This is one of the best traditional gingerbread tray bake recipes. A simple – all in one method – cake recipe, perfect for beginners based on a Victorian recipe.
This recipe is not your traditional gingerbread house type of dough, it’s more like a sturdy gingerbread tray bake, that will have the taste of gingerbread.
Why make this recipe
- Easy to bake
- Rich gingerbread flavour
- Great for packed lunches or afternoon snacks (it’s quite compact and holds well)
This recipe & me
As you might know a couple of years ago I started to bake Victorian Scotch Cake for the local tea room at Down House. The Victorian Scotch Cake recipe is from Emma Darwin’s Recipe Book and it’s been a huge hit with all visiting the home of Charles Darwin.
I always make Gingerbread before Christmas – based on a medieval recipe with honey and spices, so I was really excited to find a traditional Victorian Gingerbread recipe in Emma Darwin’s book too.
I have made several batches – first following the modern version (tested and tried by the publishers/authors) and then the original Victorian script.
I was quite disappointed with the first batch – it was very sweet and tasted more like a liquorice than gingerbread. Then I realised that the publishers/ food historians had adapted the recipe to their taste.
So, I followed Emma’s original recipe more closely and the result (surprise, surprise…) was much better. I served this traditional victorian gingerbread tray bake at my baking and chocolate making workshops and everyone really enjoyed it, so I’ve decided to share the recipe here:
This recipe for gingerbread cake will be firmly on our list of bakes for Christmas and I’d love to know how you get on with yours.
And just in case you can’t follow my baking instructions, I shall leave you with Emma Darwins’ own handwritten instructions for this cake:
‘Melt the butter & treacle together & mix with the other things’
I’ve used plain flour for this recipe and since this is a tray bake version of gingerbread cake, you can easily use any other low gluten flour or wholemeal plain flour to make this recipe.
If you are using gluten free plain (cake) flours, make sure you add about 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum, unless your flour mix doesn’t contain it already.
The original recipe has ground ginger, but I often use mixed spice instead and found the flavour much nicer. I suppose one should use ginger in gingerbread, but this recipe works with any warming spice, such as cinnamon or mixed gingerbread spice.
If you like your gingerbread to be more spicey, you can easily add more ground ginger or cinnamon or mixed spice.
Spices would be very expensive in Victorian times, which is why this recipe for gingerbread cake has just enough spice to make it work, but not more.
There is only one teaspoon of baking soda, so we are not going to get a big rise on this gingerbread cake.
I prefer to use unsalted butter and add a pinch of salt, or you can use salted butter to get the same effect.
You really need to use brown sugar for this old-fashioned victorian gingerbread tray bake. If you use caster sugar, the flavour won’t be as rich although the recipe will still work.
Don’t swap the molasses for sugar as it would change the flavour of the recipe. Although it does look like an alarming amount of sugar and molasses, the final result is surprisingly smooth, dark and rich flavoured gingerbread tray bake
Lemon Flavour & Lemon juice
To counteract the sweetness of the molasses, lemon extract plus extra lemon juice is added to the recipe. I’ve probably used more lemon juice than the original recipe has, but the flavour is pretty good with a touch extra sharpness of the lemon.
This recipe calls for two eggs lightly beaten. Because I’ve changed the proportions of molasses to sugar, the mixture was quite difficult to mix together and I ended up adding another large egg.
How to bake victorian gingerbread
Line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment paper.
Mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, ground ginger)
Melt the butter, brown sugar and molasses together in a small saucepan – over a low heat. Add lemon extract.
Make a well in the flour and add the sugar mixture from the saucepan. Mix together thoroughly.
Add the beaten eggs and mix well.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes (on 175C or 350F)
Test with a wooden skewer – if it comes out clean – the cake is done. If not bake for a few minutes more.
Leave to cool in the tin for a bit and then (when you can touch the tin with your hands) take it out on a cooling wire rack.
Bake size and scaling up
This recipe is for 20 cm square baking tin, which makes 16 large portions. You can easily double or triple this recipe, but I’d probably use two to three tins, rather than one large one.
This just makes it easier to manoeuvre in and out of the oven, but it’s totally your call.
How to store this gingerbread tray bake
This traditional gingerbread recipe keeps really well – ours was fine for about a week stored in a bread bin and loosely wrapped in greaseproof paper. If I make more than what we can eat straightaway, I freeze it on the same day and use it within month or so.
Why not stay in touch…
I hope you enjoy making this recipe and if you do, I’d love to know what you think! Let me know in the comments below or find me on Instagram or Facebook and add the hashtag #cocoaandheart so that I can see your post.
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This recipe was originally written on 10 September 2014 and last tested and updated on 21 November 2021
Traditional Victorian Gingerbread Cake
- 450 grams plain flour
- 15 grams ground ginger I used mixed spice instead and found the flavour much nicer
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 110 grams butter I prefer unsalted butter
- 210 grams brown sugar if you have just caster sugar, that’s fine, but the flavour won’t be as rich
- 255 ml dark molasses
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract plus extra lemon juice (optional)
- 2 eggs lightly beaten (because I changed the proportions of molasses to sugar, the mixture was quite difficult to mix together and I ended up adding another large egg)
- Line a 20cm square baking tin with parchment paper.
- Mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, baking soda, ground ginger)
- Melt the butter, brown sugar and molasses together in a small saucepan – over a low heat. Add lemon extract.
- Make a well in the flour and add the sugar mixture from the saucepan. Mix together thoroughly.
- Add the beaten eggs and mix well.
- Pour into the prepared tin and bake for about 50 minutes (on 175C or 350F)
- Test with a wooden skewer – if it comes out clean – the cake is done. If not bake for a few minutes more.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a bit and then (when you can touch the tin with your hands) take it out on a cooling wire rack.