We know a couple of things about gingerbread in the 16th century. We know:
- It was made by guilds, and written recipes are hard to come by.
- It was not a dessert of the common man.
- It was not always called gingerbread, but spiced cakes.
- People began to experiment with making lighter gingerbread using flour, butter, and eggs. Creating breads and cookies instead of ginger honey candy.
- Treacle (molasses) started to replace honey, as it was a cheaper alternative sugar, and a by product no one really wanted.
- English started cutting dough into shapes, and not just using dough presses.
- Measurements are not standard across recipes (those that are written), and in Germany, they are still not standardized today.
- And while people knew what sodium bicarbonate was, it was not used in baking unil the 18th century. Cookies were not leavened.
It is possible to conclude that we can take a “modern” (being relative if you call the late 1600’s modern) recipe and reverse engineer to a period recipe. Using what we know about gingerbread today’s cookie and house building recipes, with only those ingredients used in period I was able to come up with this recipe. It behaves better, molds with the addition of flour, and has no rise.
2 sticks of butter
3/4 cups of molasses
1 cup white sugar
2 tbl grated fresh ginger
5 1/4 cups of pastry flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbl cinnamon
1 tsp clove
1 tsp cardamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup of water
- Cream sugars and ginger.
- Add sifted dry ingredients.
- when combined, add water to make soft dough.
- Refrigerate overnight or at least 3 hours
- preheat oven to 350.
- Kneed and roll out dough to 1/4 thickness.
- place on un-greased cookie sheet
- cook about 15 minutes or until ginger bread is not soft to the touch.
The recipe I started with is one that I use for building gingerbread houses. It is a little bit of a drier dough/cookie, ideal for structural construction. It also produces a texture most like what I think gingerbread ended up being in the later 16th century.
It produces a wettish dough, that sets under refrigeration, and has more flour kneaded into it at the time of rolling. Notice the lack of baking soda. It doesn’t need it, and we don’t want the rise. I substituted white sugar intead of brown, as brown sugar is made by mixing white sugar with molasses. I use a refrigerator (sanitation) to set the dough (stopping the gluten development), you could leave it out covered overnight to get the same type of results. There was a little spread on the gingerbread, by maybe 1/16 of an inch and this is due to the butter in the dough.
This created a gingerbread that sounds more inline with what they were making in later period England. It would be interesting to see how this would be made if it were created like a small cake. Hmmmmm…. that has potential.