An I had but one penny in the world, thous shouldst have it to buy ginger-bread
Shakespeare, Love's Labours Lost
You saw that this post was about gingerbread, and so you probably figured you'd see photos of cute little gingerbread men, or fancy houses with icing trim, or at the very least some nice, fluffy cake. Well, this is medieval gingerbread, my friends, and it doesn't play like that.
In fact, if it weren't for the copious amount of bread crumbs that you use to make it, I would probably call this "Spicy Ginger Honey Candy," or something along those lines. Don't get me wrong: I love this stuff, but it's a bit disconcerting. It tastes quite like gingerbread - only much spicier, which I prefer - but the texture is unlike any gingerbread you've ever eaten. (Unless, of course, you've been attending medieval feasts, as I suspect some of you have!) It's chewy, but solid - harder than, say, taffy, but much softer than peanut brittle.
It's so simple to prepare - after all, what could be easier than to "take gryted brede & and make it so chargeaunt?" - and it's perfect for party favors or hostess gifts. As an added plus, it's pretty rich, so I think there's little danger of finishing off an entire batch on your own. (I've ... heard of such things happening, you understand.)
This recipe closely follows one from a fifteenth-century manuscript, the Harleian MS 279. For proportions and amounts, I referred to Gode Cookery. The only trouble is, the author didn't include ginger! Scholars disagree over whether or not this was a mistake, and so some translations include it, others don't. While I certainly can't surmise what the author's original intent actually was, I decided that I do want ginger in my gingerbread.
Additionally, the original recipe suggests, " And if thoue wolt haue it red, coloure it with Saunders y-now." In other words, if you'd like it red, color it with a few drops of food coloring (but not sandalwood, as is specified by the author!).
Medieval Gynger Brede
- 1 cup honey
- 2 cups of stale, ground-up bread crumbs, with extra standing by. These must be absolutely stale and dry.
- 1/2 tbsp powdered ginger
- 1/2 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp white pepper, plus a pinch or 2 for extra zing
- a pinch of saffron, optional
- a few drops of red food coloring, optional
Bring the honey to a boil, skimming off any scum if necessary. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the spices and saffron. Taste test it here to see if you'd like it spicier. (If it's too spicy, just add some more honey until you get it right.) If you're using it, add the food coloring. Next, start slowly stirring in the bread crumbs. You want to achieve a thick consistency, like a big sticky blob. Transfer your sticky mass to a greased cookie sheet or casserole dish and spread it out evenly, about 1/4 - 1/2 inch thick:
At this point I thought it was going to be a disaster, because it seemed a bit lumpy and I couldn't imagine how this was ever going to turn into something edible. No fear! When it's cool enough to handle - but not cooled off entirely - you can begin to cut off pieces, about 1-inch square, and form them into little balls. I rolled mine in sprinkles and red sugar:
The traditional way to serve gingerbread was to cut it into squares, with a clove stuck in the middle. (Don't eat the clove!) To do this, once the sticky mass was cool, I turned the casserole upside down and waited ... and waited ... and impatiently waited for it to come out. It took about 10 minutes.
Feel free to use your imagination here - play with shapes and textures, use a fun mold or stamp. There are so many possibilities! This is also a great cooking activity to do with kids - after all, it's a little sticky and little messy. They'll love it.
Enjoy your gynger brede, and I'll see you tomorrow for Day 8 - I can't believe the 12 Days of Medieval Feasting are more than halfway over!