To Make Gingerbread Cakes

A good recipe that is a cross between a ginger snap and a soft cookie. The amount of spice gives them a good bite. Try them with ice cream for a special treat.

18th Century

Take three pounds of flour, one pound of sugar, one pound of butter rubbed in very fine, two ounces of ginger beat fine, one large nutmeg grated, then take a pound of treacle, a quarter of a pint of cream, make them warm together, and make up the bread stiff; roll it out, and make it up into thin cakes, cut them out with a teacup, or small glass; or roll them out like nuts, and bake them on tin plates in a slack oven.

Glasse, Hannah, “The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple,” 1796.

21st Century

  • 1 ½ lbs. all purpose unbleached flour
  • ½ lb. sugar
  • ½ lb. butter softened to room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup molasses
  • ¼ cup cream
  • Note: This recipe can be halved to make it workable in most kitchens.

  1. Preheat oven to 375°
  2. In a large mixing bowl, blend the flour, sugar and spices thoroughly with your hands.
  3. Warm the molasses and cream together in a small saucepan, stirring to blend. This is not to be hot but warm so that they blend together, not cook.
  4. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your hands until it has a sort of grated bread look.
  5. Add the molasses and cream mixture and work it up into a stiff dough with your hands. If it seems dry, add a little more cream to it. The dough should be stiff but not dry.
  6. Roll out the dough on a floured surface about ¼ inch thick and cut cookies into whatever shapes please you. If you wish to form them into nut shapes as the recipe states they will look sort of button shaped when they bake.
  7. Bake these in a 375° oven for about 8 to 10 minutes. They should still be soft to the touch before they come from the oven, not hard.

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51 Responses to “To Make Gingerbread Cakes”

  1. April 5th, 2013

    QNPoohBear says:

    Thank you! Is this the same as the delightful ginger cakes I had from the Raleigh Tavern bakeshop a number of years ago? I’ve been searching for the recipe ever since.

    • April 10th, 2013

      Dennis Cotner says:

      For those of you out there who have yearned for the old Raleigh Tavern Ginger Cookies you can now rejoice. I started my career here at CW at the Bakery and the old cookie recipe was never published. It was not an exact recipe of the period as the one given above but rather a conglomerate of recipes put together. We did however have little cards printed with the recipe to hand out to those who remembered it. Anyway here it is for all of you who want to dive in and feed your cravings.


      1 c. unsulphered molasses,
      1/2 c. evaporated milk,
      1 c. melted butter,
      2 tsp. ground ginger,
      1 tsp. ground nutmeg
      1 tsp. ground cinnamon
      1 c. sguar,
      1 1/2 tsp. baking soda,
      1/2 tsp. salt,
      6 cups natural unbleached flour.

      Mix spices, salt, baking soda and sugar. Add melted butter, evaporated milk and molasses. Stir well. Add flour 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly. Dough should be stiff enough to handle without sticking to your fingers. Knead dough for smooth texture. Add a little four if needed to prevent sticking. When smooth roll out to about 1/4 inch thick on floured table and cut into cookies. Bake on floured or greased cookie sheet in 375 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Cookies are done if they spingback when touched. This makes around 50 to 60 cookies.

      Hope this satifies that nostalgic time. They sure were good even if they weren’t an exact recipe of the period. They bring back a lot of memories for sure.

      Dennis Cotner,
      Last Baker at the Raleigh

      • April 11th, 2013

        Amie says:

        Thank you, Dennis!

      • April 12th, 2013

        Christine Hansley says:

        Hi Dennis,

        Thank you so much for squirreling away a copy of the recipe that those of us that came to CW in the 60s remember. The aroma from the Raleigh Kitchen just pulled you off DoG Street. I remember getting on the plane in DC to come home and the flight attendant said “You went to the Raleigh Tavern Kitchen!” I looked at her with a questioning look. She said, “I can smell them.” She received several cookies before I got off the plane. Even as a teenager, I recognized a real CW fan when I saw one.
        It’s still cool enough in Chicago to turn the oven on. I think I just found my weekend project. I can smell’em now. I gotta get some milk to dunk them in.

        Again – thanks for the memories.

        Have a great Spring when it stops raining.


      • April 13th, 2013

        Kathie Wilson says:

        I can’t thank you enough for this. I’m 57 and visited CW for the first time on a 7th grade field trip. I have been addicted to these wonderful cookies since then, but never had the recipe. My husband and I love CW, The Raleigh Tavern Bakery and now we can love these wonderful cookies at home, too. Thanks again. Kathie

      • April 15th, 2013

        Ted says:

        Thank you so much! I have retired to Arizona and miss being within driving range of Williamsburg for many reason. Those wonderful cookies from the bakery being one. From the early 60s we would travel to Williamsburg for a week of History and vacation. I have another treasured recipt for a Rum Toddy from the Raleigh that should make a nice accompaniment for the cookies.

        • April 16th, 2013

          Christine Hansley says:

          Please share the Rum Toddy recipt. We’re all old enough (well maybe?) to have, prepare and drink the recipt.


          • April 25th, 2013

            Ted says:

            Hi Chris,
            The recipe is actually from Kings Arms. Guess that mental slip shows I’m old enough to drink the concoction. I looked for the receipt after returning home from one of my any trips and couldn’t find it in any books, or from asking bartenders. So, called Williamsburg and after some help from friendly folks I wound up talking directly to someone at Kings Arms. It is basically sugar water, rum, and cinnamon stick over ice. All done in proportion as was the Colonial fashion. A great refreshing drink in the summer.
            2 shots of Sugar
            2 shots of Water
            2 Shots of Rum
            1 Cinnamon Stick (I do two to match the rest)
            Put sugar in water and warm until dissolved then into a glass
            Add Rum
            Add Ice, add cinnamon stick and lightly sprinkle cinnamon over top.

      • April 21st, 2015

        Mr. Cotner–I organized annual trips to Williamsburg for 100 8th graders from Takoma Park, MD for nearly 30 years. We never failed to stop by for the wonderful, freshly baked, ginger bread. I also remember somewhere in the 1990’s that the gingerbread was not baked on site anymore but imported from the outside. They were never the same… close, but not classic Raleigh gingerbread. Thank you for sharing the original recipe.. planning to make some TODAY!

      • September 14th, 2015

        Brad Parris says:

        I was in Williamsburg this past weekend and am happy to report that the Raleigh Tavern Bakery is once again baking the gingerbread cookies in the brick oven and they ARE the cookies of my childhood. They were warm and I could hardly wait to pay for them before I scarfed one down. Brad Parris

      • June 12th, 2017

        Peggy Comerford says:

        My husband was stationed at NWS Yorktown in the 90’s. Always loved coming to Williamsburg, which we did often. My kids were on best behavior while there, because they knew when we left we would stop and get ginger cookies. We have been back several times in the last 10 years and miss that smell. We have 2 of our grandsons with us this time and their mother gave them orders to bring back cookies.

      • September 26th, 2017

        Terry Parrish says:

        So glad I came across this! We enjoyed gingers just this past Saturday. They are a special treat when visiting CW. It’s nice to have fresh baked cookies right from the colonial ovens! Thank you so much for sharing your recipe!

      • December 17th, 2018

        DK says:

        These seem to be too flat compared to what I remember. Should the dough be 1/2″ thick vs 1/4″? I remember them domed. I just baked these and they are not that soft because they are thin.


  2. April 5th, 2013

    Pam Williams says:

    This is not the same receipt in the Raleigh Tavern Bakery cookbook. Those have different ingredients. The ones sold in the bakery are commercially prepared now. Mmmmm I bought a bag last weekend..think I’ll go have one. BTW…those keep FOREVER and freeze very well.

    Try the receipt from the little paper bakery cookbook. It’s my standard – and my entire family LOVE them. They are the most – for some silly reason – the most “fulfilling” cookie I make!

    • December 19th, 2013

      Carrie says:

      I use the Raleigh Tavern Bakery Cookbook as my standard for Gingerbread, too! I just made some for a cookie swap and my friends all want the recipe 🙂

  3. April 7th, 2013

    Would these have been a dessert item, or a side dish in the 18th century?

  4. April 8th, 2013

    Historic Foodways says:

    The Gingerbread Cakes can fit in either a party setting like other sweet biscuits, as dessert pieces and on rare occasion as an accompaniment with savory foods. They are a piece that can give good balance at a meal.

    Thanks for the question.
    Dennis Cotner

  5. April 12th, 2013

    Barbara says:

    WOW! Cookies for dinner and dessert! Hooza.

  6. April 12th, 2013

    Helen FitzGerald says:

    Hello all,
    Where do you get the ideas for garnishes of these dishes? I see a lot of sliced lemon for just about everything; under cookies is interesting. I appreciate books of the period (that I’ve seen) don’t have illustrations for particular dishes. Paintings and drawings don’t give that sort of detail either.

    Lemon seems very extravagant and seasonal for the period, as would Orange.. Would the elaborate decoration of the porcelain or silver plate have been shown off to advantage?


  7. April 13th, 2013

    QNPoohBear says:

    Thank you Dennis! I can’t wait to try the various recipes.

  8. April 15th, 2013

    mitch says:

    so glad to see this! the gingerbread cakes that come in the little sealed clear plastic packages now jut don’t taste the same to me as before they were sealed and just came in a sandwich bag : ) Hopefully this recipe fills the craving i’ve been having!! Thanks!

  9. April 18th, 2013

    Bonnie says:

    I look forward to trying both reciepts. I have loved all the reciepts I have tried from CW.
    I am coming for a vist shortly. Are there cooking demonstrations at Colonial Williamsburg?
    Is there a way to visit the kitchen in CW?
    I volunteer at an historic state park in California, sometimes in the kitchen or bakery. I would love to see your kitchen.

  10. December 5th, 2013

    Maryrose Barker says:

    Is this recipe the same as the Gingerbread logs sold in little bags on the streets of Old Williamsburg? That is the recipe I would like. The soft chewy logs> So good.

    • December 9th, 2013

      Historic Foodways says:

      The recipe included on the Food blog is pulled from an 18th century cookbook.

      However, please check the comments above for a previous post above from Dennis Cotner with the recipe you are looking for.

  11. December 9th, 2013

    Cheryl Klipp says:

    The recipe calls for “ginger beat fine”. This seems interesting. How does one beat ginger and what tool is used to do it? In what form were they getting their ginger? Were they getting fresh ginger that had partially dried in the process of importing it, or was it dried before shipping? Was it preserved somehow, like candied ginger?

  12. January 1st, 2014

    Elizabeth says:

    My happy memory of Williamsburg gingerbread is of thick squares — about 1 inch thick — perfect with hot cider. This would have been in the late eighties/ early nineties. Which of these recipes would do the job? And how do you make them thicker? Just put it in a sheet pan and cut it into squares?

    • January 2nd, 2014

      Historic Foodways says:

      Thank you for your comment. Please check the comments above for a previous post above from Dennis Cotner with the recipe you are looking for.

      • January 2nd, 2014

        Elizabeth says:

        Thank you. That doesn’t answer my question about the squares. Was the dough just poured into sheet pans and then cut after baking?

    • January 18th, 2014

      Sherry says:

      That is the gingerbread that I remember too. More like cake and cut into squares. Soft and delicious. I guess we must try this and see if it works.

  13. September 21st, 2014

    PenTool says:

    I am with Elizabeth and Sherry. Back in the mid-seventies I remember the gingerbread being served as thick squares, kind of cake-like. Very flavorful. I think they were put into paper bags. They were so good I made my Mom and Dad return for more before we left. I have been searching high and low for the original ever since with no luck.

    When I returned in 2002 or so, they were not the same, in either taste or appearance.

  14. November 7th, 2014

    c byrd says:

    Hi, Dennis!
    Living in the Wmsbg area in the 60s we had the soft, round, floury cookies described by Dennis. As time passed, they weren’t as good and now you’ll get only manufactured cookies. After working in CW all I can say is to take Dennis’ receipt and run with it. It’s the one from the Raleigh Tavern Bakery.

  15. November 16th, 2014

    Danna says:

    I told my 14 year-old son about my family trips to Williamsburg and the cookies that were the perfect gingerbread that he is craving. I will attempt to make them this week, and post a photo if all goes well. These are a bribe for him to do his homework.

  16. December 3rd, 2014

    Ann says:

    I also want to say “thanks” for sharing the receipts. My husband and I would always have a biscuit and ham for lunch when we visited CW. Last visit we looked forward to having one and were told they no longer made them. So disappointed! They were really good! Times change, even in Colonial Williamsburg. Can still taste them along with the ginger cakes and shrewbury cakes.
    Dennis, if you have the receipt for shrewbury cakes that would be great!

  17. January 6th, 2015

    Karen says:

    Thanks to everyone for the recipes! Are there anymore you can share? I love the pot roast at Chownings….would love to make it at home

  18. June 7th, 2015

    Mole says:

    I second the request for the Shrewsbury cakes recipe! My wife and I were born in Florida, but we’re always homesick for Williamsburg and the great food we’ve enjoyed there.

    Thanks, Dennis!

  19. December 22nd, 2015

    Candi says:

    How long will the gingerbread cookies keep (the ones you buy). With the sales going on, I’d like to buy a couple of boxes (at least) and need to know how long I can store them and what is the best way to store them.


  20. February 20th, 2016

    Alicelynne says:

    I tried the recipe at the top of the page in an attempt to duplicate the CW Gingerbread Cake. The flavor is there, but the cookie must need some more flower. I am anxious to try the recipe that Dennis submitted.

  21. March 21st, 2016

    Sophia says:

    So delicious, amazing food!

  22. May 4th, 2017

    James says:

    In a very recent visit to Williamsburg, I stayed the historic area. I arose early and headed to the Raleigh Tavern bakery for breakfast. While waiting in line there were two CW employees ahead of me. They told me that getting the gingerbread right out of the oven was something special and I would taste the difference. The baker handed us our straight out of the oven. They were right, the taste was outstanding. Next time get there early and get yours straight from the oven.

  23. September 25th, 2017

    Christine says:

    I tried the recipe using the 5 tips . So I used pastry flour instead and they did not rise at all! I was hoping for the ginger cakes like the one’s I bought in June 2017. They were baked in a oven and still warm when I picked them up one day while getting a lunch from a quick service place on DOG street! The lady said she just baked them that morning! They were so good!! still warm, so wonderful!! What did I do wrong as they did not rise?? I read the recipe I think from a blog here on this site. I read 5 tips to change on the recipe. it was melted butter, add vanilla, use pastry flour and chill dough , I did not chill dough though!

    • December 3rd, 2017

      Christin says:

      Reply to Christine. Sorry your cakes didn’t rise! First check your baking powder, which can dramatically lose effectiveness over time. Other possible reasons for a disappointing rise could be the use of melted rather than softened butter, which results in a denser cake, and the warm, not chilled, dough, which means more spreading on the oven. Good luck next time!

  24. July 29th, 2018

    BakerJoe says:

    Tried this authentic recipe, and have to say I thought it was horrible. Molasses flavor is overpowering, and doesn’t have the pleasant cakes texture of the RT product.

    • August 8th, 2018

      kcosta says:

      We are sorry that you didn’t care for the recipe. The ginger cakes at the Raleigh Tavern bakery are not period correct cookies. They contain baking powder which is why they have a cake like texture. Our recipe does not contain any modern ingredients.

  25. December 3rd, 2018

    Oinc says:

    The Dennis Costner recipe says 6 cups of flour, very old edition of the Raleigh Bake Shop book 1992 says 4 cups, also the book uses. margarine instead of butter, everything else is the same, we always get flat cookies, denser, which has the typo, 6 vs 4? Will try room temperature butter instead of melted.

    • September 12th, 2019

      Dennis Cotner says:

      Sorry about a late reply but I’ve been retired since 2013. The correct number of cups of flour is 6. It will make the dough so it can be rolled out and cut. Enjoy

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