Henry Howard, on Making ‘Black Caps’

“Take the largest and best Pippins, cut them in halves, don’t pare them; take out their Cores, and put a little Limon-peel in their place: Lay them in a Mazarine-dish with the Core-side down-wards, and put in half a Pint of Claret, a quarter of a pound of good Sugar; set them in the Oven with Tarts, and don’t bake them too much; and when they are cold lay them in your Salver, with little Saucers of Carraway-comfits round them; pour the Liquor over them, and serve them for a Side-dish.”

Henry Howard, England’s Newest Way in All Sorts of Cookery, 2nd edtn (1708)

The baked apple dish known as ‘Black Caps’ has a long pedigree. Whilst this is one of the earliest versions of the recipe that I’ve found so far, it was still in circulation decades later in Mary Smith’s The Complete House-keeper, and Professed Cook (1772), and also when Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery in All it Branches was first published in 1845, although Acton upgraded them to ‘Black Caps Par Excellence’. I’ll post those recipes at a later date, for comparison.

The basic idea is simple: bake large, un-peeled apples in the oven, usually in a wine and sugar mixture – I’d be really interested in trying this with a good cider instead of wine, to see if that compliments the flavour of the apples – until the skins are lightly scorched and blackened (today we’d probably say “over-caramelised”), then serve them with the cooking liquor for a sauce.

Howard recommends cooking them in a mazarine dish, which seems to have originally been a cooking vessel for boiling fish and later became a form of serving platter for meat; in this case the inner, perforated section would allow the cook to lift the apples out of the cooking liquor, making it easier to transfer them to a serving plate without risking the fruit collapsing in the process, whilst also leaving the liquor behind for straining or reducing.

If you fancy giving this twist on the classic baked apple a go, please do let me know how you get on, either via the comments below, or by emailing me with your notes and photos. I’d love to see the results.

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