The kitchen smells nice tonight. In addition to the sweet honey altar cake, I also tried the recipe for Roman-style deviled eggs again (Ofellae sine Isicia) and was much more successful the second time. I’m not sure how successful I was making placenta, but here’s a transcript of the live-tweeting over the three-plus hours it took to make a small version of the industrial-size version described by Cato in his book on agriculture (and on appeasing the gods of nature with large quantities of sweets).

Placenta • Honeyed Altar Cake


I am happy to report there’s no fermented fish sauce in the honey cake recipe. Sadly, no wine either.
1:00 PM – 23 Dec 2015

I have limited ingredients so reduced from 8 lbs flour in the ancient original to 2 cups. It will be a teeny cake.
1:08 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_ingredients placenta_flourmeasure

Actually, this turned out to be a fairly large cake. I didn’t realise just how enormous the cake in the original recipe was.

Kneading tracta (stiff dough used a lot of ancient Roman recipes), getting flour all over my phone…
1:28 PM – 23 Dec 2015

For altar cake fill, tracta spread out to dry. Just like great great great great great great great gram used to make
1:50 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_mixingtracta placenta_spreadtracta

I was able to use some of the leftover tracta in the ofellae recipe later.

And now itty bitty bit of dough for teeny tiny crust. Debating whether original recipe justifies adding dollop oil.
2:05 PM – 23 Dec 2015

It did. (The original recipe basically just tells you to moisten the flour.) And that bit of oil helped a lot.

placenta_crustdoughball placenta_spreaddough

pan ready for the dough, dough ready for the filling.
2:42 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_baydisplay placenta_baylayer placenta_doughinpan

soft goat cheese and top-quality honey for the filling. Must not waste a drop.
2:49 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_cheeseandhoney placenta_mixedfilling

Ancient Roman altar cakes: a layer of tracta, a layer of honeyed cheese, a layer of tracta, and so on.
3:01 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_layer1 placenta_layer2 placenta_layer3

not quite enough dough to wrap the cake in its girdle. I’ll just have to make a bit more.
3:11 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_toplayer placenta_wrapped

top patched, and hoping for the best as I put it in the oven on a low heat.
3:17 PM – 23 Dec 2015

pretty sure made layers too thick but it’s already in the oven like a jiffy-pop cake so…so be it
3:34 PM – 23 Dec 2015

placenta_covered placenta_jiffypop

I’ll dutifully check it 3 times over hour to hour-&-half baking as instructed by the venerated Cato in his farming book.
3:55 PM – 23 Dec 2015

Roman honey altar cake (Placenta) – baked for an hour.


Once honey is drizzled over it, it’s ever so slightly reminiscent of baklava. Ever so slightly.

My observations: goat cheese is too sour; the layers of filling should be very thin; the bay leaves should be oiled; and Roman deities definitely had a sweet tooth.