In our final post in this Historical Cooking series, Ines tries Almond Porridge.
After being lured by my colleagues and my curiosity into the Renaissance Cooking manuscript, my attention was caught by the recipe for Mandel brey (Almond porridge). The complete manuscript is available through the Digital Collections Portal.
I am an undeniable enthusiast for porridge… it’s simple, warming and nourishing. It is also extremely versatile: grains can be easily swapped; fruit and/or spices added; and it can be made with plain water, a range of “milks”, cream, or any combination of these ingredients.
The recipe presented me with a short, yet uncommon combination of ingredients: breadcrumbs, almonds, cream and sugar. I could see the last three working well together, but I had never seen breadcrumbs added to a porridge recipe.
The recipe as written in the manuscript
Take toasted breadcrumbs and ground [?] almonds, take good cream, and allow all this to cook to a porridge, when it is cooked add ground [?] sugar [to make it] as sweet as you wish, when you start to put the sugar in it will split; you can also make an almond porridge without the toasted breadcrumbs.
The recipe itself seemed very simple, so I started by collecting the ingredients (I have allowed myself to use modern techniques at this step). The first ingredient mentioned is toasted breadcrumbs, an absent element in my cupboard. I made the breadcrumbs from scratch using four slices of white bread and following the instructions from Serious Eats.
Bread and resulting breadcrumbs
The next ingredient is ground almonds. After checking Harold’s McGhee’s Keys to Good Cooking (2010) I decided to use whole almonds, roasted in the oven at 175°C for 15 min. Once they were roasted I took a shortcut by grinding them in the food processor.
Almonds and ground almonds
Now that I had the breadcrumbs and the ground almonds, it was time to decide on how to replace the cream to make a vegan version. The original recipe mentions “good cream” but knowing that almonds can be quite oily I decided to use oat milk in order to obtain a lighter version. Finally, I used light brown sugar.
Having all the ingredients in place I proceeded to making the recipe. I drew upon my own experience with porridge to establish ratios for the ingredients: one cup of grains for two cups of liquid, serving two people. In this case I used half a cup of breadcrumbs, half a cup of ground almonds and two cups of oat milk.
The assembled ingredients, and the initial mixture on the pan
Even after a while in the pan, the mixture of breadcrumbs, almonds and milk still looked quite watery, and not as creamy as a regular porridge. I left it simmering until it became creamy, and then added two table spoons of sugar. The recipe took longer than a regular porridge but the end result was hearty and fragrant.
Mandel brey or almond porridge, ready to serve
As we tasted the almond porridge a lot of things came into our minds. Once it cooled down it acquired a pudding-like consistency with an interesting texture: the breadcrumbs became softer but you could still notice the larger ones, and the almonds kept their coarse texture. The flavour was very nutty and rich, having been described as “elusive” by one of the tasters. It was reminiscent of Portuguese conventual sweets, where the use of almonds is very common.
Despite the apparent simplicity of the recipe I was left with a sense that it required further adjustments. Using the same ratios of a regular porridge was a good place to start but after a few spoons I realised these quantities would probably serve six as a dessert.
The use of the breadcrumbs seemed to make the dish creamier and to soften the flavour of the almonds in a very nice way. Perhaps slightly increasing their quantity would have made it more porridge-like. I also wonder if using ground blanched almonds would result in a different flavour and texture. Finally, I think the liquid could be cut to one and a half cups, although it seems to me that using dairy cream may result in a thicker porridge.
The recipe also suggests omitting the breadcrumbs, which I think may result in a denser almond dessert.
As I finish this post I feel that I could spend a few more hours playing with ingredients and fine-tuning quantities. It is always challenging to work with historical recipes, as the measures for ingredients are often absent or unreliable. I found myself formulating hypotheses on how to improve my own result and I might try to repeat it with some variants.
Ines Fonseca Ricardo
Reprographic Technician and Photographic Cataloguer
McGhee, H. (2010), Keys to Good Cooking. London: Hodder & Stoughton.
Thanks to everyone who has taken part in this series – we hope you enjoyed it, and thank you for all of the kind comments. And for ‘Foodies’, continue to watch this space where may be some more seasonal food to follow…