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American 17th Century Gingerbread

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This easy to make old fashioned gingerbread cake recipe is from the 17th century. It is flavorful, dense, and moist, and still as perfect today as it was back then.

A pan of colonial gingerbread cake on a white napkin and a white plate with 2 forks beside

This gingerbread is very easy to make, and my girls loved helping me make it. It is dense, moist, and so flavorful. Serve it with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

If you think your kids might not like the strong taste of the molasses, you can replace half of it with honey to give it a bit of a milder and sweeter taste.

You can even replace all of the molasses with honey, but the cake will not be as dark or as rich. Just make sure that you use a really good quality, flavorful honey for this (a mild clover honey would not be a good choice. Instead, go with a buckwheat honey.

Try these other historical recipes:

A slice of historical gingerbread cake on a white plate on a wooden table

A brief history on gingerbread

Gingerbread itself has a very long history, evolving across time from preserved ginger all the way to the sugary cakes and cookies that we are familiar with today. If you want to dive deeper into the history and evolution of gingerbread (which is really long and varied!), check out this awesome resource I found from The Old Foodie.

In the 1600’s, gingerbread cake was traditionally used, not as a dessert, but as a stomach settler! The Gingerbread that is dense and cake like today comes to us by way of the honey cake. Spices were added, and in America, the cheaper molasses replaced honey. It turned into a favorite recipe for early Americans because the fragrant spices and rich flavor overrode the crude leavening agents of the time, which often left a bitter aftertaste. That would totally ruin a cake!

I have based my recipe (which I am totally calling dessert, since I am a modern day American and pretty much addicted to all things sweet) off of recipes I found in “The Art of Cookery” and “American Cakes”. I wanted a cake that was easy to make since my girls would be helping me, and would also something that would taste great.

A pan of gingerbread cake and a plate with a slice of gingerbread cake, both on a wooden table

I choose to kind of combine the cakes a bit to reflect everyday ingredients we have on hand (anyone keep pot ash in their cabinets?) as well as modern day measurements (what the heck is half a gill of sack, anyway?!) and modern conveniences (how long does one cook a cake in a hot oven? And what temperature is “hot”?) (Pssst… a half a gill of sack is a teacup half full of brandy!)

kids hands measuring spices for baking

Get Your Kids in the Kitchen

  • Kids aged 0-3 can help you measure the ingredients and stir.
  • Kids aged 4-7 can help you do everything above as well as help you heat the milk and help you pour the batter into the pan.
  • Kids aged 8-10+ can help you do everything above. Heck, print off the recipe and let them go at it!

Food tastes better when its shared! If you try this recipe, let me know! Leave a comment and rate below!

Yield: 9 Servings

American 17th Century Gingerbread - Historically Hungry

A pan of colonial gingerbread cake on a white napkin and a white plate with 2 forks beside

This easy to make historical 17th century gingerbread cake recipe is flavorful, dense, and moist, and still as perfect today as it was back then.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup molasses (can also use honey or treacle)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
  2. Grease a 8 or 9 inch square baking pan with soft butter and set aside.
  3. In a small sauce pan, warm the milk until almost boiling.
  4. Pour the milk into a cup and add the baking soda. Stir and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk the molasses and eggs together.
  6. Add in the butter (you want super soft butter - not quite melted but almost). It will be lumpy, that's ok.
  7. Whisk in the sugar, the flour, and the spices and whisk until smooth and thick.
  8. Carefully pour in the warm milk and stir until combined.
  9. Pour into the baking pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in comes out clean.
  10. Allow to cool on a wire rack in the pan for 20 minutes.
  11. Cut into pieces and enjoy!

Notes

You can sub out half the molasses for a well flavorful honey, or treacle syrup.

You can also add in 1/2 cup of chopped candied orange and/or lemon peel to the gingerbread.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

9

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 287Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 44mgSodium: 182mgCarbohydrates: 62gFiber: 1gSugar: 41gProtein: 5g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram, and don't forget to tag #gingeredwhisk.

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Sally Fox

Wednesday 16th of November 2022

I’ve misplaced my recipe for “Colonial Gingerbread,” which was different than any I could find online, but I tried this and liked it even better. I had less than half the amount of molasses required, so used honey for the rest. It had a wonderful texture, didn’t crumble at all when cut, and everyone loved it. I used fresh nutmeg because I had it, and can’t imagine it could be better with a full cup of molasses, but I’m looking forward to trying it that way. I served it with a dab of lemon curd on top, just to gild the lily!

Anita

Thursday 5th of November 2020

Can you make this in a loaf pan and what size would work 8 or 9”

William Brown

Sunday 9th of June 2019

I doubled this recipe and it was extremely thin,,I thought man to cook this for 35 minutes there's no way it will turn out right..well it came together like a champ and was off the chain good..For a guy I even amazed myself lol...delicious,,loved the history lesson also..Great job thanks for sharing !!

Catherine @ Whine and Dancing

Tuesday 17th of October 2017

I love the idea of looking at historical recipes and their history and making them new again. I think this is also a great way to get your kids involved in the kitchen while teaching them a little bit of history and "how things used to be" WAY before cell phones and TV! I hope you will do another post like this!

Tiffany

Monday 16th of October 2017

That beef steak pie looks fabulous! I love making gingerbread cookies and cake. It is very flavorful and with a dollop of whip cream is the best! It is great that you bake with your kids!

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