The Ladies' Tea Guild

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Soft Gingerbread from _The Bride's Cook Book_, 1915.

photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
 Since I've had this week off between Christmas and New Year's I've had a bit of time to do some baking.  There is construction going on in the kitchen, so I have to wait until the workers go home in the evening before I can clean up all the dust and grime, and cook anything; I've also been fighting a bad cold for over a week anyway, so I've been spending my time compiling historic Christmas-season recipes from all the files on my computer and the books on my shelves.  I haven't quite gone through them all, but some of the gingerbread recipes have begun to catch my eye.

I made the dough for some gingersnaps, and made 2 batches of gingerbread cake; one divided between small pans, to give as belated Christmas gifts to my family (when I see them), and the other in a loaf pan, for my housemates and I to eat at home. *I also have a plan to make some gluten-free cookies for my cousin and aunt when they come to visit, as well as a Twelfth Night or New Year's Cake, but more on that later*

Rather than making the tried-and-true recipe from  Betty Crocker (which I often use), or the Fluffy Gingerbread recipe from my grandma's WW2-era cookbook (which I also often use, but I'm still "tweaking" to improve the flavor), I decided to go with a recipe from a fun little cookbook that I bought a few years ago.  It was published in San Francisco, CA around 1915 (the title page is gone, but there are some ads inside that make reference to various years up to 1915), as a freebie to give away to newly-married women!  It's full of all kinds of ads for businesses that no longer exist, and a few that still do, and features several brand-name products in the ingredient listings for various recipes.

I have several of those company cookbooks and pamphlets, and while I am annoyed by the 21st century ones that I see, and don't really collect or even read them, I love the vintage and antique ones. They are often properly bound like "real" cookbooks, and I even have one that was published by a stove manufacturing company!  That one is really fun because it includes instructions for using all the company's stoves and ranges, and they made electric, gas, and coal-heated models.  Useful for understanding how coal-fired ranges work, and how to use them ...

Anyway, I was using the (modern) gas oven in the kitchen, for the first time (I just moved into the house this fall), and dealing with a historic recipe that didn't contain any mixing instructions, or a baking time or temperature.  *And* I was going to bake the same recipe in three different sizes of pans!  What can I say, I'm a food history nerd, and this doesn't deter me!

from _The Bride's Cook Book_, 1915.
Photo; Elizabeth Urbach.
The recipe is fairly straightforward, although a bit stingy on the molasses and the spices, and of course the lack of directions!  Rather than making the recipe as written, the first time (I can never leave a recipe alone), I used brown sugar instead of white, added a teaspoon of cinnamon to the mix, and reduced the allspice to a half teaspoon.  I melted the butter in a glass measuring cup, and let it cool a little before adding the sugar and molasses; I also mixed the flour, baking powder, and spices in a separate bowl.  I poured the warm butter mixture into the dry ingredients, and poured the milk into the same measuring cup I'd used for the butter, then broke the eggs into the milk and beat them slightly before pouring the eggs and milk into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.  I stirred all the ingredients together thoroughly, and poured it into the pans to bake.

The first batch I baked in 7 small pans (6 were round and about 5 inches in diameter, and the other one was rectangular, and about 6 inches by 3 inches), only filling them halfway full.  I interpreted a "moderate oven" to be 350, so I preheated the oven, and put the little pans on the same flat cookie sheet and slid them into the oven.  I checked them after 20 minutes; the round cakes were done, but the slightly larger rectangular one was still a bit liquid, so I gave that one another 10 minutes by itself.

Soft Gingerbread from 1915.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The second batch I poured into a glass loaf pan, that I buttered, and baked at the same temperature; I thought it would take an hour, and it was mostly done by then, but some batter stuck to the knife blade I used to test it with, so I also gave it another 10 minutes, and it tested "done" by that time.  I let it cool overnight and tasted it this morning.

My impression: the texture is nice and soft, but it's not as rich and flavorful as I'd like it to be.  I think there isn't enough molasses in it, and there are definitely not enough spices.  The tablespoon of ginger is nice -- you definitely feel the ginger heat -- but the allspice and cinnamon are almost undetectable.  I also think that a pinch of salt will help, as will some applesauce, the next time I make this.  Otherwise, it's an easy recipe to mix up and bake, and a good choice for a recipe book intended for new brides -- who might not have much baking experience!  

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)