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Romoli's Gingerbread

Romoli, Domenico: La Singolare Dottrina Di M. Domenico Romoli... (Gio. Battista Bonfadino, Venetia, 1593)

For the forthcoming Collation, I decided to try out one of Romoli's recipes for Mostaccioli. According to Florio, mostaccioli1 are a type of gingerbread or sugar bread. From the recipes that I've looked at so far, I can indeed concur.

Admittedly I enjoy testing recipes, but in this case I primarily wanted to find a recipe for these that I was happy with, as I have been analysing Scappi's menus pretty closely and they show up on nearly all of them. They're usually served in the first credenza course of a pranzo2, and occasionally at cena3. They also show up on every single one of his collazione4 menus - again, normally in the first course (although obviously for a collation there are no distinct credenza or cucina courses). The sole exception comes in July, when for reasons unknown Scappi instead sends them out as part of the second course. Since I was preparing a collation, these seemed like an excellent food choice - doubly so since, effectively being biscuits, they're easily portable.

I'll try out some of the other recipes that I have too, however, on this occasion this one appealed for two reasons. One, it actually contained spices rather than just being a sweet biscuit. Two, the recipe was nicely proportional, which made for easy scaling, and I was feeling lazy.

Having carefully looked through the recipe, I quickly identified that the volume given would produce far too many biscuits for our purpose. The collation I am putting together is for 15 people. Scappi only ever serves one of these biscuits per person. The recipe as it is produces roughly enough to feed a small army. Admittedly these should store well - however, there's only so long one can continue eating the same sort of biscuit without getting thoroughly sick of them.

So, I scaled it down and measured in cups. Instead of three pounds of ground sugar, I used three cups of icing sugar - which meant that the one pound of rose water became one cup. Guesstimating a little on the spices and figuring that I was making roughly 1/6th of the volume, I put in tablespoonfuls of cinnamon, ginger, and pepper (instead of three ounces of each), and a teaspoon each of cloves and nutmeg. He then gives that most delightful of instructions, which is to "put in as much flour as will make a slightly hard paste". Lovely. There's nothing quite like the Renaissance precision of measurements - although admittedly this would probably vary from place to place depending on humidity and flour type. In this case, I ended up adding three cups of flour. Two and a half would probably have been enough, but three was definitely solid5 - the lovely Lady Katherine of Glastonbury was helping me out today, and helped with the decision on this. She then kindly rolled all the dough for me6, and stamped out pretty lymphad-shaped cookies7.

The volume that I made produced 33 fairly large cookies. Unfortunately, following baking, only half of these are edible. Why? Well, as it turns out you have to be very careful not to overbake them. The first two trays went in for 15 minutes each at 180oC. By the time they came out and had cooled, they were rock solid. In fact, as I attempted to bite into one, I discovered that they were so rock solid they could pass as dwarf bread. Baking time was quickly amended to 10 minutes per tray, and the results are far more edible. If you were making smaller cookies, you'd probably find 7-8 minutes plenty. Alternatively, you could turn the temperature down and cook them for a bit longer with a gentler heat.

Otherwise, I was fairly happy with the recipe. Those that don't like things too hot & spicy though may prefer to add less pepper: with the amount of it that I used in this redaction, and the other warm spices complementing it, I produced biscuits that definitely like to bite back. Still, they're tasty, edible, and lymphad-shaped, so really what more could you ask for in a biscuit?

1. Actual spelling may vary from author to author. It also varies within any one author's work - neither Scappi nor Romoli are capable of spelling it consistently (not uncommon for the time).

2. Dinner, served in the middle of the day.

3. Supper - a lighter meal - served after dinner, in the evening.

4. A "collation". I translate it thusly because this makes sense to me - but it doesn't to everyone. Basically, it's a light, slightly less formal meal (they might, for example, dispense with some or all of the carvers) composed entirely of cold foods. In Summer, these are often outdoors at pleasant places such as vineyards. In Winter they are often held in the evening following on from a Commedia or some such. Expect more writing from me on this in the future.

5. Pun intended.

6. I have slight OOS (RSI) from too much candy making. That's not a euphemism.

7. I'm still thrilled to bits that I have a lymphad-shaped cookie cutter, and that I could just go into the shop and buy it!