Oranges and Lemons

6 Feb

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.
You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

 

Traditional English nursery rhyme

Cooking at Fort York has taken a decidedly citrus turn over the past few weeks, since we’ve been preparing for the Fort’s long running February event, Mad for Marmalade, Crazy for Citrus.  I’ve long been a lover of citrus fruits – as a child oranges and lemons were basically the only fruits I’d eat – so the idea of celebrating the flavours of sweet oranges and sharp lemon zest is one which appeals to me greatly.

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Orange gingerbread squares

It’s a pity I won’t be around for the event itself but at least I get the fun of all the behind the scenes preparations and experimentation.  Rosemary and Joan have been working on orange biscuits, perfecting the consistency which is key to these macaroon like offerings.  Of course in the interests of achieving the best possible biscuit there needs to be a fair amount of testing by eating, a task in which we’re all more than happy to take part.

For at least two weeks in a row Emma has produced the most delectable lemon puffs, pillows of airy fluffiness offering the briefest wisp of tart lemon before melting away.  We’ve been imaging the many permutations for serving lemon puffs, including sandwiching them together with a swirl of lemon curd and cream.

The recipe I’ve been working on, with Krystle, was an orange gingerbread taken from the first known English language cookbook published in Canada, in 1831, The Cook Not Mad.  The author of the cookbook is unknown and before being published in Canada it actually first appeared in America, in Watertown, New York in 1830.   Its title clearly suggests that its author wanted to demonstrate the rationality behind cookery, as opposed to it being any sort of mystic alchemy.

No. 130 Orange Gingerbread
Two pounds and a quarter fine flour, a pound and 3 quarters molasses, 12 ounces of sugar, 3 ounces undried orange peel chopped fine, 1 ounce each of ginger and allspice, melt twelve ounces of butter, mix the whole together, lay it by for twelve hours, roll it out with as little flour as possible, cut it in pieces three inches wide, mark them in the form of checkers with the back of a knife, rub them over with the yelk of an egg, beat with a tea cup of milk, when done wash them again with the egg.

The recipe, No. 130 in the book, is for a classic hard gingerbread with a melting of molasses and butter.  The combination of spices – all spice and ginger – is augmented by the addition of orange peel, which is what makes this a little more unusual than the standard gingerbread recipes of today.  There has been much discussion in the kitchen about they original recipe instruction to add ‘undried peel, chopped fine’ and what it actually means.  Is it simply orange zest or is it a peel in syrup then chopped? While the historic recipes when read carefully give many clues about their methods and ingredients, sometimes even close examination cannot unlock all their meaning and the best approach is to take an educated guess in the service of experimentation.

The melted molasses (fancy molasses, a little more refined that the usual molasses) and butter had to cool to room temperature and we began by simply stirring the mixture.  Elizabeth suggested that a cool bain marie and sure enough a bit of ice and water was much more effective in dropping the temperature.

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our molasses and butter mixture before and with the bain marie

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Krystle preparing the all important orange zest

The cooled molasses mixture was added to the flour, sugar, spices and orange and then combined to make a soft dough which needed considerable chilling before it could be worked.  Even once chilled it still stuck to the table frequently while being rolled out; no wonder the original recipe suggested chilling it over night.

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The dry ingredients – flour, sugar, ginger, all spice – and the orange zest

The recipe also gave very specific instructions about how to shape the gingerbread; it was to be rolled to ¼ “ thick and then marked in a chequerboard pattern of 1” squares, before being cut into squares of 3”.  While undoubtedly producing a biscuit pleasing to the eye this was not so easy to achieve; the dough was difficult to lift up and transport to the trays without suffering more than a little shape shifting.  These were quickly given a little bit of manual coaxing to regain their right angles.

To cut the squares we had a basic square template and we experimented with different methods of scoring the 1” squares; sometimes before cutting into 3” squares, sometimes once they were on the tray.  In the interests of speed I adopted a rather cavalier approach, just running my palette knife through the dough after cutting but before placing on the tray, making sure not to run my knife all the way through the dough.  My accuracy left much to be desired; I definitely wasn’t producing nine perfect 1” squares on each biscuit – I don’t know how precise the author would have expected their readers to be.

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all ready for cutting

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                                Hardly a model of mathematical precision, but that doesn’t effect the taste, does it?

The finished squares were glazed with a mixture of beaten egg and milk and then left to stand for 30 minutes before being placed in a moderate oven.  After about 15 minutes they came out again and were given a second coating of the glaze before being left to cool and harden.

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The resulting biscuits have a pleasing crunch as you break the biscuit, with a hint of chewiness as you enjoy the deep, rich flavour of the marriage of molasses, orange and spices.  It’s difficult to know if we chose the right method of adding the orange peel  but they taste great.  In the cold and bitter weather of February it’s easy to imagine how much they must have been enjoyed by those who first made them, providing a little bit of sweet sustenance.

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The squares have two coats of an egg yolk and milk glaze

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 Krystle with the finished squares

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2 Responses to “Oranges and Lemons”

  1. laurice March 9, 2014 at 2:38 am #

    Which bulk barn has th Baci in bulk. Please let me know

    • maplesyrupandcastersugar March 9, 2014 at 2:56 am #

      Dear Laurice

      I wrote this post year when Bulk Barn were stocking Baci; they stopped after Valentine’s Day 2013 and do not appear to have stocked Baci in any Bulk Barn this year.

      with all best wishes

      alexandra

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