Midwinter Crown 2016 – Subtleties

Midwinter Crown Subtleties 2016

As part of my ongoing project into subtleties I undertook the subtleties for MidWinter 2016 held in Rowany.

As our new king and queen are Vikings, I wanted the subtleties to be a) Viking themed and b) to tell a story over the course of dinner.

I decided that the story should be “Vikings Arrive, engage in battle, plunder and burn and then toast to their victory.”

Since a subtlety was required before each course, that was four subtleties in total which meant that each part of the story could have a subtlety.


The Vikings Arrive

Vikings arrive on Viking ships, everyone knows that. 

With some experimentation, I determined that the hot water pastry that I wanted to use would need a mould in order to get the required shape. I had my trusty partner panel beat a heavy duty disposable foil tray into a rough shape (image selected from Google images). I then added cardboard to the bottom before lining it in foil. (this made the ship easier to remove after baking, as the foil could be lifted and the ship would emerge with it)

For convenience sake, and because there wasn’t likely to be much fridge room at the event, the insides were apple pie. (This very much definitely had nothing to do with the new royals being American. Not one little bit.)


I made the sail from some red and white stripped fabric I had lying around and used floral wire to get the billowing shape. The mast was three thick wooden BBQ skewers lashed togther. These were then sewn to the mast, with the pointy bits of the skewer being the bits going into the pie. I thought I might have to use “ropes” to hold the mast in place but the weight of the skewers and the 5mm pastry was enough to keep it in place.


It looked really good once the mast was in. Unfortunately, I did not think to take a photo of that bit. Oh well.

The Vikings Engage in Battle

For the battle, I made a Hnefatafl set. Traditionally in Hnefatafl, a king and his small bodyguard must escape a surrounding army. In our Midwinter version, the monks would have to escape the vikings. Making a whole board out of fondant would be too heavy, so I made a wood game board, in one of my first wood working projects.

For ease, I got a dressed pine board that was roughly half the width I would need and added hinges to it. This helped make it a bit more portable as well. It turns out brass hinges and screws are so soft. I messed up one of the screws and had to hammer it over… Still, you can’t see them when the board is in use. 


I used a dremel and a dremel router guide to make the lines (marking it up in pencil first). There was some slippage but overall, fairly straight lines.


I messed up a bit here, because I assumed I could paint into the lines and wipe off the surface paint for a nice in-fill. I should have waxed the board first though, then dremel and paint because the paint stains the raw pine and does not wipe off. Oh well. I painted the whole square in it’s colour and then planed it back with the plane. Turned out fairly well. I painted the squares solid and then planed the board back so that only the lines remained painted. The white marks the spaces where the Vikings start, while the blue marks the monks starting position. The white circle in the very middle marks the Abbot’s starting position. 


Then I waxed it to seal the surface with an olive oil and beeswax paste. If I make another game board, I will use a chip knife to create the lines as I should have better control over that.


To make the little men for the game, I took fondant, added red colouring to the vikings and blue for the monks and pinched little men off to fit on the board. I was inspired by the slightly blobby glass and ceramic game pieces found at Birka and Hedeby. 



The Abbot (King) I twisted two bits of fondant of each colour together and made the head a little ‘V’ shape to represent a bishop hat.

I created instructions for the hnefatafl game (using hnefatafl.net as my source) and made it into a scroll. The scroll and the red (viking) men went into the hall on the first subtlety – the ship – with instructions not to eat the red men yet…

If the Vikings win, they have captured the Abbot and they go on to burn down the Monastery (Subtlety 3). If the Vikings fail to capture the Abbot, they follow him back to the monastery and burn it down.

Either way, the monastery would be on fire.


The Vikings Burn Stuff

This was one of the trickier subtleties for me. I based the monastery on St Laurence at Bradford on Avon, which is the oldest surviving original Saxon monastery with no added bits from medieval or Victorian times.

Then I rolled out several lots of fondant, with tylose to harden the pastry quickly. Phillipa then assembled it for me (Messed up the measurements a bit despite making a paper copy to start) with royal icing as the mordant.


It was then painted, and tea lights were put inside to mimic flames. (No open flames were allowed at the feast.)


painted monastry


A Toast to Victory

The last subtlety was the toast to the victory. It was actually two subtelties, one being a bowl and the other a horn both made from fondant. The bowl was easy, since that was just working fondant around the inside of the bowl with tylose and that hardened into a good bowl. The horn was harder. I used a funnel to keep the mouth open and made a holder for the horn out of fondant for it to rest on. Phillipa made mead jelly and this was placed inside the horn and bowl for the victory toast.


The horn collapsed in the humidity before it could be presented, so I would not make that again without making a wire frame of some kind for it to cling to until the last second.

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Cheese Castle Subtlety

I’ve been on a journey of subtlety making.

This is a rendition of the Castle Subtlety in Pleyn Delit which in turn is based on the Forme of Curye’s recipe to make a castle.

Forme of Curye’s Receipe

Take and make a foyle of gode past with a roller of a foot brode. & lyngur by cumpas. make iiii Coffyns of þe self past uppon þe rolleres þe gretnesse of þe smale of þyn Arme. of vi ynche depnesse. make þe gretust in þe myddell. fasten þe foile in þe mouth upwarde. & fasten þee oþere foure in euery syde. kerue out keyntlich kyrnels above in þe manere of bataiwyng and drye hem harde in an Ovene. oþer in þe Sunne. In þe myddel Coffyn do a fars of Pork with gode Pork & ayrenn rawe wiþ salt. & colour it wiþ safroun and do in anoþer Creme of Almandes. and helde it in anoþer creme of Cowe mylke with ayrenn. colour it with saundres. anoþur manur. Fars of Fygur. of raysouns. of Apples. of Peeres. & holde it in broun. anoþer manere. do fars as to frytours blanched. and colour it with grene. put þis to þe ovene & bake it wel. & serue it forth with ew ardaunt.

In present day English: 

Take and make a foyle of good pastry [foyles as in paper, i.e. sheets of pastry as thin as paper] with a roll a foot long and longer in proportion. Make four coffins [pastry cases] from the same pastry, with the roll the width of the small of your arm, and six inches deep. Make the biggest one in the middle. Fasten the pastry sheets at the mouth upwards. And fasten your other four [sic] on every side. Quaintly carve out keyntlich [battlements] above in the manner of embattling, and dry them until they’re hard in an oven or in the sun. In the middle coffin, do a mixture of pork with good pork and raw egg with salt. And colour it with saffron and do another crème of almonds, and put in the other cream of cow’s milk with egg. Colour it with sandlewood. Another manner – meat of figs, raisons, apples and pears and make it brown. Another manner – do the meat as you would for blanched fritters and colour it with green. Put this into the oven and bake it well. And serve it with hot water.

Translation from the British Library




Okay so firstly, I made the pastry as per Pleyn Delit’s instructions. (Recipe 140)


It became a slightly more cheesy lard pastry. Recipe doesn’t say anything about putting it in the fridge so let’s carry on, although I did put it aside while I prepared the foundations of the castle towers.
I used an old roll which fabric had come home on. (I….have a lot of these…. but the recipe also says that al. foil rolls or wrapping paper rolls would also work.) I cut four sections and the rolls ended up being about 15cm high and about a 5cm diameter.

I wrapped the rolls in al. foil and then greased the foil with butter. Next time I will use more butter.

I rolled out the pastry into about 5mm and rolled it into roughly rectangular shapes that I thought would fit on the roll. (I had to make a second batch of the recipe, I think I made them too big.)

Then I wrapped the pastry around the rolls and tried to make them roughly even.I ended up making them a bit base heavy and they didn’t need to be in the end. The pastry got pricked with a fork because it does rise a little bit.

This is the first lot. I ended up making the walls later with a second batch of pastry.


Walls. You can also see on the top left one that I haven’t pricked it with the fork enough so it’s formed a bubble.


Baked until brown, about 20 minutes.


Original walls were too small, they got super brown. The recipe tastes kind of like cheese biscuits. So that was cool.


Anyway, eventually walls and towers were ready.
I found that when it came to unstick the towers, it was easiest to pull the rolls out without the al. foil and the remove the al. foil separately. Would have been easier to remove in one lot if they had been the thinner rolls found in wrapping paper etc. Or if I’d used more butter in the greasing.

Before towers were squared off with knife. I don’t actually think they did slump that much when baking, I think this is just me.
I squared up the walls and towers with a bread knife. The pastry (when freshly baked) was firm (slightly crumbly) but was able to withstand the serrated edge knife enough to give an even enough cut. (Any unevenness was my bad at this point because of impatience)


Fiddling with how the walls and towers should be positioned.

I cut slices of a cheap brie cheese off, so that it was thin slices of rind with brie, microwaved them for ten second and used the melty goodness as a mortar to stick the walls and towers together. I could have done a better job here. The towers were uneven so there was some guess work in making them more stable and finding the best place to put the walls so that they were together as much as possible.


It was actually pretty easy to use the cheese as a mortar and it held together pretty well. The main issue was that the towers and wall edges, despite surgery with bread knife, were not perfectly in alignment with each other, which I think is something I could get better at with practice. I would also make the towers stick out more next time but I was worried about the positioning of the towers and the walls and their relative straightness. But, it still looks a look like Welsh Castles so….

I also deconstructed the tower, wrapped it up put it in the fridge and then reconstructed with fresh brie cheese two days later and it held up to that really well. Walls and tower were softer than they were when freshly baked but still very edible. It goes extremely well with the cheese, and I think that for a feast I would bring it out at the start, with additional bread, cheese, pickles and other antipasto type feast starters and let it be broken down and eaten with the cheese.




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Apple Tart

One of my more popular recipes is the Apple Tart, redacted from Forme of Curye.

 Apple Tart – Forme of Curye

Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd with Safron wel and do yt in a cofyn and yt forth to bake wel.





  • 3 large Granny Smith Apples
  • 2 pears
  • handful of currants
  • handful of raisins
  • 4 dried figs
  • tea spoon of cinnamon
  • 2 pinches ginger

Shortcrust recipe for food processor from Taste.com.au


  • 1 food processor
  • Muffin/tart pans
  • oven
  • knife


I needed to make 3x this recipe.


Make the shortcrust recipe ahead of time and put in fridge.

Peel apples and pears and quarter them. Quarter the figs. Put it all (plus raisins and currants) in a food processor and whizz until blended. Add cinnamon and ginger and stir.

Take shortcrust out, roll it out and make tart cases out of them into the tart pan. Spoon out mixture into tart cases (Adding two beaten eggs into the mixture and stirring it in well will make the mixture hold together better when it comes out. But I often use this as a vegetarian option and in tart form it doesn’t need the eggs so I leave it out) and put in the oven for about 30 minutes on 180 degrees Celsius until the pastry is cooked.

Things that you might not know to ask me but you should

Granny smith apples? Seriously?

Yup. They are often the cheapest apple for the size. I actually found that any apple would do although different apples do change the taste slightly. I would try to either aim for a large apple or two smaller apples. I don’t know what the most accurate apple would be. I would just use whatever apple you like the most.

What kind of pears?

Corella pears are supposed to be the closest approximation to medieval pears. They are firm and on the small side. Again, any pear will do. (Ratio is about 2:1 apple to pear)


The recipe doesn’t say anything about currants…..

No it does not! However, I make this dish, for the most part, alongside a bunch of other dishes and some of those dishes do call for currants. And then I have currants left over. And that made me sad, so I added them to the pie. I think they work pretty well.

Can I use fresh figs?

Probably. See “because they are the cheapest option” for why I use dried though. (You can rehyrdate dried figs by putting them in boiling water for a minute or two. I generally don’t bother. They go in a food processor and then go whizz.)

Why a food processor?

Laziness mostly. wel ybrayed means ground, according to people who actually know this kind of thing and I did NOT have the patience to grind apples, pears and figs in a mortar and pestle. So into the food processor they go. You get this kind of brown mush once the apple and pears start to oxidase.

I don’t see the saffron in the recipe mentioned

No, it’s not. I have made several variations of Apple tarts over the years and what I found was that I wasn’t seeing the colour that they talk about, nor was the delicate taste of saffron coming through in the fruit. (I used up to 12 strands) So I chose, rather than to grind more saffron in a mortar and pestle with water until the colour and taste did come through, to just forgo it. Since I wasn’t seeing the taste or colour anyway, it didn’t seem to matter much. I would guess this is due to using modern apples and pears which possible have more taste and oxidase faster than 14th century English ones did.

Why tarts?

So, once upon a time, I made fruit pies as pies. In a big 6″ tin, pastry went down, mixture on top, into the oven. But, it’s a very wet mix. Possibly a result of the food processor. Anyway, I would precook these pies a couple days before and bring them to the event and the puff or shortcrust pastry would get soggy at the bottom. They would be hard to eat, since they basically had to be spooned into a bowl and then eaten with a spoon. So I switched to shortcrust and to tarts. And that has worked very well from the perspective that now they all get eaten as people can pick them up and eat them with their fingers and without a bowl.

Why cinnamon and ginger?

They are commonly used spices in 14th century England and go well with fruit.




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