This is one of the best traditional gingerbread tray bake recipes. A simple – all in one method – gingerbread cake recipe, perfect for beginners based on an English Victorian recipe.
This gingerbread cake recipe is not your traditional gingerbread house type of dough, it’s more like a sturdy gingerbread tray bake with deep rich flavour with the taste of gingerbread.
Why make this recipe
- Easy to bake – all in one method
- Rich gingerbread flavour
- Great for packed lunches or afternoon snacks (it’s quite compact and holds well)
MORE EASY CAKE RECIPES
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 English 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’Emma Darwin
How does this gingerbread cake taste like?
This Victorian gingerbread cake is very different to the traditional firm gingerbread that’s used for making gingerbread houses or figures for the festive season.
This cake is fairly dense, rich in flavour because of the molasses and brown sugar. The spices add amazing flavour and the lemon juice and essence make sure that the cake doesn’t taste too sweet as they add a little sharpness to the cake.
You can vary the taste of the cake by using different types of sugars and various types of spices (see my notes for ingredients below).
Ingredients & possible substitutions
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 spice or homemade 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 a surprisingly smooth, dark and rich-flavoured gingerbread tray bake.
You could use honey, maple or other syrups for this cake, but the flavour will change, if you do that.
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 (3 in total).
How to bake Victorian Gingerbread Cake
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.
LIKE THIS RECIPE? SAVE IT FOR LATER
Traditional Victorian Gingerbread Cake
- deep square tray tin 20 cm
- 450 grams plain flour
- 15 grams ground ginger or mixed spice or gingerbread spice
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 110 grams butter unsalted butter (if salted don't add any extra salt)
- 210 grams brown sugar
- 255 ml dark molasses
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon lemon extract plus extra lemon juice
- 1/4 teaspoon fine salt
- 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.
This blog post was originally written on 10 September 2014 and last updated on 30 October 2022