Traditional to Cornwall, these spicy ginger biscuits are deliciously crunchy. They’re dead easy to put together and are made with both treacle and golden syrup as well as wholemeal flour. Cornish fairings are perfect for enjoying with a cup of tea or coffee at any time of the day. They’re a dunker’s delight and make great gifts too.
What Are Cornish Fairings?
For those not in the know, Cornish Fairings are a delicious, round, spiced sweet biscuit covered with rustic fissures. They’re absolutely not meant to be smooth. And yes, they’re biscuits rather than cookies. This is because they’re crisp and crunchy, not chewy. As a result, they make fabulous dunkers.
As sugar and spices became less expensive in the 1800s, sweet treats were no longer just the preserve of the upper classes. Fairs around the country started selling various types of ‘fairings’ and it became a tradition for young men to buy them as gifts for their sweethearts.
Ginger was a popular spice and Cornish fairings became well known for their spicy gingerness. They weren’t alone though. In the Lake District, the fairing of choice was Grasmere gingerbread, much loved by Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy.
In 1886, a Cornish baker, John Cooper Furniss started selling them in his Truro tea shop. It’s believed that the original recipe came from a Launceston maid-hiring fair, but there’s a bit of debate about this. As Furniss noticed how popular his Cornish fairings were, he started to sell them by mail order. The rest is history and now Furniss of Cornwall is the only brand licensed to sell original Cornish fairings.
It’s quite probable that one of the reasons that Cornish fairings became so popular is that they store well. In Cornwall’s damp climate, that’s some achievement. Why? Well, because they’re crisp and crunchy I guess. Having said that, homemade ones only keep their crispness for a few days.
Whenever I used to go out of county and stay with friends or family, I always took a gift of Cornish Fairings. They were, however, rarely homemade.
What’s a Dunker?
Dunking biscuits is a joy to some and anathema to others. It involves lowering your biscuit into a hot drink, usually a cup of tea or coffee. The biscuit soaks up the liquid and creates a blissful warm mouthfeel when you bite into it.
It’s a bit of an art form. Dunk your biscuit into a luke warm beverage and the experience is likely to be unsatisfactory. Leave it in the cup too long and it will disintegrate and fall into your drink. So timing is everything.
You need to choose the right biscuit or cookie to dunk as not all will hold up to immersion. You’re looking for a dense and robust biscuit of solid construction. The right ones are called dunkers.
Needless to say, Cornish fairings make perfect dunkers.
In Britain, there’s a bit of a divide. Some people think it’s bad manners to dunk biscuits or cookies, whilst others reckon it’s the only way to go. Let’s not start a war over it.
How Do You Make Cornish Fairings?
These gorgeous ginger biscuits are really easy to make, they’re quick too. All you need to do is rub butter and sugar into the dry ingredients, then stir in the remaining ones.
At first, it seems as though this rather dry mixture won’t form into a ball of dough, but bring it together with your hands and squeeze it a few times and it will get there. Then it’s just a case of rolling into walnut sized balls, placing on a baking tray and baking.
Many traditional recipes for Cornish fairings contain mixed peel. This is not to everyone’s taste and the addition is entirely optional. CT’s not a fan, but I quite like a little bit of chew and contrasting flavour in the biscuits. So I add a little and chop it very finely. This doesn’t seem to stop CT from happily chomping through a batch.
Cornish Fairings – Top Tips
I may be a little biased, but I reckon Cornish fairings are the best ginger biscuits ever. So if you haven’t yet tried them, or even if you have, do follow my recipe and try baking a batch of your own.
- Warm your tablespoon up in a mug of hot water before dipping it into the golden syrup or treacle. It will come off the spoon a lot easier this way.
- Sometimes, you’ll find a touch of chilli in the ingredients of traditional recipes. This augments that lovely gingery heat and no-one’s any the wiser. If you fancy a touch more spice to make your fairings punchier, add a quarter teaspoon of pimento or a pinch of cayenne.
- If you like things really fiery, swap the mixed peel for crystallised ginger.
- The fairings will keep in a sealed tin for three to four days, but will start to soften after that. But don’t despair, you can crisp them up again by placing them in a hot oven for two to three minutes.
- Pack them into pretty bags or tins and they make welcome gifts, especially at Christmas time.
Other Cornish Recipes You Might Like
- Cornish sea salted caramel brownies
- Cornish splits
- Hevva cake – also known as heavy cake
- Saffron buns
- Squash chill chard feta pasties
- Vegan saffron buns
- Vegetarian lardy cakes
Keep in Touch
Thanks for visiting Tin and Thyme. If you bake a batch of these Cornish fairings, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And do please rate it. Have you any top tips? Do share photos on social media too and use the hashtag #tinandthyme, so I can spot them.
If you’d like more biscuit and cookie recipes, follow the link and you’ll find I have quite a lot of them. All delicious, of course.
Cornish Fairings. PIN IT.
Cornish Fairings – The Recipe
- 120 g wholemeal flour
- 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground allspice (or substitute with mixed spice)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- pinch sea salt
- 60 g unsalted butter – make sure it’s cold
- 60 g golden caster sugar
- 20 g mixed peel – finely chopped optional
- 1 tbsp treacle (feel free to use golden syrup instead)
- 1 tbsp golden syrup
- Set the oven to 180℃ (350℉, Gas 4).
- Line one large or two small baking trays with baking parchment.
- Place all of the dry ingredients except the sugar into a large bowl (the top 7 ingredients). Cube the butter and rub it into the flour etc with your fingers until you have something that resembled breadcrumbs.
- Stir in the sugar and mixed peel if using.
- Add the treacle and golden syrup and stir with a round bladed knife until everything is well mixed.
- Bring the mixture together with your hands. Don’t worry if it seems a bit dry at first, just keep squeezing it together and it will get there.
- Take off walnut size lumps and roll them into balls using the palms of your hands.
- Place the balls on the baking trays well apart from each other so that they have room to spread.
- Bake for ten minutes. The fairings should be nicely cracked and burnished, but not burnt.
- Leave on the trays for a couple of minutes to firm up, then using a spatula transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.
I’m sharing this recipe for spicy Cornish fairings with Apply to Face Blog for #CookBlogShare.