Coffyns & Traps


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Here are the Recipes that were explore at the Coffyns and Traps workshop that I hosted for Wolfscairn and Caldarium in October 2010. 

In the context of Medieval and Renaissance cookery, the word coffyn or coffin, does not have the same macabre connotation that it does in the modern world.  A coffyn was a container; it could contain anything, not just the dearly departed.  The pastry coffyns of culinary application, the forerunners of our pies, held sweet, but more often, savory fillings, and the pastry from which they were constructed was less than delightful. The earlier you go, the less delightful they were.  By the time coffyns, or pastries reached the 16th century, the pastry it’s self was approaching respectability and renaissance man adored them, particularly in England where pies, particularly meat pies, still make up a large part of the diet.  There was an expression in Elizabethan England, “...If it’s good, tis better in a Coffyn...”


The pastry in the earlier coffyns was neigh on to inedible by our standards.  It was basically made from a flour and water past, worked into a stiff dough that was used to form a sturdy container in which foods could be baked.  It was sometimes several inches thick in order to render it sturdy enough to hold it’s contents.  Not very appetizing yet is was not discarded.  Although seldom actually consumed by the nobility, it would be passed “below the salt.” to those of lesser rank and handed out to the hungry who might come to the gate looking for offerings.  Although the pastry it’s self was tough and offered small delight, it would have absorbed some of the gravy and juices from the contents cooked there in.


For the purposes of this article I am providing you with a thoroughly modern and supremely delectable, tender and flakey recipe for pastry.  It is my opinion that authenticity is no excuse for bad food.  However to please the soul of the authenticity Nazis, I am also providing a recipe for hot water pastry.  While still being edible, (although not to my taste) it is of a more substantial consistency.


Coffyns were often square, not round, in particular the 12th night coffyn or pie.  This concoction, served on 12th night, was always rectangular to represent the manger in which Christ slept.  Even when it shifted from the 12th night pie to the Christmas pie during Tudor and Elizabethan times, it still retained it’s rectangular shape.  It was during the rule of everyone’s favorite ol’ curmudgeon, Oliver Cromwell, that the Christmas pie became round.  One must remember that Cromwell had forbidden the celebration of such enjoyable things as dancing, sex, except for procreation, and the celebration of May Day and Christmas.  The constabulary might burst in at any moment to see if you were making merry.  If you had a rectangular Christmas pie on the table it was a dead giveaway; therefore cooks began making their pies round, and so they have stayed ever since.


In the early periods, single crust pies, (pies with no top crust) were called “traps.”  By Elizabethan times they had become known as tarts. 

Hot Water Pastry

Perfect Pastry

Cornish Pasties

Chycken Pudding in a Coffyn

Applesauce Custard Trap

Cabbage Kulebyaka

Little Jack Horner's Christmas Pye

The English Country Kitchen


        Copyright © 2008 - Geraldine Duncann

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