Tomas de Courcy

A Baker's Peel Vert

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Sponge Cake

If you’ve read about the history of Sponge Cake I’m sure you’ve heard the story that the first English Sponge Cake recipe shows up in Gervase Markham’s 1615 book The English Housewife. But of course none of the websites that mention it give you the recipe, and I’ve seen a number say that it was probably less airy, or that it was flat like a cookie. Which got me wondering, what exactly was the recipe? Well, it’s cake time. For this I’ll be using the 1986 edition, edited by Michael R. Best, of Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife : Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman.

For reference our modern sponge cake is 1:1:1:1 flour, sugar, butter, eggs. Here’s Markham’s:

To make biscuit bread.

To make biscuit bread, take a pound of fine flour, and a pound of sugar finely beaten and searced, and mix them together; then take eight eggs and put four yolks and beat them very well together; then strew in your flour and sugar as you are beating of it, by a little at once; it will take very near an hour’s beating: then take half an ounce of aniseeds, coriander seeds, and let them be dried and rubbed very clean, and put them in; then rub your biscuit pans with cold sweet butter as thin as you can, and so put it in and bake it in an oven: but if you would have thin cakes, then take fruit dishes and rub them in like sort with butter, and so bake your cakes on them, and when they are almost baked, turn them and thrust them down close with your hand. Some to this biscuit bread will add a little cream, and it is not amiss, but excellent good also.

Markham 1986, p 112-113

So we’ve got a fairly self explanatory recipe here.

  • 1 lb fine flour
  • 1 lb sugar
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 oz aniseeds
  • 1/2 oz coriander seeds

For those wondering about the math for this, a standard large egg is 2 oz (and there’s some debate about whether or not the North American standard large or medium egg would have been closer to the 16th century egg, based on still life paintings I fall into the large egg camp, but there’s only a 1/4 oz difference), so eight eggs is 16 oz or one pound, while the four yolks is about 2.5-3 oz more.

So that’s a ratio of 1:1:1 +~1/5  flour, sugar, eggs.

It’s very close to the modern recipe for sponge cake, but there’s no butter, which normally adds the extra fat required. *BUT* there’s more than one way to make a sponge cake. The Italian style, Pan di Spagna, has only three ingredients. Flour, sugar, and eggs. And they also have more eggs than flour or sugar to make up for the fat from the butter. Generally it uses somewhere between a  2:2:3 flour, sugar, eggs ratio and a 2:2:5 ratio, with most I’ve seen hovering around a 1:1:2. That’s similar in concept, but even at the lowest amount of eggs (2:2:3) it still doesn’t quite match the 2:2:2.5, assuming really large egg yolks, from Markham, or more realistically 2:2:2.3. My guess is that it will be a bit denser than modern sponge cakes because of that. But we’ll see.

Interestingly Markham also lists instructions on how to make this if you don’t want it to rise so much, my guess is that this was a rather recent import from Italy and people weren’t quite sure why it was so much lighter than the biscuits they were used to.

To test this out I’m going to start by not using the aniseeds or coriander the first time, just to make sure I’ve got this right. I’ll add them in next time.

Biscuit Bread (Sponge Cake)

  • 1/2 lb fine white flour, sifted
  • 1/2 lb sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/2 tsp salt (optional)

  1. Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt
  2. beat eggs and yolks together till frothy, at least 30 minutes if not using a mixer
  3. slowly add in flour mixture 1 tbsp at a time as you continue beating
  4. continue beating for about another 20 minutes (1 hour total)
  5. if it’s too thick add a small amount of cream (optional)
  6. preheat oven to 350F
  7. pour mixture into greased cake pan
  8. bake for 30 min or till done, may be done slightly earlier or later, use toothpick to check
  9. turn off heat and open door for 10 min
  10. remove from oven and allow to cool

And there you have it. The end texture was perfect, just slightly denser than a pound cake, but with nearly the same flavour. So, basically everyone’s assumptions that it would be too dense were wrong, and as for the “cookie” idea, nope. You could probably compress it to make it cookie like, but really it is definitely a cake.


Heraldic Achievement

I’ve been messing around with a heraldic achievement in Adobe Illustrator for a while now, and I think I finally have something I like. It’s not amazing, but it’s functional.

I tried a number of different ways of putting my awards on there, I’m not sure I like this one, but it’s not terrible. I think having a compartment, and having them in the compartment, might work better. Anyway, here it is.

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Generic Meat Pie

I made this last weekend and it was a huge hit. Of course I forgot to take any photos of it… Woops.

So, based on my previous work with the minced meat pie I figured out that the general concept of a meat pie in 16th Century England followed a set process, similar to how the stews did:

  • Meat (beef, pork, mutton, chicken)
  • Fat (suet, butter, egg yolk, cheese, bacon)
  • Spices (cloves, mace, cinnamon, ginger, pepper, caraway, sugar)
  • Dried Fruit (raisins, prunes, currants, berries)

With that in mind, here’s today’s meat pie, designed for ease of making and cheapness of ingredients.

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Avacal Judging Forms

So, a bit over a year ago I started working with Mistress Inga, now my Laurel, on the Avacal Kingdom A&S Judging Forms. This consisted of a number of surveys of all of the Avacal artisans, and a more indepth one for the Laurels of Avacal. Based on those results we decided that a rubric would be the best way to go.

TL:DR scroll to the bottom for copies of the Avacal Judging Forms, the Judges & Entrants Handbook, and the Shire Judging Forms.

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Did People Think Tomatoes Were Poisonous?

Sometimes curiosity leads to rabbit holes.

I was curious about tomatoes, so I did a bit of research.  I came across “The History of the Use of the Tomato: An Annotated Bibliography” by George Allen McCue, Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden Vol. 39, No. 4 (Nov., 1952), pp. 289-348, as well as “The history of tomato: From domestication to biopharming” by VéroniqueBergougnoux, Biotechnology Advances Volume 32, Issue 1, January–February 2014, Pages 170-189. And they give some very interesting information and about what people thought of tomatoes in the 16th and 17th centuries.

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How to Eat in the 16th Century

Meals change over time. What we eat, and how much we eat changes. In the 16th century we see the transition from the medieval context of two main meals a day, with the first one happening sometime after 10 am, to a more modern concept of three meals a day. However, even still, they were not the same style of meals we’re used to.

How to put together a basic set of food for a day, not a feasting day, but a standard day. For some of this I’ll be using previous work I’ve done, the OED, and I double checked a few various texts. Think of this one not so much of an article as a set of guidelines for making things more period for those of us who are 16th century.

In Tudor England the three meals of the day were called Breakfast (brekfast, brekefast, breckfast), though this was not eaten by everyone, however it did gain in promenence through the 16th century; Dinner (diner, dyner, dinere, dener, dynnor, dennar) was the meal eaten around the middle of the day, from what I can tell it could be eaten as early as ten or as late as two, this also tended to be the larger meal of the day; Supper (soper, sopper, soupier, suppare, suppair, super) was the final meal of a day. There is the implication that this meal was a lighter meal than dinner and probably generally consisted of either soup or pottage.

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Rules for Fencing

I’ve been fencing off and on (mostly off) for over fifteen years now. In that time the main teachers I had were Don Pierce O’Briain, Master Luther Magnus, and Fechtmeister Godfrey von Ravensburg. I was never an official student or cadet to any of them, and a few years ago moved away from Lionsdale. However, when I’m fencing here in Avacal I frequently get asked who taught me.

There was an ongoing joke about Rule One, and of course Rule Two. Well, I’ve now spent some time recently putting together twelve rules, most of which are taken directly from those three men, that I have for fencing. They’re not necessarily ones I can always follow, but I try.


  1. Cardio
  2. Double tap
  3. Don’t be a dick
  4. You hold your own honour
  5. When you look good, you feel good
  6. When you feel good, you fight good
  7. Know when they’re in range
  8. When they’re in range, you’re in range
  9. Parrying is good
  10. Not being there is better than parrying
  11. If you’re not having fun, why do it?
  12. If you’re having fun, express it


If you have any thoughts on “rules for fencing” I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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Kingdom Arts and Sciences 2018

Swearing in the competitors

This past weekend was Avacal’s Kingdom A&S Championship and The University of Avacal. It’s the first time the Championship has been done at its own event, and based on how many people I saw there, the event was a massive success. There were a ton of classes in 12 tracks, an A&S display area, and of course the Kingdom Arts & Sciences Championship.

Champion of Arts and Sciences

There were two full entrants for the Championship, Her Ladyship Niesa Abdelmessah, and myself. It’s a difficult and stressful competition, but at the end, I felt very accomplished just for getting through the creation, documentation, display, presentation, and questioning. HL Niessa had an amazing display, and entered bone carving and hide tanning and I am in awe of her skills in that area. I entered a research paper on the history of bacon, and a beef stew that could have been prepared on board a Tudor naval ship. At court that evening it was announced that I had won both the highest single entry and the championship, and I swore fealty to Their Royal Majesties Kvigr Ivarsson and Svava Suanhuita.


I never have a problem getting rid of the leftovers

Here are links to my documentation:

Pre 17th Century Bacon PDF: Pre-17c Bacon

Stew On Board Ship PDF: Stew on Ship

The rest of the post is fairly photo heavy.