Well, I finally made gingerbread! There were a number of different recipes to choose from, but I went with good old Hannah Woolley since this recipe included most of the common elements I’d seen in the other recipes. Here it is:
To make Ginger-bread.
Take three stale Manchets grated and sifted, then put to them half an Ounce of Cinnamon, as much Ginger, half an Ounce of Licoras and Aniseeds together, beat all these and searce them, and put them in with half a Pound of fine Sugar, boil all these together with a quart of Claret, stirring them continually till it come to a stiff Paste, then when it is almost cold, mould it on a Table with some searced Spice and Sugar, then bake it in what shape you please.
Hannah Woolley, The Queen-Like Closet (1670)
Not quite the gingerbread we’re use to now eh? Most of the recipes I found involved grated manchets – essentially breadcrumbs – rather than flour. Some used ground almonds but were titled “Almond gingerbread” indicating this is a variant rather than the norm. So, the first step was to find out what a manchet is, and the second step was to make one.
A manchet, it turns out, is a kind of enriched bread – not entirely unlike brioche, although the texture is not really the same. The absolute best place to learn about historical bread is the wonderful blog History of Bread, and this is where I found a recipe for manchet. I made the manchet according to the “Lady of Arundel’s manchet” recipe as interpreted by History of Bread – I sneaked a taste and then had to resist eating half of it while it was still hot and delicious. It tastes like a hybrid of bread and a cake, the crust was particularly good.
I scooped out the inner bread and discarded the crust (well, the bits I didn’t eat). However, my freshly made manchet wasn’t yet suitable for the recipe, so I left it in a bowl covered with a tea towel for a day or so to stale it up a bit.
One the manchet was stale I crumbled the bread in a food processor. I know, not a very early modern method, but I was not in the mood for lengthy grating and sieving. Besides, I can tell you with confidence having lived without a food processor for many years and still wanted to eat meatballs that the end result is identical. The last time I resisted the food processor to stay true to original methods I ended up spending literally hours bashing a bag of almonds, and that put me off somewhat! As for quantities, I scaled the other ingredients down by half, which seemed about right when I put them with the manchet-crumbs.
Crumbs created, I moved onto the other ingredients. I did try, but was unable to get hold of liquorice and aniseed so I had to improvise somewhat – I happened to have some liquorice extract in the cupboard and some star anise. I brought the wine slowly to the boil with the star anise so try and get a little bit of aniseed flavour. Once it was boiling gently I removed the anise, added the ginger and cinnamon, then a few drops of liquorice flavour (I did put too much of this in and it tasted more like licorice bread than ginger bread, so be careful if you do this). I added the sugar and stirred until it had dissolved, and then put in the crumbs. The mixture came together quickly, making a sticky, gluey kind of dough. I took it off the heat and left it to cool, once it was cool enough to handle I shaped it into rounds and put it on a baking tray. I then baked it for about half an hour on a medium heat (about 180c). When I removed the gingerbread it was still quite soft in the middle so I put it back for another 15 minutes. It still hadn’t firmed up in the middle, so I decided it was probably meant to be like that.
This was a particularly enlightening food experiment for me for a number of reasons. I had not expected to find wine and bread/cake crumbs in the recipe, although it’s not unheard of to put breadcrumbs or relatively large volumes of alcohol into baked goods today, it’s still fairly unusual. I had always thought that Early Modern gingerbread would be the biscuit kind rather than the cakey kind – in fact I even said this when I wrote the first post! This assumption was based on the knowledge that it was often formed into shapes. As it turns out, the weird glue-dough that comes from mixing wine and breadcrumbs is much better for shaping than biscuit dough, you could quite easily make a 3D model. It’s similar in consistency to marchpane, another substance used for modelling food. The dark colour comes from the claret. Taste-wise, this gingerbread is a bit like eating mulled wine cookie dough. It is reminiscent of modern cake gingerbread but sadly not as nice. It’s an interesting taste, probably not one I’d make again. It got a definite thumbs down from my husband too! Onward and upward though, what shall I try next?
Want to try it yourself? Here’s a recipe.
1 manchet, staled and made into crumbs. You can find the recipe here
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, ginger, aniseed and liquorice (see above for possible substitutions)
Bring the wine to the boil. Add the sugar and stir until dissolves. Add the manchet crumbs with the spices. Stir until a paste comes together, then leave to cool while you preheat the oven to 180. When the mixture is cool, mould with your hands into whatever shape you would like, then place on a greased tray and bake for 45 minutes. Cool slightly, then eat (they are much better warm).