This post is part of the Vocal Cooks Collaborative.
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No meal is quite complete without dessert, but after two, three or even four courses, you want to keep the final triumph to something, visually appealing, but light and simple on the stomach.
Tarts of various kinds are always a good choice, particular as you can make the tart cases with allergy friendly ingredients, but if you want something impressive, there are options that will visually stun without being too complicated or heavy.
One of those is gingerbread and toffee "stained glass windows". The toffee is a bit time consuming, as is getting the Gingerbread in the proper shape, but the end result is worth it.
Done properly, you can parade the finished dessert around, then hit it with a rolling pin or snap pieces off to nibble on. One particularly dramatic version was when the cook lifted the "Window" above his head, waited for everyone to finish ooh-ing and aah-ing... then threw it down onto a large serving tray.
It shattered, obviously, and everyone was invited to grab a piece. Mostly because no-one was willing to be the first person to break part of it off, but the brief shrieks of horror were entertaining.
Type of dish: Subtletie*/Dessert
*A "Subtletie" is a dish that is as much decoration as food. This was particularly popular in the late medieval period, but appears in most times and places throughout history.
Examples are a chessboard made of marzipan; vegetables carved to look like flowers, birds or animals; sculptures of spun sugar; castles made out of cake or pastry; roast meats, particularly swan or peacock, arranged to look like the still-living animal; gingerbread houses, and things along those lines.
Modern gingerbread (or hard biscuit) recipe of choice
Hard toffee recipe of choice
Food colouring or flavoured syrup/juice of appropriate colour
1) Lay gingerbread/pastry outline on a sheet of baking paper. Make sure it is fully enclosed and 1-2 cm thick
2) Using strips or coils of gingerbread/pastry, create the design you want
3) Profuse swearing at the finicky bits is acceptable, nay, expected
4) Once the design is finished, bake at 180 C for five minutes
5) While the gingerbread cools, make your toffee
6) One colour at a time, fill in the segments of your ‘window’
7) Leave the toffee to set, preferably overnight. Refrigeration will speed up this process.
- While the recipe is not strictly period, sculptures or pictures made from pastry and spun sugar were, particularly in late period
- Treat the gingerbread or pastry like clay or play-doh.
- Geometric shapes and cookie cutters are also your new besties. You can use triangles and rectangles to hollow out a solid slab of pastry or create fancy borders. A heraldic rose can be made by cutting the bottom off five heart shapes and arranging them in a circle. Laurel leaves can be formed by cutting a heart down the middle
(I was submitting the recipe in a competition later in the year, which was indefinitely postponed due to lockdowns. So, I asked people to write down their reactions in the commentary book.)
"I'd praise this to the skies, but my mouth is full of tasty goodness!" (written in feedback book)
"It's too pretty to eat!" (Thank you, but eat it anyway. I am not taking this home with me!)
"Oh my god." (Please explain)
"That must have taken so much work!" (Given I staggered to bed at something like 3:00am the night before the feast; yes it did...)