For this recipe post we’re gonna talk about something a bit less gruesome than puppy eating – the almond. On the one hand this is an opportunity to talk a little more about Hippocratic medicine, but mostly I just want to share this recipe.
The humble almond was well known to the Ancient Greeks and used in both cuisine and medicine. Also known as the karyon Thrasion or Thrasian nut in it’s sweet variety and karyon pikron in it’s bitter, almonds were used in both their nut form and oil form (netopon, niopon). In one of its more popular uses, it was served in or along with booze to help stave off drunkenness, allowing people to party harder. Is this an ancient (slash classier!) precursor to the suspect bowl of peanuts on the bar?
Anyway, the almond has two major appearances in the Hippocratic Corpus, once in Regimen 2.55 and one in Epidemics 5.66. In the first instance, the Hippocratic author describes the properties of the almond:
“Almonds are burning but nutritious; burning because they are oily, and nutritious because they are fleshy.”
According to this author, the almond can be quite nutritious – thus helpful in filling the bellies of revelers. Additionally he writes that almond oil has warm, hot even, qualities, which would, therefore, be beneficial in helping to cure diseases with cold properties. Fighting ice with fire, shall we say? We then can see how the oil of bitter almond, with it’s burning properties, helped in a case of Parmeniscus’ child, who suffered from hearing difficulties:
“Parmeniscus’ child, deafness: Not to wash it (the ear) out was helpful, but to clean it with wool, and only pour in olive oil or oil of bitter almonds: walking about, rising early, drinking white wine.”
First of all, you are reading that correctly. The author wants to give the kiddo some white wine – oh times, how you have changed! But, more relevantly, we can see bitter almond oil, netopon, in practice. Instead of cleaning out the ear with water, the author suggests oil and wool. The hygienic practice was extremely common in ancient times – the oil and strigil bath was all the rage for ancient athletes. Additionally, the author may have thought that the warming properties of the oil may aid in loosening up any debris from the ear that would subsequently be removed by the wool.
Anatomical side-note: the word amygdalon or the Latin amygdalum might sound familiar to you. That’s because it’s the inspiration for a structure in the brain called the amygdala, which, believe it or not!, is shaped a bit like an almond. Interestingly, one of the amygdala’s jobs is the fear response to stimuli and has recently been thought to play a role in sexual orientation.
Enough about brains. Let’s talk about tarts…
Bakewell Tart is one of those things that I’d never really heard of before moving to the UK and now I’m OBSESSED. And it’s one of those this that I try to share with the people back home because they should be obsessed, too. It’s this beautiful balance of that almondy-cherry flavor (am I the only one who thinks that almonds and cherries taste really similar?), flakey crust and sweet frosting. Plus, its presentation is adorable and almost cartoon-esque. This recipe is adapted from my copy of The Great British Book of Baking – and thus, the measurements are in metric (Siri can totally help you with this!). The original recipe calls for making your own shortcrust pastry, which you can do, but I’ve never really enjoyed making pastry. I mean, I can do it, but I was taught to cook and bake by a man who swears by canned biscuits. And I always find that effort to yield ratio for making my own pastry isn’t worth it, if that makes sense.
- One roll pre-made short/pie crust
- raspberry jam (about 3 tbsp. for our purposes)
(for the topping)
- 60g unsalted butter, softened
- 60g caster/granulated sugar
- 1 medium egg at room temperature
- 30g self-raising flour (sifted)
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 50g ground almonds
- 1/4 tsp. almond extract (or just pour it in, that’s what I usually do)
(for the icing)
- 250g icing/powdered sugar
- 1 tbsp. lemon juice
- ~ 1 tbsp. cold water
- glacé/candied cherries for decoration
After letting it warm up a bit, unroll the pastry and line your 22 cm tart/flan/pie tin. Stab the base a few times with a fork and then evenly spread the base with jam. Pop it into the fridge and let it chill while preparing the rest of the tart. Pre-heat your oven to 180C/350F and put in a baking tray.
In a mixing bowl, combine the butter, sugar, egg, flour, baking powder, ground almonds and almond extract and beat well. Spoon it on top on the jam-covered pastry and spread evenly. Pop it into the oven on the heated baking tray and bake for thirty-ish minutes – just until the pasty is a light, golden brown and the filling is firm and golden. Remove from the oven and let it cool. Mix the icing/powdered sugar with the lemon juice and water for a smooth and somewhat thick icing. I like to spread it evenly over the top of the whole tart for the aesthetic you see in the first picture, but you could also drizzle it on to the tart toaster-strudel style. Decorate with the halved cherries or sprinkle with flaked almonds. This is your tart – get creative! And enjoy at either room temperature or nuke your slice for a few seconds to warm it up.
- Andrew Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A-Z (London: Routledge, 2003), 6.
- Hippocrates, Epidemics V, ed. and trans. by Wesley D. Smith, LCL 477 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 5.66.
- Hippocrates, Regimen, trans. by William Henry Samuel Jones, LCL 150 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931), 2.55.