With the holidays coming upon us, I would offer a recipe for a surprising and delightful sweet. Gingerbread has a long association with the winter holidays, when something spicy and warming was always welcome. Please do not be surprised, though, when you find no ingredient “ginger” in this recipe. I beg you to take it on trust!
Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & throw ther-on; take gratyd Brede, & make it so chargeaunt that it wol be y-lechyd; then take pouder Canelle, & straw ther-on 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 yif thou wolt have it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.
TRANSLATION: Take a quart of honey, and simmer it, and skim it clean. Take saffron and powder of pepper and throw thereon. Take grated bread, and make it as stiff that it can be sliced. Then take powered cinnamon and throw thereon enough. Then make it square, as if to slice it. And when you slice it, cast thereon box leaves, stuck thereon, and cloves. And if you will have it red, color it with sandalwood enough.
REALIZATION: You can really use a quart of honey, but that makes a powerful lot of gingerbread; try starting with 2 cups. Bring the honey to a simmer in a saucepan with a thick bottom, watching closely that it doesn’t scorch. You may get a foam, especially if using raw honey; skim off with a spoon. Add about ¼ teaspoon ground saffron, ½ teaspoon of finely ground white pepper; if you have access to a mortar and pestle, grind commercial ground white pepper even finer; really powder it, if you have the arm-strength. Stir in ground bread crumbs until it is stiff enough to hold its shape. You can shape into a square and slice it as in the recipe, or mold into other shapes. Use a total of about ½ T. dough per slice. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon, and stud with whole cloves and small green leaves. One particularly nice presentation I have tried is to mold hazelnut-sized balls of dough, roll generously in cinnamon, stud each ball with a clove, and insert the leaf at the opposite end. They look like tiny apples.
This recipe really does use all pepper and no ginger. If you want to reassure yourself that it will work, take a small amount of powdered ginger on a finger, and place it on your tongue. After taking a drink or otherwise clearing your mouth, do the same with the same amount of powdered white pepper. You will be surprised to find that they have about the same sharpness, though a different taste.
Chargeaunt: Stiff. Usually used in connection with some sort of comparative standard – in this case, “stiff enough to be sliced.” Depending on how you decide to present the gingerbread, I would shoot for about the texture of ice-box cookie dough.
Leche: To slice. Variants include “y-leched” – sliced, and “leche” as a noun. All this means is “a food which is served in slices”. This recipe is found in a chapter of the manuscript called “LECHE VYAUNDEZ”, which simply means “sliced foods”. Could be meat, could be sweet, could even be poultry or fish. The only thing you can rely on is that it will be served in strips.
Canelle: You saw a variant of this in the last recipe; it is one of the many names for cinnamon.
Clowys: Cloves; in this case, “whole cloves” since they are stuck into something. However, since the whole thing is designed to be eaten, be somewhat more spare than when cloving a lemon for other entertainments.
Box leaves: Leaves from a hedge of boxwood. These leaves are for decorative purposes, and were probably picked off and discarded when the sweet was eaten. You may use almost any small stiff leaf, about the size of your little fingernail or so. However, if you raid one of your hedges, please be sure the plant is non-toxic.
Sanders: Sandalwood. Medieval cooks colored with ground herbs, like saffron for yellow, turnsole for blue, and spinach for green. You really CAN color this with red sandalwood powder, if you hunt it down from an incense shop. However, I have tried it, and it does nothing for (and much TO) the taste.