This recipe derives from a passage in Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat’s A History of Food that describes spice cakes made in Reims in the 15th and 16th centuries. The bakers apparently had what sounds like a sourdough starter going for several centuries, sitting around the bakeries of Reims in large, wooden tubs.
To batches of this starter, they would add honey, spices, and buckwheat flour and let the honey ferment in the dough. The resulting cakes were apparently famous throughout France. Naturally, I can’t read a description of a complex, centuries-old baking technique without seeing it as a challenge.
This recipe is a shorthand attempt to recreate the recipe. Even I don’t have centuries to dedicate to making a single batch of cakes, so I decided to skip the sourdough starter and cut the fermentation time down to a week. The resulting cakes are by no means pretty, but they are very tasty. The flavor is something like very good gingerbread infused with mead, which I suppose is to be expected, as that’s pretty much what the recipe is.
I think of these cakes as a rough draft. I’m definitely interested in hearing the results of any other experimentation that anyone else carries out, and any variations you can suggest that improve the flavor of the recipe.
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup buckwheat flour
- 2 tablespoons powdered ginger
- Peel of 1 lemon, finely chopped
Mix all the ingredients together in a large ceramic or wooden bowl – you’ll want something that is well-insulated and will help maintain a stable temperature.
Cover the bowl with a thin towel or cheesecloth and let sit for a week.
After the first day or so, bubbles will begin to form across the surface of the dough. This is what you want to happen.
If mold begins to form, that is not what you want to happen. At that point, you’ll have to discard the dough and start over.
After the dough has sat for a week, spoon the dough into 12 muffin tins. Traditionally, this dough was apparently spooned into small, pig-shaped wooden moulds, so if you have any of those lying around feel free to use them instead.
Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes.