During the Middle Ages, rich European ladies slipped their favorite knights a bit of gingerbread before an important tournament. Sweet, aromatic, crumbly, swoon-worthy gingerbread. How utterly romantic is that!?
If you need proof, the painting below portrays a lady and her knight. Theirs was a chivalrous era when upper class marriages were loveless and arranged. To compensate for the emotional void, feudal society permitted (mostly) chaste courtly love outside of marriage. If you look closely, I’m pretty sure (well…I’m almost sure) the damsel in the painting has a bag of gingerbread tucked under her seat cushion.
Later, during the Renaissance, gingerbread and romance were once again joined. Famously, Tudor Queen Elizabeth I had her court bakers prepare sugar-iced gingerbread men to resemble the important dignitaries (and eligible suitors) who visited her court. At just the right moment, she ceremoniously presented the sweet tokens to her astounded male guests. (You know, of course, what a flirt Elizabeth was! Just look at this delightful clip from Rowan Atkinson’s silly and wonderful Black Adder series. I guarantee that you won’t be able to “unsee” Miranda Richardson’s giggley and imperious portrayal of the flirtatious queen. Queen Elizabeth and Black Adder )
What is the moral of these two stories? Gingerbread is the go-to gift for the important men in your life.
If you don’t have a man in your life, no problem. Those medieval and renaissance ladies had that one covered, too. Wrapped in ribbons, gingerbread husbands were sold at most European fairs during those times. Also called fairlings, the husbands were gingerbread cakes fashioned like men and decorated with gilt. Pitchmen touted them as talismen to improve one’s romantic prospects. Gullible and lonely young damsels took the bait and the husbands sold like
Here is the recipe for an outstanding ginger cake from David Lebovitz’ Ready For Dessert cookbook. Incredibly moist, the cake delivers a real jolt of peppery ginger flavor. It is great for breakfast but also makes an elegant dessert served with a scoop of the best quality French vanilla ice cream you can find. Share it with someone you love. You have history on your side.
Spicy ginger cake
30 minPrep Time
1 hrCook Time
1 hr, 30 Total Time
- 4 oz. fresh peeled and thinly sliced ginger
- 1 C. mild-flavored molasses
- 1 C. sugar
- 1 C. vegetable oil (I used canola)
- 2 1/2 C. all-purpose flour
- 1 t. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 t. ground cloves
- 1/2 t. ground black pepper
- 1 C. water
- 2 t. baking soda
- 2 large eggs (room temperature and slightly beaten)
- powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Prepare a 9-inch springform pan or a round cake pan by buttering the bottom of the pan and covering the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
- Peel and thinly slice the fresh ginger. Put ginger slices into a food processor and process until the ginger is minced. Set aside.
- Combine molasses, sugar and oil in a large bowl. Stir to combine.Set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper.Set aside.
- Heat water to boil in a small saucepan. Add baking soda to the water and stir. Then, whisk the hot water into the molasses mixture. Add the chopped ginger.
- Gradually sift the flour mixture into the molasses/water mixture while stirring to combine. Stir in the lightly beaten eggs. Stir mixture until all the ingredients are combined.
- Pour batter into your pan and bake for approximately one hour or until the top of the cake springs back when touched and a toothpick comes out clean when stuck into the top center of the cake.
- Cool on a wire rack. The cake is best served after sitting overnight to let the ginger flavor mellow and permeate the cake.
- Serve with powdered sugar sprinkled over the top of the cake.
The recipe recommends baking the cake for one hour at 350 degrees F. My cake was baked in 45 minutes. I have a new oven that I'm breaking in and I'm still learning its eccentricities, but you may want to watch your cake carefully and test it for doneness earlier than the recipe's recommended one hour.