Medieval Crispellae – Pancakes with Saffron and Honey


In the Liber de Coquina and its translation into Tuscan vernacular, called Anonimo Toscano (which presents many recipes from the Latin manuscript with variants and additions), there are several recipes for pancakes, called in many ways: crispae, crispellae, and fristellae in the Liber de Coquina; crispelli and frittelle ubaldine in Anonimo Toscano. We prepared in the past a recipe from Anonimo Toscano with flowers and herbs.
This week, we chose a different recipe, prepared following similar principles. It appears in both the manuscripts and is quite simple, requiring just a few ingredients: white wheat flour, eggs, yeast, and honey or sugar.
There are two variants in the Liber de Coquina: in the first, the flour is mixed with just water and yeast, then the leavened batter is fried in a pan with oil. The fritters, then, are served with honey. The version by Anonimo Toscano is, again, a lean version, but with the addition of fish eggs and saffron. The author, in this case, does not mention honey.
The second recipe, instead, is a fat version with eggs and pork fatback. It can be served with either sugar or honey. In this case, the author does not mention yeast, but the process is almost identical to the first one. In addition, the version by Anonimo Toscano is quite clear about this step, writing fermenta un poco (leaven it a little), whereas in the lean recipe, there is a translation quite literal of the Latin manuscript, piglia farina bianca con un poco di levame: distempera con acqua calda, e fa’ levare, cioè fermentare (take white flour with a bit of yeast, dilute with water and make it leaven, namely ferment).
We used lard to fry instead of lardum, which is pork fatback: in the Middle Ages, we find both cured and fresh pork fatback, and for this recipe probably the author meant the latter, unsalted. However, if you prefer, substitute it with olive oil. We added a bit of water, used to soak the saffron, to the eggs to prepare the batter.
As a leavener, you can use sourdough or, if you have it, a piece of leavened dough for bread according to the ancient tradition reported by Pliny. Below, you will find the original texts of both the lean and fat recipes that we read in the Liber de Coquina, with our translations.

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150 grams white wheat flour
2 eggs
100 ml water
honey or sugar

Steep the saffron in the water. Prepare a batter beating two eggs and adding the saffron, water, flour, a pinch of salt, and a spoonful of sourdough. Let it rest for a couple of hours.
Melt the lard in a pan and fry the pancakes one at a time. Plate and serve coated with honey or sugar.

Original texts
De crispis: ad crispas, accipe farinam albam distemperatam cum aqua calida et fermenta eam cum fermento, ut crescat. Et decoque in sartagine cum oleo bullito. Et, addito melle, comede.
Crispellas sic fac: habeas farinam albam distemperatam cum ovis, addito safrano. Et pone ad coquendum in lardo tantum; et quando decocte fuerint, pone desuper zucaram vel mel. Et comede.

Crispae: to make crispae, take white flour mixed with hot water and leaven it with yeast in such a way that it grows. Cook in a pan with hot oil [literally, boiled oil in the meaning of boiling, frying]. Then add honey and eat.
Prepare in this way the crispellae: take white flour mixed with eggs and add saffron. Cook them in lardum. When they are cooked, coat with sugar or honey and eat.

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Registrum Coquine by Johannes Bockenheim. A medieval cookbook
Ancient Roman Cooking. Ingredients, Sources, Recipes

Translations of Historical Sources
De Re Coquinaria by Apicius – books 1-2; book 3
Appendicula de Condituris Variis by Johannes Damascenus (8-9th century)
De Flore Dietarum (11th century)
Opusculum de Saporibus by Mainus de Maineris (14th century)
Anonimo Veneziano – first part (14th century)
Registrum Coquine by Johannes von Bockenheim (15th century)

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