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Nowadays gingerbread is most usually a form of biscuit made with a proportion of oats, but many makers follow the older form of a softer, more bread-like, product. Gingerbread was formerly often formed in highly intricate moulds and sometimes gilded or coloured bright red with 'sanders'.
Gingerbread mould, England, c. 1830-1870 (this side: man in top hat on hobby horse; other side: coach + driver) - Victoria and Albert Museum, Photo: Andreas Praefcke
Note that the very early receipt in Austin 1440 does not actually include any ginger, so that the name may have been a reference to the colour, not the spice:
Original Receipt in the 15th Century 'Austin Manuscripts' (Austin 1440)
Gyngerbrede. Take a quart of hony, & seethe it, & skeme it clean; take saffron, powder pepper, & throw theron; take grated bread, & make it so chargeaunt [stiff] that it wol be ylechyd [sliced]; then take powder cinnamon, & straw theron y-now; then make yt square, lyke as thou wolt leche yt; take when thou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.
Gingerbread mould, Cromford Mill Museum. Late 18th Century?
Image: Foods of England
Original Receipt in 'The Accomplisht Cook' by Robert May, 1660 (Robert May 1660);
To make Ginger-Bread.
Take a pound of Jordan Almonds, and a penny manchet grated and sifted and mingled among the almond paste very fine beaten, an ounce of slic't ginger, two thimble fuls of liquoras and anniseed in powder finely searsed, beat all in a mortar together, with two or three spoonfuls of rose-water, beat them to a perfect paste with half a pound of sugar, mould it, and roul it thin, then print it and dry it in a stove, and guild it if you please.
Original Receipt in 'The Book of Household Management', 1861, edited by Isabella Beeton (See Mrs.B)
INGREDIENTS: 1 lb. of treacle, ¼ lb. of butter, ¼ lb. of coarse brown sugar, 1-½ lb. of flour, 1 oz. of ginger,½ oz. of ground allspice, 1 teaspoonful of carbonate of soda, ¼ pint of warm milk, 3 eggs.
Mode: Put the flour into a basin, with the sugar, ginger, and allspice; mix these together; warm the butter, and add it, with the treacle, to the other ingredients. Stir well; make the milk just warm, dissolve the carbonate of soda in it, and mix the whole into a nice smooth dough with the eggs, which should be previously well whisked; pour the mixture into a buttered tin, and bake it from ¾ to 1 hour, or longer, should the gingerbread be very thick. Just before it is done, brush the top over with the yolk of an egg beaten up with a little milk, and put it back in the oven to finish baking.
Time ¾ to 1 hour.
Average cost 1s. per square.
Seasonable at any time.
Barnstaple Fair Gingerbread
Dorset Fair Gingerbreads
Duke of Windsor's Gingerbread
Ginger Nut Biscuit
Grantham White Gingerbread
Market Drayton Gingerbread
Sunderland Gingerbread Nuts
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