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Jumbles/Knot Biscuits - 16th Century

Welcome back to another recipe! This particular recipe for Jumbles (also known as Jumbals or Knots) is from "The Good Huswifes Jewell" - first published in 1585. As with most (if not all) cookbooks back then, it was not written for the poor - it instead seemed to be written for the middle class, and so contained many ingredients that used spices available only to the wealthier members of society. In this recipe I have used Caraway seeds, but feel free to use whichever spices you wish.

The original recipe:

Take twenty eggs and put them in a pot, both the yolks and the white: beat them well. Then take a pound of beaten sugar and put to them, and stir them well together. Then put to it a quarter of a peck of flour and make a hard paste thereof; and then with aniseed mould it well and make it in little rolls, being long. Tie them in knots, and wet the ends with rosewater. Then put them in a pan of seething water, but even in one waum. Then take them out with a skimmer and lay them in a cloth to dry. This being done, lay them in a tart pan, the bottom being oiled. Then put them in a temperate oven for one howre, turning them often in the oven.

That's a LOT of eggs. Whilst looking for this recipe I found a translation here that states 20 eggs during the Elizabethan period equates to around 10 eggs nowadays. Luckily that is a lot easier to replace! For this recipe I went for a modern egg replacer. I'm not sure how well this worked, as the Jumbles turned out pretty hard. However, from what I understand, they are meant to be hard so perhaps this is the correct texture. For a more time appropriate replacement it may be possible to use apple sauce instead of egg replacer powder, in which case a quarter of a cup = 1 egg. This may add too much moisture to the mixture, so it's a bit of an experiment - I might re-try with this in the future. The original recipe also said it made 100. I kept the original recipe and made them bigger (12 at 65g each, 11 at 85g each). I'm not sure how much of an impact this had on the texture, but it was easier than making 100. You could of course just reduce the recipe and make fewer at a normal size. There isn't any reference to what size each should be, so I went with the weight of those made by Paul Hollywood (although I believe those are a lot more biscuity than these).

The new recipe:

10 tsp Free and Easy Egg Replacer

300 ml water

500g sugar

1kg flour

Caraway Seeds (or spice of choosing)

1 tbsp rosewater (optional)

The original recipe calls for a quarter of a peck, which I believe is around 1.5kg. However, I added the flour 500g at a time and found that 1kg made a workable dough.

  1. Beat the "eggs" well.

I didn't take this to mean "beat until forming stiff peaks", as I would assume that would only require egg whites, so I just beat with a whisk until the replacer and water looked well combined.

2. Add the sugar and beat again.

Pretty self explanatory! Add your sugar and beat. I went until just incorporated, so as to try and avoid over beating.

3. Add the flour and make a workable dough. (Perhaps also add the seeds here, as opposed to later like I did)

I added 500g at a time and found that 1kg was enough. The original recipe says to add the spices later, but I found that tough to do evenly. Adding here with the flour may help to evenly spread the seeds. Once I could form the dough into a small ball and have it maintain its shape I stopped adding flour and added the seeds.

4. Tie them into knots.

This is where you can get pretty creative! I chose to do the two types of knots highlighted in Paul Hollywood's version (although as you will later see, I am currently no dough master). The recipe gives no indication of what kind of knot to use, but many recipes seem to use the triquetra - a triangular knot shape.

To make the double knots I used 65g of dough and for the triquetra I used 85g of dough. Again, you could make more jumbles and make them smaller than I did - the hard texture may be easier to deal with, then. The triquetra shape is pretty simple, so I didn't go into too much detail about how to shape it.

4a. Double knots.

To make a double knot, first roll your chunk of dough into a long rope shape. I made a few of different lengths/thicknesses and found that the shorter ropes (around 20cm) turned out looking nicer than the longer (30cm) ones. The pictures below show a 30cm long piece, but I've added a picture of a finished shorter one at the end for comparison.

Then turn the rope so that it is length-ways. Take the top and loop it to around half-way down your rope. You want to have around a half inch of dough past the rope.

Flip your dough so that the long bit is now over the loop you just made. Take the long end and wrap it under the half-inch you left sticking out. Then bring it under the top loop and lay it on the dough. It should look like a figure 8.

You can then use some of the rosewater to stick the ends of the rope down to the loop, but you could also just use a little bit of water.

Here is an example of a smaller one. I think they look way cuter (it didn't change the texture too much), but to each their own.

5. Boil the knots and pre-heat the oven.

This step is quite similar to making bagels. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and drop the knots in one at a time. Once they rise to the top, remove them with a slotted spoon and let them drain on a paper towel. You may need to give them a bit of a poke when they are in, just to make sure they do not stick to the bottom of your pan. Now is also a good time to start heating up your oven. The recipe calls for a "temperate"...not a clue what that means in Celsius, but I tried to stick to 150 degrees C.

Just to note, you may need to top up or replace your water.

6. Bake them and turn often!

Once your Jumbles are all boiled up, put them on a greased baking tray and pop them in the oven! I turned mine every 5 minutes, and that seemed to do the job. The one hour suggested by the recipe seemed to be the right amount of time to get them a nice golden col0ur.

Here are some of the triquetras part of the way through:

Side note - I thought this one looked like a cute little snake and it was my favourite.

You now have Jumbles! They come out of the oven pretty soft but really firm up once cooled. I would suggest having them with a nice cup of tea and dunking them to soften them up a bit.

Hopefully you manage to shape your dough better than I did! Some of mine did end up looking a little...penisey... in my opinion.

These Jumbles do get surprisingly hard once they cool, and that is likely because they were designed to last a long time. Apparently they could be stored for about a year without going stale, making them very popular to batch bake and take on travels. Some slightly later recipes add butter and "sweet cream" (The Accomplist Cook, 1685) and some others seem to specify "fine sugar" - perhaps something closer to icing sugar? (Booke of Cookery).

Whilst the earliest published recipe I could find was from the late 1500s, it is thought that this recipe existed long beforehand, and was found after the Battle of Bosworth, which took place in 1485 - nearly a century beforehand. Apparently, the cook of Richard III had this recipe on the battlefield with him - presumably because they were a favourite of the King? It's not surprising that these would be popular to take to war - they aren't very likely to lose shape on the road, and the longevity of them likely meant that they could be easily made in large batches and then stored. Perhaps feeding an army is why the original recipe made around 100!

If this legend is to be believed, then it seems somewhat appropriate to me that this knotted recipe was discovered on the battlefield prior to the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York - the marriage that was to unify Lancaster and York.

If you make this recipe (either as it is or a more modern version), drop a comment below or tag me on Instagram/FB @TheHistoricalVegan

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