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DECEMBER
 2000 ISSUE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This recipe is an early form of the baked and imprinted gingerbread cookie,
using a carved cookie board to form the surface ornamentation.


Adapted from Robert Mays, The Accomplished Cook  
1600, London; 5th edition, 1685

TO MAKE GINGER BREAD

"Take a pound of Jordan Almonds, and a penny manchet grated and fifted and mingled among the almond pafte very fine beaten, an ounce of slic’t ginger, two thimble fuls of liquoras and annifeed in powder finely feafed, beat all in a morgar together, with two or three fpoonfuls of rofe-water, beat them to a perfect pafte with a half a pound of fugar, mould it, and roul it thin, then print it and dry it in a ftove, and guild it if you please."

In Modern Terms:

  • 1 pound almonds, roasted and ground fine
  • 1 small, stale white bread, grated into crumbs
  • 1 ounce ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon wine
  • 2 spoons of rose water
  • 1 cup sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a food processor until they form a paste. Roll thin (3/8") and imprint with carved mold. Bake at 350 degrees F, until golden underneath. Remove and cool. "Gilding" may be done with edible gold paint, but to my taste the carved impression is handsome enough.


The following is the earliest boiled style of gingerbread. It has the advantage that young children (or adults) can model the dough like clay before it cools entirely, and then needs no further baking. Simply allow to dry and harden at room temperature.

 

TO MAKE GINGER BREAD

From Karen Hess, Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery  
( England, ca. 1625)

"Take a gallon of ye purest honey & set it on ye fire till it boyle, then take it of & put into it allmoste halfe a pinte of good white wine vinegar, & it will make the scum rise yt [yet] you may take it of very clean. & when it is scumed put into it a quart of strong ale, & set it on the fire againe. then put in halfe a pound of ginger, halfe a pound or more of good licorish, halfe a pound of anny seeds, 6 ounces of red sanders. let all these be finely beat and searced and mingle them well together, and let ye spice boyle in it. then put in A peck of grated bread by little and little, and worke it well in. & then mould it in searced cinamon, of which you must allow halfe a pound to this proportion. when yo[u] have worked[?] it well together, then print [it in molds] or make it into what fashion you pleas."

In Modern Terms:

  • 1½ cups honey

  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

  • ½ cup ale

  • 2 tablespoons ginger

  • 2 tablespoons licorish

  • 2 tablespoons anise seeds

  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon

  • 1 quart grated bread crumbs

[Note: Some early recipes also use ground black pepper, wine, and sandalwood flavorings.]  

Heat honey over a gentle flame. Stir in ginger, licorish, cinnamon, and ale.

When warm, stir in bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Continue to cook gently, covered, stirring occasionally. Mixture should be thick and moist.  

Turn out onto a sheet of bakers’ parchment or heavy waxed paper. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, mold into a bar. Roll into anise seeds for a thin coating. Allow to finish cooling. Cut in thin slices and serve.

VARIATION: after cooking, break warm dough into cookie-size portions and mold into desired shapes.  


This baked version is a modern compilation of nineteenth century recipes, and is a remarkably satisfying dough for either cookies or houses. This dough also handles well and will allow the addition of some surface detailing of shaped dough (for hair, clothes, etc.) much as you would use clay adornments

GINGERBREAD, FOR HOUSES OR MOLDED COOKIES

  • 1¼ cup butter at room temperature
  • 1¼ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons. vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon. lemon
  • 4 cups sifted flour
  • 1¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 3 teaspoons nutmeg

Combine butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and lemon extract. Cream well until smooth.  

Sift together flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Add to
butter mixture and stir until smooth, adding more flour if necessary to form a dough that is almost firm and very slightly sticky.

Wrap dough in plastic and chill until cold and thickened.  

Roll and cut to shape. Use dough scraps to form and press on decorative details. Bake at 350 degrees until brown underneath and slightly pale on top.

Note: Three times this recipe makes enough for 21 large gingerbread men (3/8" thick) with enough dough left over for decorations. If you are making a gingerbread house, roll a little thicker for strength. Extra dough freezes very well.


The following two recipes are from E. Smith’s Compleat Housewife (London, 1756) and are still worth baking today. Note: "treacle" is the English term for molasses.

TO MAKE GINGER BREAD

Take a pound and a half of treacle, two eggs beaten, half a pound of brown sugar, one ounce of ginger beaten and sifted; of cloves, mace and nutmegs all together half an ounce, beaten very fine, coriander-seeds and carraway-seeds of each half an ounce, two pounds of butter melted; mix all these together, with as much flour as will knead it into a pretty stiff paste; then roll it out, and cut it into what form you please; bake it in a quick oven on tin-plates; a little time will bake it."

"ANOTHER SORT OF GINGERBREAD"

"Take half a pound of almonds, blanch and beat them till they have done shining; beat them with a spoonful or two or orange-flower water, put in half an ounce of beaten ginger, and a quarter of an ounce of cinnamon powder’d; work it to a paste with double refined sugar beaten and sifted; then roll it out, and lay it on papers to dry in an oven after pyes are drawn."

References:

William Woys Weaver, Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking, 1993; Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple, London: 1747 and 1805 editions; Jeannette Lasansky, To Cut, Piece, & Solder, The Work of the Rural Pennsylvania Tinsmith 1778-1908, 1982; Festliches Backwerk, Germanisches National Museum, Nurnberg, Germany, 1981. Carved cookie board reproductions are available from House on the Hill, Tel: (630) 969-2624.

 

                        

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Alice Ross brings 25 years as a dedicated food professional teacher, writer, researcher and collector to her Hearth Studios, at which she teaches workshops in various aspects of hearth, woodstove and brick oven cookery. She has served as consultant in historical food for such noted museums as Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg and The Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts. Ross wrote her doctoral dissertation in food history at the State University at Stony Brook. Currently, she is involved in a major kitchen report on Rock Hall Museum, a 1770’s Georgian mansion on Long Island. Dr. Ross’ e-mail address is aross@binome.com. Her web site is www.li.net/~aross
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