Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Young Benjamin's Favorite Boston Bisket Bread Make a Great Addition to Holiday Appetizer Snack Trays

Benjamin's seafaring snacks might have included his favorite apples and sturdy biskets.
The recipe for making this traditional cracker-like bread is below and in Stirring the Pot with Benjamin Franklin,
Chapter 1 Ben's Boston Boyhood. The tasty Traveler's Gingerbreads also shown here are in
Chapter 3 From Devil to Master, Franklin Becomes a Vegetarian and a Printer. 

Benjamin Franklin's favored hometown treat is a perfect make ahead treat to accompany spreads, cheese trays, or for just snacking.  Easy to bake with a sophisticated flavor and texture they'll make a delightful addition to your Thanksgiving or New Years celebration. 

We don't know what vegetarian Ben Franklin packed for sea-faring meals when he ran away from home and his apprenticeship in his brother James's printing shop. But we do know the first thing the seventeen-year-old looked for when he arrived Philadelphia. It was the kind of bisket he loved in his hometown of Boston. All the local bakery could offer him were "three big puffy rolls." Young Ben munched on them as he ambled the streets of the community that would become his home base for the next seventy years. 

Benjamin had learned the printing business, which he would love for the rest of his life, while apprenticed to his older brother James. Impatient for his own success, he boarded ship without telling even his parents. He would return home for a visit after nearly a year.

This woodcut from James Franklin's newspaper The New-England Courant
shows some of the means of travel young Ben employed when he ran away to Philadelphia.
He boarded a sailing ship, with other passengers rowed a small boat, and walked. 

This 1723 journey was the beginning of his lifelong travels. An extraordinarily well-traveled Founding Father, he would make four trips to London, live in France for nearly a decade, tour Scotland, Ireland, Germany, as well as the American colonies from Rhode Island to Virginia. His journeys and years living overseas informed his political opinions, social relationships, and scientific inquiries. He undertook his studies of the Atlantic Gulf Stream on his early passages across that ocean and published his findings years later. 

These tasty Colonial Era "biskets" are flavored with anise or coriander seeds.

Franklin-Era Bisket Bread

These twice-baked "biskets" sliced from a loaf of egg-leavened bread, are quite tasty. Make them days, even a week or three ahead. They keep well in a tightly sealed container. The flavor from the lightly crushed seeds even improves over time. They are rather like modern biscotti. And, as they are made thinly sliced, they make a great kind of homemade cracker perfect for Thanksgiving, New Years, or other celebration appetizer cheese and meat tray. You might even consider these slightly sweet treats as a taking the place of a cookie--largely unknown in the American colonies. They would be just the thing for a boy to tuck in his pocket for a day of adventures.

2 large eggs
1 large egg white
1/3 cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons aniseed or coriander seeds, slightly crushed
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour plus up to 1/3 cup more

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheet(s) or line with parchment paper.

Beat the eggs and egg white until slightly thickened and about double in volume. Continue beating and gradually add the sugar. Stir in the aniseed or coriander seeds and then the 1 1/3 cups flour. The batter will be stiff, but still a bit sticky. Add more of the remaining 1/3 cup flour until you have a dough you can just handle and knead until smooth. Divide them into two 12-inch-long, narrow loaves and place them on the prepared sheet.

Bake until firm and a skewer inserted in the center of a loaf comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Turn off the oven, but be sure to keep the oven door closed. Cool the loaves on a baking rack for about 15 minutes. Slice slightly on the diagonal into 1/8-to-1/4-inch slices with a serrated knife.

Set a baking rack on the baking sheet. Lay the bisket slices on the rack. Return the bisket slices to the still warm oven. Let them dry for about 2 hours, depending on the residual heat of your oven. Turn once during the drying period. Finished biskets should be dry, but not too hard. They taste best after a day and when store in a sealed container they last up to 3 weeks, or more.

Recipe adapted from a 1650 recipe in Elinore Fettiplace's Recipe Book, Hillary Spurling, editor.

Copyright 2017 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved. 


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