A Matter of Texture

In Canada, as well as the States and all over Europe, this time of year the smells of cinnamon, molasses and ginger are overwhelming at times.

I mean, even escaping our homes on a trip to a coffee shop, we can get hit with a gingerbread or pumpkin spice latte across the face.

As we all start our relentless holiday baking marathon, dreams of butter tarts, creamy, crumbly shortbread and ever so creepy gingerbread men (whom I think closely resemble the chalk outline of a human body) keep me awake some nights.

(Do we really need to outline our gingerbread man with a line of white frosting?)

Anyway, while on the topic of spice and all things gingerbread, most people don’t realize that there is more than one type to make.

We tend to think of gingerbread as that cardboard, rock-hard, denture-popping cookie recipe that once baked doesn’t seem to go bad!

Yet all this time, like Mary Bell Washington, others enjoy this soft, sticky, voluptuous cake that doesn’t remotely resemble its cardboard cousin.

Who thought gingerbread could be soft?

Serve it simply with salted butter and tea, or dress it up for guests with whipped cream and lemon sauce for a nice change.

The addition of birch syrup in place of the traditional treacle and molasses combination lightens the cake enough for seconds or thirds.

Like Granny’s But Different Gingerbread

Although raisins and nuts are not traditional, I often add one or both to this recipe, with good results.

Makes 1 cake or loaf


8 tbsp butter

2/3 cup dark brown sugar

3 cups all purpose flour

1 tsp cream of tartar

1 cup small currant raisins (optional)

3/4 cup warm whole milk

2 oz apple brandy, plus 1 oz for brushing

2 tbsp ground fresh ginger root

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp freshly grated (if possible) nutmeg

1 cup pure birch syrup + 3 tbsp for brushing

3 eggs

1 large orange (zest and juiced)

1 tsp baking soda dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water


Grease your loaf or 10″ cake pan and line the bottom with foil or parchment paper.

Pre heat your oven to 350F.

Sift flour and cream of tartar, and add raisins if using.

In another small bowl beat warm milk, eggs, spices, ginger, brandy and birch syrup.

In your mixing bowl cream together sugar and butter until nice and smooth.

Alternate flour mix and egg mix in three stages until everything is incorporated.

Finally, add orange zest, juice and water/baking soda mix.

Pour into pan and bake at 350F for 45 minutes, then turn oven to 275F and bake for another 45 minutes or until toothpick poked in the middle comes out clean.

Let rest for 20 minutes, then pop out of pan and place on prepared dish. Slowly brush 3 tbsp of birch syrup mixed with 1 tbsp of apple brandy on top of cake.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with whipped cream and (optional) lemon sauce.

Lemon Sauce


1/2 cup sugar

2 tsp cornstarch

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup cold water

2 lightly beaten egg yolks

2 tbsp butter

1 tsp grated lemon peel

3 tbsp lemon juice


Mix together sugar, cornstarch and salt.

Slowly stir in cold water.

Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, till nice and thick.

Stir small amount of hot mixture into lightly beaten egg yolks, then return to hot mixture.

Cook and stir one minute.

Remove from heat and add butter, grated lemon peel and lemon juice.

Return to heat for one minute and stir until butter is melted and ingredients are well combined.

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