Royal Gingerbread (pre 1920)

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The Duke of Windsor, at his country house in France's Loire Valley, in the 1960s. Image by Horst for American Vogue.

The Duke of Windsor isn’t known much for food, though he certainly made an impact on fashion with his idiosyncratic mixing of plaids and stripes. As a child, however, the future king of the United Kingdom and emperor of India had a passion for gingerbread — the stickier, the better, according to one of his doting aunts. The thin, crisp gingerbread we know today, primarily through gingersnaps and gingerbread houses, bears no resemblance to the royal child’s favorite confection. His was more like a cake or a brownie: dense, sweet, and, yes, sticky, thanks to a serious amount of treacle. Think of a sticky toffee pudding, without the sauce, and you’ll get the general idea.

Recently I was alerted to the duke’s preferred gingerbread recipe by a Facebook friend. It was published in Court Favourites: Recipes from Royal Kitchens (André Deutsch Limited, 1953) by Elizabeth Craig, a leading British cookery expert and author of masses of food- and housekeeping-related books. In recent years an adaptation of the recipe has shown up on various cookery related blogs. Do not, however, trust anything but the original, because the adaptations reduce the spices to an alarmingly degree and deliver instead a pleasing, middlebrow gingerbread without any real bite. The gingerbread preferred by the Duke of Windsor is apparently as bold as his suits—rich, moist, and intensely spiced, and the flecks of candied citrus peel give it an interesting, fruit-cake edge. As for the required stickiness, I didn’t have ready access to black treacle, so I was forced to substitute a blend of dark and light Karo syrups. I baked two gingerbreads and took one to work the following day. My co-workers quickly wiped it out, one pronouncing it the best traditional gingerbread she had ever tasted. As for the one I left at home, my husband nibbled at it over the course of three days, saying, “It was a very spicy cake, very delicious, though I thought the store-bought lemon peel was a bit too hard on my teeth. Homemade is better.”

When preparing this gingerbread, a stand mixer with the flat-beater attachment is the best course of action. Just keep a close eye on it, because the batter gets very thick before the softening addition of the treacle or syrups. I nearly burnt out the engine of our KitchenAid when I got distracted by a Netflix episode of “Green Acres.” How very Lisa Douglas of me.

NOTE: A reader of this blog has pointed out that the recipe will be significantly different if actual black treacle can be found. Therefore I have ordered Lyle’s Black Treacle via Amazon.com and will post again about this recipe once it arrives, perhaps as early as next week-end.

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THE DUKE OF WINDSOR’S GINGERBREAD

SOURCE: Court Favorites: Recipes from Royal Kitchens (André Deutsch Limited, 1953)

SERVES: Makes two (2) cakes

EQUIPMENT: Two (2) 9 x 13 cake pans, either metal or glass

INGREDIENTS

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 pounds (4 cups) plain white flour

1 pound (2 cups) dark brown sugar

2 ounces ground ginger

1 pound (2 cups) slivered almonds

3 ounces ground caraway seeds (NOTE: I couldn’t find ground caraway at the market so bought whole seeds and pulverized them in a coffee grinder.)

4 ounces chopped mixed candied peel (NOTE: I used Paradise brand store-bought lemon peel.)

2 ounces ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

2 pounds (4 cups) treacle (NOTE: I didn’t have any Lyle’s Black Treacle on hand so substituted one 16-ounce bottle of light Karo syrup and one 16-ounce bottle of dark Karo syrup. I have since been advised that one could use 2/3 molasses mixed with 1/3 Lyle’s Golden Syrup to achieve a gingerbread somewhat closer to what the Duke of Windsor ate as a child.)

6 eggs

DIRECTIONS

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like coarse meal. (NOTE: I just dumped those two ingredients into the bowl of the stand mixer and turned the machine on low.)

3. Stir in the sugar, ginger, almonds, spices, candied peel, and the bicarbonate of soda until well combined.

4. Beat the eggs with the treacle and stir into the dry ingredients.

5. Pour the batter into two buttered and lightly floured 9 x 13 cake pans — fill them only half way — and bake in the oven until the cakes have risen and are “just” shrinking from the sides of the pan. (This will be about 35 minutes. Use a toothpick to test.)

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6. Turn out onto racks and allow to cool. Wrap in parchment paper and then wrap in foil.

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The finished gingerbread, slightly overcooked but it was delicious nonetheless.

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