Gingerbread | Recipes from American History

Gingerbread has been an American staple since the country was founded. There are older European varieties, but Americans were the ones to popularize the cake-like version of gingerbread made with molasses. Molasses was an accessible, inexpensive flavoring with an extensive shelf life; perfect for shipping over to America for the people to cook with. Its strong flavor would mask other unpleasant tastes in a dish, like the sharp-tasting leavening agents in American gingerbread. Molasses was constantly used in the New World, and when the British stamped a tax on molasses in 1733 unhappy colonists began to seriously consider leaving the British monarchy. John Adams declared “Molasses was an essential ingredient in American Independence”.

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The first American gingerbread recipe recorded can be found in American Cookery, the first American cookbook ever published. Written by Amelia Simmons, the book has no less than seven versions of gingerbread recipes, including the cake-like gingerbread we know and love so well today.

Week 12 of Dave Raymond’s American History course covers “Providence II: The War of Independence “. Gingerbread and molasses are essential fall flavors today, but their roles in American history are much more important than people realize.

American Gingerbread

American Gingerbread

*this recipe is not the original from American Cookery but an adaptation

  • 1 c. boiling water
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 c. molasses
  • 1/2 c. butter, softened and cut into 8 pieces
  • 1/2 c. + 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp. cloves
  1. Grease an 8” glass baking pan and set aside. Preheat the oven to 375 F. 
  2. In a small bowl combine the boiling water and baking soda, stirring until the baking soda is completely dissolved, then set aside.
  3. In a large bowl thoroughly stir together eggs and molasses. Add in butter, flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves, and stir until fully combined, about 1 minute.
  4. Pour baking soda and water into molasses mixture and stir until batter has no lumps and all the ingredients are incorporated. Pour batter into the prepared pan, smooth, and bake 35-42 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool at least 25 minutes before slicing. You can serve it plain or with cream. 

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