“Game of Thrones” is brutal. The show doesn’t hold back on gory murder scenes that all too often feature your favorite character biting the dust (“Hold the door!!!”), and neither does it shy away from equally graphic nude scenes that, again, all too often feature your favorite character — okay, I’ll stop now. However, it does feature an intensely compelling plot and if you read the books, quite a few glorious delicacies. For what food/fantasy nerd could forget George R.R. Martin’s captivating descriptions of Winterfell breakfasts (“…hot bread, butter and honey and blackberry preserves, a rasher of bacon and a soft-boiled egg, a wedge of cheese, a pot of mint tea.” –“A Game of Thrones”); grilled Dornish snakes (“A short man stood in an arched doorway, grilling chunks of snake over a brazier, turning them with wooden tongs as they crisped…and of course, the ominous “bowl of brown” from the sketchier parts of King’s Landing?
Given how “Game of Thrones” was published in 1996, it’s quite mind-blowing that a companion cookbook for the series only came out in 2012. And that’s precisely what “A Feast of Ice and Fire” is. Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer, the book’s authors, initially started with a food blog based on “A Song of Ice and Fire.” It’s called Inn at the Crossroads, as per a namesake inn in the novels where, surprise, surprise, lots of awful events happen, including the innkeeper getting strung up outside her fine establishment. (Tsk, typical.)
A handful of the recipes in the book were first published on the blog, but they do appear to have been improved further and there are new additions too. They’re even organized by region. The chapter on cuisine in The Wall, for instance, showcases dried goods like prunes, raisins, and pine nuts and a recipe for strong mulled wine, menu items that would understandably sustain a sentry on duty in a place that never gets warm, say, a member of the Night’s Watch? Content-wise, the book is a great read. There’s even a chapter on what a medieval kitchen would be like and medieval versions of nearly each recipe. As G.R.R. Martin drew heavily from this time period while dreaming up the world of Westeros, this sort of information provided both novelty and context. I’m especially intrigued by the recipe for Medieval Cream of Mushroom and Snail Soup, which includes almond milk, canned snails, and the surprising addition of ground ginger, cloves, and mace. Then again, this was supposed to be the first course out of seventy-seven at Joffrey and Margaery’s ill-fated royal wedding in “A Storm of Swords,” and it was de rigueur for medieval cooks to spike their employer’s feasts with spices as a display of wealth.
The accompanying photographs are also breathtaking. Many of the shots were styled so well that the food not only looks scrumptious, but also fit for a Westerosi ruler’s lavish table or the Lord Commander’s rustic hearth.
But of course, the true test of any cookbook lies in how well its recipes hold up. For my personal litmus test, I went with the recipe for Sansa Stark’s beloved lemon cakes.
Based on an Elizabethan version of the delicacy, the recipe was fairly simple and required ingredients that I already had in my pantry, namely eggs, flour, sugar, and lemons. Putting it together was quite tricky as the dough was so sticky and I had to add a lot of flour to make it workable. I also made a slight modification and added lemon juice instead of milk to confectioner’s sugar so that the icing would have a fresh, lemony kick.
The lemon cakes turned out to be more like cookies than cakes. They had a dry, crumbly texture that was reminiscent of shortbread and the citrus flavor was a little too subtle for my taste, though this was improved by a generous smear of the icing. They did go very well with a cup of tea, so it wasn’t hard to imagine Ned Stark’s beautiful, graceful, redheaded daughter enjoying them in this way before her life was turned on its head.
So, would I recommend purchasing “A Feast of Ice and Fire?” Yes, but not without reservations. I found the Lemon Cakes to be rather mediocre, but some of the other recipes do look promising. Do note that a few of them call for ingredients that would be hard for the average cook to find (Forget Dornish fire peppers, where on Earth do I get rabbits or rattlesnakes?), even if you opt to make the modern versions of the dishes instead of their medieval counterparts. It’s also pretty hard to track this book down; I had to order mine from the Book Depository since it was unavailable in local bookstores. Plus, you can simply access Chelsea and Sariann’s blog and try out several of their recipes for free if you simply want to try dining in the same fashion as the Tyrells of Highgarden or the Greyjoys of the Iron Islands.
The book, however, would make a wonderful addition to your library if you collect unique cookbooks and/or “A Song of Ice and Fire” literature. If nothing else, having it on your shelf also boosts your street cred and gives you major bragging rights, and what passionate fantasy fan would say no to that, eh?
Adapted from “A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook” by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer
Yield: About 3 dozen
Time: 40 mins. (Prep: 25 mins., Baking: 15 mins.)
2 ½ cups flour, plus more as needed
2 cups granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
Grated zest from 2 lemons
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ teaspoons milk (use lemon juice if you want a more pronounced lemon flavor)
Preheat oven to 350F and grease a large baking sheet.
In a large bowl, combine the flour and granulated sugar. Cut in the butter, then add the zest and the whole egg and yolks. Mix thoroughly, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is no longer sticky and can be easily shaped by hand. If the mixture seems too dry, add a little water or lemon juice until the dough comes together.
Roll the dough into balls about 1-inch across and place them on the prepared baking sheet at least 2 inches apart, giving them room to spread as they bake.
Bake for 15 minutes, until the tops are just slightly golden. Allow the cakes to cool for a minute before moving them to a cooling rack.
Mix the confectioner’s sugar and milk (or lemon juice) to a smooth consistency. Once the cakes have cooled, use a spoon to drizzle the icing over the cookies.