While discussing the food stuffs for Laurencia’s vigil table with Janos and Astridr, it was decided that the theme would be late period English garden. I’d been wanting to do a knot garden for some time and this was the perfect impetus to get me off my duff and creating!
Looking for period examples of garden layouts, I started with The Gardener’s Labyrinth by Thomas Hill and while it has many wonderful examples of garden layouts, my main inspiration came from the restored Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle in Warwickshire, England. Fun plantings, a fountain and obelisks!
Kenilworth Castle Garden
And while It is slightly past our period, I was also enamored with the knot garden at Moseley Old Hall and patterned some of my tarts on it.
Moseley Old Hall Garden
The knot garden subtlety contained four elements: garden plantings, gravel pathways, sculptures and a border. The plantings were made of eight different jelly and custard filled tarts, the pathways of five types of comfits, the fountain and obelisk sculptures of sugar paste and the border of white gingerbread.
Card stock mock-up
Now that I had my concept, the first step was the sugar paste sculptures because of the long cure time. The fountain is loosely based on the fountain at Kenilworth Castle and is an eight sided basin with an Atlas like figure holding a disc containing the swallow from Laurencia’s personal heraldry, instead of a globe. I also created four obelisks to place along the main pathways, colored to tie in with the fountain. The recipe for the sugar paste can be found here: Kasteel Nijenrode in Sugar Paste For this part of the project, I carved three basswood molds. The first (a laurel wreath motif) for the fountain basin, the second for the obelisk peaks, and the third was of Laurencia’s swallow.
I printed nine laurel wreath plaques and set them aside to dry for several days. Eight for the basin and one for play testing. While they were curing, I free-form sculpted the Atlas figure and set him aside to dry along with his pedestal. I mixed a batch of sugar paste with ground cochineal and red sanders looking for a rich red. Instead it made a nice rose color, but not the red, red I was hoping for… and as it aged, it really darkened. (I suspect that my cochineal is getting old, because the comfits that I colored with it were purple, not red and aged to more of a grey.) I printed two of the birds from this and four more from white sugar paste. The laurel plaques were then held in the proper order with pieces of sugar paste “glued” together with a thinned down version of the sugar paste. Around this time I “glued” the figurine to the pedestal.
Once the basin walls had set up for several days, I rolled out a disk of paste and placed the ring of plaques, upside down on it and cut out the inside and outside of the paste to form the top of the basin. Then when this had set, I rolled out more paste, placed the ring right side up and cut out the bottom of the basin. The obelisks were formed of three pieces. I printed eight of the pointy bits and glued them back to back. When they were set I formed their bases out of the same colored batch of paste that the bird disk was printed from and attached the pointed parts. At this time I secured the figurine to the center of the fountain. When the red bird disks were dry, the bird was covered in edible silver leaf. I ground a small bunch of parsley with some egg white, then strained it. The ninth plaque was used to test this paint to make sure that it did not do anything crazy to the sugar paste. Once I was satisfied that it would work without issue, I painted the wreaths green with the parsley extract.
For the pathways, I decided to make “gravel” from five different types of comfit: orange (anise seed, red sandalwood), yellow (coriander seed, saffron), green (caraway seed, beet greens extract), purple (fennel seed, cochineal), white (grains of paradise.) Comfits or medieval nerds as a friend called them, are not hard to make, but they are very, very time-consuming. 
I placed a large stainless steel wok on the smallest burner of my electric stove top set to the lowest heat. I kept the temperature on the bottom of the wok at the point where I could keep my fingers on it for a few seconds before having to remove them, by periodically sliding the wok onto and off of the burner area. One ounce of spice was placed in the bottom of the wok and allowed to warm up. Twelve ounces of sugar was dissolved in 1/2 cup of water and brought to 200 F in a small pot. This was briefly dipped in a bowl of cold water to halt the heating process. A teaspoonful of the syrup was poured onto the seeds and the seeds were then worked by hand until all had been wetted. The seeds were then slowly swirled around the wok with the back of my fingers until they dried out. They were gathered into a pile and another teaspoonful was applied in the same manner. This process was repeated ad nauseam until all of the syrup was consumed. More syrup was prepared and the process continued until I had used about 1.5 lbs of sugar. As the comfits grew larger, I could add about a tablespoonful of the syrup at a time, especially with the grains of paradise & coriander without causing issues. An issue would be a large blob of sugar glued to the bottom of the wok with 1/2 of your work embedded in it. Yeah, fun…learned this the hard way. A final batch of syrup was made, but colorings were added this time. For the yellow, a Pinch of saffron was ground with a pinch of sugar and mixed in to the syrup before boiling. For the orange (red sandalwood) and purple (cochineal) the powdered colorant was mixed with hot water then stained through a chinois, before adding it to the syrup before boiling. The green was made by grinding a small bunch of beet greens with a little water, then straining and adding more water to the quantity desired. If the temperature of the syrup rises about 220 f and/or the bottom of the wok is allowed to get too hot, the comfits will have a rough, bumpy appearance instead of a nice smooth shell of sugar. That and it will get rather painful to work with the product. This too I learned the hard way. It should also be noted that if you are making comfits at say 1:00 am and are rather sleep deprived and invert the sugar to water ratio in the syrup, one gets to watch several hours of work dissolve before their very eyes. Yeah…hard way…
First coat, fifth coat, many coats (in truth, I lost count…)
I had considered making a sugar paste fence for the border, but thought that it would be problematic when it came to actually getting at the tarts to eat them, so I went low profile with white ginger bread rounds. I had Aethelmearc escarbuncle and Woodland Watch tree molds from a previous adventure.
8 oz almonds
4 oz sugar, ground fine
1 T rosewater
1 T ginger, ground
1 t cinnamon
Grind the almonds and sugar together until fine, but stop before the almonds form into butter and release their oil. Blend in the spices and rosewater.
1/2 tsp gum tragacanth
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp orange blossom water
1 T egg white
12 – 16 oz sugar, ground fine
Wet the gum with the lemon juice then add the orange blossom water and egg white.
Rest for several minutes and slowly incorporate the sugar until the desired consistency is reached.
Printing of the gingerbread:
Roll marchpane to 1/8 in thickness & cut rounds
Roll sugar paste to 1/8 in thickness &cut into rounds
Press into mold brushed with almond oil
Cut into rounds to remove excess.
Work quickly or the sugar paste will dry out and crack.
The escarbuncles were printed first and the trimmings were mixed together then printed in the tree molds.
The original intent was for four custard filled tarts and four jelly filled, but a shopping error on my part resulted in 5 jelly filled and 3 custard filled. The jellies were apricot, red currant, fig, red raspberry and elderberry. The custards were strawberry, spinach and white custard. I tried both hot water and cold water crusts. I think that I will use cold water in the future because the hot water crust was rather elastic and tended to shrink up while trying to manipulate it into the various shapes.
Hot water crust:
2 C flour
pinch of saffron
1 C water
1/2 C butter
2 egg whites
Mix the butter, the saffron and the water together and simmer over a low heat.
Arrange the flour in a bowl so there is a well.
Pour the butter mixture into the well and begin working the dough.
Add two egg whites to the dough.
Knead in a little extra flour if needed but do not over-knead.
I found that I needed about 1 more cup of flour to get a workable consistency and then only after I allowed it to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Cold-butter crust for tarts, pies and other things
450 g flour
150 g butter
1 egg, beaten
6 T cold water
Rub the butter into the flour, then work in the egg and water to form a stiff paste, then knead lightly.
The dough was rolled out and the tart bases were cut out using cardboard templates. Next 1/2 inch wide strips of dough were cut and attached to the base with an egg wash. I used lentils as pie weights and baked them at 375 F until lightly golden.
Do to time constraints, I used prepared jellies, except the elderberry (homemade.) Each jelly was piped into the prepared shells and baked for 5 minutes or so, until the jelly softened enough to form a smooth surface.
The custards were as follows:
1/4 lb strawberries
1 egg yolk
1/2 oz breadcrumb
1 T sugar
1/4 oz butter
Grind all together and pipe into tart shells.
Bake for 5 minutes or until set.
33 g baby spinach
100 ml cream
1 t sherry
1 egg yolk
1 t rosewater
17 g sugar.
Boil the spinach in water for 4 minutes, drain.
Process with sherry and rosewater until finely chopped.
Add to pot with cream, egg and sugar.
Stir over low heat until thickened.
Pipe into shells and bake for 5 minutes.
This was rather tasty and I wish that I had made more!
100 ml cream
1 egg white, beaten
1 T rosewater
pinch of ginger, mace, nutmeg
Stir the cream, egg, rosewater and spices over a low heat until thickened.
I allowed it to cool & piped it into the tart shell, but it could have been added warm and baked for a few minutes.
12 strawberry custard
9 apricot jelly
5 red currant jelly
8 elderberry jelly
5 spinach custard
8 fig jam
12 white custard
9 red raspberry
Final plating was preformed on a white tablecloth with the fountain placed in the middle of the provided space. Next the tarts were arranged and the comfits were poured in the pathways. The obelisks and borders went down last with the four sugar paste bird rounds at the corners. Continue reading