British food has a bad reputation – an undeserved bad reputation of blah and boring. The passing of time only complicates matters. Historical English recipes are even less understood than modern day food. Go back as far as the Tudor period and it takes a museum to sort it all out.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts held a special event – a Third Thursday: Dinner Party to celebrate Elizabethan food traditions on Dec. 20. Since the British are big bakers, this meant pulling out all the stops to recreate authentic Tudor-style cakes and puddings.
Twin City Bakers Sharing Samples
The event looked like a who’s who of the Twin Cities bakery scene. Patisserie 46, People’s Organic Café, French Meadow, Cafe Latté and Rustica gave out samples of Shakespearean-inspired baked goods. Everything tasted great in a style worthy of a Shakespearean courtesan. Best of all, the dessert samples were free. A steady crowd enjoyed five expertly created traditional Tudor-style desserts, including:
- La tarte Shakespeare (gooseberry tart), buttery, rich hazelnut perfection sparkled with a citrusy fruit snap of real gooseberries. Patisserie 46 founder John Kraus said the tarte would be available in the bakery. – by Patisserie 46
- Quaking pudding, a molded mixture similar to crème caramel with nutmeg, ginger and lemon, all molded together in a delicately rigged form. The quaking name comes from the wobbly consistency of the unmolded pudding. – by French Meadow Bakery
- Queen’s flummery pudding, in a slight variation of the traditional British recipe, Applejack enlivened a rich custard of yogurt, whipped cream and sugar. Candied orange zest topped off the pudding with a pleasant zeal. – by Peoples Organic -Edina
- Shrewsbury cakes, dainty round short bread cookies with the aromatic floral flavor of rose water. Too good to eat just one! – by Cafe Latté
- Cherry frangipane, a smooth almond tart dotted with Kirsch-soaked dark cherries. Just the right amount of Kirsch and sugar to make the cherries chewy like caramelized candy but baked into a tart. – by Rustica
All of the desserts had excellent flavor and were beautifully presented. What fun to try all five of these delightful creations all in one room. It would be hard to say that one of the cakes or puddings was the best. They were all very good but different. It would be nice to enjoy another round of each and have more. With the event’s handy Shakespearean Feast recipe booklet, dubbed a recipe swap, it is possible to do just that.
Shakespearean Supper on Display
To show how beautiful Tudor-style food is at its ornamental best, the museum has a special exhibit, “A Supper with Shakespeare” to show the evolution of English banqueting. Journey up to the third floor period rooms at the MIA to take see just what can be done with sugar. The dark old English feel of the room has a new, brilliant sparkle from gold leaf decorated sugar forms. Ivan Day, a renowned culinary historian of British food, served as guest curator. A full dinner feast handcrafted by Day depicts the lavish style Elizabethan royalty celebrated weddings.
The evening of the dinner party event, Cromulent Shakespeare Company players were on hand to explain every detail. The troupe was decked out in formal Elizabethan dress that matched the grandeur of the Tudor period room decorated with historically regal food.
Ready for an Encore
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts should do these European dessert-themed dinner parties more often. Expertly prepared food is a work of art. Tudor food stuffs are objet d’art in edible form. British food can be a delight. The proof is in the pudding and the cake.