This post was originally published in the 1800’s Housewife daily newsletter, on January 13, 2023. Not on the mailing list? You can join here to receive the daily recipe and cooking notes straight to your email.
Hey there, all –
Are my children the only ones who come home from school absolutely ravenous? No matter how full I pack their lunchboxes, those little ones could just about eat their way through half the pantry, it seems.
Yesterday I had this soft, delicious gingerbread ready to surprise them with, and wow, did they love it. It’s similar to Miss Parloa’s gingerbread recipe, but I slightly prefer the lighter texture of this one. It’s a keeper, for sure.
Here’s a photo of the recipe as it appears in the cookbook:
As with many 1800’s cookbooks, you’ll notice how some key pieces of information that we’re used to relying on, seem missing.
For example, “What temperature should the oven be? What type of pan should be used? Should it be greased?”
Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful if you make this (and I DO hope you make it, because it’s delicious!
Having made quite a lot of recipes from these nineteenth century cookbooks, I’ve found that gingerbread tends to be baked in a “medium quick” oven…so a little on the hot side.
I set my oven to 370°F when baking this, and felt the results were about perfect. You’ll know the gingerbread is done when the top just starts to darken, and a toothpick (or broom straw if you’d like to be authentic) comes out clean.
The short answer here is that you can simply use common baking soda in place of the saleratus in this recipe. (Some suggest substituting each teaspoon of saleratus with 1¼ teaspoons of modern baking soda, others use equal measures. I used the 1¼ substitution for this recipe).
A longer answer is that about the time this cookbook was published, the products marketed as “Saleratus” were slowly changing over from potassium bicarbonate (still used as a baking soda alternative today), to sodium bicarbonate–today’s baking soda. Both are still in use for helping baked goods to rise. But it’s sodium bicarbonate that has become our modern kitchen staple, the leavening agent known as “baking soda.”
WHAT PAN TO USE
1800’s gingerbread was generally made like a thin cake, rather than a deep cake or loaf. Some contemporary recipes specify that the batter should be no more than an inch deep, and this seems to have been customary for baking soft gingerbread (as opposed to hard gingerbread which was very thin and well, hard.)
So choosing a large enough pan to allow you to make this like a sheet cake is a good choice. Definitely grease the baking pan well.
SCALING THIS RECIPE
This is a pretty generous recipe, suitable for a large family or church potluck. For a smaller family, it works really well to scale this recipe down, using ⅓ of all the listed ingredients. If you do this, it cooks very nicely in a 13×9″ pan, and takes about 20-22 minutes to bake.
Keep your eyes open tomorrow for a tasty hot chocolate recipe from 1877. With the snowstorm coming, a steaming cup of something delicious sounds like just what we might need! Until tomorrow, ~ A