Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Gingerbread Cookie History & a 19th C. Baltimore Recipe

About Gingerbread Cookies
Gingerbread baked into figures dates to the Medieval days in Europe. In addition, fascination with gingerbread reached the literary world in several important instances such as  William Shakespeare's professed line,“An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread,” from Love's Labour's Lost during the 16th century Tudor period. Second, an 18th century American advertisement in a 1768 edition of the Virginia Gazette for a then popular children’s book called Giles Gingerbread is evidence that Americans in Virginia were well aware of the delectable treat. Third, the emergence of the literary fairy tale powerhouse publication by the German brothers Grimm in the early 19th century placed the spotlight on gingerbread. Who can forget that Grimms' well-known characters if Hansel and Gretel came upon every child's dream, a house made of gingerbread covered in candy? Despite Hansel & and Gretel's horrifying experience in the gingerbread house, the story helped ignite a trend to make mini candy-covered gingerbread houses at Christmas.

The gingerbread tradition was brought to America by English, German, and other Northern European immigrant groups and became a fixture in the America culinary tradition, especially around the festive holiday season. At Christmas, gingerbread cookie ornaments hung on America’s first Christmas trees in the 19th century, and American children often received gingerbread animals and other figures as gifts. Even during the bleak days of the Civil War, children could expect gingerbread at Christmas. Obviously, every gingerbread cookie enjoyed today bridges modern-day life with a taste of history.

Recipe Provenance
This recipe is from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. 

 recipe was difficult to decipher because the amount of butter was illegible and the amount of molasses was just not right. I do hope you enjoy my efforts to unravel this very 19th century recipe.

The Recipe: Ginger Bread
3 lbs. of flour, [illegible] lb. butter cut up in the flour, ½ oz. cinnamon, 4 dozen cloves, 18 Doz. allspice, 1 Pint molasses, ½ lb. sugar & 1 oz. ginger.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Gingerbread Cookies

  • 5 cups Stone-Ground Pastry Flour
  • 5 Teaspoons Ground Ceylon Cinnamon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cloves 
  • 1 Tablespoon Ground Allspice
  • 3 Tablespoons Ground Ginger 
  • 12 Tablespoons Butter, Slightly Softened
  • 1 12-Ounce Jar Unsulphured Molasses
  1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and spices. Set aside.
  2. Add the butter in small chunks and work into the flour using your fingers until the butter is the size of peas and well distributed throughout the flour. Then, add the molasses and stir with a spoon or spatula until all of the flour is moistened.
  3. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and gently knead to incorporate all of the flour into the dough.
  4. Divide the dough in thirds and wrap each portion in plastic film and allow to rest for two hours at room temperature. 
  5. When ready to roll out, heat the oven to 375ยบ F and line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  6. On a floured board, roll the dough out to about 1/10" thickness. Cut dough out in whatever shape you prefer. I like hearts because they were popular in the 19th century. 
  7. Bake for no more than 7 minutes.
  8. Cool and ice or keep plain.

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