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Using old Recipes to recreate Horsham Regency Gingerbread

As a keen cook, Lesley Ward has for many years collected numerous cookery books. Some of them are very old, and make interesting reading. Most old recipes assume the reader has considerable cooking skills. They can be fun, rather challenging, or just plain frustrating to follow!

The recipes for baking generally leave the cook to decide how large/ small or how thick/ thin a biscuit should be – they usually just say ‘roll it out’ or, as A New System of Domestic Cookery (1808) advises: ‘Roll the paste into what form you please’. The problem of course, is that if the thickness of the paste varies so will the finished biscuit. ?

There sometimes appears to be a blurring between the definitions of biscuits and cakes.
In Five Thousand Receipts (1835) a recipe titled Lemon Cakes then refers to them as biscuits in the method. Many instructions are vague. When a recipe suggests black treacle should be warmed, how warm is warm? The recipe for Gingerbread Cakes from The Female Instructor (1812) tells the cook to ‘roll it out, and make it up in thin cakes’, but what is a thin cake? In The Cook’s Oracle (1836), one recipe calls for ‘three quarters of a pound of Butter oiled’, which could be taken as softened butter, but as the previous recipe says ‘melt to an oil half a pound of fresh Butter’, this tells us that oiling was actually melting, not softening.

The Family Manual and Servants’ Guide (1835) gives some useful tips for biscuit making (baker’s method): It advises that dough for biscuits should be very stiff :-
So hard ought this dough to be, that it would not be possible to knead it with the hands in the usual manner'. Two methods are resorted to:- "The dough being spread out, a cloth is laid over it, and a
man tramples it in all directions with his feet **; or a long bar of wood, having a sharp edge, fastened at one end to a block, yet with sufficient liberty to move with a kind of chopping motion, extends over a table, on which lies the dough flatted out. The dough is chopped in all directions, is often doubled up, flatted, and chopped again.’

**Important note: If the first method is used, Lesley advises that you test the strength of your table first. The recipe does not make it clear whether the man should keep his boots on when trampling, which is another concern.

caution Horsham Gingerbread cannot accept responsibility for any injuries received from the collapse of your table whilst trampling dough. We would like to assure customers that this method is not used in the production of our gingerbreads, as UK health and safety laws will not permit it.

Examples of oven temperatures:-

‘a slow oven’; ‘a cool oven’; a gentle oven; a slack oven; one that was ‘not too hot’; or ‘a reasonable heat’; ‘a moderate oven’; ‘a rather a quick oven’; ‘a rather brisk oven’, or one that was ‘not quite so hot as for bread.’

Examples of cooking times:

‘very slowly’; ‘bake them’; ‘bake them gently’; ‘a short time bakes them’; ‘bake them quick’; ‘nicely cooked’; ‘when done’; ‘of a fine yellow colour’; ‘bake them of a fine brown, and pretty crisp’. Or ‘if it comes out quite dry, the cake is done; if the least sticky, it wants more baking’ Or just ‘put them into the oven’! Or better still, ‘keep it from burning’!  

Good Luck!! (You may well need it)