Sunday, December 7, 2014

The egg cream mystery solved?

A chance find prompts me to stray from the usual focus of this blog (early medieval food and French bread history). It concerns a drink long known to New Yorkers, but probably to few other Americans: the egg cream.

If you are unfamiliar with the egg cream, you might reasonably imagine it to contain both eggs and cream; the fact that it contains neither is a source of mischievous pride to native New Yorkers. What does it contain? Seltzer, milk and chocolate syrup. The most dreary description of it is as “an ice cream soda without the ice cream”. That such a concoction can, arguably, attain perfection – exemplified for many by that made at the Gem Spa, on Second Avenue – is one of New York's true mysteries.

The other of course is how the drink came to be; notably how, lacking both egg and cream, it came to be under that particular name.

The drink's association with New York Jewish culture is such that searches for an answer have always focused there. Writes Joy Parks:
One theory is that in the 1880s, Yiddish theater pioneer Boris Thomashevsky asked a New York City soda fountain to reproduce a drink he had discovered in Paris, but the French chocolat et crème got lost in translation. Others say the name is an Americanization of echt keem, Yiddish for “pure sweetness,” and some suggest it’s simply Brooklynese for “a cream.”The most common story is that sometime in the 1890s, candy shop owner Louis Auster concocted the drink by accident. It’s said he sold thousands a day. But when Auster refused to sell the rights to the drink to an ice cream chain, a company executive called him an anti-Semitic slur and he vowed to take the formula to his grave. Without Auster’s special syrup, other soda fountains relied on a Brooklyn original: Fox’s U-bet chocolate syrup, containing water, sugar, corn sweeteners, cocoa and some “secret things.”
Jennifer Schiff Berg's article in the 2007 edition of the Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink begins: “The egg cream, originally a drink associated with eastern European Jewish immigrants, quickly became a beverage so linked to New York that it serves as one of the city's most recognizable icons “ Her article in the 2013 Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America essentially repeats the same idea.

Berg does refer to a 1906 text which "includes a preparation with egg yolks, cream syrup, seltzer and vanilla", adding however that "few cream enthusiasts give much credence to this recipe." In fact, as it turns out, this last version comes closest to what seems to be the real original egg cream. Which, however, appears to be neither specifically Jewish nor from New York. 

In the The Housewife's Library, an 1885 work probably printed in Philadelphia and surveying a wide range of generally American specialties, George A. Peltz offers this recipe: "Egg Cream.—Beat a raw egg to a stiff froth; add a tablespoonful of white sugar and a half wineglass of good blackberry wine; add half a glass of cream; beat together thoroughly, and use at once."

A supplement to Scientific American, dated, October 2, 1896, provides formulas for several "Summer Beverages", including this one for "Egg Cream":
Cream..... 4 ounces.
Four egg yolks.
Extract vanilla..... 1
Sirup..... 12 "
Evora Bucknum Perkins' 1911 Laurel Health Cookery includes a whole section on egg creams, beginning with this statement:
Egg creams, in their great variety, are the most delightful ways of serving uncooked eggs, both for desserts and for invalids.For preparing them, the ingredients and all utensils and dishes should be as nearly ice cold as possible.The white of the egg should be beaten very stiff. The milk and cream should have been sterilized.The creams must be prepared just at the time of serving as they become liquid and lose their creamy consistency very soon.
This is followed by recipes for lemon, raspberry, banana, vanilla, almond, and maple or honey egg creams.By all evidence then, the egg cream was originally a drink with no specific cultural or regional association and it was called an egg cream because it contained, yes, both egg and cream. Its froth came from beating the egg whites, not from any added seltzer.


How did it come to be a drink containing neither egg nor cream, but always seltzer?

Such evolutions are in fact quite familiar in food history. Blancmange – literally, “white food” - was originally made with chicken and almonds, yet over the centuries it became a simple pudding (in the American sense). The croissant – that is, in French, “crescent' – was originally named for its shape; yet the word today is used for things like the chocolate croissant, which is square, though made with the same dough. Maraschino cherries, writes Linda Ziedrich, originally:
were Marasca cherries – a small Morello type that grow in Italy and Croatia – preserved in maraschino liqueur, a clear liqueur distilled from the same cherries and flavored with their crushed pits. What Americans now call maraschino cherries were developed in the 1920s... as a way of using locally grown Royal Anne cherries... Maraschino cherries couldn't be imported during Prohibition, and domestic cherries couldn't legally be preserved in alcohol.
And so the American cherries were put into brine, colored with red dye (being naturally yellowish), and flavored with almond extract. With the result that few Americans today would recognize an original Maraschino cherry as such.

Similar changes can be imagined for the egg cream. 

The original version was not the only drink to be made with eggs. Consider this 1888 recipe for egg lemonade:
Egg Lemonade—This is only prepared for the dispensing counter as follows: Into a pint tumbler put a tablespoonful of powdered sugar, the juice of one lemon, add a little water and one egg, and fill up with broken ice. Then place another tumbler tightly over the top of the first one, shake briskly until the combination is perfected. It is usually sipped through a rye straw in the same manner as a cobbler. This beverage is an all-year-round drink, a healthful beverage, and very nutritious.
As for using cream in a frothy drink, here is Hannah Wolley's 1672 instruction:
To make whipt Sillibub._Take half a Pint of Rhenish Wine or white Wine, put it into a Pint of Cream, with the Whites of three Eggs, season it with Sugar, and beat it as you do Snow-Cream, with Birchen Rods, and take off the Froth as it ariseth, and put it into your Pot, so do till it be beaten to a Froth, let it stand two or three hours till it do settle, and then it will eat finely.
Did later concerns about using eggs, in particular, in fountain drinks lead to replacing these in egg creams, just as concerns about alcohol led to changes in maraschino cherries? And was it simple economy that led to cream being replaced with milk? Such changes made, seltzer would have been a natural replacement for the whipping of either of the original ingredients to create foam.

The exact steps in the change, or where they occurred, may never be known; nor is it clear why the drink "took root" in New York City, and that city alone. But the origin of the egg cream can now be firmly traced, beyond New York or any one group, to a drink that originally contained both ingredients and whose name then was as logical as it is paradoxical now.


UPDATE December 12, 2014


First, a discovery which backdates the egg cream (with eggs and cream), even further; to 1850 -
How to Make Egg Cream. Take the yolk of an egg, with a dessert spoonful of cream or new milk, and, if convenient, add two drops of oil of cinnamon.(Blake) \
Otherwise, stepping further back (to 1843), one finds a yet another kind of egg cream:
One morning at breakfast, when I got up from my chair to manufacture some egg-cream, and had a large tea-kettle full of boiling water in one hand, and a glass with the egg in another, the ship gave a fearful roll, sending me and my kettle to  the other side of the cabin.
(Henry)
Unfortunately, this sailor was interrupted before making his egg cream with boiling water, as well as an egg, but apparently... no cream.. Luckily however recipes from much later (the early twentieth century) provide some insight into where he was headed:
Two eggs, 2 tablespoons of sugar, juice and grated rind of half a lemon. Separate the yolks of the eggs from the whites, and beat them with the sugar in a bowl until both are well mixed. Then put in the lemon juice and rind and place the bowl in a dish of boiling water on the fire. Stir until the mixture begins to thicken, then add the stiff whites and cook until the whole resembles very thick cream, stirring all the time; pour into custard cups and set away to get cold.
(Nursing World) Juice of half a lemon, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoonfuls of sugar. Separate yolks and whites ; beat yolks with sugar until well mixed; add lemon juice and place bowl in a dish of hot water over the fire. Stir slowly until mixture begins to thicken; then add beaten whites and stir until the whole forms a thick cream. Remove from the fire, pour into dishes, and set aside to cool. 
(Beck)
This variant of the egg cream, in other words, did not use eggs WITH cream; it used them to MAKE a sort of cream.

It is very unlikely that this version (which clearly took on a medical purpose) had anything to do with the modern New York drink. But its very existence notably expands the surprisingly large field of egg cream lore.


FOR FURTHER READING:

Parks, Joy, "Sweet Egg-nigma: The elusive history of an American classic.", Imbibe: Liquid Culture

Berg, Jennifer Schiff, “Egg Cream”, The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink,  ed. Andrew F. Smith 2007
Berg, Jennifer Schiff, “Egg Cream”, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Volume 1 ed Andrew Smith, Bruce Kraig 2013
Peltz, George A, The Housewife's Library: (many Volumes in One) : Furnishing the Very Best ...1885

“Selected Formulae”, Scientific American Supplement, October 2, 1896
Perkins, Evora Bucknum, The Laurel Health Cookery: A Collection of Practical Suggestions and Recipes for the Preparation of Non-flesh Foods in Palatable and Attractive Ways 1911
Ziedrich, Linda, The Joy of Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves: 200 Classic and... 2010
Sulz, Charles Herman, Sulz's Compendium of Flavorings 1888
Wolley, Hannah, The Queen-like Closet or Rich Cabinet 1672


Saturday, December 6, 2014

MEDIEVAL PASTRIES: Echaudés

The echaudé was one of the most well-known medieval pastries. The word means “scalded” and the pastry is sometimes called a “scalded pastry” in English; it has also been described as “poached” and even as a dumpling. But the French term is most typically used even in English. Though first mentioned in the Middle Ages, the pastry was still common in the nineteenth century and can still be found (if less commonly) today.

Early history

The first mention of the pastry comes from 1202 in a reference to “breads called eschaudés” (panes qui  Eschaudati dicuntur). (At this point, “pastry” was still not yet a distinct category, separate from bread.) The same text also references wafers (oblatas) and these two may be the earliest pastries (or at least sweet baked goods) mentioned in French history. Note that the Latin here is an adaptation of the French word, showing that the latter was already established at this point. What is more, the fact that the reference comes so early in the thirteenth century indicates that the pastry must have existed at least at the end of the twelfth.

Le Grand d'Aussy hypothesizes that the medieval pastry was much larger than that of his own time, based on a 1231 reference to a widow who surrendered certain rights in return for a large loaf (miche) and an echaudé (unum eschaudetum) on feast days. It does make sense that this would have been fairly large – one small pastry each feast day seems a poor recompense. But the pastry may also have already existed in two sizes. In his 1268 Livre de Metiers, Boileau does not yet mention pastry-chefs, but he does refer to echaudés given to the officials charged with tasting wine. These include small ones specifically intended for the tasting; by implication the others were larger.

In 1379, echaudés were again listed along with wafers, this time as part of an elegant meal (wafers were one of the most common desserts of the time); no other pastry is mentioned. In 1451, they were given out after High Mass in one locality. It is clear from all these references that echaudés were considered a special treat.

They seem to have become more ordinary by the eighteenth century, when they were often served with beer. One recipe for a “snow” (an early quasi-ice cream) includes bits of biscuits and echaudés, in something of a precursor to cookie dough ice cream. In the nineteenth century, Dumas (the father) prefaced his recipe for them by saying they were a “sort of unsugared cake made more for birds and children than adults.” (He apparently meant this literally; some echaudés are sold today specifically for birds.)


Shape

No record exists of the shape or even the making of the earliest echaudés. Eighteenth century images, both of an echaudé seller and, in the Encyclopédie, of the pastries being made, show shapeless forms resembling potatoes, or dumplings, and it is easy to imagine that a lump of pastry dipped in hot water would have yielded something similar. But their shape is more commonly described in other terms.

As early as 1584, the Latin term for the pastry was crustulum bicorne; that is, “bicorn pastry” (very literally, “crust”). The bicorne most familiar today is Napoleon's hat and it may be that this referred to a similar shape. But the pastry has also been described as heart-shaped, and at least one writer believes that “bicorn” refers to this.

The most common shape, however, seems to have been “tricorn”; that is, roughly, that of a tricorne hat. Cotgrave, in his 1511 French-English dictionary, refers to it both as a “Symnell” - that is, a fine loaf - “shaped like a Hart” and as a “three-cornered Symnell”. A medical text from 1668, explaining how to fold a towel, says that it should be three-sided “like an echaudé”. Similar references are found later, and in fact modern versions of the pastry are also in this shape.

As it happens, this is also the shape of another medieval pastry, the talmouse. The talmouse however is filled with cheese, which the three rolled sides help contain. Why the echaudé, which is not filled, has been made this way is uncertain.


Recipes

This is not one of the rare pastries for which a medieval recipe has survived. The first echaudé recipe is from La Varenne in 1688, after which, through the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these become fairly common.

La Varenne refers to three different kinds: with butter, with salt and water and with eggs. Probably, such refinement came well after the Middle Ages, especially since earlier texts make no reference to different ways of making these.
Put on the table a half litron of the best flour, make a little ditch in the middle, put in about a half glass of brewer's yeast, add the necessary hot water, and work it all together, reduce it to a slightly soft dough to use as a leavening, which is why one must gather this dough, turn it like a roll, and put it in a warm place, so that it rises or swells quickly, and if it is in Summer it might swell sufficiently in half a quarter hour.
While waiting for the leavening to rise, put on the table a quart of the best flour, make a ditch in the middle, put in a pound of unsalted butter, which butter you will have worked and softened before it is too hard, add an ounce or a little more of fine salt, put these things together, added what is needed of cold water to knead this dough.
When this dough has been half-kneaded, take your leavening if it is ready, that is if it is filled out and swollen, put it with your dough while finishing kneading it.
And when it is sufficiently kneaded, cut it into pieces, which you will mold by hand into rolls which must then be stretched out to form echaudés.
This done one must have in a cauldron or in a jam pan, water on the fire, and it must be almost boiling, throw your echaudés into it, and leave them until they are swollen on top: and then they must be stirred about in this water, then take a skimmer with which you will raise into the air a little of the water in which are your echaudés, you will sprinkle them or bathe them in this water, leaving them nonetheless until they are swollen and firm, to see this, take out one of your echaudés, and you will handle it to see if they are firm enough.
When you judge that the echaudés are sufficiently swollen, take them out of the water with a skimmer, and put them to dry and cool on a small rack; then put them in the oven: it only takes a quarter of an hour to bake common small echaudés.
But the oven must be rough, that is, it must be as hot all through as it was for cooking large pasties.
If the echaudés do not take on enough color while baking, one must make a little light fire towards the end, to one of the cheeks or side of the oven, in order for the heat to fall on the echaudés and give them color.
Note that if you do not put any butter in the mixture for your echaudés, you will only make salt and water echaudés, which are more prized by some people than butter echaudés.
As for egg echaudés, they are also made like those with butter: but eggs must be put in the dough; it is why for a quart of flour one must break fifteen eggs, and only put in a half pound of butter.
The dough with which one wants to make egg echaudés must be well worked, and softer than for the other echaudés.
Note too that one must use a less rough oven for egg echaudés, than for those made only with salt and water, or with butter.
One detail here is striking in terms of French bread history: the use of a separate pre-ferment for the yeast (which at this point was mainly used in France for pastry but not bread). Variants on this technique were still a long way off in bread-baking.

Briand's recipe from 1750 begins with a frank adaptation of La Varenne's. But he adds some unusual variations:
Grilled salt echaudés
Split them in two down the middle; marinate them with oil, a little salt and coarse pepper; marinated, put them to grill on a low fire, being careful not to burn them; lay them out on a plate, sprinkle them with a little oil and serve as a roast dish at a collation.
Glazed echaudés
Take slightly large echaudés, cut them down the middle between the two crusts and set them to soak in milk with sugar, in proportion to what you have of echaudés; cur them and put them on hot coals for four or five hours with boiling them; after take them out of the milk and set them to drain, and fry them in lard, or else in oil; when they are fried and well colored, take them cleanly out with a skimmer, powder them with sugar and glaze them with a hot shovel, from one side first and then the other and serve hot.
Of the many recipes in the nineteenth century, one comes from the great cook Carême (1834) (here in a period translation):
Paste for echaudés {Scalded Cakes).
To make sixty echaudés take three-quarters of a pound of flour; make a hole in the centre as usual, and put therein three drams of fine salt, four ounces of butter, and seven eggs; mix these ingredients, and then lightly add the flour. The paste should now be rather soft; if otherwise, add a white, yolk, or whole egg, as may be necessary. Then give it five turns by kneading it well with your wrists, and afterwards work it for a few minutes by taking a part of the paste at the time in your hand, throwing it back again on the remainder. The paste, which should now have a beautiful gloss and be extremely elastic, is then put on a small round board, the top lightly sprinkled with flour, and, after being covered with a napkin, put into a cool place. It is generally made in the evening to scald the following morning; but it may also be scalded three hours after making it, in the following manner.—Cut the paste in four long pieces of equal length, each of which form into a roll of an inch in diameter, and then cut it into fifteen small slices, which place on the lid of a small stewpan covered with flour, with the side that has been cut downwards. When all the echaudés have been cut out in this manner and placed on two lids, throw them in a large stewpan with boiling water, preventing them as much as possible from sticking to each other. At first they will sink to the bottom, when you must lightly stir the surface of the water (which should not boil) with a spatula, in order to make them rise. As soon as they have been sufficiently scalded (which you will be able to ascertain by their feeling a little firm, and the middle being no longer soft), take them out of the stewpan and put them in a large earthen pan full of water. After soaking them for five hours, drain them in a sieve; and, a few minutes after, range them on plates or very thin boards at full two inches distance from each other, and then put them in a hot oven. They should have eighteen or twenty minutes' baking; and if during that time the oven could be kept shut, they would look all the better. When they have been taken out of the oven, they may be cut in two, and a pinch of fine salt with a spoonful of lukewarm butter put lightly on each of them: the two halves are then put together, and they are served up hot with coffee, tea, or chocolate.
Dumas' recipe (printed posthumously in 1873) curiously specifies not to use yeast, saying that the pastries will rise on their own, but then says to add leavening (that is, sour dough) without giving any measure for this:
Make your dough without yeast. The dough will ferment enough during the time it rests. Keep hot about thirty minutes, 125 grams of flour, 60 grams of salt, 125 grams of eggs and 500 grams of butter; mix and knead all of this three times; put in leavening in small pieces, and knead it six more times in the same way; put the dough in a tablecloth or a napkin until the next day; then cut the echaudés the desired size to put them in boiling water which is take off the fire and which once it stops boiling, one is careful to drain the water and to take them out and put them in cold water as they rise; drain them well; bake them in the oven.

A number of modern recipes can still found on-line (typically in French).



FOR ADDITIONAL READING


For Le Grand d'Aussy's texts on pastry, along with bread and sweets:




Boileau, "Livre de Metiers", Depping, Georges-Bernard, Dissertation sur l'état de l'industrie et du commerce de Paris au XIIIe ... 1837


"1379 (1er mars)", de Saulcy, Félicien, Recueil de documents relatifs à l'histoire des monnaies frappées ..., Volume 1 1879

"Seance de 2 Mars 1847", La province du Maine: feuille hebdomadaire 1848



Favart, Charles-Simon, La matinée, la soirée, et la nuit des boulevards ; ambigu de scènes épisodiques, mêlé de chants et de danses, divisé en quatre parties : représenté devant Leurs Majestés, à Fontainebleau, le 11 octobre 1776




Dumas, Alexandre, Grand dictionnaire de cuisine 1873

Echaudés sold specifically for birds - :Les Volières de 'Atlantique


La Varenne, Pierre François, L'Ecole des ragoûts ou le Chef-d'oeuvre du cuisinier, du patissier et du … 1688


Lebel, Joullain, "Le marchand d'échaudés" : [estampe]






Nicot, Jean,  Dictionnaire françois-latin, augmenté outre les précédentes impressionsd'infinies dictions françoises, principalement des mots de marine,vénerie et faulconnerie, recueilli des observations de plusieurshommes doctes, entre autres de M. Nicot,... et réduit à la forme et perfection des dictionnaires grecs et latins 1584






Carême, M. A, The Royal Parisian Pastrycook and Confectioner from the Original of M. A.Carême 1834



ECHAUDES DE L'AVEYRON

http://www.vivreaupays.pro/Professionnels/tabid/63/ProdID/484/Langauge/fr-FR/CatID/7/ECHAUDES_DE_LAVEYRON.aspx








Monday, November 24, 2014

MEDIEVAL PASTRIES: Cassemuseaux, petits choux and ratons

One of the joys of translating Le Grand d'Aussy's texts on pastry is seeing the inventory of various old pastries he mentions: échaudés, cassemuseaux, petits choux, ratons, étriers, flageols, gobets, etc. However, Le Grand mainly lists a lot of these without providing many details on them.


For things like étriers. flageols and gobets, it may never be possible to know exactly how they were made. But more information is available on others he mentions. This is certainly true of échaudés, one of the most famous medieval pastries; these however merit a whole separate article For now, let us look more closely at three of the others: cassemuseaux, ratons and petit choux.

These may all fairly be called medieval pastries, yet some lasted into the nineteenth, even the twentieth century. The rare recipes that exist for these all come from after the Middle Ages. Where (as for darioles and talmouses) both medieval and later recipes exist, the latter are always notably more sophisticated and that is no doubt true here as well. Those seeking to reproduce the medieval versions of others then must be cautious in using what recipes do survive. Too, even cursory descriptions of these vary enough to cast some doubt on their exact nature. This said, the enterprising medievalists who care to recreate these may be able to extrapolate from what they know of other pastries and cobble together credible imitations of the earlier versions.

Cassemuseaux

The word cassemuseaux literally means “break muzzle”, or more colloquially, “break-snout.” (As a phrase, it means a punch in the nose.) This has led some to think it was a hard, cracker- or biscuit -like, pastry. And Rabelais does compare bone to them, further suggesting that they were rock hard. The dictionary author Furetière was of the opposite opinion, writing that the pastry was simply the softer petit choux, given an ironic name (“named by antiphrasus”). The truth, based on recipes, may lie midway between these ideas.

One related explanation for the name lies in the old practice of throwing these pastries in people's faces. For instance, in Evreux (Normandy), these were handed out on the first of May and hurled at passers-by. (If such public aggression seems very medieval, consider that still in Paris today people throw firecrackers at others on the fourteenth of July.)

Other sources say that these were given out on the feast of St. Radegund, though not if they were thrown in people's faces.

Whatever the exact origin of the name, these have been mentioned since the fourteenth century, sold apparently by wafer-makers rather than pastry cooks:
Pastry-cooks themselves, though they form only a single community, are divided into pastry-chefs properly named, (statutes of 1440, of 1497 and of 1522)... and of wafermakers (statutes of 1270, 1397, 1406) who sell cassemuseaux and wafers.
In the fifteenth century, a letter from the provost of Paris mentions them.

They were well-known enough that they are referenced in French both by their French name and by the Latin term globuli pistorii (“bakers' globules”). The latter term suggests that early on, at least, these were spherical (As it happens, the same term is sometimes used for petit choux, supporting Furetière's idea that they were the same; it is always possible too that such usage was simply inconsistent.) A Flemish-French dictionary from 1643 describes them as “ronde koexckens” (round little cakes).

The earliest recorded recipe seems to be from La Varenne (seventeenth century); this eighteenth century version is essentially taken from his:
Take pieces of beef marrow, an inch or so long; scald them in near-boiling water, then take them out of the water with a pierced spoon, drain them a little, and arrange them on a table. Powder them the best you can with a little salted spice, or a little salt or powdered cinnamon. Then promptly prepare little bases of very thin puff pastry, garnish one end with a piece of beef marrow, an inch long; and if needed, you can add more seasoned sugar as said. Then turn the other side of the base in on the marrow; wet the sides of the dough a little, in order to join the one with the other more easily. When your cassemuseaux are made, fry them in butter, or lard, and do not drain them in turning them over, and when they are fried, take them out of the frying oil with a pierced spoon, then powder them with sugar to eat them.
This is followed by a method using cheese or curds, which in fact seems to have been the most common version. 

Massialot, also from the eighteenth century, has a simpler one:
Take creamy cheese, four fresh eggs, a quarter pound of fresh butter, a half-litron of the best flour, and a little salt; make a soft dough of it all: when the dough is made, let it rest, then cut the Casse-museaux like petits-choux, and set them to bake in the oven, but very hot, and after a quarter of an hour, take them out to split them, and put in the oven to finish baking them.
A nineteenth century description does not seem very different from the earlier ones:
This name is given to little round cakes, kneaded with fresh cheese. These cakes are about the size of an old six francs piece. Towards 1830, a great many were still eaten, in summer, in the cafes of la Chatre. - The cassemuseau is known in Brittany, in the Vosges, and no doubt in many other places.
Even today recipes can be found for it, though these often hearken back to earlier times. But the pastry is no longer generally well-known.


Petits choux

In his thirteenth century rules for different trades, Boileau mentions petitz chouz as one of several pastries sold in the streets by pastrymakers' apprentices. Interestingly, the passage in question forbids masters from using apprentices in this way, partially because of “inconveniences, chance and illness” which can result, but also because it takes them away from learning their trade.

In 1555, Pierre Belon rather unexpectedly included a long list of foods in his “History of the Nature of Birds”. He mentions “nice hot petit choux” and in fact these seem to have been served hot. (But then many baked goods were.)

The term continues to appear in following centuries. It means “little cabbage” and has long been one of endearment in French. Le Grand suggests that this use of the term comes directly from the pastry; the idea is credible enough, pastry being more endearing to most people than cruciferous vegetables. Choux pastry of course has survived until the present day and appears to have evolved from the earlier types. In his 1611 French-English dictionary, Cotgrave describes this as"a kind of puffe-cakes of two sorts; the one round and plump as an apple; the other also round, but much flatter." The term “puffe-cakes” does not sound so different from the modern idea of choux pastry, but La Varenne's recipe is unlikely to yield anything too close to the modern variety. He basically treats it as as a variant on the popelin:
How to make a popelin
Take about a fist's worth of choux cheese, these are unskimmed cheeses made the same day; put these cheeses in a bowl and knead them well, adding a few pinches of the best flour; that done, break two eggs into this mixture, put in also a good handful of the best flour and a little crushed salt; then mix all these things together with the wooden paddle.
When this mixture is ready, put it on buttered paper: spread it out in the shape of a cake, and give it about the thickness of a finger, then put in the oven, and the mouth of the oven must be hot: this oven piece will be baked in a half hour, then you must take it out of the oven, and open it into two to separate the two whole crusts the one from the other, then you will put them separately the one after the other in a basin or other convenient vessel in which there is enough good melted and unsalted butter; and this butter must be refined...
Plunge the lower crust in first, and take it out a little later and drain it: then put the upper crust of the popelin into the same butter.
When these two crusts are drained, powder them well with sugar on top and underneath, and sprinkle them inside with a little rosewater, you can also garnish the inside of the lower crust, with slices of lemon peel, then you will cover it with the upper crust, well-sugared, then you will return the popelin to the entry of the oven so that the sugar glazes, and also to keep the popelin warm until you want to eat it.

How to make petits choux
One must make the dough for petits choux like that of the popelin, one must only add a little more flour.
The dough being made, lay out separately on buttered paper [an amount] about the size of an egg, more or less, make them into rounds and gild them a little and lightly, then put them in the oven.
Both the mouth of the oven and the oven must be quite hot.
When the petits choux are baked, you can cut them in half, and plunge them into butter, then prepare them as said for the popelin.
Or else you can cut the petits choux into pieces, and put them in a bowl with unsalted butter and rose water, heat them, and eat them.

Ratons

The word raton means “little rat” and it is sometimes suggested that the pastry resembled that creature; but if so, this resemblance only seems to have been approximate. Scheler provides a far rarer origin for the word, tracing it to the Dutch word rate, for a honey waffle said to resemble a spleen (which the word also means in French). This might explain why descriptions of the pastry do not sound very rat-like.

A cartulary mentions “rastons” being served at dinner (the midday meal) in 1392. In his dictionary of old French, Godefroy cites references to the raton going back to 1336. He also mentions that some sources describe it as made with milk and eggs, others with cheese. Belon mentions “cheese ratons”; Cotgrave describes it as "a fashion of round and high tart, made with butter, eggs, and cheese". (Curiously, by the way, Cotgrave uses the later spelling – raton – for a little rat, but the older one – raston – for the pastry.) In his seventeenth century recipe, La Varenne says it can be made with cheese or another pie (tart) filling:
How to make ratons
Put on the worktable, for example a litron [about 0,813 liter] of fine flour, a good quarter pound of butter if you have any, and about a half ounce of salt, and a half setier [the latter about .5 liters] of warm water or about: work these things together and reduce them to a smooth paste: it must be soft: put some of this dough on buttered paper, and shape it like cakes: make them about the thickness of two teats, and about the diameter more or less of a dish, as you wish, and raise the side a little: gild or fill the raton a little with pie filling or cheese, then bake them.
La Varenne then offers a far more complex method, using eggs, almonds or macaroons (made in France with almonds), in which the dough is then essentially cooked like a pancake; but the first method was probably closer to the standard one.

Ratons too were served hot. In a late seventeenth century play, a pastry maker's boy cries them in the street: “Nice hot ratons, smoking hot, just out of the oven, two liards, two liards [small coins].”

These barely survived into the nineteenth century, at least as such. But the simple version might readily be known by other names and a rare version from 1825 describes how to make a filling with milk, flour and eggs which is essentially a custard.



FOR FURTHER READING

For Le Grand's texts on pastry, along with bread and sweets:


Furetière, Antoine, Pierre Bayle, Henri Basnage de Beauvals, Dictionnaire universel: contenant generalement tous les mots ..., Volume 2 1701


Masson de Saint-Amand, Amand-Narcisse, Lettres d'un voyageur à l'embouchure de la Seine , contenant des détailshistoriques, anecdotiques et statistiques sur les contrées de laNormandie connues sous le nom de pays de Caux, de Lieuvin et deRoumois, dans les départemens de la Seine-Inférieure, du Calvadoset de l'Eure. 1828





Arsy, Jean-Louis d', Le grand dictionaire françois-flamen, de nouveau revû, corrigé etaugmenté de plusieurs mots et sentences 1643



Registres du Conseil de Genève. Tome 8, Volume 18-19,1906-1940





La Varenne, François Pierre de, Le Patissier Francais, 1653

Dictionnaire œconomique, contenant divers moyens d'augmenter son ..., Volume 1 1740 





Scheler, Augusten Dictionnaire d'étymologie française d'après les résultats de la science moderne 1888

Boileau, Étienne,  René de LespinasseLes métiers et corporations de la ville de Paris: XIIIe-XVIIIe siècle 1886


Godefroy, Frédéric, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française, et de tous ses ..., Volume 6 1890

1555
Regnard, Jean François,  Joseph Alfred X. Michiels, Œuvres complètes, avec une notice et de nombreuses notes par m ..., Volume 2 1854

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pâte, paste, pasta, pasty, pâté... and pies.

For those who study bread, it is useful to understand the variants on the French word for dough: pâte, or in older French, pasteThe latter word, pronounced differently, became the English word for flour-based glues and things like fruit paste. It is derived from the Latin word pasta, and in fact the Italian word means exactly the same thing (pasta, though made with harder dough and in many shapes, is essentially dried dough). The French use exactly the same word as for dough for the latter (though typically in the plural: pâtes). When Le Grand d'Aussy, for instance, refers to “Italian pâtes”, he clearly means pasta, but it is also possible that in the eighteenth century he still thought of these as “Italian doughs”.
Foods encased in dough were called “doughed”: pasté or (later) pâtéThis word became “pastie” in English. The modern version has come to mean, not the dough container, but the meat preparation put inside it. Today, when meat pâté is served inside pastry, it is called pâté en croûte ("pâté in crust").
Meanwhile, originally, foods made in pasté came to be known collectively as pastisserie – that is, pastry. Those who made such foods were known, literally, as “pastryers” - pasticiers. Today we would call them “pastry-chefs”, but these artisans made far simpler fare and can more fairly be called “pastry-cooks”. In fact, one common English translation was even more pedestrian: “pie-men”. Many medieval pasties, then, were essentially what the English called “pies”.
Typically, the boundaries between all these different meanings are clear. But for period speakers, their common relationship was probably far more apparent.



The above has been adapted and extracted from the front matter to a new translation of Le Grand d'Aussy's classic chapters on bread, as well as those on pastry and sweets:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The shifting phases of French bread history


Some may find it surprising that French bread even has a history, much less phases. There must be many who think the baguette and the croissant have been around since Charlemagne, or at least, for many centuries. In fact, a number of distinct phases mark French bread history, each quite complex once one digs into it. In future posts, I expect to look more closely at each, but for now here is a rough overview of these.



The Gauls and Gallo-Romans

The Gauls may hardly have eaten bread at all. They used grains, like emmer, millet and barley, which just don't rise very well. So they probably ate grains mainly as gruel and possibly flat bread, until the Greeks (it is believed) showed them how to make bread and then the Romans made bread wheat more widespread in Gaul. Some Gauls, famously, worked out that using the foam from the top of (sort of) beer - which was essentially yeast - would make bread lighter. Pliny noted this, but then left it out of the leavening methods he listed for the Romans, whose main method was sourdough. And this seems to have been the main leavening method in France for over a millenium.

The Romans made a wide variety of breads, possibly as many as one sees today in a French bakery, and very likely these were made in major Gallo-Roman cities. Certainly, bakers' trades groups (collegia) are documented in some. At least one uniquely shaped Gallo-Roman loaf has been found in a tomb. 


Early medieval breads

How much such sophistication persisted under the Franks may never be known; probably the large cities, like Marseilles, which retained importance for centuries, still had urban bakers. But Gregory de Tours, for instance, only mentions bakers associated with households (a classic error cites Dagobert I as giving statutes to town bakers, but this is entirely undocumented). Bakers might have retained some sophistication, but lacking an organized system, this would have become rarer and and rarer. Two types of bread were likely to have been common: the round boule, made in ovens (simply because turning a ball of dough around in one's hands is the most natural gesture) and hearth bread, cooked under the (charcoal) coals and so very likely flat. The Romans also used a kind of bell, essentially an inverted portable oven, and that bread - also flat - may still have been made in some places.

There are no specific mentions of town bakers until sometime in the ninth century, even though Charlemagne regulated the price of grains and bread (but spoke only of people who sold bread, not bakers specifically) and one of his heirs issued an edict regulating weights and measures which directly referenced short weight in bread. It appears there was some variation in bread shapes at this point; some capital letters in manuscripts (a rare source of imagery) show breads that look somewhat like half-baguettes (though these might simply have been flat breads, viewed from the side). There are also references in Alsatian records, now or soon after, to loaves 'large enough to reach a man's knees when placed on his feet'; these were likely to have been rectangular as well (though conceivably they could have been very large round breads).

In statutes for St. Riquier, Heric cites rents due from the Bakers' Street or Neighborhood (vicus); this is the first documented medieval case of bakers acting as a group (as they would have to have to prepare the rent breads collectively). But no specific reference to a trades' group appears until Boileau's famous thirteenth century statutes for tradespeople.


Later medieval breads: variety appears

By then, a variety of breads were mentioned in various charters, etc: morning bread, varlets' bread, "ironed" bread, etc. Le Grand d'Aussy cites this as proof that French had already become varied at that point. But these were local references, some even confined to specific estates, and some may have referred to the same thing under different names. In general, the main distinction found at all is in the grains used to make a bread, or its quality; shape is never mentioned.

In the fourteenth century, a number of town statutes begin to appear which, under different names, define three kinds of bread: white bread (or another finest bread), bread of middling quality (less white) and dark or poor bread. These would remain the main varieties for centuries, at least in trade. Paris was one of several cities where a neighboring town - in Paris' case, Chailly and later Gonesse - was known for its finer bread and that bread too was regulated within the city. Rich households used "mouth bread" (pain de la bouche), essentially the finest table bread, as well as trenchers, hard-baked bread used for slicing and holding food. In some cases, differences in grains are specified as well (rye or barley bread was often made for servants).

This is also when images become far more common and almost uniformly show "balls" of bread. A variant on this was the tourte or tourtel, a raised disk which probably developed naturally from making balls of bread with a wider footprint. This kind of bread appears on some bakers' arms. (It would later give its name to a kind of tart as well.)

Over the fifteenth and sixteenth century, some variations can be found, but most evidence points to balls of bread, made more or less well and from different grains, being by far the most common. A fourteenth century street was called Jean Pain-Mollet, showing that the latter term already existed, but it was only in later centuries that pain mollet began to displace pain de la bouche as shorthand for the finest sort of white bread. Even this was made with sourdough. Pastrymakers used yeast, supposedly to avoid the sour taste of sourdough (curiously, since the beer-skimmed yeast of the time added its own aftertaste), but bakers did not (even though it was known that the Flemish produced a lighter, finer bread doing so).


Early modern breads: pain mollet and flutes

Long breads are fitfully mentioned at the start of the seventeenth century. French - or at least Parisian - bread changed radically in this century when Marie de Medici was said to favor a bread made with milk, eggs and yeast. Similar breads were soon made, first as "the Queen's bread", and then under a variety of names. The term "pain mollet" began to refer to these collectively. The use of yeast was challenged by doctors and some bakers, leading to a famous (and somewhat comic) quarrel called "The battle of Pain Mollet". The outcome was basically that Parisian bakers were allowed to use yeast in their bread. Despite some later claims, many did, though primarily for better breads intended for wealthier customers. It was used both  on its own and with sourdough.

At this point, many breads become longer. Le Grand d'Aussy claims that this was partially because of the use of yeast and partially because the French had begun (as they always have since) to appreciate the crust (which formerly had been grated off in many cases). It was now too that pains de fantaisie - fancy breads, or, literally, fantasy breads - became more common, made in various shapes and often to suit the client's taste. This was a time of fashion in France and bread-baking was as influenced by it as everything else. Breads would become popular, then disappear. Among the shapes were four-cornered ("horned") breads, artichoke-shaped breads, etc. But long and round remained the most common forms.

Several of these breads continued into the eighteenth century. This was marked by two major developments - interest in documenting trades in detail and famines. Both had a strong influence on bread-baking. In 1709, a famine led to only two types of bread being allowed. Meanwhile Malouin and Parmentier published works which examined bread-baking in a methodical way (and not incidentally documented the methods of the time). A School of Bread-Baking was established to encourage the trade. Both these writers discuss the use of yeast and also of salt, though Le Grand d'Aussy states that this was used much less in bread because of the salt tax, leading foreigners to find French bread "insipid" (he still insists that French bread was the best). Parmentier grumbles about the ball shape being abandoned and breads becoming long "like flutes". The term "flute" became a catch-all for long breads, though often of uncertain meaning.

Though eighteenth century bread was still a long way from today's, the shelves of French bakeries began to resemble those of today in their variety and even many of the breads might still look familiar. In other words, a change that had been fluid in the seventeenth century was now firmly established.

Many people still had no bread at all at times, which was one cause of the Revolution (an event which utterly failed to solve this problem). A surprising variety of breads - given that these were mainly for people of means - persisted through the Revolution, except for one ill-fated experiment in imposing "equality bread" (pain d'égalité)  on everyone. The latter was hated by the poor as much as the rich. Le Grand d'Aussy may have been over-optimistic in writing that in Paris even the poor ate white bread, but it was true that increasingly they expected it and rejected attempts to provide dark bread at far lower cost.


Nineteenth century breads: Zang, the croissant and monster loaves

Parisian bread (which was never quite the same as in the more conservative provinces) predictably began in the nineteenth century much as it had been at the end of the eighteenth. Some specialty breads endured, others fell away. "Flutes" - probably short stick-like breads at this point - were prized as luxuries. There is some question as to whether salt was still rare in Parisian bread. The salt tax was gone, but salt remained expensive. 

By 1839, Parisian bread was less like what it had been, but still very different from what it would be. French bakeries, rustic affairs with wooden shelves and often (because of rioting) bars on the windows, remained essentially unchanged. All this changed at the end of that year when August Zang, an Austrian artillery officer (one of those, apparently, who found Parisian bread 'insipid'), opened the first Viennese bakery in Paris. The influence of this one establishment was dramatic. The Austrian kipfel, an old favorite in Vienna, was quickly copied by French bakers, who named it for its crescent shape: croissant. But the most popular of Zang's products was simply the Vienna roll (pain viennois), based on the classic kaiser semmel (Kaiser roll), but made in various more familiar shapes. This was, for a long time, emblematic of luxurious living. Zang used the Austrian methods of including milk in his dough and using yeast. (Some have claimed since that he introduced the use of the latter in French bread, but that was already done in the seventeenth century.) In fact, his bread was largely like the pain mollet of the last century; now the term for luxurious breads became "Viennese breads", even when (like the brioche) the product was French. Even the croissant, originally, was made with the milk-based dough which typified these. 

The one big innovation in these luxury breads, then, was not the use of milk or yeast, but a distinctive glaze. French bakers had produced this with an egg or milk wash for certain breads, but the Viennese had discovered that letting steam fall on the bread as it baked created the same effect. Soon, and ever since, so-called "Viennese ovens", designed to inject or retain steam, were standard in French bakeries.

Zang's bakery also reflected the elegance of the Austro-Hungarian empire: marble counters, brass fittings, enameled imagery. French bakeries began to follow suit, resulting in the lovely nineteenth century bakeries which can still be found in parts of Paris today.

Note that Zang did NOT (as has been claimed) introduce the baguette. The French of course already had their own long breads and now these became even longer, probably because French regulations excused breads outside certain parameters from price regulation. While in some cases this resulted in smaller breads, it also led to several types of extra-long breads, loaves an American tourist described as being like crow bars. These now-forgotten breads were standard in Paris for about a century.

Along with these long loaves (some of which also came in shorter sizes) the "split" (fendu) bread largely played the role that would later be that of baguette. It was the bread picked up on the way home - when, that is, a female bread porter (porteuse de pain) did not deliver the household bread.

At this point, Parisian bread-baking had become so complex that it can only be touched on here.



The twentieth century: begin the baguette

As the twentieth century arrived, very long breads were standard, but so were the fendu and a shorter form of the (often long) jocko which looked very much like a baguette. This is probably the same bread that was sometimes referred to generically as a pain de fantaisie (that is, the same name as the entire "fancy breads" category). Somewhere at the start of this century, too, some unknown person had the idea of making the croissant out of puff pastry, a French method which dated back to the Middle Ages, but had rarely been used for a separate breadstuff before. About the same time too the word viennoiserie (originally used for things like Strauss waltzes) was attached to Viennese-style products. Over time, the association of puff pastry with viennoiserie became so close that few remembered either that the original Viennese breads had been made with milk-based dough or that puff pastry was a French method.

World War I brought shortages and limitations on making finer breads. When white breads were again authorized, coincidentally, a new word began to appear in French bread regulations: baguette. To be so casually used, it must have already been in usage, but no sign of that has yet appeared in written records. The baguette as originally defined was more like today's ficelle, a thin "wand" of bread; but regulations at the start of the twenties quickly show it becoming a longer bread.

And so the twentieth century began with the re-design of the croissant and the official appearance of the baguette. The "monster" breads of the nineteenth century would last until about the Thirties before fading away. Many other changes would occur, and French bread at the start of the twenty-first century is already significantly different from that at the start of the twentieth. But numerous other sources now document those changes. The point of this brief overview has been to show the broad changes in French bread history - changes I will examine in more detail going forward.




FOR FURTHER READING:

Interested in French bread history? Le Grand d'Aussy's classic chapters on bread, as well as those on pastry and sweets, are now available in English: