To make Newport Ginger Bread

In search of something quick and festive, I made this recipe at my mom’s house, in between walks with the dogs. UPenn MS Codex 895 is signed “Ann M. Plowden, 1756” on the inside front cover; a page later in the book is dated 1844, and the whole thing is written in at least four hands. This is the first time we’ve cooked from this particular recipe book, and I look forward to returning to it.

We didn’t have candied peel or fresh ginger or mace, so I used orange zest and ground ginger and some cinnamon and cloves; I’m not sure that its texture was what it should have been, or whether this should have been baked as a large cake, or rolled out, or in small patted rounds as I made them. But I liked these very much regardless–gingerbread is forgiving! (*Note: thanks very much to our reader who pointed out that I misread/miscalculated and used only 2 tbsp. molasses rather than 3/4 c. Oops! I did in fact enjoy these very much despite that mistake. However, with the proper amount of molasses, these might work better as rolled out cookies. I will be making them again and will provide an update!)

The Recipe

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To make Newport Ginger Bread

Take a p[oun]d of flour a quarter of a p[oun]d of sugar 2 ounce
of candied orange peel or Lemon a little mace
the weight of a two shilling of grated white ginger
half a pint of melted butter 4 spoonful of brandy
a p[oun]d or something better of treacle mix it well
& bake it on wafer paper on tin pans in a quick oven

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Our Recipe

[halved from the original]

1 2/3 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 oz. orange peel
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch cloves
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 stick butter, melted
2 tbsp. brandy
3/4 c. molasses

Heat oven to 375F.

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl until fully incorporated. Form the gingerbread as you’d like. For small cookies, bake ~20 mins., until a deeper golden brown and dry to the touch. Cool on a wire rack. This made 20 small cookies.

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The Results

These are certainly ginger-y! The brandy is a tasty addition that I hadn’t encountered in gingerbread before. They’re dense and a little chewy, and have plenty of flavor. From the instruction to bake it on paper, I was expecting a cake that would bake on parchment in order to turn out more easily. This was more of a dough than a batter, though, and a crumbly one at that (because of my molasses mishap). I settled on patting them into flattened golf-ball-sized rounds, but I will try rolling it out next (with more molasses).

When I’m not distracted by a pug wearing a jinglebell collar and the need to finish wrapping gifts, I might look into why these are “Newport” gingerbread. For now, they taste of ginger and the kitchen smelled festive and warm while they baked. That’s a good Christmas Eve eve cookie.

Happy and peaceful holidays to you.

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2 thoughts on “To make Newport Ginger Bread

  1. I’d like to offer two corrections to the quantities in your ingredients list. Apparently, you are making half the original recipe quantity? So half of a “a p[oun]d of sugar” would be slightly over 1c + 2T, not 1/2 c as you used. Half of “a p[oun]d or something better of treacle” would be at least 162 ml or just shy of 3/4 c of molasses, not 2 T as you used. The extra granulated sugar would help to retain moisture, and the extra molasses would provide more moisture.

    Is it known if this manuscript is British or American? I’m wondering if the “Newport” refers to the city in Rhode Island, Delaware, or on the island of Jamaica? It is certainly more likely that ginger would be grown in the Caribbean than New England. In searching around, I’ve not found a variety of ginger referred to as “Newport”, but I haven’t looked too hard.

  2. Paul, thank you! I made this while chatting with my family in the kitchen, which apparently leads to wildly inaccurate conversion math. That explains the crumbliness! I’ll change the proportions here and appreciate the heads-up. Funnily enough, though, I liked how these turned out! Gingerbread truly is forgiving. This manuscript is British; I was wondering about Rhode Island or Jamaica as well, though there are also Newports in England and Wales. Perhaps Newport refers to the style of the gingerbread rather than to the ginger itself? I’ll report back if I find out more. (And thanks again!)

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