Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mini Brandy Gingerbread Cakes

Mini Brandy Gingerbread Cakes

The following recipe comes from a collection of recipes found in a manuscript journal located in the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. The manuscript is attributed to Ann Maria Morris and the date of 1824 is written on the inside cover. The recipe below is one of many from the manuscript that will be included in a book I am writing. The book will contain biographical information about Mrs. Morris, an annotated transcript of the entire manuscript as it was written, and a section of modern recipe adaptations (including this one!).

Sponge Gingerbread 
2 lbs. flour, 1 lb. of Butter, 1 lb. Sugar, a pint of molasses, 6 eggs and a tea-cup full of ginger. if you chooses, a tea spoon full of potash dissolved in a wine glass of Brandy, bake in small cups or tins.

You will immediately notice an ingredient in this recipe that you would not see in a 21st century recipe - Potash (a.k.a. pearlash). According to the Oxford English Dictionary, potash is "an alkaline substance consisting largely of impure potassium carbonate and originally obtained by leaching the ashes of burnt plant material and evaporating the solution in large iron pots." Basically,  this is a pre-cursor to modern baking soda. Potash was refined into potassium bicarbonate by the 1830s-40s  and was known as Saleratus. Baking soda, sodium bicarbonate, also emerged onto the scene at about the same time as saleratus. Both were often called soda and seem to have coexisted for a period of time in those days.

To make a cake with potassium carbonate or potassium bicarbonate, the recipe also needs to have a strong acid presence which can come from sour milk or molasses. Therefore, gingerbreads which are rich in molasses were great recipes for using with an alkaline chemical leavening agent such as potash. The alkaline and acid worked beautifully to give lightness to the cake. 

Beware, if you are using vintage style potash/pearlash, there may be a bitter after taste. Sodium-based baking soda replaced the early potassium ones because it did not have the bitter after taste. As a measure to avoid the bitterness, the potash first needs to be dissolved in a liquid--in the case of this recipe the liquid is brandy! 

Modern Recipe Adaptation
Yield: 36 2-ounce size cakes


  • 1 Pound (4 Sticks) Salted Butter, Softened
  • 2 Cups Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Cups Molasses
  • 6 Large Eggs
  • 1/4 Cup Brandy
  • 1 Tablespoon Baking Soda 
  • 4 Tablespoons Ground Ginger
  • 6 2/3 Cups All-Purpose Flour

1. Heat the oven to 375ยบ F.
2. Grease three regular-size muffin or mini cake pans.
3.  Using an electric mixer, blend together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, eggs, and brandy.
4. Whisk together the baking soda,ginger and flour. (Note: if you are planning to use potassium carbonate, mix it with the brandy, not the flour).
5. Add the flour/ginger mixture to the wet ingredients and blend for about two minutes, making a nice fluffy batter.
6. Measure 2-ounce portions of batter into the prepared pans. 
7. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a skewer or knife inserted in center comes out clean. 
8. Serve plain, dusted with confectioner's sugar, or with whipped cream or ice cream. You can even pour a bit more brandy on top to give an extra kick!

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