Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Day 7: Medieval Gynger Brede

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!


  1. Wow, love this one. And love the idea of the pepper and saffron. I am a big fan of saffron.

  2. These look so interesting. Pepper, ginger and saffron is a wild spice mixture for a dessert. Your series has been wonderful. Does it really have to end after just 12 days???

  3. Actually sounds kinda tasty - even when you describe the texture!

  4. Another very interesting spicy dish, congratulations in translating the old English, very shakespearean! WOndering how sandlwood would taste like!

  5. The round ones are so cute! I love the little quotes you use from old e English! In Nottingham where I live we have so many medieval pubs (because of the whole Robin Hood shabang) so I really love all of this stuff!

  6. I love ginger balls!

  7. i am loving your medieval cooking series ..
    this one looks interesting and i guess they are sticky n chewy ...with those spices it should be yummy..

  8. I love these ball cookies! they look so yummy and sweet

  9. oh these look cool great job on this series

  10. I would love to make these with my daughter over the winter break, very cool!

  11. I told you, I really love this glimpse into Medieval food, in fact I love any insight on ancient food... loved the little balls too!

  12. Ye gads, I missed seven days of Medieval feasting due to some furniture sales gone wrong?! Not cool!!

    As for the gynger brede, I find it amusing that there was no ginger in the original recipe. Maybe he was just talking so funny that later generations didn't translate it right ;)

  13. Trix I don't want to be discriminating but this so far is my favorite...your getting better and better I hate to see these end each one is better than the next I love it! These are great looking ginger balls!!!

  14. This looks great!! I love gingerbread, spicier the better.

  15. LOVE the Shakespeare quote! LOL! This is a brilliant post for the season and an outstanding project overall. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. It's a wonderful holiday gift to us all.

    BTW: I'm not at all shy about using those stale breadcrumbs. Stale bread was something my Italian-born mother and aunt made good use of all the time in their recipes. Waste not!

    author of The Coffeehouse Mysteries
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  16. @janis, @evelyne, @jessie, @chowandchatter, @miriam, @kathy, @sangeeta: thank you so much, i am so glad you're enjoying it!
    @vegetablematter: thank you! if you find a financial backer for me, it never has to end ; )
    @tastyeats: it is tasty, actually, just an adjustment to one's mental idea of gingerbread
    @citron: i have a feeling sandalwood would taste like incense to me. i don't know ...
    @sanjana: jealous, i want to go to a medieval pub!!
    @anonymous: i know who you are & you're very naughty!
    @fivestarfoodie: this is definitely something i would have loved to make when i was a kid, have fun with your daughter!
    @chickenlesschick: it's not too late to catch up ; )
    @pegasuslegend: your support is awesome, thank you tons and tons!
    @cleo: glad you like the quote! i love including stuff like that, it's the dork in me i guess. i'm glad you're not shy about the breadcrumbs - this takes a lot!

  17. looks quite intriguing....perfect for an experimentation kind of day!.

  18. This is a must-try recipe. I need to collect some stale-bread first. Your photos are getting better and better, by the way. I missed you.

  19. That is a really cool recipe...thank you! Yummy!


  20. so cool! I just made this kind of medieval gingerbread for a school presentation on honey. It sure is tasty

  21. WONDERFUL photos! These look great!

  22. That looks amazingly delicious! So dark and spicy... though I have to wonder how it would taste, look, and smell if you did use sandalwood in the recipe!?

  23. glad to read your post! very festive. just watched rick steves' christmas in europe, so this was a timely!

  24. Hey Trix,
    Congratulations!! it is an enormous feat. And such great recipes. You totally rock girl. I liked all your posts. But my fave is the fish. Cos I love fish so much :)

  25. I'm sooo behind on my blog reading but I just had to check this out! I love the little balls - they look like donut hole munchies with the sprinkles! Adorable next to the ornaments!