Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts

Ok, before we go any further lets clear something up. SWEETMEATS are articles of confectionery; not to be confused with SWEETBREADS which are gross bits of an animal (some kind of gland, I believe). Meat comes from the Old English ‘mete’, which basically means any kind of food. Right! Let’s get on.

You’ve probably noticed that I’m really into vintage cookbooks. As well as being fun to read, they’re a great source of inspiration. The recipes can be a little bit hard to interpret though.

Take, for example, this recipe for Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts; found in the first edition of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management. The list of ingredients is a little bizarre from the point of view of a modern reader.

There’s 1lb of treacle, 1lb sugar, 4 ounces of melted butter etc. But no quantity is given for the flour, just the tenuous direction to add as much as “may be necessary”.

Believe it or not, accurate lists of ingredients weren’t even a thing until Eliza Acton’s groundbreaking Modern Cookery for Modern Families was published in 1845. A book which was liberally plagiarised by Mrs Beeton.

Flour aside, that’s a lot of treacle. Like, A LOT. And it’s pretty powerful stuff. I knew I’d made these before for a Victorian tea party, and found them a bit strong (even though I’d cut the amount right down). The trouble is, I really can’t remember what I did with the recipe, so it was back to square one. Using a recipe for Cornish Fairings as a base, and interpreting the original quite loosely, I think the end result has turned out rather well.

While homemade candied peel will give the best results, use shop bought if you need to. The same goes for angelica, which can usually be found at this time of year, in those shops that specialise in gigantic bags of prunes and stuff. They could also be left out entirely if you’re not keen on that sort of thing.

Rich Sweetmeat Gingernuts makes 12-14

Ingredients:

  • 180g Plain flour
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp ground coriander
  • 90g golden caster sugar
  • 90g butter
  • 1tsp caraway seeds
  • 30g candied peel
  • 30g candied angelica
  • 4tbsp golden syrup
  • 1tsp treacle

Method:

Preheat the oven to 200c/180 fan/gas mark 4. Grease a couple of baking trays.

Sift the flour and ground spices into a bowl. Stir in the sugar. Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles breadcrumbs.

Chop the peel and angelica into small pieces. Add to the bowl. Stir in the caraway seeds.

Gently warm the syrup and treacle in a saucepan or microwave until they are runny. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix together till it forms a stiff dough. If it seems a bit dry you can drizzle in a bit more syrup.

Divide into pieces about the size of a walnut, or just divide into the number of biscuits you want. Roll into balls, put on the baking trays, flatten slightly with your hand, and pop in the oven.

Bake for around 15 minutes, or until a rich golden brown. If you want a decorative effect on top, once the biscuits have puffed up and are starting to brown, squash them down the middle with a fork. This is purely optional.

They will still be soft when they come out the oven. Allow to firm up a little before transferring to a wire rack. Once cool, they should be crispy on the outside and delightfully chewy in the middle.

Bird’s Nest Cookies

“There’s a change in the air, you can smell it. Fresh growth is sprouting under the weak sunshine and the birds in the garden are busy collecting nesting materials. The domestic birds: Verity, Scootaloo, Meg and Moriarty, can feel it too and laying is in full swing. Visitors are compelled to leave with half a dozen eggs whether they like it or not.”

This is an extract from one of my early posts. Sadly all of these hens are long since deceased. They are ‘ex-chickens’, who have shuffled off this mortal coil and ceased to be.* Sadly we no longer keep hens at all; the garden of Crumb Villa is just too small. I do miss them though. The main bird life around here is enormous crows, and seagulls. We don’t live anywhere near the coast, but every morning they wake me up at 5 am shouting “Bleurgh”, or making noises that sound like hysterical crying.

We may not have any fresh eggs to offer visitors anymore, but with Easter over, it’s a good time to buy chocolate eggs at a reduced price and make these yummy bird’s nest biscuits instead. You probably already have recipes for shortbread and chocolate crispy cakes, so go rootle them out and gather the ingredients. You will also need a bag of marshmallows (the proper ones, not Flumps) and about 200g of chocolate mini eggs.

Birds Nest Biscuits

  • A batch of round shortbread bicuits (I used about 10, with some left over). You could use ready made ones if you like.
  • A batch of  chocolate cornflake or rice crispy cake mix
  • Marshmallows
  • Chocolate mini eggs

Bake the shortbread until pale gold in colour (unless you are using store bought).  Cut some marshmallows in half and put half a mallow on each biscuit. Pop them back in the oven for a couple of minutes until the mallow has melted slightly (if using store bought, preheat the oven to a medium high temperature for this step). Transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Prepare the chocolate cornflake mix. Put a large spoonful of mixture on top of each biscuit, covering the marshmallow. Press three chocolate eggs on top of each one and leave till the chocolate has set.

Don’t do what I did, and try to melt all of the marshmallows at once in a saucepan. You will never get the resulting sticky mess as far as the biscuits; have you ever read the story of Brer Rabbit and the tar baby? Need I say more!

*Search for ‘The Parrot Sketch’ by Monty Python’s Flying Circus on YouTube