as created for the approval of
Jehan du Lac
Baron of Carolingia
on the occasion of May Day
Mistress of the Laurel
I had wanted to make this subtlety for the Perigord event, but the best laid plans and all that... I am grateful that an opportunity arose for it. The idea started with a ducal dinner in An Tir written up in The Best of a Watched Pot (my copy now long lost) in which walnut shells were gilded, filled with candied violet petals, and served with silvered Jordan almonds. Further inspiration came from Mistress Joanna Dudley's subtlety where real grapes and marzipan grapes were served side by side
False walnut shells
The sugar plate walnuts are from a recipe reprinted in To the Queen's Taste
Sass doesn't give her source, but I believe it is A Closet for Ladies and Gentlewomen, 1611, based on a note in Peter Brears' article "Rare Conceites and Strange Delights: The Practical Aspects of Culinary Sculpture" in "Banquetting Stuffe". Brears also gives another walnut recipe from 1671.
There are many recipes for sugar plate. One the best known is from The Good Hus-wives Jewell
1 teaspoon gum tragacanth
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon rose water
1 tablespoon water (instead of egg white)
about 3/4 pound powdered sugar
a lot of ground cinnamon
Mix the tragacanth with the liquids until it's a runny paste. Keep adding sugar until it becomes an elastic dough. Periodically add some cinnamon to make it walnut shell colored.
Roll out the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. I was having problems rolling the dough out to a consistent thickness until Yevsha suggested a pasta maker. It works very well for producing ribbons of dough for this purpose. Keep extra dough tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
To keep the dough from sticking to the mold, dust the inside of the mold and the dough with cinnamon. Press the sheet of dough into the mold, cut away the excess with a sharp knife, and gently knock out of the mold. Set aside to dry.
If the nut meats had been ready I would have enclosed them in the shells while the shells were still pliable.
Real nut meats
Each pair of sugar plate shells is filled with a sugared walnut. I couldn't find a period recipe, so I just made a simple syrup with some cinnamon to keep the flavor theme with the shells.
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
1 teaspoon cinnamon.
2 cups lightly toasted walnuts
I brought the syrup to the soft ball stage and then added the nuts. I drained each nut from the syrup and let them dry on a rack. When the nuts were still a bit sticky, I strewed white sugar on them.
Real walnut shells were carefully opened and emptied and painted with gold gouache. The trick to cleanly opening walnut shells is to soak them in water overnight, then pry them open along the seam using a butter knife. It was Yevsha again to the rescue with this solution.
False nut meats
These shells were filled with a marzipan nutmeat. Again, there are many recipes for marzipan. I happen to like Casteau's.
1 lb. blanched slivered almonds
1/2 lb. granulated sugar
water (Yevsha doesn't like rose water and he's been so helpful on this project)
Grind granulated sugar in food processor until it is fine. Add almonds and grind to a powder. Gradually add water until it is a smooth, kneadable paste. I've never understood why Casteau heats the marzipan.
Take a lump of marzipan, dust it and the mold with powdered sugar. Press it into the mold and gently tap out. Place on cookie sheet covered in parchment paper.
Mix a little powdered sugar with water to make a thin glaze. Brush on marzipan nuts and bake in a very low oven until glaze is hardened.
The nut shells, real and fake, are glued back together again with marzipan paste tinted brown with malt coloring. Again, this was a suggestion from Yevsha.
Brears, Peter. "Rare Conceites and Strange Delights: The Practical Aspects of Culinary Sculpture" "Banquetting Stuffe": the fare and social background of the Tudor and Stuart banquet (Food and society 1). Wilson, C. Anne (ed.) . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1991, pages 68-75.
de Casteau, Lancelot. Ouverture de Cuisine, 1604. Translated by C. T. Iannuzzo.
Dudley, Joanna [Jo-Ann MacElhiney, pseud.] "A Prettie Conceit", Tournaments Illuminated 99, Summer 1991, p. 12.
Guild of the Black Kettle. The Best of A Watched Pot. Alfarhaugr Publishing Society, 1988.
Sass, Lorna J. To the Queen's Taste: Elizabethan feasts and recipes adapted for modern cooking. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.