Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Poor Attempt at Rout Cakes: Challenge #1 for the Historical Food Fortnightly

I've been quiet lately on the foodie front. I've been saved a world of torment by a wonderful local business, Zest Bakery in San Carlos, which turns out gluten-free / dairy-free goodies every day of the week. Their whole grain bread, pastries, and squash ravioli are as good as any restaurant. So we've been heading to Zest every weekend, and skipping the roller-coaster of adapting recipes to fit my husband's multiple food allergies: cow dairy, citrus fruit, chocolate, mint, tomato, pineapple, and wheat-like substances.

Until last month, when The Historical Food Fortnightly started up. Yes! Historical costumers, like me, who often cook for events or for pleasure, and have the nerve to blog about it. Every two weeks bring a new challenge, and these talented people are rising to the occasion in wonderful ways.

I'm late to the party: today is the last day of the first week's challenge. I decided to try, just for the heck of it, to meet the challenge of the week, while adhering to my own personal challenge of making  food that is appropriate to bring to historic themed events, and can still be consumed by my husband.
(I am not merely lazy; I have been down with what turned out to be pneumonia, but tonight I felt up to facing the kitchen again, so here goes.)

The Challenge: Literary Foods  June 1 - June 14
Food is described in great detail in much of the literature of the past. Make a dish that has been mentioned in a work of literature, based on historical documentation about that food item. 

Since we do a lot of English Regency era dancing -- my husband leads the band that plays for our SF Bay Area  balls -- I am always looking for historic foods he can have, that will be happily consumed by normals. 

The Recipe: I found two winners in the back of The Jane Austen Cookbook, by Maggie Black and Dierdre Le Faye. The Ratafia Cakes are a gem: perfectly suited for James with no adaptation whatsoever. But alas, I found no literary citation for them in any books I could reach. These little almond based cakes would have probably been consumed by Jane Austen, since the book is based on the recipes from her friend and housemate, Martha Lloyd. 

I did find a citation for the Rout-Cakes in Jane Austen's Emma, where the snobbish Mrs. Elton looks down her nose at Highbury's "poor attempt at rout-cakes." Mine certainly would fit into that tradition!

The Date/Year and Region: England of the early 1800s. A similar recipe appears in Maria Raffald's 1806 book. The Jane Austen Centre has a nice page on it here. (It's pretty much Martha Lloyd's recipe that I adapted.

How Did You Make It: To accomodate James' allergies, I substituted the Trader Joe Gluten-free flour mix for the flour, goat butter for the cow butter, and apple juice for the orange juice. Liquor, no problem. 

Time to Complete: I spent more time finding ingredients and bowls and mixers than I did assembling the ingredients. Actual prep time about 20 minutes, plus 15 to bake.

Total Cost: These were all larder ingredients. It will be much pricier if you have to buy the brandy, sherry, and rose water. 

How Successful Was It?: The Rout-Cakes were edible, but not up to my usual party donations. I was not sure how much the goat butter would break down in the cooking, so I left the dough in little mounds. I should have added more liquid -- perhaps the gluten-free flour mix absorbs more than the regular flour. 

How Accurate Is It?: I'm not that happy with the current version. I'm going to try again, and be sure the "drop" part happens. The overall taste is bland and somewhat muddled. The flavorings are so subtle that the butter comes through as too aggressively "goaty." And it might be that my taste buds are addled by the antibiotics. We shall try this again.