Due to holidays, covid, and various other commitments our book club has struggled to get together for a post-book bake. We have, however, now finished Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and managed to get our respective ducks in a row for a book club festive bake.
Christmas in Jane’s time, Regency England, was different from the Christmas we know. It was a thing, but not as much of a thing as it became later, and definitely not as much of a thing as it is now. (If you want to know more about how Christmas changed over the years, check out Bill Bryson’s The Secret History of Christmas on Audible.)
There would have been a holiday for Christmas Day and there would have been church services. Decorations would be mostly evergreen plants like holly, ivy and mistletoe and other hedgerow plants or hard herbs such as rosemary, or homemade paper decorations.
The (boarding) school term would finish in time for children to return home to spend the holiday with their families. It was, as it is now, a time for families to be together.
In Pride and Prejudice, Mr and Mrs Gardiner arrived to stay with the Bennet family for Christmas:
On the following Monday, Mrs Bennet had the pleasure of receiving her brother and his wife, who came as usual to spend the Christmas at Longbourn.
After becoming engaged to Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet wrote this to her Aunt Gardiner:
Mr Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas.
As for Christmas treats, by the early 1800s Christmas spices would have been available – especially to the middle classes – and while white flour would have been available (especially in the south) baking powder wasn’t yet invented. Mince pies (but not as we know them – the Regency mince pie would have had real meat in with the dried fruits), plum puddings (which didn’t have plums in them – plum being a catch-all for dried fruits back in the day), shortbread, trifle, and gingerbread were, as they are now, popular Christmas desserts. There was also something called black butter which was like an apple fruit spread but with spices and butter which was left for a few months before use – hence the treacley colour.
For today’s festive baking adventure we’re going with gingerbread cake – an easy melt and mix version. It’s also a treacle-free version – treacle being a pantry staple here in Australia (and in the UK) but more difficult to obtain in Canada – and therefore relatively light in texture.
So, without further ado, here’s the recipe…
What you need
- 250g (1 ⅔ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 2 ½ tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 175g (1 cup) dark brown sugar
- 125g unsalted butter, chopped
- 175g (½ cup) golden syrup
- 180g (½ cup) honey
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 310ml (1 ¼ cups) milk
- Icing (confectioner’s sugar) for dusting
What you do with it
Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan-forced) and line a 24cm round tin with baking paper.
Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, ginger and mixed spice into a bowl (large enough to mix everything in) and combine.
Into a small saucepan add the butter, golden syrup and honey and melt together over low heat until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
In a separate jug whisk together the egg and milk and then whisk that plus the buttery syrupy mix into the flour and spices, whisking well to combine.
Pour into the tin and bake for an hour. It’s done when the kitchen smells like Christmas and a skewer comes out clean when used to test it.
Allow to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
You can ice it if you want, but the time of the year is already a bit of a faff without the palaver of icing; some icing sugar sifted over the top will make it look appropriately festive.
That looks delicious! I don’t think I have ever had a gingerbread cake; just gingerbread cookies (which I’m not really fond of mostly due to the texture and since they are made with thick molasses here in the states they have a bit of a strong taste).
We make traditional gingerbread with treacle – which is close to your molasses. It gives a dense sticky result. This cake has the texture of a cake but the taste and smell of Christmas.
Yummy! I do appreciate baking recipes is weights instead of or in addition to measurements. It’s so much more precise. I bet your kitchen smelled amazing!
I always operate on weights – sometimes you need that precision – but I know Donna likes measurements so I included them this time for her. The kitchen smelt like Christmas.
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This sounds and looks gorgeous and sounds super easy to make. Thank you for sharing
It was great baking with you again, Jo and the cake is delicious, moist and light. It won’t last long in our house!
Love this post and your idea.
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Thanks, it’s a really fun thing to do…
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