Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Gyngerbrede: A Period Recipe Using Honey

Gyngerbrede is more of a candy than gingerbread as we know it. Modern gingerbread as we know it contains ground flour, not just bread crumbs. 

Original Recipe:
HARLEIAN MS. 279. LECHE VYAUNDEZ.    35          --       “Two Fifteenth Century Cookbooks”
.iiij. Gyngerbrede.~Take a quart of hony, & sethe it, & skeme it clene; take Safroun, pouder Pepir, & prow per-on; take gratyd Brede, & make it so chargeaunt pat it wol be y. lechyd j pen take pouder CanelIe, & straw per-on y-now; Þen make yt square, lyke as Þou wolt leche yt; take when pou lechyst hyt, an caste Box leves a-bouyn, y-stykyd Þer-on, on clowys. And if Þou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys y-now.

My Translation:
Gingerbread – Take a quart of honey and seethe it and skim it clean; take saffron, powder pepper and pour thereon; take grated bread, and make it so stiff that it will be leeched; then take powder Canelle and straw thereon; then make it square like as thou would leech it: take when thou leech’s it, and cast Box leaves a-_________ thereon, stick thereon, with cloves. And if thou would have it Red, color it with Saunders now.

My Redaction:
1 quart (32 ounces) Honey
5-10 threads of Saffron
3-4 Fresh Ground Long Pepper grain or 1 teaspoon-ish Black Pepper
1 tablespoon Cinnamon
1 tablespoon Powdered Ginger
3 cups of Unseasoned Bread Crumbs
Cinnamon and Saunders to coat
Whole Cloves
Mint Leaves*

Scaled Down Recipe:
1 cup of Honey
3-5 Threads of Saffron
1 Fresh Ground Long Pepper grain or ½ teaspoon-ish ground pepper
½ teaspoon Cinnamon
1½  teaspoon Powdered Ginger
1 cup of Unseasoned Bread Crumbs
Cinnamon and Saunders to coat
Whole Cloves
Mint Leaves*

1. Bring honey to a boil, carefully removing the scum as it rises. DO NOT leave boiling honey alone!**
2. Reduce to very low heat and stir in spices adding bread crumbs about half a cup at a time.
3. Continue stirring until mixture is a solid, but pliable mass. Add more bread crumbs as necessary.
4. Remove from heat and let cool enough to handle.
5. Scoop out enough to form 1” balls.
6. Roll in cinnamon and saunders to coat. Pin mint leaf on with a whole clove.
7. If desired, place in refrigerator to cool.

*The original recipe calls for box leaves to be used for decoration. As these are a diaphoretic, I decided to use mint leaves instead.

**Never turn your eye on boiling honey. The first time I made this, I stepped away from the stove for less than a minute and it boiled over. I lost about half a cup of honey. Honey is also very hot and sticky. It can scald easily and is hard to remove quickly to lessen damage to the skin.

Other Period Gyngerbrede Recipes:
Source [Curye on Inglish, Constance B. Hieatt & Sharon Butler (eds.)]: To make gingerbrede. Take goode honye & clarefie it on þe fere, & take fayre paynemayn or wastel brede & grate it, & caste it into þe boylenge hony, & stere it well togyder faste with a sklyse þat it bren not to þe vessell. & þanne take it doun and put þerin ginger, longe pepere & saundres, & tempere it vp with þin handes; & than put hem to a flatt boyste & strawe þereon suger & pick þerin clowes rounde aboute by þe egge and in þe mydes yf it plece you &c.

Source [The English Housewife, Michael R. Best (ed.)]: To make gingerbread. Take claret wine and colour it with turnsole, and put in sugar and set it to the fire; then take wheat bread finely grated and sifted, and liquorice, aniseeds, ginger, and cinnamon beaten very small and searced; and put your bread and your spice all together, and put them into the wine and boil it and stir it till it be thick; then mould it and print it at your pleasure, and let it stand neither too moist nor too warm.

Source [The English Housewife, Michael R. Best (ed.)]: How to make a coarse ginger bread. To make a coarse ginger bread, take a quart of honey and set it on the coals and refine it: then take a pennyworth of ginger, as much pepper, as much liquorice; and a quarter of a pound of aniseeds, and a pennyworth of sanders: all these must be beaten and searced, and so put it into the honey: then put in a quarter of a pint of claret wine or old ale: then take three penny manchets finely grated and strew it amongst the rest, and stir it till it come to a stiff paste, and them make it into cakes and dry them gently.

Source [The English Housewife, Michael R. Best (ed.)]: Coarse gingerbread. Take a quart of honey clarified, and seethe it till it be brown, and if it be thick put to it a dish of water: then take fine crumbs of white bread grated, and put to it, and stir it well, and when it is almost cold, put to it the powder of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and a little liquorice and aniseeds; then knead it, and put it into moulds and print it: some use to put to it also a little pepper, but that is according unto taste and pleasure.


  • Dendy, David. 2004 “Francesco Sirene, Spicer”. Accessed May 26, 2008
  • Entry 35. Austin, Thomas, Editor. Harleian Manuscript 279. Found in “Two Fifteenth Century Cookery Books”. Oxford UP, 2000.
  • Gyngerbrede. Myers, Daniel. Accessed November 8, 2013.
  • Saunderys. Oxford English Dictionary. Keuka College, Lightner Library. Accessed October 31, 2008.
  • Red Sanders. Accessed        November 8, 2013.

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