To Make Ginger Bread (Bridget Parker)

I’ve baked a number of spicy and surprising gingerbread recipes as I’ve worked on this site over the past eight years. When I saw this one in Bridget Parker’s 1663 recipe book at the Wellcome Collection reading room in London this past June, I was intrigued by the fact that this gingerbread contains no ginger. What is gingerbread without ginger?

gingerbread on plate

This gingerbread is sweet and spicy. The cookies are fragrant with clove, mace, and cinnamon, and crunch with floral coriander seeds. Even without the ginger, they have the classic warming taste of other gingerbread cookies. Since ginger was certainly available to Bridget Parker in 1660s England, the choice to call this recipe “ginger bread” might speak to a slipperiness in naming, a metonymy wherein “ginger” stands in as a catch-all term for other spices.

Original Recipe

Image of recipe in original manuscript

To Make Ginger Bread
Take 2 pound of surop one pound of but
ter half a pound of suger a spoonfull
of beaten cloues a litle sinomon & mace
corander or caraway seeds mix these all
togather on a chafindish of coals till it
be scalding hott then lett it be cold againe
then put as much fine flower into it as
will make it into a past make it into forme
of which fashon you please & bake them

This recipe also has a curious method in which the butter and spices are heated together in a sugar syrup. I had initially wondered if there would be enough spice in the batch when I quartered the original recipe. My fears were misplaced. As a result of the warm infusion method, the flavors of the spices were beautifully dispersed through a very large batch of gingerbread.

At the recipe’s invitation, I decided to use coriander seeds instead of caraway seeds. I also had to think through the syrup and sugar used to sweeten the gingerbread in the original recipe. I decided to make a “rich” simple syrup with a two-to-one ratio of cane sugar to water (instead of a classic one-to-one ratio).

gingerbread on baking sheet

Updated Recipe

Quartered from the original.
This recipe makes about 5 dozen cookies.

2 cups sugar (402g)
1 cup water (240g)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick, 113 g)
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
4 cups flour (480g)

First, prepare the syrup. Put the water and the sugar in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Add the butter. Stir until the butter is melted. Reduce heat as necessary so that the mixture does not boil over. Stir in the spices. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Preheat your oven to 350F (180C). Line baking sheets with baking parchment (or thoroughly grease).

When the syrup is cool, pour it into a mixing bowl. Add flour one cup at a time, stirring until each is fully combined before adding the next one.

Shape cookies of about 1 tablespoon of dough and place on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 15 minutes. The bottoms should be golden brown and the tops will still be light.

Allow to cool before eating.

The Results

Spicy, sweet, and unexpectedly chewy, this gingerbread was a big hit when I shared it with friends.

I’d be curious to taste a version with caraway, rather than coriander seeds. Given the preparation method with the infused syrup, it was not easy to make a half coriander and half caraway batch. I also found the dough very sticky and difficult to work with despite the recipe’s suggestion to “forme” it into shapes and the widespread use of gingerbread molds in contemporary recipes. Next time I might try to pipe it into more appealing shapes. For readers based in the UK, I’d be curious to hear how this recipe works with golden syrup and additional cane sugar.

2 thoughts on “To Make Ginger Bread (Bridget Parker)

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