Transcription of Video:
Today we’re going to be making wiggs. Not the hairy sort you put on your head, but a sweet little biscuit that was very popular in the 17th and 18th century. We’re going to be baking some in our earthen oven and some in a Dutch oven also.
The term wigg comes from an earlier Dutch word meaning wedge. The loaves were cut into wedge shapes for baking.
Because the wiggs were probably fairly expensive, they have a lot of sugar and milk fat in them and they were usually set aside for special events like funerals or for lent, but there’s even one account of a man using them to pay his servants with them.
Wiggs are a yeast bread. Yeast in the 18th century was much appreciated by brewers and bakers. A little bit of yeast and barley malt turns into ale, flour and water and yeast turns into bread. It wasn’t until the 19th century that anyone really understood what was going on with yeast and how it worked.
Bakers needed yeast and they knew the best place to get it was from the brewer. 18th century recipes call for liquid yeast, something a little different from modern yeast recipes. The yeast in the 18th century was either the yeast that was on the foam at the top of the beer barrel when they first start brewing it. It comes out on the foam which is croizen, or there’s the yeast that falls to the bottom after its done brewing and after they bottle the beer off, what’s left in the bottom of the barrel is the yeast that’s left over, the brewer’s yeast. That would be reactivated with a little bit of sugar and used in bread recipes.
Unless you’re a home brewer, barm can be a little difficult to come by, so we’re going to show you how to make an 18th century barm.
We’re going to need a few things to make our barm. You’re going to need a bottle. You’re going to need some good clean water. We’ve got some ale here, and some sugar and yeast. I put about a quarter to a half a cup of flour into the bottle and now we’re going to add about a half a pint of water and half a pint of our ale, and if you don’t have access to good home brew ale, you’re going to want to buy some good imported ale. The ale’s going to add a very authentic flavor to your wiggs.
Now it’s time to add to our mixture about a teaspoon of dry active yeast and a teaspoon of sugar to kick start the mix.
Now let’s mix this up. Get the flour mixed up in our liquids and then we’re going to let this set and prime for about 15 minutes while we prepare the rest of our ingredients.
While our barm is priming, let’s get together our dry ingredients for the wiggs. We’re going to start off with about 4 cups of fine white flour. You’re also going to need about 4 ounces or half a cup of sugar. I’ve got some loaf sugar here, and we’re also going to need caraway seeds. Caraway seeds were very popular flavoring in the 18th century for bread type products. These are actually caraway pods, not seeds.
Now let’s mix our wet ingredients. I’ve got about 6 tablespoons of melted butter, let’s put in a half a cup of milk in with that, and now we need our barm. This has been priming. It’s looking like it’s good and alive. Give this a good shake and then we’re going to need about a half a cup. Okay, here’s our wet ingredients, we’re going to put these into our dry ingredients and then I’m going to mix this up with my hands. You want to make sure to mix it well, but don’t over mix it.
Okay, that’s mixed pretty well, let’s go turn this out onto the table.
Let’s turn our dough out onto our lightly floured surface that we’ve got prepared. Get all the dough out. I’m going to square this up so that I can cut it down into about egg sized pieces. You want to make sure that you don’t knead this too much or you’ll toughen the dough and won’t be nice and light and fluffy.
Now that we’ve cut these into little egg sized shapes, we want to roll these into a little ball. You want to do this very gently, not kneading them up or making them tough. We’re going to very gently cradle these into very small round bun shapes.
Now it’s time to cut these into our little wedge shapes. Just going to slice them.
Okay, now that we’ve got these cut, we’re going to put these on a well-greased sheet, a cooking sheet, and we’re going to cover them up with a cloth and let them rest for about 15 or 20, or actually a half hour. They’re not going to rise, because of the milk fat and everything that’s in them, but they do need to rest.
Well, we’ve let these rest for about a half hour. They haven’t risen, they just rested. They will spring up in the oven when they go in. They’ll puff up when we cook them, but right now they haven’t risen. Next we’re going to sprinkle the tops with some searst sugar, which is, in the 18th century terms, a sifted sugar, or as we know it today, powdered sugar.
Your oven temperatures are going to need to be a medium hot oven, maybe about 400 degrees. For extra information about how to use these earthen ovens, make sure to check out the video series where we talk about building and using the earthen oven.
Because there’s so much sugar in these guys you’re going to want to make sure that you have a trivet or maybe some S-hooks to put your tray on, because they are susceptible to burning on the bottom.
There we go, we’re going to let these cook for about 15 minutes. While these are cooking, we’re going to cook some in the Dutch oven.
So, you’ll want to watch these cook because, depending on the heat of your oven, they may only take 5 minutes to cook.
I’ve got the Dutch oven preheated up so that it’s not stone cold. I’m going to get the bed of coals here prepped for the Dutch oven. I want to make sure there’s just a ring of nice hot coals around the outside of the bottom.
Again, it can be difficult to judge the temperature, the exact temperature of your Dutch oven so you’re going to need to check it fairly frequently to make sure they don’t burn.
Obviously they’re just about right. Let’s go ahead and take this off of the fire. I’m going to get them out of here.
These turned out really well. I’m sure that you will enjoy this 18th century treat. Something that you can cook at your next outdoor event. All the things you’ve seen here, the items, the clothing, all these things are available on our website or in our print catalog. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook.