It was cool in the garden this afternoon. Yesterday, in Carmarthen, we were drenched by a sudden cloudburst. These are the so called 'Dog Days', the 'dies caniculares' of summer, when the sultry weather makes us languid. The ancients believed that Sirius, the Dog Star, was close to the sun between July 6th and the end of August, bringing us hot weather. Alas and alack!
I did what I always do when a summer day disappoints, I baked a cake, a Ginger-bread cake.
In Florida I asked for 'Boston Pie' and was disappointed to find it was a sponge, expecting something puddingy. Ginger 'bread' is a misnomer, too, because we don't use bread to make it nowadays, but it wasn't always so.
During the fifteenth century Ginger-bread became popular, especially in fairs. White breadcrumbs, mixed into boiled honey and spices, was cooled and shaped into cakes.
(If I were to make this concoction, I would add two ounces of butter and an egg. I would bake it, but on rice paper, in order to remove it from the tray.)
There is no mention of ginger in the old recipes, but Jamaica pepper is often listed as an ingredient.
This is not pepper as we've come to think of it, but allspice, a mix of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
Gingerbread crossed social boundaries, popular with the hoi polloi and the upper crust, who used gold leaf to gild it sometimes.
This is my recipe for Gingerbread. I use syrup or molasses, plus honey for the sweetening. Lard was often used instead of butter in ye olde times.
Ingredients: !0 ozs SR flour, 2 ozs Porridge Oats, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp mixed spices, 1 tsp powdered ginger, 4 ozs butter, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon of marmalade, 4 ozs honey, 4 ozs of either molasses or syrup. Finely sliced crystallised ginger.
Method. Melt honey, syrup (or molasses) and marmalade. Cool a little, then add the butter. Mix well before adding the beaten eggs. Mix again. Sprinkle in the spices, then fold the oats and the flour into the mixture.
Have ready a large greased loaf tin. (You could line it with parchment). Pour the mixture into the tin. The oven should not be too hot (whatever temperature you use to bake a big fruit cake.) The top is liable to scorch because of the honey and syrup, so best to cover it with foil for the first twenty minutes, before removing it to finish.
The gingerbread needs about an hour and a quarter to bake. Test with a skewer to see if it's ready. (The skewer should be dry when removed from the mixture.)
I squeeze orange juice into icing sugar to make a glaze. Chopped crystallised ginger on the icing adds a tangy touch. This recipe keeps well in an airtight tin for at least a week, but eat it and enjoy it right away, then you can make another one.