(A Note about the Post Introduction: Originally this post included links to episodes from the BBC program “The Victorian Kitchen”. Unfortunately, even though the program is not available for sale in the United States, the BBC has removed it from YouTube and I have removed the links to it. Apologies to any reader who went, unsuccessfully, to YouTube to watch one of the episodes.)
In 1989 the BBC presented a short series of 30-minute programs about: The Victorian Kitchen. The show was filmed in a refurbished kitchen of the period, furnished with period utensils, and the roles of cook and gardener were delightfully performed by a lady and gentleman who recreated for film the positions they had actually held in real life in English great houses and country estates of the past.
The show is entertaining on many levels. (Clarinettist Emma Johnson plays the opening theme music.) Anyone who likes cooking from old cookbooks may find it illuminating to watch Head Cook Ruth Mott make dishes using 19th century recipes and kitchenware, as she reminisces about kitchen ways, now fallen out of use and forgotten. The Victorian kitchen for which Eliza Acton and Isabella Beeton wrote their cookery books comes to life through Mrs. Mott’s cooking and remembering, and one may more easily imagine how to recreate some of those dishes today.
With its cake baking, ice cream making, and mixing of a claret cup “Afternoon Tea” is an especially engaging episode. The doughs and batters turned into cakes and cookies for tea were never mixed with a wooden spoon, according to Mrs. Mott. “When I started in the kitchen,” she recalled, “You used your hands for everything…You get a much better feel of the mixture if you’re mixing by hand.”
Here is a recipe for one of the tea table classics: The Gingersnap. in addition, the peppery spiciness of the little biscuit makes it a quintessential cold weather cookie.
Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF. You will have the option of printing in smaller text size and without photos.
A Timing Note: After the dough is mixed and formed into logs, it must be chilled in the freezer. About 30 minutes, or a little more, is a good estimate of the time it will take for the dough to harden enough to cut into rounds for baking.
- 2 cups (280g) of White Unbleached Flour: If you aren’t weighing the flour, measure it by pouring it into the measuring cup and leveling it off.
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Baking Soda
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of Ground Ginger
- 2 teaspoons of Ground Cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon of Ground Black Pepper
- 11 Tablespoons (150g) of Softened Butter
- 2/3 cup (130g) of White Granulated Sugar
- 1/4 cup (80g) of Molasses
- 1/2 teaspoon of Vanilla
- 1 Egg, at room temperature
- a Mixer, standing or hand or….(you might try Mrs. Mott’s method of hand mixing)
- 2 Mixing Bowls (one may be the bowl of the mixer)
- a lightly floured Pastry Board
- Waxed Paper or Plastic Wrap for wrapping the cookie dough
- 1 or more Baking Sheets, lined with Parchment: The dk used a single baking sheet for the photographed cookies and only 1 sheet of Parchment, allowing the sheet and parchment paper to cool a little between batches while cutting the dough for the next round of baking. The baking sheet used measures (across the top) 15.5 in. x 10.5 in. (40 cm x 27 cm). A sheet of this size will bake a dozen Gingersnaps at a time.
- Cooling racks
1. In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground black pepper.
2. In a second bowl, beat the butter until it begins to lighten and add the sugar. Beat the mixture until it is smooth.
3. Stir the molasses, the vanilla and the egg into the beaten butter and sugar.
4. Add the dry ingredients to the molasses, vanilla, egg, butter and sugar mixture and stir until a smooth dough forms.
5. Divide the dough in half. Place half on the lightly floured pastry board, flour your hands a little and, with a light hand, roll the dough into a log of about a 2-inch (about 5 cm). Do the same with the second half of the dough.
6. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap or waxed paper and freeze them until they are firm enough to cut into rounds with a knife–hardening may take about 30 minutes or a little more.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C) while the cookie dough hardens.
8. When the dough is hard enough to cut, take out a log, place it on the pastry board and slice off 12 rounds–or more if your baking sheet is a large one or you are baking multiple sheets at one time– (each about 1/4-inch thick). Place them, leaving roughly 2 inches of space between them, on a parchment lined baking sheet. Return the uncut portion of the dough log to the freezer.
9. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes. Cool the cookies on the pan for 2 minutes before transferring them to a rack. (Note: The cookies may be made on multiple sheets. It is also possible to make them on 1 sheet, using the same sheet of parchment for each batch baked. To do this, cool the parchment lined pan a little after removing the baked cookies while you cut a second batch for baking. Arrange the cut rounds on the pan and put them quickly into the oven.)
10. Gingersnaps keep for many days in a cookie jar or tin. Their flavour continues to develop and becomes a little more pronounced over time.
A Note and an Acknowledgement: Gingersnaps Chez Panisse are part of the Dessert Course in the Lunch Menu: A Cold Winter’s Day Luncheon Menu Reminiscent of Sunny Climes. The recipe is adapted from one in a cookbook by Alice Waters (founder of the restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California), The Art of Simple Food (2007).
An Invitation: You are invited to request suggestions from the diplomatickitchen for your own menus for any occasion by clicking on the feature ‘Ask and Tell’ here or in the Menu at the top of the page. Do you have a menu concept with a gap or two that wants filling…or perhaps you are an expat looking for ways to adapt your recipes to what is available in your temporary home…maybe you are just looking for a new way to use a familiar ingredient or would like suggestions on how to adjust quantities of a recipe from the diplomatickitchen for smaller or larger groups…Replies will be published in ‘Ask and Tell’ or sent by email if you prefer.
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012