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Trayne Roste and other Spit Cakes

A necklace of raisins, dates, almonds and figs

This fifteenth century English recipe makes an unusual roasted spice cake. Small pieces of dried fruit and almonds are threaded with a needle onto a 'thred of a man's length'. This is wound around a spit and then basted with a sweet wine batter flavoured with saffron, cloves and ginger.

The trayne roste is basted with batter

As the spit rotates, the batter cooks and covers the fruit. The kitchen is filled with a wonderful smell of saffron and roasting battter. When the trayne roste has turned to a golden brown, the spit is taken away from the fire. If the thread is securely tied at each end, it pulls out of the cake when it is removed from the spit. If this is not done properly, you will end up with lengths of thread in each portion, though I suppose you could employ them as dental floss.

Slices of trayne roste

"Faire peces" of trayne roste

Gateau de broche

Urbain Dubois's Gâteau à la broche

Despite the elaborate decorations, this traditional French cake makes rather plain eating compared to a spicy medieval English trayne roste.

On the near right is Emile Bernard's even more fussy grosse pièce presenting a gateau à la broche on an ornate socle. It is highly embellished with spun sugar fountains and other pastillage ornaments. The cake itself is the tapering cylinder covered in little spikes. These form on the gateau when the batter drips and becomes solidified by the heat as the spit rotates in front of the fire, as in the photograph on the far right.

The black and white illustration opposite is from Conrad Hagger's Neues Saltzburgisches Koch-Buch (Augsburg: 1719). It shows the apparatus needed for making a spit cake of the baumkuchen or gateau à la broche type. The early date of this image and the recipe which it illustrates belie the often quoted myth that baumkuchen was invented in 1790 by the King of Prussia's master baker. Cakes more or less identical to baumkuchen are found all over Europe. In Poland, a cake of this kind is called Sękacz, in Lithuania - Šakotis, in Sweden - Spettekaka and in Luxemburg -Baamkuch. In the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, the popular cakes made by street vendors, which are called Trdelnik and Kurtoskalacs, also belong to this interesting and ancient family of spit cakes.

In fact, Hagger's spit cake is much more closely related to trdelnik and kurtoskalacs than to baumkuchen, as it is made by wrapping a spiral of dough round the conical spit, rather than drizzling batter on to it. His recipe is almost identical to that used for making modern Czech trdelnik. It is a sweetened bread dough, enriched with a little butter and eggs and spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg. The surface of the cake is finished with powdered sugar and finely chopped almonds. The modern trdelnik is almost certainly a direct descendent of this ancient Austro-Hungarian cake.

Trayne Roste

The necklace of almonds, dates, figs and 'grete raisins' warms before the fire.

Trayne Roste

Take Dates and figges, and kutte hem in a peny brede; And þeñ take grete reysons and blanched almondes, and prik hem thorgh with a nedel into a threde of a mannys length, and one of one frute and a-noþer of anoþer frute; and þeñ bynde the threde with the frute A-bought a rownde spete, endelonge þe spete, in maner of an hasselet; And þeñ take a quarte of wyne or Ale, and fyne floure, And make batur thereof, and cast thereto pouder ginger, sugur, & saffroñ, pouder of Clowes, salt; And make þe batur not fully rennyng, and noþer stonding, but in þe mene, that hit may cleue, and than rost the treyne abought the fire in þe spete; And þeñ cast the batur oñ the treyne as he turneth abought the fire, so longe til þe frute be hidde in the batur; as þou castest þe batur there-on, hold a vessell vndere-nethe, for spilling of þe batur/ And whan hit is y-rosted well, hit wol seme a hasselet; And þeñ take hit vppe fro þe spit al hole, And kut hit in faire peces of a Spañ length, And serue of hit a pece or two in a dissh al hote.

From Harl. Ms. 4016

Finished trayne roste

The trayne roste is ready after about forty minutes in front of a moderate fire.

Historical Notes

The medieval English trayne roste is a distant relative of the gâteau à la broche of the Pyrenees, a spongy batter cake roasted in front of an open fire on a specialised spit furnished with a wooden cone. The great Second Empire chefs Urbain Dubois and Emile Bernard attempted to elevate this rather rustic gateau to the status of an elegant grosse pièce by incongruously presenting it on elaborate socles and decorating it with spun sugar ornaments. This ancient regional dish is still enthusiastically cooked throughout the Midi. However, it is nowhere near as good to eat as its ancient ancestor from Plantagenet England with its rich filling of almonds and dried fruit. Another European spit-roasted cake of considerable antiquity is the Baumkuchen of Germany and Switzerland.








Emile Bernard's Gâteau à la broche
A Gâteau à la broche
cooks in front of the fire.

A Hapsburg Spit Cake

Spit for making baumkuchen

Conrad Hagger's Cone Cake 1719

A conical wooden spit wrapped with buttered paper in preparation for wrapping with dough.


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