puff Paste

To a pound and quarter of sifted flour rub gently in with the hand half a pound of butter. Mix up with half a pint of spring water. Knead it well and set it by for a quarter of an hour. Then roll it out, then lay on it, in small pieces, ¾ of a pound more of butter. Throw on it a little flour, double it up in folds and roll it out thin three times. Set it by for an hour in a cold place.

Our ladies transcribed this puff pastry method from William Kitchiner’s The Cook’s Oracle. Kitchiner wasn’t content with the familiar range of puff, filo, flaky and shortcrust. His manual for the everyday cook includes pastry recipes for meat pies, ‘family pies’, boiled puddings, as well as decorative toppings for sweet pies and tarts:

Kitchiner's method for "pastry for stringing tartlets", recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Kitchiner’s method for “pastry for stringing tartlets”, recorded in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Paste for Stringing Tartlets 

Mix with your hands a quarter of a pound of flour, an ounce of fresh butter and a little cold water. Rub it well between the board & your hand till it begins to string. Cut it into small pieces. Roll it out and draw it into fine strings.

To make a "croquante" of pastry: a Regency recipe by William Kitchiner, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To make a “croquante” of pastry: a Regency recipe by William Kitchiner, transcribed in The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

A Croquante of Paste

Roll out paste* about the eighth of an inch thick. Rub over a plain mould with a little fresh butter. Lay on the paste very even and equally thin on both sides. Pare it round the rim then, with a small penknife cut out small pieces as fancy may direct such as diamonds, stars &c. Let it lie to dry some time and bake it a few minutes in a slack oven. Remove it from the mould and place it on a tart or very small pasty. 

* Paste for CroquantsTo half a pound of fine flour put a quarter of a pound of sifted loaf sugar. Mix it well together with yolks of eggs till of a good stiffness 

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A sweet spinach tart

Sweet spinach tart? It may be an unusual concept, but it is one that has weathered several centuries. In her Vegetable Book (1978), Jane Grigson writes that this dish still features among the treize desserts traditionally served in Provençal households on Christmas Eve.

Grigson’s recipe recreates Southern French flavours by including some candied orange and lemon peel. Francophones can google “tarte sucrée aux épinards” for further variations and additions, including pine nuts and raisins.

The eighteenth-century recipe below, from our Cookbook of Unknown Ladies, is flavoured with rosewater and laced with brandy:

An eighteenth-century recipe for sweet spinach tart, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

An eighteenth-century recipe for sweet spinach tart, from The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

To Make a Spineage Tort. This is for second course.

Take 6 eggs, yolks & whites. Beat them well with a pint of sweet cream, a qr of a pd of crums of bread, a good handfull of spinage cut small, half a qr of currons, half a qr of almonds pounded wth a little rose water, half a nutmeg, half a pd of white sugar. Half a pound of drawn butter, 3 spoonfulls of brandy. Mix all well together. Lay paist thin at the bottom & sides of the dish & cross bar at top. 3 qrs of an hour bakes it.