17th century Knot Biscuits with Caraway and Mace


Jumbles are knot-shaped biscuits which were popular in England in Tudor and Stuart times. They are also known as gumballs, jambles , jumbalds and iombils.

The word comes probably from the Latin "gemellus" which means "twins", "double". In French, the word jumelle also means "twins".

In the 16th - 17th century the biscuits were made in the shape of a gimmell ring, which was often used as wedding ring, a symbol of love and friendship. A gimmell ring was made of two interlocking and twisted hoops with clasped hands forming the bezel .




Gimmel ring from a British Museum collection

Some stories report the jumbles are as old as the 1400s when it is said they were a speciality of Richard III's chef and the recipe was found on the battlefield at Bosworth where Richard III was killed.


The recipe first appeared in Thomas Dawson's book called "The second part of the good huswiues iewell" published in 1597:

"To make Iombils a Hundred.

Take twenty Egges and put them into a pot both the yolkes & the white, beat them wel, then take a pound of beaten su∣ger 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 Anniseede 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 into a pan of séething 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 bottome bée∣ing oyled, then put them into a temperat Ouen for one howre, turning then often in the Ouen."

The Elizabethan recipes use less spices ( e.g. aniseed ) and cook the biscuits in boiling water until they float to the surface before baking them in the oven.


Later, in the 17th century , the recipes are much more aromatic, using a combination of spices like aniseed, caraway and mace. The biscuits are not boiled anymore, they're only baked in the oven.


Hannah Woolley includes a recipe for knot biscuits in her book "The queen like closet" published in 1670:


"To make Diet Bread or Jumbolds.

Take a Quart of fine Flower, half a Pound of fine Sugar, Caraway seeds, Coriander seeds and Aniseeds bruised, of each one Ounce, mingle all these together, then take the Yolks of eight Eggs , and the Whites of three, beat them well with four spoonfuls of Rosewater, and so knead these all together and no other Liquor, when it is well wrought, lay it for one hour in a linnen cloth before the Fire, then rowl it out thin, tie them in Knots and prick them with a Needle, lay them upon Butter's Plates, and bake them in an Oven not too hot."

Hannah Woolley's recipe

Another recipe appears in Robert May's "The Accomplisht Cook " published in 1685:


"To make Jambals.

Take a pint of fine wheat flour; the yolks of three or four new laid eggs, three or four spoonfuls of sweet cream, a few aniseeds , and some cold butter; make it into a paste, and roul it into long rouls, as big as a little arrow, make them into divers knots , then boil them in fair water like simnels; bake them , and being baked, box them and keep them in a stove. Thus you may use them , and keep them all year."


Because of the spices and sugar content, which were very expensive, these biscuits would have been baked only in wealthier households.

Jumbles are quite dense and hard which means they could be stored for up to 1 year before becoming stale.


The recipe I used to make these biscuits is from a manuscript called "Arcana Fairfaxiana Manuscripta: a manuscript volume of apothecaries' lore and housewifery nearly three centuries old" written by the Fairfax family. Since it can be a bit tricky to work with the original quantities , I used a modernised version of the recipe published by Peter Brears in his book "Stuart Cookery- Recipes & History".


"To make Knotts or Gumballs :

Take 12 Yolkes of Egg, and 5 Whites, a pound of searced Sugar, half a pound of Butter washed in Rose Water, 3 quarters of an ounce of Mace finely beaten, a little Salt dissolved in Rose Water, half an ounce of Caroway seeds, Mingle all theise together with as much Flower as will work it up in a paste, and soe make it Knotts or Rings or What fashion you please. Bake them as Bisket-bread, put upon Pye-plates."

And this is the modern version I used:


Ingredients

80 g butter

2 tbps rosewater

200 g sugar

4 eggs, beaten

2 tsp mace

2 tsp aniseed

2 tsp caraway seeds

450 g flour



Method:

1. Beat butter with rosewater

2. Add sugar, then eggs and spices and mix well

3. Add the flour to make a stiff dough

4. Make long rolls, 5mm in diametre, and shape them into knots or plaited strips

5. Bake biscuits on greased baking sheets for 15-20 min at 180°C