Medieval Cheesecake – Saffron Cheesecake


There are many recipes of savory or sweet pies in the medieval Italian manuscripts, prepared with meat, seafood, vegetables, cheese, and other ingredients. We find two kinds of pies, torta and pastello, whose main difference is the type of crust, described extensively in the Renaissance sources, whereas in the medieval cookbooks there are no directions about how to make them. Cheesecake is an ancient preparation. We find it in Greek and Roman sources, in particular in Cato and Athenaeus’ books, and in the past months we prepared few recipes from De Agri Cultura: savillum, libum, and placenta. There is an important difference between the ancient recipes and this one, written in the 15th century: the presence of sugar instead of honey. Sugar is a fundamental ingredient in the Middle Ages, used for any kind of preparation, not necessarily sweet. It was known in the Antiquity, as reported by Pliny, Dioscorides, and other authors, but its use became fundamental in the medieval cuisine. Another important ingredient is saffron, cultivated in the Mediterranean countries, included Sicily, but rarely used in ancient cuisine. Sugar and saffron make this cheesecake quite different from the ones described by Roman and Greek authors, giving the pie a delicious aromatic complexity. This recipe is part of a Latin cookbook titled Registrum Coquine, and it is oddly recommended by the author to pimps and prostitutes. Below, you will find the original text with our translation and the video of the recipe, with captions in English and Italian. Enjoy!

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Ingredients 300 gr white wheat flour 400 gr firm cheese 3 eggs white cane sugar saffron

Method Grind the saffron in the mortar and steep it in warm water. To prepare the filling, cut the cheese and mix it with three egg whites, sugar, and saffron. Knead well the flour with two pinches of salt adding water a little at a time. Once you have reached a soft and smooth consistency, divide the dough into two parts, one bigger and one smaller. Roll the bigger part in a circular shape. Grease the pie pan with lard or butter. Lay the bottom crust carefully in your pie pan and fill it with the cheese mixture, cutting the excess part. Roll the upper crust the same size as the pie pan and seal the pie. Brush the pie with egg wash, then bake it in the oven for about 20 minutes. As soon as the crusts are cooked through, the pie is done. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Medieval Cheesecake - Preview

Note about the method and ingredients The author does not specify how to prepare the crust of the pie, as common in the medieval Italian cookbooks. Luckily, torta continued to be a popular dish in the following centuries, so we find information in Renaissance sources, in particular Messisbugo and Bartolomeo Scappi, in which the crust of the torta is described as similar to lasagna: a thin sheet of pasta prepared with water and flour, in a few recipes, with the addition of eggs, rose water, and saffron. The upper crust is sometimes brushed with saffron or wash egg, as we did in our method. The author writes nothing about which kind of cheese to use. We suggest a firm cow or goat cheese, not excessively salty and with a good amount of moisture. Cane sugar was very common in medieval cuisine and it was available both white and brown, shaped in various ways. White sugar, without impurities, was considered the best. In this case, it is better to use white than brown sugar to obtain the beautiful yellow color given by saffron, another popular ingredient in the Middle Ages and beyond. It was cultivated in Italy and imported from Eastern countries to meet the high demand.

Medieval Cheesecake - Thumbnail

Original text Ad faciendum tortam pro rusticis lenonibus et eorum meretricibus. Recipe caseum frustrum unum, cum albumine ovorum, zucharo, et croco, et pone illa in pastam subtilem, et fac paulatim coquere donec indurescat. Et hoc valde lente. Et erit bonum pro rusticis lenonibus et mulieribus eorum.

Translation To prepare a pie for peasants, pimps, and their prostitutes. Take one piece of cheese, egg whites, sugar, and saffron. Place it in a thin crust and make it cook a little until it hardens. And this at low heat. And it will be good for peasants, pimps, and their women.

Patreon Medieval Recipes Playlist YouTube Channel Books Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Recipes, Sources Translations of Historical Sources Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century) Registrum Coquine (first part) by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century) Appendicula de Condituris Varis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century) Recipes Drunken Pork – Early Medieval Pork Stew VIDEO Medieval Monk’s Stuffed-Egg Soup VIDEO Medieval Apple Pie VIDEO Medieval Onion Soup VIDEO Medieval Gnocchi VIDEO Medieval Lentils and Mustard Greens VIDEO Medieval Chicken Soup – Brodo Granato VIDEO Medieval Turnip Soup VIDEO Medieval Beans and Bacon VIDEO Medieval Prawn Pie VIDEO Medieval Foxtail Millet Polenta and Spit-Roasted Goose VIDEO Medieval Blancmange VIDEO Medieval Peasant’s Beef Stew VIDEO Medieval Peasant’s Leek Soup VIDEO Medieval Quail Stew with Coconut VIDEO Medieval Chicken Pie VIDEO Medieval Green Ravioli VIDEO Medieval Walnut Bread VIDEO Medieval Lasagna VIDEO Medieval Lamb Stew VIDEO Medieval Quails with Sumac VIDEO Medieval Sweet and Sour Sardines VIDEO Medieval Trouts with Green Sauce VIDEO Medieval Clams VIDEO Medieval Sea Bream VIDEO Medieval Roast Lamb with Green Sauce VIDEO Medieval Chicken with Fennel Flowers VIDEO Medieval Fried Fish VIDEO Medieval Tripe VIDEO Medieval Red Mullet Soup VIDEO Medieval Roast Beef with Arugula Seed Sauce VIDEO