Gingerbread: More than just a building material

I don’t think that anywhere in the world there are more variations in the preparation, taste and appearance of a food than in what we call “Traditional” Gingerbread.  The first European settlers brought their family recipes and traditions with them to the “New World”, so we can safely say that gingerbread has been a part of America even before apple pie.  Gingerbread, whether in cake or cookie form, is possibly “the” classic dessert and should be remembered and used as more than just the walls of a holiday decoration.

There are many stories about the origins of Gingerbread, some going back as early as 992.  It is said that in that year an Armenian monk came to Europe and taught the other friars the process of preserving ginger, which is what gingerbread or “gingebras” meant, while other food historians sight the eleventh century as the first record of gingerbread.  It is safe to say that up until the fifteenth century the term gingerbread only meant “preserved ginger”.  At this later date is when ginger and treacle were used to make the earliest form of “modern” gingerbread.  It is also at this time that ginger was found to be a preservative when added to breads and cakes and this explains its increased use in the preparation of many pastries, cookies and other baked goods.  During the Middle Ages, when fairs were a major form of celebration, gingerbread became a prominent fixture even to the point that fairs started to be known as “gingerbread fairs”.  Also, certain shapes became associated with different seasons and events such as animal and bird shapes for autumn but even in these early times the shapes men, women and children were always prominent.

The Grimm Brothers’ collected tales were published in the nineteenth century and gingerbread saw a new resurgence due to the fact that in these German folktales lays the story of Hansel and Gretel.   The evil witch lived in a house made of gingerbread; after that the rest is gastronomic history.  While the practice of building gingerbread houses never caught on in England the German immigrants to America brought the practice with them but by then we had been making gingerbread for decades.

The gingerbread we bake here uses fewer spices than its European counterpart but we incorporate our own unique regional ingredients; such as molasses and maple syrup.  However you slice it, gingerbread has been a central food in the culinary history of Europe and more importantly for us, in the history of our family tables in America.  I love gingerbread in all its forms but especially as a moist, deep, dark, rich cake and I have tried to pass on this love to my kids.  I hope that if you bake one thing from scratch this season you will do yourself and your family a favor and bake this recipe for Gingerbread.  It is a variation from the gingerbread baked at the Gramercy Tavern and it is genuinely spicy and rich.  A couple of important notes to remember: 1. this recipe calls for blackstrap molasses thereby intensifying  the flavor which is the way I like it but you may want to try a milder Dark Molasses for your first time and see what you think  (amounts are the same)  2. Gingerbread gets better in flavor the longer it sits so make sure you make enough to last a couple days.  3. This recipe is moist when done so do not over-cook it to the point when a tester comes out completely clean.

Deep Dark Gingerbread

1 cup black strap molasses

1 cup Guinness Stout

½ teaspoon baking soda

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons ground ginger

1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Pinch of ground cardamom

3 large eggs

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup granulated sugar

¾ cup vegetable oil

Confectioners sugar for dusting


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Generously butter a bundt pan and dust with flour, knocking out the excess.  This is a moist sticky cake so do not skimp on the butter!!

Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a saucepan and remove from heat.  Whisk in baking soda and then cool to room temperature.

Sift together flour, baking powder and spices into a large bowl.  In a separated bowl whisk together eggs and sugars then whisk in oil and then whisk in the molasses mixture.  Add flour mixture and whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into bundt pan and rap pan sharply on the counter to eliminate any air bubbles.  Bake in the middle of oven until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.  About 50 minutes.  Cool cake for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn out and continue to cool completely.

Dust with powdered sugar and serve with freshly whipped cream.

Happy Holidays from the Hardcore Foodie!!

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