According to the Larousse Gastronomique (1984):
“British gingerbread is a cake flavoured with ginger and treacle. The French equivalent (pain d’epice), whose name means literally ‘spice bread’, is a cake with a basis of flour, honey and spices (it need not contain ginger) … Gingerbread was formerly regarded primarily as a fairground delicacy … Although it is mainly eaten at teatime or at festivals (particularly in Belgium and Germany), gingerbread also has some uses in cookery, for thickening sauces, ragouts, and carbonades, especially when beer is used in the recipe. Gingerbread (French or English varieties) can easily be made at home. The best results for pain d’epice are achieved with a strong-flavoured honey, such as buck-wheat or heather honey. Wheat flour is generally used (sometimes mixed with rye flour); flavourings can include orangeflower water, ginger, orange or lemon zest, star anise or cinnamon, or a mixture of spices. For both kinds, orange or apricot marmalade may also be added to the mixture. After baking, the top of the cake may be decorated with pieces of angelica, green walnuts, or candied orange peel,” (pp. 508-509).
Feeling in a cake-ish mood, we have baked a couple of gingerbread cakes here and there to have with a cup of milk or tea. It truly is such a scrumptious cake; the kind that brings a lot of satisfaction for only a small amount of effort. We found it to be sufficiently moist, though not dense enough to make one feel heavy after one slice. We are usually not particularly excited by cake, but the warm, nutty, caramel flavours of this were just what we needed to bring some cheer to the wintry week’s end. The following recipe makes quite a generous sized cake, producing eight large square slices, or sixteen medium-sized ones. The recipe below is largely derived from the aforementioned Larousse Gastronomique cookery encyclopedia, though is revised somewhat to include our own suggestions. We also used self-raising flour (and omitted the bi-carbonate of soda) for this batch we photographed but plain flour with bicarbonate of soda, as described in the recipe below, actually gives a better and more authentic result. Enjoy!
100g [4 oz, 1/2 cup] butter, margarine or lard (we used butter)
200g [8 0z, 3/4cup] golden syrup, honey, black treacle, or molasses (or a combination of these, even! We used golden syrup)
125ml [1/4 pint, 2/3 cup] milk
200g [8 0z, 2 cups] plain flour
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
50g [2 oz, 1/4 cup] brown sugar (we used raw sugar)
- Preheat oven to 150C.
- Warm together butter and golden syrup (just warm enough to melt the butter).
- Add milk, mix, and allow to cool briefly.
- Sieve flour, mixed spice, ginger and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl.
- Add the golden syrup and butter mixture, sugar and eggs, and beat well.
- Pour into a baking tray greased with butter (we used a 30x15cm rectangular dish, though any oblong tray, cake tin, bread loaf pan, or bundt tin would be suitable, too)
- Bake in a slow oven (150C) for 45-60 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
Serve and enjoy!