Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery (1796) features six different gingerbread recipes, including those that call for ingredients popular at the time such as caraway seeds, nutmeg and rosewater, as well as a recipe for “honey cake” that requires a full ounce of ginger. Philadelphia’s Eliza Leslie included recipes for Gingerbread Nuts (similar to Mrs. Goodfellow’s Spice Nuts), Common Gingerbread, and the patriotic sounding Lafayette Gingerbread (named after Washington confidant Gen. Marquis de Lafayette), which was actually a rich cake containing five eggs, a pint of molasses and pearl-ash or saleratus. Precursors to our modern baking agents, these ingredients would have made the cake rise, particularly when combined with the molasses.
The gingerbread recipe I like to make is the same one I used to make my yearly gingerbread house. It is Swedish in origin (from a friend of my aunt’s) – called PEPPARKAKS. In Scandinavia, spicy ginger cookies are often cut into star or heart shapes and decorated with icing, with names such as pepparkaka or peppernott. According to Alan Davidson in the Oxford Companion to Food, the literal translation is “pepper cake,” which refers to the “Pfefferlander,” the Far Eastern countries that were home to spices such as cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger. European bakers incorporated these flavorful spices into many of their baked goods. And some ginger or spice cookies do contain a pinch of black pepper to enhance the other spices. One thing I really like about this recipe is that no mixer is required, as the butter is melted with the brown sugar and molasses to mix it together, which is the “old method,” as per Davidson. Well, sometimes the old way really is the best. Enjoy!
- 1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 cup molasses
- 1 cup butter
- 5 cups sifted flour
- 1 Tbsp. baking soda
- 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp. ginger
- Place brown sugar, molasses and butter in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until well blended.
- Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger. Stir into warm molasses mixture until well blended.
While dough is still warm, remove about one quarter of the dough; knead by hand to shape into a fine grained ball.
- Roll out on lightly floured surface to a rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. Use cookie cutters to cut out desired shapes.
- Repeat with remaining dough until all pieces are cut out.
- Place carefully on greased or parchment paper lined baking sheets.
- Bake at 375 for about 8-10 min (will vary depending on size of cutters used)
- Remove carefully to racks. Cool.
- Decorate as desired with frosting (recipe follows).
- 1 egg white
- 2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 1 Tsp. lemon juice
Beat ingredients at high speed until firm. It should be of a soft enough consistency to flow through a fine pastry tube. While mixing add a few more drops of lemon juice or a tablespoon water to obtain this consistency as needed.
Sources: The Food Timeline (www.foodtimeline.org), The Christmas Cook by William Woys Weaver, The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson, I Hear America Cooking by Betty Fussell, Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie.