1796 Honey Gingerbread 18th century cooking with Jas Townsend and Son S5E16

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. If you’re new to our channel, I really want
to welcome you. You can subscribe to our channel. You can check out our website, or request
a print catalog. I want to thank you for joining us today as we savor the flavors and the aromas
of the 18th century.


  1. Looks good, going to have to try this one. Will have to play around with it though, I prefer molasses in gingerbread.

  2. looks great, have to try it. 
    BTW: You left a lot of dough in the bowl, in former times they use the cartilage from the scapula of beef  (it is shaped like a half moon) to scrape the bowls, now it is sold as dog treat

  3. I think these would be wonderful with a simple glaze of thin Royal Icing. Can't wait to try them! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Does Pearl Ash used in normal quantities have a discernable flavour in the end result?
    Also, in modern cookery you'd certainly not kneed the dough, that's what makes it tough/chewy rather than a cakey texture 🙂 

  5. Does the pearl ash require heat to start the leaving process?  It seems to be inactive when first mixed?  I would also like to know if you can taste the pear ash or of it makes a chalky flavor when used?

  6. Nice to see a recipe using honey. As a beekeeper I approve. It would be interesting if you could find a beekeeper who was still using old fashioned skep hives, and then did a video on how honey was produced in the 18th century. The square shaped Langstroth hive was only patented in the mid 19th century. You could also do something about how beeswax and propolis were harvested and used.

  7. One of your recent videos got me to thinking about the eggs that you use. I always assumed that 18th people in British colonies would have English game chickens. I keep a flock of these and while I do get eggs, they are small… maybe half the size of a modern store bought large egg. When you make recipes using eggs, do you adjust your recipe or did they have large eggs then too or does it even matter?

  8. If one doesn't want to go through the trouble of obtaining pearl ash, is there a substitution formula for using baking powder or baking powder instead?

  9. Do you all plan on doing a video or series on bees, beekeeping, and/or honey production in the 18th century? I enjoy the videos and hope that you keep them coming for as long as possible. Thank you!

  10. What type of flour did they use in the 18th Century, whole wheat or bleached? When did they start using bleached flour? We grind our own flour and it is usually denser than white bleached flour, thanks.

  11. It's chewey because the dough was overkneaded. As with any soda bread, it should be kneaded only until it's just well mixed

  12. Looks like I'm gonna have to experiment with this recipe to fit it into my diet, but I'm pretty sure I can sort it out

  13. For the sour milk – do you just let raw milk go sour? I use raw milk to make kefir – which i have used in baking- but your sour milk seems to have the same viscosity as regular milk. Any suggestions?

  14. I just made these today and for some reason my batter was on the dry and crumbly side before kneading. That was remedied with about a tablespoon of milk. I'm wondering if it was because I didn't use the candied orange peels (didn't have any) or because I didn't use pearlash (I substituted 1/4 teaspoon baking soda though I might go to 1/2 teaspoon next time as they didn't rise as much as yours did.). I also only baked them about 20 minutes and they were very nice. Either way, it turned out wonderfully, especially for a ginger/gingerbread/gingerbread fiend like me. These are an awesome little snack on the go, beautiful with a morning or afternoon tea (incredible when you dunk them), and I'll bet kids would love them. If you want them a little sweeter for the modern palate, try adding some sugar glaze, maybe even orange flavored, or maybe pour some boiling honey over them and let it soak in. Great job!

  15. i made this recipe using the zest of an orange instead of candied orange peel, and i used the orange juice instead of lemon juice to make the sour milk, turned out very nice. thanks townsends!

  16. I can't get over how strongly your shows remind me of the kind of content i used to watch on UNC TV. It's nice to be able to see that kind of thing again.

  17. Christmas season 2017. I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for a while. It seems that I hardly ever make something completely as written. I used home ground whole wheat flour for 1/2 of the flour, sorghum (sometimes called sorghum molasses) instead of honey, baking powder for leavening, and chopped dried cherries instead of candied orange peel.
    Very good flavor and nice soft inner texture.
    In the early 1950’s Grandpa was still growing some sorghum in Northern Illinois for processing into syrup. I remember riding in the truck to take the stripped cane to the processor in Wisconsin. I think the processors mostly closed down. Now sorghum is a specialty or recreation project. It was a common sweetener in regions of America.
    Sorghum growing, processing, and recipes might be an interesting presentation.
    Thanks for the great YouTube channel!

  18. 🎁Merry🎄Christmas🎅 may the coming 🎉new year🎊 be full of hope, joy, happiness, and prosperity that life can bring! 201⛄

  19. I tried this recipe and, while it was delicious, the dough turned out very sticky, to the point where it was impossible to handle or roll out, no matter how much extra flour I added; I ended up simply scooping it with spoons and dropping them onto the cookie sheet. Has anyone else who's tried this recipe had this problem and, if so, any suggestions?

  20. You say White Sugar & only by what I can see, did you use Powdered Sugar (figure due to the Century could ve Regular), I'd like to make it, but want to use the proper Sugar. I live in Texas & where Flour is concerned, I can use Mesquite Flour which (when harvested @ the right time of year & the sweetest being the later harvest) can be Sweet anyway.

  21. Now this sounds divine. Though I admit I'd be tempted to substitute minced candied ginger for half of the candied orange peel.

  22. My grandmother made gingerbread girls and boys and hanged them on their Christmas tree with ribbons and attached a scissors. We got to cut and eat one when we visited. Their hardness made it possible!

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