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.

Forgotten Puddings

Variety in the ingredients, we think, is held only of secondary consideration with the great body of the people, provided that the whole is agreeable and of sufficient abundance.

Mrs Beeton

Do you know your Batchelor’s Pudding from your Baroness Pudding? Cabinet from College? Or indeed, Empress from Exeter? Me neither. How many puddings have fallen by the culinary wayside, victims of changing tastes and the whims of fashion? Were they too boring, too complex, too expensive or just perceived as “old fashioned”. Were you put off certain puddings as a child because of having to suffer the industrial and institutional school dinner version?

Its easy to stick to our childhood favourites, only trying something new for a dinner party, or at a resturant. Cooking programmes on the telly only expose us to what is currently in fashion. Cookbooks either trot out the same recipes with variations time and time again, or vie with each other to see who can combine the most fancy and unlikely ingredients. All very pretty, but how many of us are going to get round to making such expensive and outlandish creations?

Did you know I collected vintage cookbooks? Guess what my favourite section is? Puddings and Desserts, hurrah! Having grown a little tired of cake of the month, though It will still happen sporadically no doubt, I feel it’s time to delve deeper into these foodie goldmines for second helpings of inspiration. I will be deliberately choosing the weird, obscure and old fashioned puddings that few of us have ever heard of, adapting to modern tastes/ingredients/measures only if absolutely necessary.

Starting with Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management (because why not?), I wanted to make the rather bizzarely named “Stone Cream”. Sadly, no two books can decide on what flavouring to use, also Crumb Towers has fallen on hard times recently and I can’t afford to buy a bottle of sherry just to splash it around in a pudding we might not even like! Instead we will begin with “Vanilla Cream”, the ingredients are readily available and it’s not too hard to make. You will need a jelly mould that will hold at least 1 pint (roughly 600ml), or a variety of small moulds. It looks good as a centrepiece, though in retrospect I think it would be better served as an individual portion, with some zingy fruit sauce drizzled around it. The boys adored this pudding, and as puddings go, it’s pretty nutritious. If you worry about sugar, I’m sure you could cut down or use an alternative.

The original recipe calls for isinglass, which I have replaced with leaf gelatine, and eight eggs, which I have reduced to six. Apparently eggs were a lot smaller in those days, so recipes look a lot more extravagant than they actually were!

Vanilla Cream

  • 1 pint (600ml) milk (any kind)
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 5oz (150g) caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 5 sheets of leaf gelatine
  • 1½ tsp cornflour

Beat together the egg yolks, sugar, cornflour and vanilla extract.

Put the milk in a medium sized saucepan and heat to boiling point.

While the milk is heating, soak the gelatine in cold water for five mins.

Pour the hot milk onto the egg yolks, whisking well the whole time. Pour back into the saucepan. Stir the mixture briskly over a medium heat until thickened. A wooden spoon or spatula with a flat edge is best for stirring, a whisk won’t make enough contact with the bottom of the pan, so the mixture would just go lumpy and burnt!

While you are stirring the mixture waiting for it to thicken, add the sheets of gelatine one at a time, stirring until dissolved. When it is nice and thick, pour into the mould/moulds. Allow to cool, then pop in the fridge to set.

To release from the mould, gently lower the mould into a bowl of hot water (do not allow the water to get inside!) keep it there from 30 to 60 seconds. The pudding should fall out when turned upside down over a plate.