I often find myself clicking through recipes I find online, and I find myself wandering down so many rabbit holes of information that I forget where it was I started. Such is how I found myself reading articles about modern egg yolk preservation, which lead me eventually to a Spanish candy called Yemas de Santa Teresa. It’s a simple, cute little soft candy made simply of egg yolks cooked in simple syrup, then formed into balls and rolled in sugar, sometimes dusted with cinnamon or lemon zest. Wikipedia (and what seems like a thousand blurbs that have simply regurgitated the information there) was the first stop on the trail: Spanish claims. Philippine derivations. Medieval origins.
Medieval? Great! But where?! When?! The commercialization of this treat in 1860 Ávila is great and all, but how far back does this actually go?
Unfortunately for me, my modern Spanish is limited and my Old Spanish is nonexistent, so for my online research, I had to rely on translations and/or a lot of Ctrl + F “yemas.” Walls were hit. Frustration abounded. Then I remembered something: Sweetened eggs are everywhere in medieval cuisine after the introduction of sugar:
Menagier de Paris 1393:
“OMELETTE FRIED WITH SUGAR. Take out all the whites and beat the yolks, then put some sugar in a frying-pan and let it melt, and then fry your yolks in it, then put on a plate, with sugar on them.”
And hadn’t I just seen something like this somewhere else recently?
Master Chef Bartolomeo Scappi served something like them in his 1570 Opera:
Book VI – 152. To poach eggs in sugar.
When some sugar has been clarified, put it into a silver or well-tinned copper saucepan, or into silver dishes, and heat it up. When the sugar is hot, put egg yolks into it along with a little rosewater. Give it heat from above with either a hot shovel or tourte pan lid. Serve those eggs in the same pan with sugar and cinnamon over them. You can also cook the whites with them.
Master Chef Lancelot de Casteau served them in the 1604 Ouverture de Cuisine:
To make English eggs.
Take a dozen egg yolks well beaten, a little sugar therein: then take melted sugar in a little pot: when it begins to boil take the beaten egg yolks, put them through a strainer, & let run into the boiling syrup: that the syrup will be covered therein, when well cooked on one side turn to the other: when well cooked take them out, & make three or four pieces so, & put on a plate three or four.
..English? Well, let’s hop over channel to see what we can find there…
1575 A Proper New Booke of Cookery calls them ‘Eggs in moonshine’:
“To make egges in mone shine. Take a dishe of rose water, and a dishe full of suger, and set them upon a chafingdish, and let them boile, then take the yolkes of 8. or 9. egges newlaid, and put them therto, every one from other, and so let them harden a little, and so after this maner serve them forth, and cast a little Cinnamon and suger.”
Finding that these candies were definitely made by top chefs in the Renaissance was great and all, but.. I still didn’t have anything that could point back to Spain, which I really felt was half of my goal. Giving up on my Google-fu, I called upon The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, which not only gave me a Spanish reference for this… but also a Portuguese reference to egg yolk sweets and their ovos moles.
Considered one of the best-loved and most distinctive of Portuguese desserts, ovos moles (soft eggs) was created by the nuns of Aveiro, in the northern Beira Litoral province. Originally consisting of only egg yolks, sugar, and water,a modern variation substitutes rice flour for some of the yolks. …”
So, back to the internet I went, and I found another version of this
A Treatise of Portuguese Cuisine from the 15th Century; This Translation by Fernanda Gomes is based on a translation of ” Um tratado da cozinha portuguesa do século XV” at the Biblioteca Virtual – Miguel D Cervantes.
Canudos de ovos mexidos
Misturem as gemasde ovos e deitem-nas a cozer em calda rala, sem mexer, para que não se quebrem.Façam uma massa, bem sovada, de farinha de trigo, manteiga, água-de-flor e umapitada de açafrão. Em seguida abram-nocom um rolo, comopara pastel, façam os canudos e fritem-nos. Recheiem então os canudos com o doce de ovos já pronto, e passem-nospela calda de açúcar. Polvilhem comaçúcar e canela.
Beaten egg tubes
Beat egg yolks and scant syrup (I’m not sure if this refers to the overall amount or to the proportion of sugar to water),without stirring, so they won’t break. Make a dough, well kneaded, with wheat flour, butter, flower water and a pinch of salt. Next open it with a rolling pin as for pastries, make the tubes and fry them. Then fill the tubes with the already prepared egg sweet and dip them in the sugar syrup. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
At this point, I really couldn’t believe that I’d found my way through the rabbit hole in English and had managed to reach my destination without a crash course in Spanish and Portuguese vocabulary. Though not as in-depth as I’d have liked, I was able to trace the spread of this specific kind of sweet, and it is completely plausible that it was introduced earlier and just not documented, or else it lies in a book somewhere that hasn’t been translated or digitized.
So, armed with this knowledge, and a few Spanish YouTube videos for practicality’s sake, I set about the hands-on part of this project.
12 egg yolks
1 c granulated sugar
3/4 c water
Combine the sugar and water, and cook over high heat until the syrup reaches soft ball stage, at about 235F. (You can test this without a thermometer by dropping a little syrup into cold water.)
Let the syrup cool slightly while you mix the yolks, then put the syrup back over low heat. Slowly pour the yolks into the syrup, whisking constantly. As the yolks cook, the mixture will pull away from the sides and become a thick paste. Let it cool on a plate.
With powdered sugar on your fingers to keep the paste from sticking, form small balls and roll them in powdered sugar, then serve.
Unfortunately, I only got one good photo of them on display at Kingdom A&S Faire, shortly before they disappeared…