"Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread" William Shakespeare.
For all of you breathing a sigh of relief that the world is once again as it should be; look away now. Today is the twelfth day of Christmas and though the Ferrero Rocher pyramid may be reduced to it's foundations with not nearly enough left to spoil anyone, for me it's not over until the fat-bellied novelty santa sings Jingle Bells one last time.
As well as being forever associated with William Shakespeare's comedy Twelfth Night, January 6 was once celebrated in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan or Women's Christmas. With pinkies raised high in front of tables laden with cakes, sandwiches and many pots of tea, us laydees thanked ourselves for all the hard work put in pampering the menfolk throughout Christmas. Perhaps seeming a little old-fashioned nowadays when the workload is more equally shared (ahem), it is a largely forgotten tradition that was revived in my house today with tea and scones and lashings and lashings of gingerbread. Tomorrow the decorations come down and our lives become just a little less sparkly.
The recipe is from Darina Allen's Festive Food of Ireland (which came free with my voucher for a day at Ballymaloe Cookery School thank you kind sister!) A stir the melted ingredients into the dry ingredients kind of recipe, it is well worth the minimal effort - resulting in a sticky, darkly-spiced bread that must be spread with a layer of butter thick enough to double as a dental mould. The recipe makes a lot of gingerbread but it keeps really well in a tin for ages (in fact it will taste better a day or two after baking) and you can bake it in whatever tin falls out of the cupboard first. Just be aware that the baking times will vary.
Next time you visit I promise there will not be the slightest whisper of bells.
- 450g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsps baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
- 225g soft brown sugar
- 170g butter, cut into cubes
- 350g treacle
- 300ml milk
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 handful sultanas (optional)
- 30g crystallised ginger, finely chopped (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Butter and line two 9inch x 5 inch loaf tins or about 12 mini loaf tins or line two 12 hole muffin tins with paper cases. Sieve all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
- Gently warm the sugar and butter in a small, heavy-based pan until the butter melts. Add the treacle and the milk and allow to cool slightly. Stir into the dry ingredients.
- Add the egg and the optional ingredients if using and mix very thoroughly, making sure there are no lumps of flour left.
- Divide between your chosen baking tins and bake for about 1 hour for the loaf tins, 35-40 minutes for the mini loaves and 20-25 minutes for the muffins or until a skewer inserted into cakes comes out clean.
- Turn out of tin, cool and serve in thick slices inch thick with butter.
Makes 2 loaves.