The highlight of any eight-year-old’s vacation is bound to be the food. Such was the case when I first went to Colonial Williamsburg and fell wildly in love with fragrant, puffy snacks called ginger cakes.
So deep in love, in fact, that my Hanukkah gift the following December was an entire order of them, a baker’s dozen that arrived in a cardboard mock-up of a colonial home. These are at once gingerbread cakes, scones and gingersnaps. They toe the line of being sweet enough to host a scoop of ice cream, but not so saccharine they’re inexcusable as a 10 a.m. snack. And don’t be fooled by the nature of their wintry spices—it doesn’t have to be snowing to enjoy a hefty dose of ginger and nutmeg.
According to a baker from the historic site, the recipe has been tweaked over the years. Even more so if you reference the version the cookies were inspired by in a late 1700s cookbook, which says to “make up the bread stiff” and bake it in a “slack oven.” Our recipe is an updated take and includes baking soda for a fluffier texture—but feel free to omit if you prefer a denser gingerbread treat.
Recipe adapted from Colonial Williamsburg's Raleigh Tavern Bakery, Williamsburg, VA
Yield: Twenty 2-inch cookies
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
2½ cups all-purpose flour
⅔ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup molasses
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and spices.
3. Mix the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, or your fingers, until well incorporated.
4. In a small saucepan, warm the molasses and cream over low heat so that they blend together, stirring often. Add the molasses and cream mixture to the butter mixture and mix into a dough.
5. Remove the dough from the bowl and place onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to a ¼-inch thickness. Cut into the desired shape and place on the baking sheets. Bake for 10 minutes, until firm on the edges and slightly soft in the centers.
6. Let cool slightly, then dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.