1796 Honey Gingerbread

Gingerbread (Time 0_00_25;03)

This honey cake recipe is from Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook, American Cookery. It is probably what we would think of as gingerbread today.


  • 3 ½ cups Flour
  • 1 tbsp. Ginger
  • 1 tbsp. Cinnamon
  • 3 tbsp. Diced Candied Orange Peel
  • 1/3 cup White Sugar
  • 1 Egg well beaten
  • 2/3 cup Honey
  • 1 ¼ cups Sour Milk (If you don’t have sour milk, you can add 1 tbsp. lemon juice or vinegar to milk)
  • ½ tsp. Pearl Ash (or Baking Soda)

Combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, diced candied orange peel, and sugar and set aside.Gingerbread (Time 0_00_57;28)

Combine egg with honey.Gingerbread (Time 0_01_23;00) Add pearl ash to the milk and dissolve completely. Mix milk with egg mixture, and then add everything to the dry ingredients.Gingerbread (Time 0_02_10;12)

Knead dough until smooth then roll out to a ½ to ¾ inches. Cut into any shape you like.Gingerbread (Time 0_02_52;24)

Bake at 325 degrees for approximately 25 minutes.Gingerbread (Time 0_00_43;09)

Transcript from Video:

Today we’re making a wonderful honey cake. Thanks for joining us today on 18th Century cooking with James Townsend and Son.

This honey cake recipe is from Amelia Simmons’ 1796 cookbook, American Cookery. It is probably what we would think of as gingerbread today. It is sweetened with honey like many of the early gingerbread recipes were, but this one is leavened. It’s leavened with pearl ash, which is not typical of early gingerbread recipes. Because this is leavened I got a nice and fluffy texture, unlike most of those early gingerbreads that were a very hard cake.

Like our last recipe, this one’s very simple. We’re going to start off with 3 ½ cups of flour. To our flour, I’ll add 1 tablespoon of ginger, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 3 tablespoons of diced candied orange peel. Let’s also add 1/3 of a cup of white sugar.

Now let’s focus on our wet ingredients. I have 1 egg well beaten and to this I’ll add 2/3 of a cup of honey.

I have 1 ¼ cups of milk. Now this works best if you have a sour milk. If you don’t have sour milk, you can add, say, a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar to this, and to this milk, I will add a ½ a teaspoon of our pearl ash. It needs to completely dissolve before we add it into our dry ingredients.

Finally, we’ll add our milk and pearl ash mixture to the honey and egg.

After kneading, let’s roll these out to ½ inch or ¾ inch thick.

Again, you can cut these in any shape you like. We’re going to cut them in a simple rectangle.

For baking these, I’m going to use the tin kitchen that’s in our catalog. If you’re going to bake them at home, I would suggest 325 at approximately 25 minutes.

These look great. Let’s see how they taste. So they’re very nice. Have a wonderful spicy sweet flavor with the honey. They’re a little chewy, but light and fluffy. They’re certainly not hard at all. You can see the wonderful crumb on these. They’re nice and light and fluffy. This pearl ash is doing a great job of leavening these. They were probably extremely popular in their day. These are really, really wonderful. These would make a great holiday treat. I want to thank you for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas of the 18th century.

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5 Responses to 1796 Honey Gingerbread

  1. Hello! I am curious as to why you used honey and sugar instead of molasses in this recipe. I have recreated this recipe in the past, and my understanding of molasses would be the natural sweetener, cheap and available, and its acidity would react well with the pearl ash. Alas, mine came out a bit “historic” to modern tastebuds but its texture was the same is yours. I’ll be sure to give this recipe a try! Thanks! -Andrea

  2. Cynthia Powers says:

    I’ve had a fascination with gingerbread. Hansel and Gretel is my favorite fairytale, Joan Trash from the play Bartholomew Fair, Tidy Doll the famous gingerbread vendor, Lafayette Gingerbread so loved by the Washingtons and in Salem, MA.,there was Molly Saunders. She had the top shelf and lower shelf types in her shop in Salem and she apparently sold her wares at musters. I seem to recall Bullfinch green or field. I’d love to know more about this woman, but have never been able to discover very much. She is mentioned in stories and articles, her supposed recipe is written in Salem Dames, but otherwise I’ve not very much information. Have you ever heard of her?

  3. scott thomas says:

    This is a wonderful piece! Thank you!

  4. Linda says:

    I made these today but don’t think I got either the ingredient measurements right or the oven temperature right. I always have trouble converting US weights and measures to metric (oh for simple grams for dry and mills for liquid). They were a bit too hard on the outside and doughy on the inside. Oh well, it was an interesting experiment 🙂

  5. Pingback: 1796 Honey Gingerbread — Savoring the Past | little history on the prairie

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