Month: December 2015

Foods and Feasts 2015 Governor’s Table: Gingerbread

Modern gingerbread in the US is mostly done in cookie form, using flour to make a dense cookie dough. Our readers in the UK will be more familiar with gingerbread in a dense moist loaf form, like banana bread.

(The little rounds are slices of crystallized ginger.)

Gervase Markham in The English Housewife has a recipe for gingerbread as follows:

To make coarse gingerbread, take a quart of honey and set it on the coals and refine it: then take a pennyworth of ginger, as much pepper, as much liquorice; and a quarter pound of aniseeds, and a pennyworth of sanders [sandalwood]: all these must be beaten and searced [sifted], and so put into the honey: then put in a quarter of a pint of claret wine or old ale: then take three penny manchets finely grated and strew it amongst the rest, and stir it till it come to a stiff paste, and then make it into cakes and dry them gently.

That is a lot of spices, and in amounts that are almost impossible to gauge, because of the changing worth of the ingredients. Working with the recipe was necessary to make sure that the gingerbread was not overwhelmed by the liquorice flavour. Modern honey allows us to skip the step of refining the honey.

Gingerbread (The English Housewife, 1615)
1 cup honey
1 Tbsp ginger
1/2 tsp white pepper
1/4 tsp liquorice/aniseed extract
1/2 tsp whole aniseed, ground in a mortar and sifted
1/4 cup ale
5 cups finely grated fresh white breadcrumbs, firmly packed
cooking spray

Tools needed: 1 medium saucepan, heavy bottomed, small jello molds or candy molds, parchment paper, cookie sheet.

Warm the honey in a medium-size saucepan over low heat. Add the ginger, pepper, extract, and ground aniseed. Stir until well mixed. Add the ale, and stir until well blended. Add the breadcrumbs 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until blended each time. Once all the bread is added, cook the mixture over low heat, stirring frequently, until the mix is a stiff paste, like firm mashed potatoes. Turn off the heat, and allow to stand until cool enough to handle.

Preheat oven to 225F. Grease jello/candy molds generously with cooking spray; pack gingerbread mixture firmly into molds, so no air pockets remain, and so the bases are flat. Put filled molds into the fridge for 10 minutes. Un-mold gingerbread onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. Bake @ 225F for 30-40 minutes, or until the surface of the gingerbread is dry to the touch.

I’ve seen other people try to make gingerbread using this recipe, and I think the last step of drying the gingerbread in the oven is crucial to the success of the recipe. If the gingerbread is not baked, it remains unmanageably sticky. The flavour is spicier and has more bite than modern gingerbread; if you like anise and ginger, though, this recipe is delicious. Make sure to use small molds; a little of this gingerbread goes a long way!

Foods and Feasts 2015, Governor’s Table: Banbury Tarts

First, here are the links to two more of the Foods & Feasts recipes – fig pudding, and pease pudding. The pudding is an old English way of cooking food, and refers to any food that is cooked in a water bath.  In case anyone is worried about the taste, pease pudding tastes like cooked peas or split pea soup, and fig pudding tastes like Fig Newtons.

Another old recipe is the spiced fruit and pastry Banbury Tarts; they are mentioned in Gervase Markam’s The English Housewife (1615) as a cake, and Thomas Dawson’s The Good Housewife’s Jewell (1596-7) as “cremitaries” or purses.

From The Good Housewife’s Jewell:

Take a little marrow, small raisins, and dates (let the stones be taken away) these being beaten together in a mortar.  Season it with ginger, cinnamon, and sugar.  Put it in fine paste and bake them or fry them.  So done, in the serving of them cast blanch powder on them.

My recipe is adapted from several additional sources as I’ve tried to perfect the taste and mouthfeel of the recipe over 10+ years of making them for people.

Banbury Tarts (recipe)

1/2 cup each of golden raisins, dark raisins, dried figs, dried dates, and currants.  Chop the dates and figs into pieces roughly the size of the dark raisins.

1 Tbsp each of ground cinnamon, mace, allspice, and ginger.

1/2 Tbsp each of ground cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper.

1 cup sweet wine, like Madeira or Marsala

4 pre-made pastry crusts (I like the refrigerated Pillsbury brand), or enough pastry to make 32 three-inch circles.

2 WEEKS -2 MONTHS AHEAD: Mix all fruit and spices in a lidded Tupperware-style container.  Put the lid on the container and shake a few times to distribute the spices evenly over the fruit.  Pour in the wine, and give the closed container another good shake.  Store in a cool dark place, giving the sealed container a shake every week or so.  (This mix will stay good indefinitely.  If it dries out too much, add a bit more wine.)

When you are ready to make your tarts, prepare or open your pastry for cutting.  Cut out as many 3″ circles as you can get out of the pastry; gather up and re-roll pastry scraps.  Brush the inside of each pastry circle with milk, then put 1/4 to 1/2 Tbsp of fruit in the center.  Fold the pastry up on three sides, creating a triangle-shaped pouch.  Press edges together firmly.

BAKING METHOD: Preheat oven to 375F.  Put sealed tarts 1/4″ apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Brush the outsides with milk.  Bake at 375F for 18 minutes, or until the top is a nice golden brown. Put on a cooling rack until pastries are room temperature.

FRYING METHOD:  Using a deep fryer or a large heavy saucepan, fry sealed pastries in hot oil until golden brown on the outside.

OPTIONAL:  Warm 1/4 cup honey until liquid, brush on the outsides of the pastry.

The pastries will store in a sealed container for up to 3 weeks.

NEXT TIME:  Gingerbread.

Jamestown Food and Feasts 2015 – Recipe for Sugar Cakes

Gardiner’s Company had a great time at Foods and Feasts this year! Thank you to all our great volunteers, it was fabulous.

Bob and I worked the Great Hall in the Governor’s House, as usual:

I’ll be posting all the recipes for this year’s Governor’s Table over the course of the next week or so, but let’s start with links to the recipes I posted last year:

Sugar Cakes:

This year, I augmented the recipe with a topping for wafers (another kind of thin cookie, very popular with the rich) from The English Housewife by Gervase Markham:

To make the best marchpane [marzipan], take the best Jordan almonds and blanch them in warm water, then put them into a stone mortar, and with a wooden pestle beat them to pap, then take of the finest refined sugar well searced [powdered], and with it, and damask rose-water, beat it to a good stiff paste, allowing to almost every Jordan almond three spoonful of sugar; then when it is brought thus to a paste, lay it on a fair [flat] table, and strewing searced sugar under it, mould it like leaven [i.e., into a flattish ball, like a round loaf of bread]; then with a rolling pin roll it forth, and lay it upon wafers washed with rose-water; then pinch it about the sides, and put it into what form you please; then strew searced sugar all over it; which done, wash it over with rose-water and sugar mixed together, for that will make the ice; then adorn it with comfits, gilding, or whatsoever devices you please, and so set it into a hot stove, and there bake it crispy, and so serve it forth.

I substituted the sugar cakes for the wafers in the recipe, baking them and allowing them to cool before applying the marzipan. I rolled out the marzipan to a 1/4″ thick, and cut out the rolled marzipan with the same size cutter I used for the sugar cake dough (about 2″).

You will need:
Baked and cooled sugar cakes
16oz almond paste (in cans in the baking aisle; any marzipan dough will do)
2 cups powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup rosewater, plus two Tablespoons rosewater

Dust your rolling surface and rolling pin with powdered sugar. Open the marzipan, and rolling it in your hands, form it into a ball. Roll the ball out until roughly 1/4″ thick (if it gets sticky, add more powdered sugar). Using the same size cutter as your sugar cakes, cut out as many rounds of marzipan as you have sugar cakes (the linked recipe makes about 52).

Working a few at a time so they don’t dry out, brush the tops of the sugar cakes with rosewater and then apply the marzipan rounds, pressing down lightly. Allow to dry.

Mix the 1/4 cup rosewater and the 2 cups powdered sugar together (you can add some meringue powder here for stability if you wish, but it’s not mandatory) into icing. Using a pastry brush, brush a thick layer of the icing onto each sugar cake. Allow to dry completely before putting them into a cookie tin or box. Put parchment paper between the layers of cookies, as the marzipan will get oily if it gets warm.

You can also change the flavour of the recipe by substituting lemon juice or plain water for the rosewater. Not everyone likes rosewater, but I think these are delicious.