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For those deep in the middle of A Song of Ice and Fire reread during the long year with no Game of Thrones season, George R.R. Martin's obsession with food is a well-known running theme on the page. Food and the eating of it is a major factor in Westeros, where the rich are defined by how well they eat. It's only natural then that the series has spawned its own cookbook, A Feast Of Ice and Fire. But are the recipes good? I tried the Stark family favorites from the Game Of Thrones cookbook to see what it was like to eat like Sansa and Arya, and it turns out their favorites are pretty tasty.
While the show doesn't stop for minutes at a time to focus in on the spreads at great feasts, like the Lannisters' visit to Winterfell or the Purple Wedding, the book does. Even smaller scenes, like Sansa's first visit to Lady Olenna out in the gardens of the Red Keep, focus on the tea spread, the cakes, and the cheese.
Food is also used as a symbol to help define the characters. Sansa's love of lemon cakes is almost a running joke in the early books — a symbol of her innocence and how easy it is to buy her off. Arya's constant stealing of tarts from the kitchen is also a sign of her sneaky behavior, long before she ever goes to Braavos.
Sansa's Lemon Cakes
I had always pictured Sansa's famous lemon cakes as being the sort of thing served at a high tea, so imagine my surprise to open the recipe and discover that, in fact, what Sansa thinks of as a "little cake" would actually be the modern-day equivalent of cookies. I did some research and uncovered that most of what we considered cookies were called "cakes" until the 1700s.
It's also a very short recipe, with not all that many ingredients. Flour, sugar, butter, a spot of milk, an egg or two, and the zest of a lemon are all you need.
The recipe says the prep work takes five minutes, though even with a modern stand mixer, mine took slightly longer. What the recipe doesn't tell you is that the dough is startlingly dry. I thought I'd done it wrong at first, but no. It turns out the medieval cook would have relied on the kitchen being humid and having damp hands. Once I opened my back door and let some moisture in, not even five minutes, the dough began to magically become cookie dough.
I threw the cakes in the oven for 15 minutes. While they cooked, I took icing sugar (confectioner's sugar, whatever) and milk and mixed it all up. You only need as much milk as will make the sugar dribbly goo. I set it aside until the cookies were done, then topped them with the mixture.
And here's my finished lemon cakes. (You can totally tell which ones I formed *after* I opened the back door.)
Arya's Tarts Two Ways
The medieval version of Arya's tart is much more difficult because cooks at that time would have made a specialized dough and fried it to puff up. Being a lazy sort, I chose to go with the "Modern" version of the tarts. (There are "Medieval" and "Modern" versions of every recipe in the book.) This version starts with store-bought puff pastry, which mimics the rise of a fried dough.
These pies were a longer process than Sansa's cakes, because you have to candy the nuts for the topping beforehand, and the dough has to chill for at least 30 minutes after being cut into rounds. This recipe also makes two different kinds of tarts — big rounds with rings around them that get goat cheese, apples, and pecans (which I'll call the Arya tart), and smaller rounds with no rings that just get a tasty butter and honey mix with pecans (which I'll call mini Arya tart).
First, I candied the pecans for the topping. That required melting sugar with cinnamon and salt and then dumping the pecans in once it was at a boil. Next, I cut two different circular sizes of puff pastry. My largest cookie cutter was a 4-inch round, so you do you. I wound up with eight circles all told, which go four per cookie sheet. I also cut out rings for the larger circles. Chill the dough after!
On the Arya tart, I put a mixture of goat cheese, sliced apples, candied nuts, and a butter and honey mix. On the mini Arya tart, I just put the butter and honey mix with candied nuts.
I popped those in the oven for about 30 minutes.
When all was said and done, I had three tasty treats to try:
Both the lemon cake and the mini Arya tart were light and sweet, but not overpoweringly so. The lemon cakes were especially delectable and melted in my mouth.
But the Arya tart was something else entirely. The goat cheese, the apples, the honey wash, and the candied nuts were a flavor explosion of savory and sweet mixed together, with both a soft texture from the baked fruit and a hard crunch from the candied topping. It was also filling in a way the other two weren't.
Of the three, Arya's tart gets my vote as the best of the Stark family favorites, but you should try them yourself to be sure.