Hardtack Recipes & History – The Ultimate 18th Century Biscuit

Hardtack recipes and history

So you want to learn how to make hardtack. This food is one of the most effective when it comes to preservation and nutrition. No wonder it was vastly used during sea voyages and the military. In this guide, I am going to show you everything you need to make hardtack.

If you are into the history of hardtack, then I will also cover that aspect as well. I am also going to show you several ways on how you can consume this food.

What is Hardtack?

Hardtack is a survival based bread that almost does not have an expiry date. This bread is handy for long sea voyages and proved to be a good choice because of its long shelve life.

This bread comes in the form of flat-bread and has a tough texture. Hardtack is also known to break teeth because of its hardness. Hardtack also has other names which might include dog biscuits, worm castles, and molar breakers.

Most of the moisture is drawn out of the hardtack making it very tough to eat.

Why?

Moisture can cause spoilage, and this is why it needs to be removed out of the bread especially considering the long shelve life required by this staple food. This is the reason why it is so hard.

Hardtack is also very easy to make and only includes three ingredients. These ingredients are water, salt, and flour which was readily available during the old times. It is tough to eat “as is” and requires you to dunk it in coffee or milk to soften up a bit.

Hardtack history

Today it is easy for us to preserve food. We have access to fridges, preservatives and other methods that were not available during the earlier times of exploration.

The sailors and soldiers of those times had to survive on hardtacks which did not spoil. In this section, I am going to cover the history and uses of hardtack.

1.When it was used

Nobody truly knows the true origin of hardtack as it might originate from several civilizations because how easy it is to make. Several cultures such as the Egyptians (known as dhourra cakes), Brittish, and even the Romans are known for making this flatbread.

Along with other canned foods, hardtack became especially useful during the early 1600s and was a staple food for the sailors of the royal navy. It was also the first time when this flatbread was mass produced to give the ultimate ration for the sailors of that time. You will also have access to a 150-year-old piece of hardtack that you can see at an American museum displayed below.

hardtack museum

Hardtack also had an important role to play during the American civil war which started in 1861. The hardtack was typically made a couple of months beforehand before sending it to the troops and was 3 inches long and wide. They provided each soldier with ten hardtacks per day along with a pint of beer.

Napoleon’s armies also flourished on this staple food during the 1800s.

2. How the soldiers would consume it

It was almost inedible for the soldiers, and they had to soak it in water, beer or coffee to make it soft enough to eat. It was also common for insects to live inside the bread and so the soldiers had to crush it and soak it in coffee for the insects to float on top for easier removal.

hardtack soldier

They also crushed it fine, mixed with water and then made pancakes on a frying pan. When ground fine, they would make pancakes and porridge. There were also cases where the grounded hardtack was added to soups or stews to act as a thickening agent.

When coffee was scarce, the soldiers also burned on fire until blackened and then ground fine and used along with hot water and sugar to resemble coffee.

3. How they made hardtack

Hardtack would provide modest nutrition for the soldiers and sailors because of the high calories. The secret to making these long-lasting flatbread is to draw every drop of moisture out of the bread. This was done by baking and then rebaking the bread several times in a row.

baking of hardtack

During those times bakers would use vaulted fire-brick ovens to bake these products. The bakers of those times used wheat, rye, and even barley as a source of flour. There was also the option to make a flour mix consisting of more than one grain.

It is also important to note that no yeast was used to make this bread. If yeast was used, then the bread might have been a bit softer but could be more exposed to spoilage. Yeast enables the dough to rise and to form air pockets.

These air pockets would make the bread less dense and also softer. The drawback of the air pockets is that it can draw in more moisture out of the air making it more prone to spoilage.

After the hardtack was made, it was stored in crates to make it easier for transport. There was also another version made from finer flour which was for the captains and officers which was not as unpleasant as usual hardtacks made out of course flower.

How to make hardtack

There are two recipes that I am going to share with you today. The first recipe will be the original. The second recipe will have a softer texture and will be easier to eat and is not as hard as the original one.

The recipes are so straightforward that even your children can make them.

1. Original Hardtack

For the original recipe, you will only need three ingredients which are wheat flour, salt, and water. The quantity of each component will be displayed below:

a) Getting the ingredients:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt

As a general rule of thumb, you want to add two cups of flour for each cup of water. The salt is optional and is used to add some flavor to your mix.

b) Mixing the ingredients

The first thing that you need to do is to remove any jewelry on how hands and wrists. Trust me this can become a sticky business. Take a large mixing bowl and place a sieve on top. The sieve will remove the larger chunks of flour and will only allow the finer particles to pass through.

You can add two cups of flour through the sieve into the bowl. I would recommend white flour instead of brown. Brown flour has a higher oil content than white flour. Oil is not good for preservation purposes because of oxidation. The less fat, the longer it will last.

Once you have two cups of white flour in the mixing jug, you can add one teaspoon of salt and mix it thoroughly.

c) Adding the water to the mix

Remember that the water to flower ration is 1:2 so for every two cups of flour, you will add one cup of water. It is also essential to add the water slowly and consistently until you sit with a solid piece of dough.

hardtack dough

You are allowed to add a little bit more water later on if there are still dried flour visible on the dough to mix it thoroughly. If the mixture becomes too sticky, you should add more flour to the mix until it does not stick to your hands anymore.

d) Roll out the dough

If you have a table which has a large and smooth surface, then you can work with your dough ball on top of the table. I would recommend that you sprinkle some flour on the table beforehand so that the dough does not stick to the table.

rolling dough

Take your rolling pin and roll the dough out until it is 1/2 inch thick. Preferably, I like to make mine even thinner because it will easier to dry and to eat. If it is too thick, it will dry at a slower pace and will also be harder to bite through.

If it is too thin, then it will be too brittle and will fall apart. You also do not want to sit with a million pieces when traveling with your bugout bag. It all depends on what you prefer.

e) Start making the shapes

You can also make any shape you want. I like to make three by three-inch squares. You can use a pizza cutter or butter knife to cut out the squares. As with working with dough, you will always sit with offcuts.

There is no set rule for the shape of the hardtack so you can also use cookie cutters. You also have the option to take the lid of a mason jar to make perfectly round shaped hardtacks. See image below:

hardtack shapes

You do not want to waste any of this material, so I suggest adding them together into one ball and restart the rolling and cutting process until you leave nothing to waste.

f) Poke some holes into them

For a tree by three-inch hardtack, I would recommend about sixteen holes. You need to poke these holes out evenly because they will help with the evaporation process for the moisture to come out.

It is vital for the holes to go right through the hardtack until it touches the table and give a little wiggle so that the holes can take form.

g) Baking these little tooth breakers

Place these raw hardtacks on a cookie tray and remember NOT to grease the tray. Once you grease the tray, then the dough will absorb the oil, and it will not last that long. You should also not use any cooking spray because it also contains fat.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place your raw hardtack creation into the oven for 30 minutes. After the 30 minutes have expired, you should take out the cookie tray and turn all of the hardtacks. Place it again at 350 degrees for another 30 minutes for the second round.

Once you are finished, you should take out the tacks and place them outside to cool down. Only put them in a bag once they are sufficiently cooled down.

f) How do you know when they are ready?

After you have allowed them to cool down, you will notice that they feel like a brick. If you bang one of them onto the table, you will see that they are solid and do not break.

If they come out soft or brittle, then you need to place them in the oven for another 30 minutes.

2. Softer hardtack recipe

If you broke a tooth with the original hardtack and you would like to make a softer version next time, then this recipe is for you. This recipe will incorporate all of the ingredients from the normal one except that you need to add butter or shortening to the mix.Here is the full recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • 2-3 tablespoons of shortening or butter

First, you need to sieve the flour into a mixing bowl and then add the salt. After the salt is added, you can then add the butter or shortening. It is imperative to add this before adding the water.

After the flour, salt and butter/shortening are mixed, you can now add some water to form the dough. After the mixture is mixed, you can place it on a clean, smooth table with a flat surface.

Now take your rolling pin to flatten the dough until it is 1/2 inch thick. Take the cookie cutter or pizza knife and cut out your shapes. Once your forms are cut, you can now pinch the holes with a toothpick or chopstick.

Put it in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Once it is baked, take out the cookie tray, flip the hardtacks and place it inside for another 30 minutes.

Best ways to eat hardtack

Because hardtack is so hard, it can be challenging to eat. You can even break a tooth through the process. There are a lot of creative ways to consume this survival food.

1. Nibble on it like a beaver

If you still have your full set of teeth and they are still healthy, then you can nibble small pieces at a time. It is not meant to take big bites from this cookie as it will be harder to break down and chew. Start from the corners and work your way around the edges.

2. Soaking hardtack in water or coffee

During the old days, people had to soak this bread in water or coffee if available to soften it up. Sailors are not known to have healthy teeth, so this was not an option for them.

You can start by soaking the hardtack in water or coffee for at least 1 hour. If the hardtack begins to become soft to the touch, then it is ready to consume. If you wait for too long, then the hardtack will dissolve. Hot coffee worked wonders and added some great flavors to the hardtack.

3. Make hardtack cereal

If you are a breakfast person, then this is a good option for you. You can use your hands to break the hardtack into pieces. Depending on the texture that you want, you can also use a coffee grinder to grind it further down.

Just as with usual cereal, you can add milk to soften it up and some sugar to taste.

4. Use it in stew or soup

During the winter there nothing as heartwarming than rounding your day off with a bowl of hot soup. Adding hardtacks to soup will not only add some extra flavors but also act as a thickener.

You can add 1 or 2 hardtacks into a bowl of soup depending on the thickness that you prefer.

Final word…

In this guide, I talked about the important history of hardtack and how it was used during the American civil war and on sea voyages. I also showed you two different recipes that you can try out for yourself.

Please leave a comment below if you have any questions or other recipes that we can try out.

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