I have a thing for jumballs. When Alyssa and I started this website (four years ago this month!), I only had the vaguest idea of what “jumball” was or might be. Then I read many, many recipes for these delicious early modern sweets. It seems like there is at least one jumball recipe in every manuscript that I’ve consulted. I’ve also posted some here: My Lady Chanworths Receipt for Jumballs (UPenn) and Almond Jumballs (Folger). The first recipe has seamlessly entered my regular baking repertoire and my friends love them. Toothsome, spiced, and versatile, jumballs showcase my favorite parts of early modern confectionary and baking. I think this recipe for jumballs flavored with aniseed and sack then twisted into letters and knots has the potential to become a perennial crowd-pleaser as well. And I promise you, for better or worse, this is not the last you’ll hear from me about jumballs.
This recipe is from Mariabella Charles’s recipe book, UCLA’s Clark Library MS.1950.009. I had the pleasure of consulting this manuscript on a recent visit and I’m looking forward to returning for a month-long residential fellowship next year. I’m excited to share more recipes from this manuscript, and other Clark holdings, soon. Mariabella Charles started this recipe book in 1678 and it includes entries in three other seventeenth-century hands by individuals who the catalog suggests may, or may not, be connected to Charles. Like most recipe books from this era, Charles’s has a recipe for jumballs and I was intrigued to see flavorings that I hadn’t tried in a jumball before listed among familiar ingredients.
Aromatic with aniseed and sack, rich with egg, these jumballs reminded me of my Grandmother’s Italian cookies. When I called her to ask about this she confirmed that she puts these flavors in her biscotti. In her words, “It’s a good cookie to have around so you can have it with coffee” and I heartily agree. If you don’t have aniseed around you can substitute fennel, but I loved the specific flavor of the aniseed here.
Take A quarter of A pound of fine flower
two ounces of suger and one spoonfull of sacke
one spoonfull of Craime and two eggs make
this up in paste and mould it with Anniseed and
roule it in small rouls make it in the fashon of
knotts and lettors and soe bake itt
At first, this dough wouldn’t come together. I added an extra half cup of flour tablespoon-by-tablespoon until I could shape the dough into “knotts and lettors” as the recipe instructs. The recipe below includes the flour that I added in the total flour amount. I successfully shaped a few knots and the letters M, C, and J for Mariabella Charles’s Jumballs. Although shaping letters and patterns is often a part of making jumballs (as this GBBO technical challenge showcased), I’ve often found the doughs difficult to handle. I think these pliability issues have to do with the liquid content of twenty-first-century eggs and the texture of modern, milled flour.
1 c flour, plus more for shaping
1/4 c sugar
1T anise seed (or less to taste)
Preheat oven to 350F (180C).
Mix ingredients together. The dough will still be tacky, but you should be able to roll it into strips on a floured board. Shape rolls into letters, knots, etc.
Bake on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment or greased for approximately 30 minutes. Check at 20 minutes and extend your baking time if needed. The jumballs should be golden on the outside and still soft in the middle.
These were truly delicious. I ate one. Then another. They paired beautifully with my morning coffee and my afternoon tea. As usual, my grandma was right. They’re a great cookie to have around. I’m glad to have another jumball recipe in my pocket and especially pleased that I can shape this one in creative ways.