22 Dec MFK’s Fermented Gingerbread
Resembling more of a spiced quick bread, my version of MFK’s gingerbread is warm with a zesty lemon flavour.
This past year I read the thick tome “The Art of Eating” by M.F.K. Fisher. I enjoyed every morsel of her writing and toyed with the idea of recreating some of her more detailed recipes or dishes. Born in 1908, many of the ingredients that she mentions in her books cannot be found in the grocery store, such as “old dark honey” or “carbonate of soda”. Another struggle with recreating her recipes is her lack of details and specifics, such as her directions to “put into a warm oven and cook until done”. Recipe specifics didn’t come until more recently in history, for most of history it was assumed that the reader already knew how to properly cook in their kitchen and recipes were much more free form and enigmatic.
In Serve It Forth, M.F.K. Fisher recounts how traditional Dijon gingerbread was prepared for the holidays:
“Take two pounds of old black honey, the older and blacker the better, and heat it gently. When it has become a thin liquid, stir it very slowly and thoroughly into two pounds of the finest bread flour, of which about one-third is rye.
“Put this hot paste away in a cold place. It must stay there for at least eight days, but in Dijon, where pain d’epice is best, it reipens in cold for several months or even years!
“Wait as long as you can, anyway. Then put it in a bowl and add six egg yolks, one level teaspoon of carbonate of soda, and three teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda.”Serve it Forth, M.F.K. Fisher
For my version, I decided to half the recipe and swap the bread flour for a freshly ground spelt flour. I also added some melted butter for extra fat and moisture. I didn’t have any “old black honey” so I used raw local honey. The result was a very tender crumb sweet bread with spiced ginger and fresh lemon.
After I mixed the honey with the spelt flour, I allowed my dough to sit for two weeks. I didn’t notice any active signs of fermentation, no bubbles, gas or changes in the dough’s appearance. I’m not sure, but I think this might be due to honey’s natural antibacterial properties along with it’s knack for never spoiling. For the next batch, I would like to try fermenting it for much longer and seeing if there are changes that occur after several weeks or even months.
I made mine in ramekins, but you could also use a bread loaf. Be careful not fill either beyond halfway, this batter rises quite a bit in the oven!
- 2 lbs Honey
- 2 lbs Spelt flour (approximately 1 + 2/3 cups)
- 2 Egg yolks
- 1 Large Egg
- Zest of one lemon
- 1.5 teaspoons ginger powder
- 2 Tablespoons butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- Heat the honey gently so it becomes easier to mix. You can either heat the honey in a microwave-safe container for 45 seconds or warm on the stovetop.
- Mix the warm honey with the spelt flour until no dry lumps remain. Transfer to a clean glass container that has a lid.
- Let the honey and spelt mixture sit in a cool place for at least a week, and up to several months.
- When you're ready to bake, warm up the spelt and honey mixture to make it easier to handle. Again, I did this by microwaving it for 45 seconds, but you could also place the glass container in a pot with hot water.
- Heat the oven to 325F and butter two standard loaf pans, or four 4-inch ramekins.
- Using a stand mixer, combine the spelt and honey with the eggs, lemon zest, ginger, melted butter and baking powder, and baking soda and mix well.
- Pour into well-buttered loaf pans or ramekins, making sure to only fill each one-half way.
- Bake at 325F for 40-45 min, or until the tops are browned and a toothpick comes out clean when poked into the centre.