Elizabethan Gingered Bread (circa 1575)

(Well, maybe. At least all the ingredient were available then.) This is the bread that first fascinated me back in college. Two of Elizabeth’s ladies wrote letters home that survived, and both described an unusual bread in the same way. It tingled the mouth, sweetened the breath and was a fine white loaf well suited for the high table.

Later, in what I assume was a fictional tale, the origin of this bread was briefly mentioned. The queen was very fond of gingerbread, and often gave suitably decorated gingerbread men to visiting diplomats.  One of the Spanish diplomats didn’t appreciate it, making some comments that made Elizabeth angry — especially since the man had bad breath and the Queen had a very sensitive nose.  (Ginger, for centuries, was used to aid digestion and cure halitosis. )  Since this diplomat would be sitting near the Queen for the entire Christmas feast, the Queen told her cooks to bake a fine white gingered bread  that the offensive diplomat would eat.

Some of that fictional tale is accurate.  Elizabeth was very well known for giving molded and decorated gingerbread men to diplomats; some of her gingerbread molds still survive. Not all of the molds here are from the Queen, but many are from the time period.  The overly sensitive sense of smell, and a tendency to get angry are also well documented.

But the word for “gingerbread” was “ginginbrat” while the word used for “gingered meat” was “gingivere” and, while spelling was terribly erratic, I thought it was pretty clear that this was a “Gingered Bread” – not “gingerbread.”  So how does one turn a highly spiced dark brown ginger marinade into a “fine white bread” ??

Obviously, it starts with the ginger…

Ginger grows in the tropics, but was a relatively inexpensive spice.  The ginger roots were usually rather old and very tough, so ginger was sold in three forms: powdered (which, while the cheapest, was usually mixed with powdered sandalwood to produce a rich color,) honeyed, and pickled.  I wanted to make a white loaf of bread, so powdered ginger was out (the idea of eating powdered sandalwood wasn’t appealing.)  So, for quite some time, I’ve played with making honeyed and pickled ginger — attempting to match the ingredients with those available in Elizabethan England.

Both honeyed and pickled ginger start the same way.  Peel the root, slice it very fine, and simmer it in water (don’t boil it or it loses most of it’s flavor) until the ginger root slices are soft and pliable and won’t float.  This takes a very, very long time – at least 10-12 hours.  Drain off the water, but save the water if you’re making pickled ginger.

For honeyed ginger, you alternate a layer of ginger and a layer of honey until you’ve filled a pint jar.  Screw on the canning lid, and place the jar on a rack in water, bring the water to a full boil and let it boil 15 minutes.  Remove the jar with a pair of canning tongs.  When the lid seals let it finish cooling to room temperature, then put it away for 3 months to a year.  Once the jar is opened you need to use it or dry the ginger slices  right away.  I find the honey tastes much better than the ginger slices, though once the honeyed ginger slices have dried they taste a lot better than the “crystallized ginger” you can find in a store. Definitely use the honey for baking cookies!  Or put it in herbal tea.  The flavor of gingered honey is very soothing, and definitely worth the hassle of making it!  Sucking on a dried honeyed ginger slice will cure the worst case of halitosis and usually settle an upset stomach.

For pickled ginger keep it simple — don’t add any pickling spices!  Save the water you simmered the sliced ginger root in, and add a tablespoon or two of vinegar.  Layer your canning jar with a very thin layer of ginger slices, an even thinner layer of kosher salt (to be totally authentic, it should be crushed rock salt, but that’s hard to layer!) Add enough of the ginger / vinegar liquid to barely cover that layer.  Continue layering the ginger slices, kosher salt, and ginger / vinegar liquid.   Beware of bubbles!  If any bubbles form, use a dull knife to get rid of the bubbles.  Once the layers are about an inch from the top, add a thicker layer of kosher salt and top off the jar with pure vinegar.  Seal the jar in a water bath, and let it sit for several months.  Eventually the ginger is almost pure white, and looks a bit like it’s grown white whiskers.  It takes 3 to 6 months for the ginger to be properly pickled.

Make sure to read the entire list of ingredients before starting!

Makes 1 very large loaf (8 quart casserole dish)

plus 2 large loaves in bread pans.

1 pint of pickled ginger (liquid included)

2 cups cake flour

1 cup almond meal (or  1 cup of very finely chopped almonds)

1 cup oat flour (rolled oats work fine)

1 cup of sugar

2 cups milk

4 tablespoons sweet cream butter

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon cardamom

1  1/2 teaspoons  nutmeg

3 to 4 cups water

1 1/2 cups very active sourdough starter

7 to 8 cups bread flour

1  1/2 cups golden raisins

enough good rum or scotch whiskey  to cover the raisins

(optional 1 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper)

1 fresh lemon (make sure it’s not waxed to look better!  You’ll be using all the zest as well as the juice.)

Make sure the following oils are all edible and not made for scenting candles, making soap, or otherwise used for something other than flavoring!

1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil

2 tablespoons lemon oil

1 teaspoon orange oil

1 teaspoon lime oil 

Olive oil to oil pans

Make sure you have at least 1 bowl that can hold 9 liters of liquid so the bread can rise overnight!  I used a 7 liter bowl and it overflowed badly!

So, if you’ve got your ingredients and bowls, let’s get started.

48 Hours before you want to eat the bread:

Feed your sourdough starter 1 1/2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups water.

Put 1 1/2 cups golden raisins in a small bowl, just barely cover them with rum or scotch whiskey, and tightly cover the bowl.

24 hours before you want to eat the bread

Empty the pint jar of pickled ginger into a small saucepan with a tight lid, and let it simmer on very, very low heat, stirring occasionally and adding a tiny bit of water if necessary.  I used a simmer plate between the pot and the stove top.  It’s done when you can mash the ginger root to a paste with the back of a spoon.  (Don’t mash all of the ginger yet!)

In a large mixing bowl sift together:

2 cups cake flour

1 cup almond meal (or  1 cup of very finely chopped almonds)

1 cup oat flour (rolled oats work fine – just toss them in without sifting)

1 cup of sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon cardamom

1  1/2 teaspoons  nutmeg

(make sure the dry ingredients evenly distributed!)

Grate the lemon zest (remember the zest is only the yellow exterior  of the lemon – you don’t want the white stuff underneath!) and add that to the dry ingredients,  making sure that’s evenly distributed.

As soon as the ginger root can be mashed with a spoon, drain the liquid into a measuring cup, and mash all of the ginger root.  If you’re impatient, use a blender.

What to do with the persevered liquid from the pickled ginger depends on how much liquid you have.  Hopefully you have about 1/2 cup.  If you have more than 1/2 cup, taste a drop, and let it sit on your tongue a few seconds before rinsing your mouth with cool water.  The initial taste of a drop of the pickling liquid should be something of a shock — it initially tingles with salt and vinegar, but that goes away very rapidly and the cool water has a rather unique aftertaste that’s extremely refreshing.  If there’s no aftertaste, simmer the liquid down to 1/2 cup.  If your mouth feels refreshed after the sip of cool water, just pour out the excess liquid so you have 1/2 cup.

Combine the reserved liquid, the mashed ginger root, 2 cups of milk, and the juice from the lemon and let it sit until you’re ready to use it.

Boil  3 cups of water and add it to the dry ingredients.  Stir only enough to moisten the ingredients.  Do not over stir!

While still steaming hot, add 4 tablespoons of sweet cream butter, but don’t stir.

When the mixture stops steaming, but is still rather hot, add the ginger root and milk mixture.  Stir just barely enough to mix everything together.

When the bowl is cool to the touch add 1 and 1/2 cups very active sourdough starter and mix well.   At this point the dough is basically a thick liquid.  Keep mixing until the sourdough vanishes into the fragrant liquid.

By now the dough should be completely cool to the touch.  Add:

1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil

2 tablespoons lemon oil

1 teaspoon orange oil

1 teaspoon lime oil 

the entire bowl (including liquid) of raisins

and 2 cups of bread flour

Using a spoon (not a mixer) stir all of this together until completely smooth and all the oils have basically vanished into the dough.

Add 2 more cups of bread flour, mixing with your hands if necessary.  Let the dough rest at least 10 minutes before adding any more flour or attempting to knead.

If necessary, adding 1/2 cup of bread flour at a time, mix with your hands, until the bread can be kneaded.  As always, use as little flour as you can and still get  dough of the proper consistency.

Place the dough in a well oiled huge bowl to rise overnight.  (At least 12 hours.)  Be sure to cover the bowl!  As heavy and oily as this dough felt, I didn’t think it would rise much.  I was wrong….

Oil your baking pans.

Knead and shape the dough (it might be best to divide it into 3 or 4 pieces) on a well floured surface.

Let rise until doubled in size, and bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 25 minutes, then lower the heat to 350°F and bake until bread tests done.

Note:  This  isn’t the bread I was hoping for, since it doesn’t really tingle the tongue.  It tastes more like lemon than ginger, though it does sweeten my breath remarkably well.  It is very light, and it tastes remarkably good!  Oh well, I’ll try again next year!  Further note to self: Cut the lemon oil in half, and increase both peppermint and nutmeg.  Double the amount of raisins soaked in scotch and add some other type of honeyed fruit.  And don’t even think about making “normal” sized loaves; neither of the “normal” large loaves rose well after freezing.

It’s so big we had trouble cutting it smoothly! It’s definitely a “fine white loaf” that tastes good. So Happy eating!



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