As part of my series of Christmas-themed medieval recipes I thought I’d share this one from Curye on Inglysh, a collection of 14th and 15th century English cookery manuscripts. Curye on Inglysch contains recipes from a few different original sources, including those from Forme of Cury which was compiled by Samuel Pegge in 1780.
While this recipe was not written specifically for Christmas, I feel like these tarts would have been a solid addition to any medieval winter feast. Figs were a common food especially during fast days, so it makes sense that they would have been eaten during the long Advent season leading up to Christmas. Tourteletes en Fryture is nothing like Italian panforte (a Christmas treat that originated in the 13th century), but the filling contains the same set of strong spices, figs and honey.
To read more about Christmas in the Middle Ages, click here.
Due to the many demands on my time this month I sadly do not have any photos of the finished tarts! I’m posting the recipe anyway so you will have the opportunity to make these before Christmas is over. Check back later for photos or better yet, take some of your own and send them to me!
Tourteletes en Fryture (c. 1390) Fig tarts
Take figus & grynde hem smal; do þerin saffron & powdur fort. Close hem in foyles of dowe, & frye hem in oyle. Claryfye hony & flamme hem þerwyt; ete hem hote or colde – The Forme of Curye
Take figs and grind them small; add saffron and powder fort. Close them in foils of dough, and fry them in oil. Clarify honey and baste them; eat them hot or cold.
- 8 small dried figs or 10 ripe
- pinch saffron
- 1/4 tsp. cardamom
- 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
- 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp or less of ground cloves
- Pastry dough
- Honey for basting
- Oil for frying
Note: I recommend using one of the following basic pastry doughs for this recipe. I have found that commercial or shortcut doughs do not work very well.
Pastry Dough 1:
- 1 3/4 c. flour
- ½ c. butter
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp cold water
- Pinch of salt
Rub butter into flour until it is almost like soft bread crumbs. Add remaining ingredients and knead until it becomes a dough.
Pastry Dough 2:
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 3-4 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- pinch saffron
- 1-1/2 cup flour
Combine wet ingredients and slowly add flour. Knead until it becomes smooth and let it rest under a damp towel for 30 minutes before rolling it out.
Step ONE: The Filling
Mince and/or grind figs in a food processor. The goal is a paste, so add a little bit of water if the figs are too dry and crumbly. Add saffron and spices and blend well.
If you really want to be like a 14th century chef and extend the time it takes to make this filling, do this by hand in a mortar instead of using a food processor.
About Powder Fort
The recipe calls for “powder fort,” which is “strong powder.” Medieval recipes often call for one of two major spice blends: strong powder and sweet powder. Certain spices were usually present in these blends, but they would vary according to the taste of whomever was selling the blend at the market, or were personalized and made to taste at home. A typical strong powder usually contained pepper, cinnamon, and/or ginger with other spices but never contained sugar. My spice blend works really well with the figs, in my humble opinion, but you could add a little ginger too if you’d like to experiment.
Step TWO: Roll the Dough and Fill
Roll out pastry dough approximately the width of a dime and cut into circles. I like to use the rim of a mug. The process is very similar to that of Crispels.
Place filling in the center of the circle and, if desired, brush egg white around the perimeter. Place a second circle over the top and seal the edges together with a fork. I like going heavy on the filling because it’s delicious, but obviously not so much that the dough won’t seal properly.
Another option is to place filling on one side of a pastry circle and fold it in half like you would for Pasties, sealing the edges together.
Step THREE: Fry and Baste
Fry tarts in enough oil for them to float. Cook until both sides are golden and they should be cooked all the way through. Fry only one or two at a time for best results.
Baste with warmed honey and serve hot or cold.
I really like these fig tarts and they are a favorite amongst my family members who have tried them.
If you’ve never fried dough like this, practice with a couple tarts and you’ll soon get the hang of it. You’ll be a hero at the holiday party.
Featured photo of fresh figs by Jules via Flickr.