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Culinary Canvas: Ancient Cakes (Pemma)

June 20, 2013

In honor of our current exhibition The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece, I thought it would be fun to explore ancient baking this month. The general word for cake is pemma in Ancient Greek or libum in Latin. Several texts survive which mention different types of ancient cakes, but the actual recipes themselves are much more elusive. Roman writer and statesman M. Porcius Cato recorded one such recipe for libum in his De Agri Cultura, a sort of practical manual for farmers. Using Cato as a starting point, I created this simple recipe with ingredients and materials available in the ancient world. Similar honey-cheesecakes would have been given as offerings to the gods or perhaps enjoyed during a wedding feast. Hera, the Greek goddess of women and marriage, may have even enjoyed one herself.

British_Museum_AN00393231

Head of marble figure of Hera
Roman period, AD 30–180, from Agrigento, Sicily
GR 1873,0820.740 (Sculpture 504)
© The Trustees of the British Museum (2013). All rights reserved.

Pemma

Yields 10 small cakes
Level: Easy

8 ounces goat cheese
¼ cup honey, plus more for drizzling
1 egg
¾ cup spelt flour or all-purpose flour
½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Allow goat cheese to soften slightly on counter. Crush toasted almonds with mortar and pestle.

In medium bowl, beat together goat cheese and honey with a whisk or wooden spoon. Add egg and continue beating until smooth. Sprinkle in flour and mix until just incorporated. Mix in crushed almonds.

Drop batter by large spoonfuls onto baking stone. Cover stone with aluminum foil and bake 26-30 minutes, until cakes begin to turn light brown. Allow to cool just slightly on stone, then transfer cakes to separate dish. Drizzle warm cakes with additional honey until each is saturated.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Batter on baking stone

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Cakes drizzled with honey

Recipe inspired by Cato’s ancient recipe for libum.

P.S. – If you love the ancient world as much as I do, you won’t want to miss An Illustrated Course: The Body Beautiful in Ancient Greece, a two-night course taught by our own Director Maxwell L. Anderson. DMA Friends can redeem a reward to attend the course for free, and then earn even more points for attending. I’ll see you there!

Sarah Coffey
Assistant to the Chair of Learning Initiatives

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