When perusing medieval cookery books it is not uncommon to run into a recipe for custard pie. Custards were such popular desserts during the Middle Ages that recipes can be found in a wide range of collections spanning many countries and time periods.
A custard is typically defined as a cooked mixture of milk, egg and cream. It can be made into a pastry cream or pudding (when combined with gelatin or thickened with starch), and adding butter might result in a mousse or a buttercream filling. Savory medieval crustardes (a dish related to quiche) included meat or fish. Sweet custards were often used as tart fillings called “egg tarts.” An egg tart is simply a custard baked in an uncovered pastry shell.
One version of the egg tart was the Dariole, also known as Daryoles, Dariolles, Daryalys, and Diriola. Research suggests that these would have likely been small, 2 inch-deep tarts that were similar in shape to modern dariole moulds. There is significant variation when it comes to milk vs. cream and whole eggs vs. egg yolks, which noticeably affects the texture, richness and and the way the custard sets. Beyond that, all period dariole recipes I am aware of use the same general cooking method and core ingredients. Depending on the regional cuisine, some egg tarts add a wide variety of spices, fruits or other flavorings while others keep it simple with just sugar or honey. Cinnamon was the most common spice added to medieval custards.
For this project I focused on two distinct versions: a simple English egg-tart circa 1390 (Daryols), and a 15th century Italian Diriola. It took around 10 pies to perfect both of my redactions, giving me the opportunity to add minced fruits as was done in other period recipes, and to experiment with different custard-making methods. While authentic medieval daryols were likely quite small as mentioned previously, the Italian diriola is clearly a pie. For practical reasons I chose to use pre-made 9-inch pie shells for both versions. The recipes can certainly be adapted for the tart size of your choice. Below are the two redactions with specific instructions for each.
Before we get started I’d like to share an important note about making custard: It is very easy to ruin if you’re not careful. Custard pie filling can be thickened on the stovetop prior to adding to the shell (many modern recipes use this method), but be very cautious if you choose to do it this way. The milk and/or eggs curdle easily if the heat is too high or if it is cooked for too long. You definitely do not want curds in your pies! My preferred method is baking directly in the shell, not only for authenticity’s sake, but because in my experience it was consistently the most successful. Custard-making is a delicate process but do not be afraid to try again if your first attempt is a failure!
Daryols (c. 1390)
Daryols. XX. IX. III. Take Creme of Cowe mylke. other of Almandes. do therto ayren with sugur, safroun, and salt, medle it yfere. do it in a coffyn. of II. ynche depe. bake it wel and serue it forth. – Forme of Cury
Take creme of cow’s milk or of almonds. Do thereto eggs with sugar, saffron and salt, mix it together. Put it in a coffin (shell) of 2 inches deep. Bake it well and serve it forth.
- 300 ml heavy cream (or almond cream)
- 2 eggs
- ¼ c. sugar
- Pinch saffron (5-10 strands, crushed)
- Pinch salt (or up to 1/4 tsp)
- Pie crust or shortcrust pastry dough
Prepare (prick holes with a fork) and blind-bake pie shell at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. In order to prevent the shell from bubbling up fill it with pie weights or even beans over a layer of parchment paper. Let the shell cool before adding the filling.
Blend eggs and sugar together and mix well. Avoid over-mixing (do not beat to the point that it begins to foam). Slowly add cream and mix. Add saffron and salt. If you prefer the saffron’s color be distributed more evenly, let it steep in the cream prior to mixing with the eggs. Fill pie and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, or until the pie is set. It should jiggle a little in the center. Allow to cool completely and refrigerate before serving.
Tip: A delicious period variation worth trying is almond cream instead of dairy cream. You can make this however you want, but I just thickened/fattened almond milk with some half-and-half.
Diriola (15th century)
Conciarai la pasta in forma d’un pastello et impiela ben di farina che sia deritta cocendola in la padella tanto che sia un poco secca. Et facto questo cava for a la ditta farina et prendirai alcuni rosci d’ova, de lo lacte, del zuccaro, et de la cannella. Et facta di queste cose una compositione la mettirai in la dicta pasa facendola cocere al modo de una torata, movendola tutta volta et volgendola spesso col cocchiaro. Et como tu vidi che incomincia a pigliarsi sopragiogneli un poca d’acqua rosa, et volta bene collo cocchiaro. Et quando serà fornita di prendere, serà cotta. Et nota che non vole cocere troppo et vole tremare como una ionchata.
– From Libro de arte coquinaria by Maestro Martino de Como
Form the dough into the shape of a deep pie and fill it completely with flour so it will keep its shape; cook it in a pan until it is somewhat dry. And when this is done, remove the flour and take some egg yolks, milk, sugar, and cinnamon. When these things are made into a mixture, put it into the pastry, cooking it like a tart, moving it from time to time and stirring with a spoon. And when you can see it starting to set, pour on some rose water and stir well with a spoon. And when it has set completely it is cooked. Note that is should not cook too much, and that is should quiver like a junket.
– Translation from The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy.
- 300 ml heavy cream or full fat milk
- 2 eggs
- ¼ c. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. Rosewater
- Pie crust or shortcrust pastry dough
- Optional: Minced strawberries
I found a redaction of this recipe on Medieval Cuisine, which I had some trouble with. I initially tried following their recipe with egg yolks and milk and had a difficult time getting it to set properly. The addition of the rosewater mid-bake seemed to make the problem even worse. Since using whole eggs and a high-fat cream worked well with my other recipe, I made some minor adjustments to this one and had much better results.
Step ONE: The Crust
Start by preparing the pastry shell by pricking holes in it and baking at 350 for around 15 minutes. If you use a commercially-packaged pie shell just follow the instructions for pre-baking. Be sure to use weights to keep the shell from bubbling up! For fun I tried layering the bottom of the shell with minced/chopped strawberries as was done in other medieval custard recipes like this one for Dariolles. Not only do the strawberries serve as pie weights, but I really did like the added flavor.
Step TWO: The Filling
Beat eggs, cinnamon and sugar together but avoid over-mixing (do not beat to the point that it begins to foam). Slowly add cream and mix. Wait until the shell has cooled to room temperature before filling.
Step THREE: Baking
Fill the pie and bake at 350 for around 10 minutes, until it just begins to thicken. This is when you add the rosewater, which seems to have been a uniquely Italian addition. Give it a gentle stir and resume cooking for another 20-30 minutes. If you used strawberries be careful that your stirring doesn’t upset your fruit base. The pie should be set but not to the point that it is brown on the top. It should still “quiver like a junket.” If you’re curious, a junket is a pudding-like custard that is curdled with rennet. Allow to cool completely and refrigerate before serving.
Tip: If you have trouble with this step, particularly when adding the rosewater to a strawberry-filled crust, try thickening the custard on the stovetop and adding rosewater to it just before filling the pie shell. Doing it this way makes it less risky to increase the amount of rosewater you use (if you want to add more than the amount I suggested).
These custard tarts are DELICIOUS. They are very rich, but the texture and flavors are lovely. I don’t have an obvious favorite between the two, though the simple English Daryol was much easier to make for an amateur custard-maker like myself. The diriola strikes me as more of a “fancy” dessert and I really like the combined flavors of the rosewater and strawberries.
Give one of these recipes a try for your next holiday feast and let me know how it turns out!
- Adamson, Melitta Weiss. Food in Medieval Times. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2004. Paperback.
- Daryoles (recipe). Cunnan. http://cunnan.sca.org.
- de Huguenin, Jehanne. “The Great Custard Tart Caper.” A&S Culinary Research Paper. 2004. Web page accessed November, 2017.
- Grigson, Sophie. “Don’t Be a Cowardly Custard.” The Independent Digital Archive, 1994. Accessed November, 2017.
- Henisch, Bridget Ann. Fast and Feast. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1976. Print.