The French fashion of cheese as a dessert course has existed since the nineteenth century, and many of us would not think of doing anything with Brie other than eating it raw.  Occasionally, you may come across a dish in which Brie is melted as part of the recipe, for example when baked in a brioche, but it is rare to find Brie mixed in as an ingredient in a dessert.  Either way, Chef Dirk "doesn't do Brie", so today's post is going to be heavier on history than culinary expertise.

Brie can trace its history back to Medieval times.  Like wine and beer, cheese-making was an industry dominated by Benedictine and Cistercian monks.  According to Charlemagne's biographer E(g)inhard, the Emperor was so enthusiastic about the cheese of Reuil in Brie that he pronounced it "one of the most marvellous of foods" and requisitioned two crates of it.  Given that in these times both courses had sweet and savoury dishes, it is possible that the tradition of eating cheese as well as dessert at the end of a meal hails from this time.

This recipe is taken from The Forme of Cury of 1390, compiled by the Master Cooks of King Richard II, and is a mildly sweet - it must be remembered that sugar was an expensive luxury - but rich tart.  The recipe asks for "chese ruayn" which all other historians have take to mean a soft English cheese made of "rewain" grass, but given that the recipe is actually called "Tart de Bry" I am more inclined to think that it refers to cheese from Reuil in Brie, that is "Reuil-an".  Regardless of what King Richard's cooks meant, it was supposed to be a Brie tart, so I recommend using Brie (or Camembert) unless, like Chef Dirk, you "don't do Brie".


shortcrust pastry (frozen is fine, but it should not be sweetened; make it using lard if you want to be authentic)
pinch of saffron
20ml hot water (from kettle)
500g cheese (Brie)
5 egg yolks
75g (raw) caster sugar
pinch ground ginger
pinch salt

Begin by pre-heating your oven to 190 degrees Celcius and steeping the saffron strands in hot water until it is a deep gold.  Line a flan tin with the pastry and prick the base with a fork.


Next cut the rind off your cheese, and slice into pieces no larger than two inches. 


Beat with an electric mixer until creamy and fairly smooth.


In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale.


Then add the cheese, followed by the  ginger, salt, and (strained) saffron water.  Pour into the pastry case and bake for 20 to 25 minutes.  Serve warm or cold but on the same day.

19/10/2013 03:45:42 pm

Actually, Eginhard doesn't say where Charlemagne was having the cheese nor what cheese it was, nor that it was the most marvelous of foods. Here is the passage:


I believe you're citing Toussaint-Samat's (highly distorted) version.

Mishka Gora
19/10/2013 04:55:42 pm

I did indeed use Toussaint-Samat. One of the interesting perils of secondary sources. Though the cheese could well have been Brie, and it was most certainly a "rich and creamy" cheese. It's a good story regardless... especially if you read on about Charlemagne eating the rind "like butter".

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