Honeycomb, or Roll Gingerbread

You’ll find this recipe in:
The Cook's Complete Guide, on the Principals of Frugality, Comfort, and Elegance
By A Lady (Esther Copley)
London, 1810

Historic Recipe:

Honeycomb, or Roll Gingerbread.
Rub together half a pound of flour, a quarter of a pound of butter, a quarter of a pound of fine moist sugar, a teaspoonful of ground ginger, ditto of allspice, ditto of cinnamon, in powder, the rind of one lemon, grate, and as much treacle as will make it in a paste to spread on tins very thin, bake it gently; when hot cut it in squares, and while warm roll it over a stick, like wafers, till cold; keep it in a dry place.

My Recipe:

Grated zest of 1 lemon
1½ cups white flour – 225 g
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
½ cup softened butter – 113 g
¾ cup packed brown sugar – 113 g
¼ cup molasses

In a large bowl, combine the flour, ginger, allspice, cinnamon and grated lemon zest. In a smaller bowl, cream together the sugar and softened butter. Add the butter & sugar to the dried ingredients and mix. Add the molasses and mix until combined.

Lightly flour your rolling surface and rolling pin. Roll out thin, cut out into shapes and bake at 275 F/135 C until slightly browned on the bottom. This recipe made 44 2" square cookies.

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After I made the dough, that's when things started to go wrong...

You've probably noticed that the recipe is called Roll Gingerbread, and the historic recipe instructs us to "bake it gently; when hot cut it in squares, and while warm roll it over a stick, like wafers, till cold". But yet, my gingerbread cookies are flat squares. What happened?

I rolled out the gingerbread thinly directly onto the cookie sheets and cut it into large square or rectangle shapes. Once baked, I cut it into squares roughly 2"x 2" and then I rolled it around various round stick-like items that I had around the house. The cookies instantly crumbled and cracked!

I had a small window of time before the cookies were cool, so that's when I gave up and decided that these gingerbread cookies were destined to be flat squares. This recipe makes a delicious lightly flavoured Lemon Gingersnap, so I recommend it, either rolled or flat.

When I make this recipe again, I'm going to try changing up some aspects of this recipe and I'll see if I can get the Honeycomb, or Roll Gingerbread to bend without cracking. If you try it out, take a moment to share your experiences in the comments and we'll figure it out together!

I can think of a short list of reasons why this recipe may have not behaved as expected, and solving mysteries such as this one is part of the joy of working from historic recipes. It is very satisfying when, after an arduous series of attempts, a finally recipe comes together and I'm eating the food that I imagined when I first read the recipe. Going through this process always makes me a better cook.

1) Add more or less molasses. Every other ingredient has a very specific measurement, especially for a recipe from 1810. But when it comes to the molasses, we're just told to add "as much treacle as will make it in a paste to spread on tins very thin".

2) Bake it at a higher temperature. I chose to bake it 275 F/135 C because our original recipe tells us to "bake it gently". Most contemporary recipes tell us to bake gingerbread at 350 F/175 C, so maybe the higher temperature will give the gingerbread more structural integrity?

3) Roll it out thinner.

4) Use white sugar, not brown sugar.

5) Try to roll the gingerbread around a stick directly out of the oven. The historic recipe instructs us to cut it in squares after it comes out of the oven, then roll the cookies. Maybe this takes up too much cooling time, and the way to go is cut out the gingerbread before baking. Then you'll be able to bend the cookies around a stick ASAP when it's hot.

6) Perhaps the historic recipe just doesn't work! I have searched for a contemporary recipe for a similar rolled gingerbread cookie for reference, and couldn't find one. The closest I could find is someone creating a slightly curved gingerbread house roof by allowing it to cool while draped over a swooped cardboard structure. Maybe rolled gingerbread cookies only stands up on paper and not in reality.

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