9. Gyngerbrede

I’d almost be remiss if I didn’t make one attempt at gingerbread.  I’ve heard for years that Medieval gingerbread is very different from the cake-like modern version.  So, a-googling I did go, and with a tip from the lovely Tamara, did find two versions of the same medieval recipe.

The original, found in Harleian Manuscript 279:

“Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & þrow þer-on; take gratyd Brede, & make it so chargeaunt þat it wol be y-lechyd; þen take pouder Canelle, & straw þer-on y-now; þen make yt square, lyke as þou wolt leche yt; take when þou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd þer-on, on clowys. And ȝif þou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.”

The first of the two modern recipes, from Recipewise, has interpreted gingerbread to be a kind of soft boiled sweet which has relatively little breadcrumbs mixed in.  The second recipe, from Gode Cookery calls for nearly equal parts bread to honey.

I found the references to gingerless gingerbread a bit amusing- in Norway, one makes ‘pepperkake’ houses, where in the English world, they are ‘gingerbread’ houses.  The Norwegian dough has some heat, but uses pepper rather than ginger as the primary spicy ingredient.

The Venture

I decided to follow the lines of the Gode Cookery recipe with a few modifications.  Firstly, I dropped the saunders altogether.  My one experience with it was not pleasant and I don’t keep it on the shelf.  This is not a presentation dish, so a colorant is not essential.  I  also chose to go spicier, and therefore dropped the saffron with the thought that it functions more as colorant than flavor in this recipe.

Ingredients used in my version:

  • 250 g honey
  • 125 g dry very fine bread crumbs (more or less)
  • ½ Tbsp. cinnamon
  • ½ Tbsp ginger
  • ½ tsp. white pepper

Bring the honey to a boil, skim, then boil gently 2-3 minutes.  Mix in spices and allow these to infuse for a minute or two before gradually stirring in the bread crumbs.  Mix thoroughly.  Allow to cool slightly then form into gumball sized balls and allow to cool thoroughly on a lightly buttered plate.  (A little butter on the spoon/fingers will make shaping the balls easier).

Allowing to mature a day or two makes for a mellower gingerbread that still has a nice firey finish.

The Verdict

These turned out quite nice.  I ended up using only about half as much breadcrumbs as honey (half of the crumbs on the green plate to the left), and they didn’t dissolve and thicken the mixture as I anticipated, and the gingerbread balls are a bit grainy in texture as a consequence.   I do think I’ll wait to attempt gingerbread again until after I have had the opportunity to sample some made by experienced cooks.