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Published May 28th 2020
An easy sweet treat from a medieval cookbook
I obtained this recipe on a visit to Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral family home of George Washington, during a summer festival celebrating historical foods. The recipe is based on one found in the medieval English cookbook Forme of Cury written around 1390 for Richard II. Medieval gyngerbrede is not like the modern gingerbread cake that we know today. Medieval gingerbread is made with dry breadcrumbs, sweetened with honey and spices, and then set into bite-sized shapes with no baking required.
Slowly heat the honey to a gentle boil with just enough heat to remove any impurities that appear on the surface (just skim off with a spoon). Don't boil for too long or it will set hard and brittle.
Remove from the heat and add the spices to the honey.
Add the breadcrumbs to the honey and spices and mix until the breadcrumbs are fully incorporated.
Medieval recipes specify high-quality white bread. I've tried the recipe with store bought breadcrumbs and crumbs grated by hand from a bread loaf. This recipe definitely turns out best with breadcrumbs grated by hand over the store-bought variety. Also, you may need to vary the quantity of breadcrumbs to honey ratio. The above measurements are a guideline, but it depends on humidity and type of bread and size of crumbs, and the consistency you want for the end result. You are aiming for a mixture that is fully saturated in the honey-spice solution (not too dry), but not over saturated with liquid or it will not set properly. The final result should hold together easily and have a chewy consistency.
You can press the mixture into a dish to cut into squares after it sets or roll into bite-sized balls. Allow the gingerbread to set in the refrigerator for at least an hour. Place a clove on the top of each square (or ball) before serving. It takes around 15 minutes to grate the bread crumbs and combine with the honey and spices and an additional hour or so for the mixture to set in the refrigerator.