Dear Constant Reader,
In the previous historic recipe, I mentioned jumbles, a kind of Elizabethan cookie. Some think the name comes from the Latin word for “twin”, gemellus, which hints that they were shaped with two loops. Here’s how you make them.
From The second part of the good hus-wiues iewell by Thomas Dawson (1597).
To make Iombils a hundred
Take twenty Egges and put them in a pot, both the yolks & the white, beat them wel, then take a pound of beaten suger and put to them, and stirre them wel together, then put to it a quarter of a peck of flower, and make a hard paste thereof; and then with Aniseede moulde it well, and make it in little rowles, beeing long, and tye them in knots, and wet the ends in Rosewater, then put them in a pan of seething water, but euen in one waum, then take them out with a Skimmer and lay them in a cloth to drie, this being doon, lay them in a tart panne, the bottom beeing oyled, then put them into a temperat Ouen for one howre, turning them often in the Ouen.
I didn’t need a hundred jumbles, so I cut the recipe way down. The first thing to note is that until the 20th century eggs were on the small size, so a good rule of thumb is to cut the number of eggs in half if you’re using standard supermarket eggs. A quarter of a peck of flour is about 3 1/2 pounds. Despite the whole wheat flour in the picture, I used white flour — it was in a less photogenic container.
Beat the eggs very well — they’re the only leavening in the dough. Add the sugar, then the flour and the anise seed. When I first made these many years ago, I used anise, which a lot of people (like Scratch) really don’t like. This time I used caraway. Not as historically accurate, but more likely to be eaten.
Then divide the dough up — I split it into 8 parts — and make it into long snakes. Tie them into knot-like shapes. I’ve done actual knots, but this time I twisted them into circles. Pretzel shapes would be okay too. The recipe says to wet the ends with rosewater and I’ve done that. I find it adds no discernible flavor, so I skipped it this time.
Now the fun part. Drop your jumbles into a pot of simmering water, a couple at a time. You don’t want to crowd them. They’ll sink to the bottom. After a couple of minutes, poke them with a spoon, so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they float, they’re done. Scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon or similar and place the jumbles on a clean towel on top of a cooling rack.
After they’ve dried for a few minutes, put them on a greased cookie sheet (I use a silicone baking mat — I love those things) and bake at 350F for 30 minutes, turning them over half way through.
Why not bake for an hour, like the recipe says? Elizabethan ovens worked with retained heat — you’d build a fire in the oven and when the bricks were hot enough, you’d pull all the coals and stuff out, swab the oven floor all down with water (you don’t want ash on your bread plus it makes steam which contributes to a really nice crust), and put in the stuff that baked at the highest heat first and as the oven cooled you’d swap in the things that needed a lower temperature. Trying to mimic the gradually falling temperatures is a pain, so I bake for less time at a constant temperature.
Let the jumbles cool on a rack. They will be hard on the outside (good for dipping!) and chewy on the inside, kind of like a tiny sweet bagel.
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon anise (or caraway) seed
2 cups flour
Beat eggs very well. Blend in sugar. Add seeds and flour. You should have a stiff dough. Divide into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and tie into knots or twist into rings.
Carefully place each jumble in a pot of simmering water. After a moment or two, nudge them with a spoon so they don’t stick to the bottom. When they float, remove with a slotted spoon and allow to dry on a towel.
Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated oven at 350F for 30 minutes, turning each jumble over after 15 minutes. Let cool on a rack.