The flavour of the past

Posted on 2 min read

From gingerbread and gluten-free to chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin – we are running into an oven frenzy with lightning speed. Have you already thought about your kids, parents, neighbours – how you gonna indulge their sweet teeth during the festive holidays? Do you have your own secret recipes that you cherish or do you tinker with the new ones every year trying to achieve excellence in baking? 

The origin of baking sweets on the big holidays lies ages ago. When we are happy to celebrate something, we love to cook and share. Especially sweets, which are deemed tiny precious sweet gifts. 

In the Middle ages, spices like nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon started pouring in. Europeans learnt to love the brightness the spices gave to their dishes and to their sweet preparations as well. If you search for a cookie recipe of that time, you’ll find something really heavily spiced. Consider the caraway shortbread. You will need 200 g / 1 ¾ cup plain flour, 125 g / ½ cup unsalted butter, 50g / 4 Tbsp sugar, 3 tsp caraway seeds, 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp ground allspice, 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, 1/4 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp salt. Preheat the oven to 170 °C / 340°F. Combine flour, sugar, and spices in a small bowl. Then rub in the butter with a mixer or by hand. When the firm dough is formed, roll it evenly by pressing between two pieces of parchment paper until an even square is shaped. Cut into even pieces, put on a tray and bake for approximately one hour. Enjoy your spiced version of cookie, sprinkle it with ground cinnamon and drink with a chai latte. Or maybe with a beer? 

In the Europe of the 17th century cookies could have been called “cakes” or “jumbles”. The latter may have been a transliteration of a Persian word. They were widespread mainly because of their dense nature that helped them to hold shape and keep well for long periods of time, which is quite an important feature for travellers. At first, they would have been shaped into knots and loops, later – rolled out thin as a regular cookie. Sugar and spices would have been massively added to make them richer and more fragrant. And here’s the recipe you should try. Mix 450 g / ½ flour with 120 g / ¼ lb of sugar, ½ ground clove and ¼ tsp fresh grated nutmeg and give it a stir. Add 180 g / 6 oz of butter in small pieces and rub it with your hands. Then mix 1 egg yolk with 1 Tbsp cream and 1 Tbsp sweet sherry (you won’t regret that!). Stir well and blend together wet and dry ingredients, working them into a pliable ball of dough. Roll it into 3 cm / 1 inch smaller balls and dip their top into granulated sugar. Place the rolled cookie balls into a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and get ready for baking. The oven should be preheated to 180˚C / 350˚F. And in 15 minutes or less you are welcome to taste the flavour of the past.

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