Winter is a good time to make gingerbread. The eighteenth
century had two kinds: hard or “card” gingerbread, what we call a cookie (or
biscuit in the U.K.), and a cake. I recently made the latter for our local Jane
Austen group tea in celebration of Jane’s 247th birthday, using the
recipe below. It makes our gingerbread look and taste anemic.
Mrs. MacIver’s recipe from Cookery and Pastry, published 1783 and 1789, is strongly flavored, moist and dense.
I made half a batch because two and a half pounds of flour would make far more
than I needed for an 8 x 8 inch pan. I’ll give the amounts I used and cooking
directions after the recipe. Be warned: you’ll need a scale.
At the time this recipe was published, the letter “s” was
often represented by something that looks like an “f”. No, I don’t know why.
After a while, you get used to it.
And cake pans were not a “thing” yet. Cakes were baked in a
frame or hoop. I didn’t have a hoop so I sprayed my pan generously with cooking
spray. When the cake was baked and cool, it turned out of the pan easily.
To make fine Gingerbread . Take two pounds and a half of
flour ; mix an ounce of beat ginger with it , and half a pound of brown fugar ;
cut three quarters of a pound of orange peel and citron not too fmall ; mix all
thefe together ; take a mutchkin and a half (1 ½ English pint) of good treacle , and melt it on
the fire ; beat five eggs ; wet the flour with the treacle and eggs ; weigh
half a pound of fresh butter , Scots weight ; melt it and pour it in amongst
your other materials and cast them all well together ; butter a frame , and put
it in the oven .
This gingerbread won't fire without frames . if it rifes in
blifters when it is in the oven , run a fork through it . It makes very fine
plain bread without the fruit , with a few caraway feeds . All these cakes must
be fired in an oven neither too hot nor too cold . The way to know when the
cakes are fired enough , is to run a clean knife down the middle of them ; if
the knife comes out dry , they are enough ; if the leaft of it ſticks to the
knife , put it into the oven again. Susanna MacIver, Cookery and Pastry,
Flour: 20 ounces
Brown sugar: 4 oz.
Ginger: ½ oz.
Citron and (candied) orange peel but I used only citron): 6
oz. (the fruit is optional; you can use a few caraway seeds instead)
Treacle: 1 ½ cup (molasses; I used blackstrap molasses)
Eggs: about 3 ½ to 4
oz. of eggs*
Butter: 4 oz.
*Eggs were smaller at the time. The recipe for pound cake
called for a pound of eggs, which works out to eggs weighing about 1.33 ounces
each. Ten percent of their weight is shell, so allow for that in the total.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (176.667 Celsius).
Combine the flour, sugar, ginger, and citron, or caraway
seeds if you substitute those).
Melt the butter and let it cool before adding it to the
molasses and beaten eggs.
Add the butter/molasses/eggs to the flour mixture and mix
them thoroughly. If you have a kitchen maid with a strong arm, she can do it. I
used a KitchenAid stand mixer. The batter will be thick.
Spray the 8 x 8 inch pan (or a comparable size) with cooking
spray. Dump the batter in and spread it around to fill the pan.
Bake for approximately 30 to 35 minutes. Test with a
toothpick or skewer. If it comes out with batter on it, cook a little longer and re-test.
Let it cool and turn it out of the pan. Cut in small pieces.
It’s quite rich and I liked it a lot.