Say "snack cake" and folks my age think "Twinkie" or "TandyCake". Interestingly, snack cakes have been in America since Colonial times. Recipes for gingerbread, both the hard cookie and the soft cake or loaf, came to the us with the English and German settlers. Gingeroot was delivered by boat to the pilgims -- they used it fresh, dried it, and, made syrup from it. Ginger beer, made by pouring boiling water over brown sugar and pounded ginger combined with yeast proofed in warm milk was bottled and served as a refreshing beverage on hot days.
The first recipe for gingerbread is said to have come from Greece in 2400 BC (see Plebeian Ginger Bread recipe below). Thanks to Crusaders returning from the Middle East with ginger and spices, by the middle ages, European countries each had their own version, although it was baked and served only by government recognized guilds at and for state-sanctioned events. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the idea of handing out decorated cookies made to resemble the images of visiting dignitaries. Gingerbread baking in home kitchens was allowed sometime in the 15th century, then made its way to the New World sometime in the latter 1600's.
Gingerbread generally refers to one of two desserts. It can be a dense, hard ginger-spiced cookie cut into fanciful shapes, or, particularly in the United States, it can describe a dense, moist cake flavored with molasses, ginger and other spices. In the US, the terms "gingerbread cake" or "ginger cake" are used to distinguish it from the harder forms. American bakers usually sweeten gingerbread with molasses, while British bakers use brown sugar and German bakers use honey. Aside from ginger (in fresh, preserved and/or powdered form), cinnamon is almost always included, with allspice, cloves and nutmeg being the next most common spices.
On pages 159 and 160 of The Virginia House-Wife (the first cookbook published in America and written by Mary Randolph, a relative of founding foodie Thomas Jefferson) three recipes for three types of Ginger Bread appear.
Abraham Lincoln said, "Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and made some gingerbread cake. It wasn't often and it was our biggest treat." It's said that ginger cookies were used to sway Virginia voters to choose a favorite candidate too.
"Once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and made some gingerbread cake. It wasn't often and it was our biggest treat." ~ Abraham Lincoln
I'm not going to lie. I do not have Abraham Lincoln's mother's recipe for gingerbread cake -- heck I don't even have my own grandmother's. There's more. When my mom made gingerbread cake for a snack or dessert, she used a Betty Crocker mix. Once again, I'm not going to lie. She served it warm with Cool Whip on top and our family of four would eat almost the entire 8" x 8" x 2" cake in one sitting. During the latter 1970's and all through the '80's, my pantry was never without two boxed gingerbread mixes in it. My kids loved it, and, no alternative facts here: If someone called me to say they were stopping by, it got served to them too. Haha -- If I could still buy it, we wouldn't be having this conversation.
It should come as no surprise, the first place I looked to find a recipe was in a 1970's edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook. Their recipe, found on page 180, was the one I tried first. It was very good (and very easy too). As Betty Crocker says in the book, "Measure everything into a bowl and beat. It couldn't be easier except with a mix." That said, as you shall see below, over time I did quite a bit of tweeking to the recipe, mostly in the form of additional spices.
"Fairly often, my mom would buy a Betty Crocker gingerbread mix and bake a gingerbread cake. Served warm, topped with whipped cream, we adored it." ~ Melanie Preschutti
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup dark or light molasses, or a combination of both, your choice
1/2 cup butter-flavored shortening, at room temperature, cut into pieces
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup hot water
no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan
~ Step 1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Starting on low speed of mixer and working your way up to medium- medium-high speed, beat a full three minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula frequently.
~ Step 2. Transfer mixture into a 8" x 8" x 2 " baking pan sprayed with no-stick. Bake in 325° oven, 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and invert onto a wire rack to cool.
Note: As often as I have baked and do bake this gingerbread cake, it always slumps a bit in the center as it cools. I do not take it personally as its dense, moist texture and rich taste is divine.
Slice & serve, warm or at room temp, topped w/whipped cream.
Special Equipment List: hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack
Cook's Note: I love ginger in all of its forms, so, it goes without saying I adore ginger cookies too. To get my recipe, which I posted back in 2013, for ~ My Favorite Spice-y Cookie: The Ginger Snap ~, just click into Categories 7 or 26.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)