Torta Bianca

Ginger Cheesecake

Source: Libro de arte coquinaria by Maestro Martino de Como, 15th century

Original Recipe:

Torta Bianca: Piglia una libra et meza di bono cascio frescho, et taglialo menuto, et pistalo molto bene, et piglia dodici o quindici albume o bianchi d’ova, et macinali molto bene con questo cascio, agiogendovi meza libra di zuccharo, et meza oncia di zenzevero del più biancho che possi havere, similemente meza libra di strutto di porcho bello et biancho, o in loco di strutto altretanto botiro bono et frescho, item de lo lacte competentemente, quanto basti, che serà asai un terzo di bocchale. Poi farrai la pasta overo crosta in la padella, sottile come vole essere, et mectiraila a cocere dandoli il focho a bell’agio di sotto et di sopra; et farai che sia di sopra un pocho colorita per el caldo del focho; et quando ti pare cotta, cacciala fore de la padella, et di sopra vi metterai del zuccharo fino et di bona acqua rosata.

Translation: (from The Art of Cooking: The First Modern Cookery Book)

Take a libra and a half of good fresh cheese and cut it up fine, and pound it very well; take twelve of fifteen egg whites and blend them very well with this cheese, adding half a libra of sugar and half an oncia of the whitest ginger you can find, as well as a half libra of good, white pork lard, or instead of lard, good, fresh butter, and some milk, as much as needed; this will be a good third of a boccale. Then make the pastry, or crust, into the pan, as thin as it ought to be, and cook it nicely with fire both below and above; and make sure that the top is a little colored from the heat of the fire; and when it seems cooked, remove it from the pan and put fine sugar and good rose water on top.

My Interpretation:

18 oz. ricotta cheese ¾ cup sugar
6 large egg whites ¾ cup butter
2 Tbsp. powdered ginger 2 Tbsp. Rosewater
⅓ cup milk 2 Tbsp. fine sugar
1 pie crust (see recipe for Paest Royall)

Beat in cheese and eggs together until smooth. Add ginger, milk and butter to the egg and cheese mixture and mix well. Pour the mixture into the pie crust and bake at 350°F for 50-55 minutes. Just after the torta comes out of the oven sprinkle with rosewater and fine sugar. Yields 1 9 inch torta.

Notes:

  • With the large quantity of sugar used in this recipe, this would be considered a "sweet" pie as opposed to being a "savory" pie.
  • I’ve reduced the number of eggs from what was noted in the original recipe, since I'm uncertain the average size of eggs that would have been produced in this time period. Large eggs appear to be the most likely size of egg a modern cook would keep on hand..
  • I chose ricotta cheese for Barbara Santich indicates in her book "In spring there was soft, fresh cheese probably similar to today’s ricotta (in fifteenth-century Italy it was known as recocta, recooked); this was particularly important for torta fillings..."
  • Ricotta cheese, when drained, forms a cheese that it sliceable. Since milk is another ingredient, I choose to not drain the Ricotta cheese and decreased the amount of milk.
  • I also choose to use butter instead of lard, other recipes from this same manuscript and similar in style also indicate that this substitution can be used (see Torta Commune).
  • The original recipe indicates to remove the torte from the pan after it is cooked. Consider leaving the torte in the pan for transportation purposes.

Glossary:

Libra:
According to Lady Rosemary Willowwood de Ste. Anne "An Italian measure analogous to the Roman pound, which was about twelve ounces.Interestingly, in translation, ‘libra’ means a balance scale, or instrument for measuring weight. It probably meant just a ‘standard amount’".
Boccale:
According to The Medieval Kitchen "A boccale could equal anywhere from about half a quart to more than two, depending on the region."
Oncia:
Is a direct translation of ounce.

Works Referenced:

Odile Redon, Françoise Sabban & Silvano Serventi; The Medieval Kitchen, The University of Chicago Press, 1998

Barbara Santich, The Original Mediterranean Cuisine, Chicago Review Press, 1995

A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks compiled by Duke Cariadoc of the Bow and Duchessa Diana Alena:

Barony of Terra Pomaria website for the definition of "Libra"

http://www.open.org/~tpomaria/A&S_cooking_torta_bolognese.htm, 2001

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 serving
Servings Per Recipe: 8
Amount Per Serving
Calories:  511
Calories from fat: 308 (60% of tot cal)

% Daily Value*

Total Fat   33g 51%
     Saturated Fat  21g 107%
Cholesterol   156mg 52%
Sodium   356mg 15%
Total Carbo    61g 20%
     Dietary Fiber   1g 2%
     Sugars    23g  
Protein   13g  
Vitamin A       135% Vitamin C     0%
Calcium         18% Iron      13%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Your daily values may be higher or lower depending upon your caloric intake.

Note:  The numbers in this chart are derived directly from data entered by you, the user.  Their accuracy critically depends upon proper linking of ingredient items to USDA ingredient elements.  Use at your own risk; we take no responsibility for their accuracy.  Consumers with medical issues should always consult a licensed nutritionist.