Cake Five: Retro Gingerbread


I have a real fondness for old cookbooks. Absurd combinations of ingredients, presented in what seem now like deeply unfashionable ways. A window onto a simpler past, at least in terms of the number of ingredients available to the home cook. There is much to write about our changing ways of eating from a sociological and a historical perspective. I always have my eyes open for vintage cookbooks, and was delighted to find these Good Housekeeping treasures at my mother’s house. When I was looking at the cake recipes, what struck me is that they’re a lot simpler, in terms of ingredients. A lot more modest. Rarely do chocolate cakes call for actual chocolate, for example – they make do with cocoa powder. And ingredients like buttermilk are unheard of. They do suggest margarine, which no one I know even eats these days, but never cooking oil. (As I’ve said before, I believe butter is best in cakes). These two books were published in 1957, so the post-war scarcity was over and the West (even England, where these come from), was moving into domestic prosperity, but there’s still a simplicity to the cake recipes that I like. No such simplicity, however, in the seafood section:

A carefully decorated crab.
Recipe, in case anyone wants to try.

I know I said that the cake recipes are relatively simple, but I was confounded by the gingerbread recipe in the first of the two books. It called for 2oz of flour, 4oz butter, 3 oz sugar, and 4 oz of syrup or treacle – a proportion that made no sense to me. I think they might have meant 12oz, but I wasn’t in the mood to experiment when I first set out to bake last week. A couple of days later I tried again from the second book, which required 1lb of flour and 3/4lb of syrup or treacle, which seemed like an insane amount. In the end I followed this second recipe except for the syrup, which I just poured from the bottle until I had reached a point where I thought any more would be overdoing it. I was pretty free handed with the powdered ginger, I think at least 2tsp went in.

Make it for yourselves!

As you can see above, it is a pretty easy recipe. It probably took a little less than the time indicated, at 180deg C. It came out of the oven smelling deliciously gingery and old-fashioned, like something a grandma would make. This cake is comfortingly solid, although it has gone a bit dry now it is the next day. This could well be because I was too stingy with the golden syrup. It did get a bit dark on the bottom and the sides, which could have been avoided with a tray under the baking tin. If any of you do follow the recipe to the letter please let me know how it turns out.

  • Deliciousness : If you like something old fashioned that reminds you of visiting elderly ladies and having something out of the cake tin, or morning tea at the bowls club, this is for you. This is not a glamorous cake for the age of instagram.
  • Recipe complexity: Easy as. Go hard on the golden syrup, even though it seems like a mistaken quantity – I don’t think it is.
  • Availability/price of ingredients: If not already in your cupboard, cheap and easy to find.
  • Similarity of final cake to picture/description: It is a gingerbread loaf. What is there to say.
  • Would I bake it again? I like gingerbread but I’d prefer a recipe that’s less dry but which also uses less syrup – such a messy ingredient.

The fun thing about this post is that because I don’t have to worry about violating copyright, 50 years since 1957 having well and truly passed, I can share a photo of the recipe and some other wonderful images from this retro treasure. Enjoy!

I wish I had seen these before I dismissed a decorated easter cake!

3 thoughts on “Cake Five: Retro Gingerbread

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