Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Medieval Ginger Bread Recipe

It's funny.  When I imagine gingerbread, I think of a sweet, hard cake or cookie like substance, shaped as cute little people, houses, rounds, with icing and colourful candy.  The thing I don't think about when people say the word gingerbread, is... bread.

But that's exactly what gingerbread was in the middle ages: Ginger Bread.  That's two words, not one, to indicate that literally, there is ginger, there is bread and they get combined somehow.

Reading the book Pleyn Delite, by Constance Hieatt and Sharon Butler, I came across a delicious looking gingerbread recipe from the Middle Ages.  This book contains all sorts of recipes from historical sources, including a lot of the recipes in the original text, and the modern day translation.  What I love best about this book is that the authors actually cooked a lot of these recipes.  I suspect that this is not the norm when translating historic cooking techniques into modern methods.  But these two have done a really good job of it.

I've tasted a few dishes cooked from the Pleyn Delite (which I say in my head as Plain Delight) and loved most of them.  This gingerbread, I didn't love as much.  I found it too crunchy, but I'm in the minority on this one.  Everyone else has gobbled it down, making me fend them off with a fork and a cunning plan to have enough left over for the photograph.

I suspect their plan was to finish it off quickly so that I would be forced to make a second batch if I wanted to take any pictures for the blog.

Before I write the recipe for medieval gingerbread, I feel compelled to confess that not much is changed from the version in Pleyne Delite, except maybe the quantities of the spices and wording.  It's a difficult recipe to improve on.  I would change a bit of the method if given a second chance to make this - which I may just be strong armed into doing.

Medieval Ginger Bread

Bread crumbs - about a 1 lb loaf of bread dried and finely ground
a generous teaspoon of ginger powder
a generous pinch of cinnamon
a dash of ground pepper or a pinch of Poudre Forte
1/2 cup of honey

  • In a large pan, bring honey to boil, remove from heat.  Add the spices and stir well.
  • Add the bread to the honey a little at a time, return to medium low heat if needed, stirring well after each handful of breadcrumbs.  When the mixture is really thick and hard to stir, turn out onto a layer of parchment paper.  spread it out evenly as best you can, then put another layer of parchment paper on top.  Use your hands or rolling pin to smooth out the gingerbread to make it as even and as thin/thick as you like.  Thinner is better in my opinion. 
  • Leave covered to cool for about an hour, cut into shapes.  You want to do this today and not a few days from now, trust me.  It gets more difficult as it ages.

This keeps well at room temperature for several days and travels well in a bento box, just wrap with a bit of parchment paper and you are good to go.

Affordable cooking? - Very much so, provided you use bread that would have gone to the chickens/garbage otherwise.  Not so much if you are buying bread or bread crumbs just for this recipe.  

Cooking for your Vegan friends? - It can be made vegan friendly by replacing the honey with a different liquid sweetener.  

Cooking for Allergies - not many allergies here at first glance, but it's good to be careful about the ingredients of the bread crumbs (commercially made usually contain soy and other problems), spices (sometimes processed with oils or lecithin which can include soy).  Just remember that your ingredients these days, have ingredients lists of their own.  With that in mind, this is a very flexible recipe.  You can choose any kind of bread, be it gluten free, yeast free, whatever you  need.

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