This is a traditional gingerbread, baked in a traditional square pan, but with a few little flavor twists along the way to move it into this century.
I lived across the road from my Aunt Mary, my father’s sister, most of my growing up years. She was a cook who fussed little and rarely used recipes. She did not bake a lot. In fact, this and her salt cod fish cake recipe are the only ones I have that were actually written down, and she said the gingerbread recipe was my grandmother Alice’s.
The ginger gene
Gram lived with us for many years, and I can identify that my absolute love of anything ginger comes directly from her genes. She was never without her ginger snaps with her afternoon tea, except when she swapped them for spicy molasses cookies, also quite ginger in nature. I never remember my grandmother actually cooking or baking a single thing, so I am lucky my aunt saved the recipe! Perhaps my mother was territorial about her kitchen!
While the original recipe was pretty straight forward, I have bumped up the ginger in this on two fronts: fresh ginger, and crystalized ginger. The fresh ginger is abundant at our farm stands right now, and with my recent flavorful purchase, my mind immediately went to ginger everything, starting with gingerbread.
I had forgotten about gingerbread and hadn’t make it in quite a few years (so many recipes, so little time…). While I rarely eat cake myself, a tiny sliver will instantly transport me to my childhood, and it is a nice trip! My inn guests also loved this simple treat at tea time.
Lots of spice
My grandchildren all have the ginger gene as well, and they all like it spicy, too. In addition to the ginger and traditional cinnamon and nutmeg, we also add some allspice and black pepper, our additions. Sometimes I add a pinch of cayenne as well.
The basic cake is made with pantry staples and was usually eaten as is with no frills. The crystalized and fresh ginger are really wonderful in this cake, but not essential if you don’t have them on hand.
Make it your way
You can experiment with the ingredients depending on your diet. This is good made with white whole-wheat flour or gluten-free flour as well. If you cannot consume dairy, just add a teaspoon of vinegar to any plant-based milk to create a plant buttermilk, and swap coconut oil or vegan margarine for the butter.
This cake is quite moist, but since it is the season, you can also add a grated apple or pear for interest. Add walnuts if you like, and top with whipped cream to dress it up for company.
I’m sure Alice would approve.
Grandmother Alice’s Gingerbread
2 cups flour, sifted
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. freshly grated black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
6 tsp. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup crystalized ginger, minced
1 knob ginger, grated, about 2 tbsp.
3/4 cups buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position a rack in the middle of the oven.
Butter and flour an 8-inch by 8-inch square baking pan and line with waxed paper or parchment. Butter and flour it as well. I’m pretty sure there is a law that gingerbread must be made in a square pan, but feel free to use a round one if you are feeling daring.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the butter with sugar until creamy and fluffy using an electric mixer. This is a perfect time to channel your grandmother and use a hand mixer.
Switch to a wooden spoon or spatula and add the egg, molasses, crystalized ginger, and grated ginger.
Add the flour mixture alternately with the milk in three additions. Don’t over mix.
Fill the pan, level it off, and place in the oven.
Bake for 45 minutes and check for doneness. It will probably need another five minutes, or until a toothpick in the center comes out clean and a gentle touch on the top feels firm.
Let cool five minutes, then invert on a rack to finish cooling.
Serve as is, or top with whipped cream or a favorite ice cream.
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