Christian Barclay’s Almond Jumballs

Christian Barclay’s Almond Jumballs

See the end of the post for information about the third annual Great Rare Books Bakeoff!

almond jumballs on a plate

There are so many recipes for jumballs in seventeenth-century recipe books. Even though I’ve been baking jumballs since I started this project in 2014, I’m still surprised by the major differences in flavor, texture, and method between recipes. As Stephen Schmidt explains in this helpful glossary entry, “When jumbles first came to England from Italy, in the sixteenth century, they were sugary, anise-flavored cookies formed by tying ropes of dough in elaborate two-sided knots, such as a figure-eight or a pretzel knot.” By the last decade of the seventeenth-century, when Christian Barclay wrote this recipe “To make Almond Jumballs” in her recipe book, they could either be sugary confections or buttery dough shaped in elaborate forms.

When I came across this recipe while looking at the manuscript with colleagues and undergraduate students working on my “What’s in a Recipe?”  project, I immediately knew I wanted to try it. Barclay’s jumballs are like macaroons. They only contain ground almonds, orange blossom water, sugar, water, and egg white. The method of preparation draws on confectionary practices as well as baking techniques. I spooned some of the thin jumball batter into rounds and piped the rest into letters and knot forms.

Original Recipe 

almond jumballs recipe

To make Almond Jumballs
Take half a pound of Almonds, blanch
them in cold water, & beat them very
fine, put in a spoonfull or 2 of
orange flower water to keep them
from oylling, when they are beaten
small, boyll half a pund of double
Refined sugar to a Candy not too high
when it is cold work into it 2 ounces
of fine searcht sugar, & a litle of the
froth of ane egg & squirt into a
paper, bake them in ane oven not too

The recipe uses a sugar syrup to bind the almonds and capture the fleeting scent of orange blossom water. A “frothed” egg white adds body and lift during baking. These almond jumballs are sweet, fragrant, and have a pleasing crunch on the outside and a slight chew in the center.

Updated Recipe

Makes approximately 24 jumballs.

This recipe requires a candy thermometer, a mixer, and baking parchment.

1 cup ground almonds (110 grams)
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 cup sugar (201 grams)
¼ cup water
1 egg white

Preheat your oven to 320F (160C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Stir together the ground almonds and orange blossom water in a metal or ceramic mixing bowl.

Separate the egg and put the egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer. (You can also use a handheld mixer for this.) Whip the egg white until it is frothy, white, and full of small bubbles. It does not have to achieve stiff peaks to work in this recipe.

Put the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Affix a candy thermometer to the side. Bring the mixture to a boil and a syrup will form. Heat the syrup to 238F (114C). This is often called the “soft ball” stage.

Pour the sugar syrup into the ground almonds immediately. Stir until there are no almond clumps. Fold in the egg white. A thin batter will form.

Shape the jumballs on the prepared, parchment-lined baking sheets. (I used a tablespoon to measure out twelve even cookies. I pipped the rest of the batter into shapes, but they expanded substantially during baking and did not retain precise details.)

Bake for 10-12 minutes. (This will vary depending on the size and shape of your jumballs.) They are finished when they are golden at the edges and still pale in the center.

Allow the jumballs to cool completely on the baking sheet.

The Results

Crisp, floral, and sweet, Christian Barclay’s almond jumballs are a delicious treat. If I make them again, I may try to create more elaborate shapes now that I’ve seen how the batter expands when baked.

This recipe is naturally gluten free. I’d be curious to hear how an egg substitute would work if any of my readers prepare a vegan version.

Today I’m also inviting you to a virtual baking competition: the third annual The Great Rare Books Bake Off, a friendly contest between the sister libraries of Penn State University and Monash University. There are fourteen intriguing recipes to try from library collections. An engraved pie pan trophy will be awarded to the library that receives the most social media posts featuring photos of your baked goods tagged with its hashtag: #BakePennState or #BakeMonash. The competition runs 1-9 October 2022 so you have lots of time to read the recipes, shop for ingredients, and get baking. All the details are on the site linked above.

If these jumballs are not inspiring you to get baking, there are a lot of other recipes to choose from. In past years I’ve updated recipes for a lemon tart and for doughnuts. I’ve also enjoyed baking Suffrage Angel Cake, Cinnamon Buns,  Lamington Cake, and Pavlova in past years.

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