Okay so let me just tell you about why I am so so excited about gingerbread. The overwhelming historical significance of this cake smacked me right in the face while I was thumbing through my copy of the Bobbette & Belle cookbook. Have I mentioned lately that I like to bake things with historical significance? Because I do.
Gingerbread is really actually cool because it was brought to us by the crusaders in the 13th century. These returning crusaders had apparently acquired a taste for spice and subsequently so did very wealthy lords.
Ginger, for example, came on the old silk route and because of this had to be dried and ground into a powder. But the most interesting part is that it isn’t just one merchant traveling the whole way to Europe, it’s 30-40 different merchants trading it up the road and accruing a small profit at each stop. Thinking about how ridiculously expensive it must have been after a journey like that makes me grateful that we have such access to spices now.
Spices were admired not only for their culinary properties but also as a symbol of wealth and status. Kind of like wearing a Chanel purse that you can also eat. I’m down, honestly.
During this time gingerbread was made with nutmeg, ginger, red peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon. The extreme expense displayed is almost kind of jarring?? This means that the only people who could even afford to eat this were the nobility and royalty, making this a serious status symbol. After all, what they were eating was worth more than pure gold by quite a bit.
The old recipe goes something like this (mind you there were normally little to no measurements given), according to historian Ruth Goodman:
Grind spices together in a mortar and pestle and mix with (a cup of) honey to make a paste
Douse (3 cups of) cut up bread in red wine
Squish wine into bread with hand
Add spice and honey paste
Spill the mixture out on a wooden board and spread the pulp thin (it doesn’t look very appetizing at this stage)
Once it’s dry cut it into perfect little squares
Use for only your very best guests
I find this to be fascinating and it makes me really appreciate this dessert. The sheer lengths it took to get these ingredients together, the profit that must have been made on each spice at each stop, the people whose daily lives revolved around the trade of ingredients in this cake, and the resulting flavor combination make me very grateful to have a slice of this in front of me.
Eating something that only nobility and royalty would even be able to taste makes me feel pretty good, honestly. But mostly it’s the fact that these flavors have been combined and eaten together since the 13th century that gets me.
Also it’s really good — they were right to make such a big deal about this cake.
While I love and appreciate the historical significance of the original recipe, I want to share the Bobbette and Belle recipe from this cookbook. I swapped whipped cream instead of a cream cheese glaze.
For the gingerbread you’ll need:
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
3/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup greek yogurt (recipe says sour cream but I generally always substitute greek yogurt for sour cream in any recipe)
For the whipped cream you’ll need:
2 cups of heavy cream
teaspoon of vanilla extract
teaspoon of granulated sugar
1.) Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Grease 8 inch bundt pan with cooking spray (honestly it works best)
2.) In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In a separate bowl, stir together the melted butter and honey.
3.) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the egg and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about four minutes. With the mixer on medium-low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture in 3 additions and the honey mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Blend after each addition until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the water and greek yogurt with a large rubber spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
4.) Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a knife or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. For even baking, rotate the pan front to back halfway through. Allow the bundt to cool completely in the pan.
5.) Invert the pan over a serving plate and tap the bottom to dislodge the cake. Apply the whipped cream frosting on top of the bundt. Smooth out with frosting knife. Sift powdered sugar over the top.
store in the fridge for up to a week
Whipped Cream Recipe:
1.) Pour heavy whipping cream, granulated sugar, and vanilla into a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
2.) Whisk until stiff.
3.) Spoon out onto the top of the cake and smooth with a frosting knife.