Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Buckwheat Honey for Honey Gingerbread

Dijon, France produced 60,000 pounds of buckwheat honey - very dark and too strong for "table use" but perfect for gingerbread, according to The British Bee Journal of 1906.  Other types of honey would sink after the gingerbread had risen.  However, a British author in 1848 wrote that the "French, whose gingerbread is vile stuff, use honey instead of treacle."  Recipes for honey gingerbread - medieval to early 20th - near end of post.

Buckwheat Honey for Gingerbread.
We read in Le Miel an interesting article by M. R. Piot on the use of honey in the manufacture of gingerbread. He says white honey is no use in making gingerbread, and honey from Brittany is the only one used in France for the purpose. This is exclusively buckwheat honey, very dark, thick, rich, strong flavoured, and in cold weather it can be cut with a spade. This honey has a characteristic flavour so pronounced as to make it unsuitable for table use, but rendering it just the thing for manufacturing gingerbread. 

The reason why Dijon has become the centre for the manufacture of gingerbread is rather interesting. - It came originally from Flanders, and it appears that when Philip the Good married he was anxious, in order to accustom his wife to her new surroundings, to proceed by gradual transition and make as few changes as possible in her habits and tastes. He, therefore, brought with him from Flanders a cook who knew how to make a special kind of cake of which the duchess was very fond, and this cake was simply honey gingerbread. Imitators soon appeared and they started shops for the sale of the gingerbread, and in this way the industry was established in Dijon. The town of Dijon now, in this manufacture alone consumes annually from 900 to 1,000 barrels of honey, ' barrel weighing 600 lb., making a total of 60,000 lb. of honey used for making gingerbread alone. The industry is so dependent on buckwheat honey that when it is scarce they will pay a high price for it, and have given as much as '' francs the 100 kilos, or thirty to forty francs more than, white honey was selling for. The principal of buckwheat honey is that the dough rises with it and remains light, whereas with other honey after rising it again sinks and causes the cakes to be heavy.

Quality of Honey for Gingerbread.
We find in l'Apiculteur a report of an interesting discussion which took place at the last meeting of the Central Bee-keepers' Society of France. M. R. Aubert wished to know, on the subject of import duties, whether the manufacturers of gingerbread did not use foreign honey. M. Rousseray stated that the manufacturers were not able to use either the coarse Chilian or European honeys. The French white honeys are absolutely of no use for making honey-cakes, as with them the dough does not rise. The honey produced in Brittany is indispensable for the purpose, and is used by manufacturers. An increase in the import duty would not affect the sale of white honey which could only be increased by bringing it more prominently before the public and making known its advantages, as is done in England, where honey figures at five o'clock teas, and on other occasions. Nothing is done in this way in France.
The British Bee Journal.  Feb 8, 1906


The French, whose gingerbread is vile stuff, use honey instead of treacle…
Francis, George William.  The Dictionary of Practical Receipts. London: 1848

History of honey gingerbread, 1854
The Rhodians, we are told, had a particular kind of bread sweetened with honey, so exquisitely pleasant, that it was eaten with other delicacies after dinner; this probably is similar to that now known as Honey, Queen's, or German gingerbread, or the spicebread (pain d'epice) of the French; this last used to be made with barley flour, or sugar, honey, and spice; when baked, the top was washed over with the scum taken off sugar in refining houses. The gingerbread of the ancients appears to have been, according to Monteil, rye bread, kneaded with spice and honey or sugar.

The taste for this sort of bread appears to have been universal, but carried to the most excess in Holland, where it is considered the best sort is made. It is stated, that the success of a person who wishes to ingratiate himself with a family often depends, in no small degree, on the quality and quantity of presents which he makes in gingerbread.  The receipt even for making it is supposed to descend as an heir-loom from father to son, and is kept a secret beyond the family circle.

Recipes 

Medieval Gingerbread  1400s

Gyngerbrede.--Take a quart of hony, & sethe it [boil], & skeme [skim] it clene; take Safroun [saffron], pouder Pepir [pepper], & throw ther-on; take grayted Bred [bread crumbs], & make it so chargeaunt [stiff] that it wol be y-lechyd [cut in slices]; then take pouder Canelle [cinnamon], & straw [strew] ther-on y-now; then make yt [it] square, lyke [like] as thou wolt leche yt [cut it]; take when thou lechyst hyt [cut it], an caste Box leves [leaves] a-bouyn [above], y-stykyd ther-on, on clowys [stick on cloves]. And if thou wolt haue it Red, coloure it with Saunderys [sandalwood] y-now [enough].   
Two 15th c. Cookery-Books by Thomas Austin, 1888

Queen's or Honey Gingerbread.—3 lbs. of flour, 1 ¾  lb. of moist sugar, ½  lb. of preserved orange-peel, ½  lb. of lemon-peel, ½  lb. of sweet almonds blanched, the peel and almonds cut into small thin slices, the yellow rinds of 2 lemons grated off, 1 oz. of cinnamon, ¼  oz. each of cardamoms, cloves, nutmegs, and mace, in fine powder, 2 lbs. of honey, and a wineglass of water.

Put the honey and water into a saucepan over the fire, and make it nearly boiling hot; mix the flour, spices, &c, together, make a bay, pour in the honey whilst hot, and make the whole into a moderately stiff paste, and let it stand until the next day; it may be made light with volatile salt, carbonate of soda, or potash; roll it into a sheet about a quarter of an inch thick, and put it on a buttered tin. Bake in a moderate oven. In the mean time, boil about half a pint of clarified loaf sugar to the blow, and with a stiff brush rub this over the surface as soon as it is taken out of the oven, so as to grain it, and make it look white; cut it with a knife whilst warm, into pieces about the size of a playing-card. This is frequently made of inferior quality by using common spice, and omitting the almonds and peel.

German Gingerbread.—This is the same as the last, with the exception that flour is strewed over the tin for the paste to be baked on.

Honeycomb, or Roll Gingerbread.—1 lb. of flour, 1 lb. of good moist sugar, ½  lb. of butter, 1 oz. of ground ginger, the yellow rind of 2 lemons grated off, some also add the juice.

Rub the butter in with the flour, add the sugar, and mix the whole into a soft paste with raw treacle thin enough to be dropped on tins, which should be well buttered ; let each cake be four or five inches asunder, as they spread very much; bake them in rather a cool oven. These may either be made small for nuts, or into large cakes, when they are rolled round a small stick whilst warm. These should be kept quite close in a tin canister, in a dry warm place.
Read, George.  The complete biscuit and gingerbread baker's assistant 2d  London: 1854


Honey Gingerbread  [cake]
One-third cup butter, one cup honey, two eggs, one cup sweet milk, one quarter teaspoon soda, two cups flour, two teaspoons baking powder, one teaspoon each ginger and cinnamon. Cream butter and honey. Add soda dissolved in a little cold water, milk and last the flour sifted with the baking powder, ginger and cinnamon.  Beat well and bake in a moderate oven for about thirty minutes, or until done.
California Cultivator  Aug 26, 1916

Pictured are slices of Buckwheat Honey gingerbread (left) and same gingerbread recipe using honey from New Jersey, the lighter ones on the right.

Honey Gingerbread.   [Cookies]
Two pounds of flour, one pound of butter, one pound of castor sugar, one ounce of ground ginger, one-half pound of honey, one-half pound of sirup, two eggs. Sift the flour and ginger on to the slab and rub in the butter.  Make a bay, into which place the sugar, honey, sirup and eggs.  Beat to a cream, and work to a stiff paste.  Roll out thin, cut out with a cutter about four inches long by two wide.  Bake in a cool oven to a golden color.  This being a very delicate article should sell in good shops at 1s. per pound.
Good Housekeeping  Mar. 1892  “Some English Recipes”

Tanging or calling bees post HERE

Gingerbread posts HERE

Images from -

Bevan, Edward.  The Honey Bee.  London: 1827  most images
Munster, Sebastian.  Cosmogrphia.  Bern: 1545  Mask and Skep
The Child’s Companion.  London: 1861  Lady tanging
Den Naarstigen byen-houder.  Amsterdam: c1669  in Moir Rare Book Collection. Scotland.  1st


©2018 Patricia Bixler Reber
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