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Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Gingerbread Cake Recipe from 1852

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Piece of sour cream gingerbread cake dusted with powdered sugar on a red china plate on a table with a pan of gingerbread in the background along with an antique cookbook, some cloves and spoons and winter greenery, berries, and pinecones.

If I had to choose one baking recipe that seems to exemplify the 19th century I think I would have to choose gingerbread. From cookbooks to recipe pamphlets to ladies’ magazines, recipes for gingerbread are everywhere during this time period. And most cookbooks include several different types of gingerbread and a variety of recipes, too, such as hard gingerbread, soft gingerbread, sugar gingerbread, molasses gingerbread, and gingerbread made with a variety of different types of liquid such as milk, soured milk, buttermilk, cream, water, and even sour cream like the recipe for an old-fashioned sour cream gingerbread that I found in an old antique cookbook recently.

One of the nice things about the wide variety of different 19th century gingerbread recipes is that you can find a recipe that fits pretty much any ingredients that you have available. If you have molasses there are gingerbread recipes that call for only molasses and no sugar or some that call for some of both molasses and sugar. If you have sugar but you are out of molasses then there are recipes that only need sugar. And the different types of milk or cream that you can use give you lots of options so that you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand and still be able to make a gingerbread.

Using sour cream in gingerbread was new to me, and until I came across this recipe I hadn’t seen any other older gingerbread recipes that called for using sour cream. I wasn’t sure at first how it would turn out, but I was pleasantly surprised that it ended up being just as good or even better than other gingerbread recipes that I had tried in the past. This cake has a nice moist texture and a classic old-fashioned gingerbread flavor with the rich molasses and a good amount of spices with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.

Original Recipe

The original version of this recipe comes from a book called The Ladies’ New Book of Cookery written by Sarah Josepha Hale and published in 1852. This book has several hundred pages of different recipes as well as tips and advice for cooking and running a household. Sarah Josepha Hale was also an editor for the very popular ladies’ magazine of the time period “Godey’s Lady’s Book”, so her name would most likely have been a very familiar household name during the time this cookbook was published. You can browse through this book for free at the Feeding America Historic American Cookbook Project website or if you want a print copy you can also find a facsimile copy of the original text of the book on Amazon.

This is the text of the original recipe:

“Take 3 cups of flour; beat together 1 cup of butter and 1 cup of sugar; then add 1 cup of molasses and 1 cup of sour cream with a little of the flour. Take 4 eggs, and beat the whites and yolks separately; put in the yolks adding more flour; then 1 table-spoonful of ground ginger; 1 table-spoonful of cinnamon; 1 tea-spoonful of of ground cloves; 2 cups or more of fruit; 1 tea-spoonful of soda; then the whites of the eggs, and lastly the remainder of the flour.”

The Ladies’ New Book of Cookery, pg. 369

I followed this recipe pretty closely to the original. I decided to omit the fruit because I wanted to make a regular gingerbread rather than one that had fruit in it and because when most people think of gingerbread today they think of a plain gingerbread rather than one that has fruit. If you do decide to add any fruit, though, and you want to keep it authentic to the original recipe, it was very common during the time to use raisins or currents as the fruit for cakes.

I also decided to cut this recipe in half and bake it in an 8×8 pan because I didn’t need a very large batch of it when I was making it, so all of my measurements in the recipe card below are half of what the original recipe calls for. I am planning to make a larger amount of this for Christmas, though, by using the same amounts in the original recipe, so I will add an update here if it works equally as well to make this in a 9×13 pan. I can’t see any reason why it wouldn’t, and I think it might just need an extra few minutes to bake in the larger pan.

Piece of sour cream gingerbread cake dusted with powdered sugar on a red china plate on a table with a pan of gingerbread in the background along with an antique cookbook, some cloves and spoons and winter greenery, berries, and pinecones.

Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Gingerbread Recipe from 1852

Yield: 8x8 pan

This cake has a nice moist texture and a classic old-fashioned gingerbread flavor with the rich molasses and a good amount of spices with ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 1/2 sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 Tbs. ground ginger
  • 1/2 Tbs. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt (Increase the amount to 1/2 tsp. if you are using unsalted butter.)
  • (Optional) 1 cup of dried fruit if you want to follow the original recipe more closely. I omitted the fruit when I made this.

Instructions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl cream together the softened butter and the sugar.
  3. Add the molasses, and the sour cream, and 1/2 cup of flour, stiring lightly to combine.
  4. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and put them in a separate bowl.
  5. Add the egg yolks to your mixing bowl with the other ingredients and then add another 1/2 cup of flour to the bowl.
  6. Add all of the spices, the salt, and the baking soda, and stir well to combine.
  7. Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl for a few minutes until they are foamy and don't look like liquid any more. (I didn't beat mine all the way to the soft peak stage, but I was getting close.)
  8. Gently fold in the beaten egg whites to the batter and then add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, folding it in gently to combine.
  9. Grease and flour a square 8x8 size pan and pour in the batter.
  10. Bake the cake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Notes

I used granulated white sugar for this recipe, but you could also use brown sugar if you wanted to.

By doubling the ingredients and baking this in a 9x13 inch pan you could easily make a double batch of this recipe.

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Piece of sour cream gingerbread cake dusted with powdered sugar on a red china plate on a table with a pan of gingerbread in the background along with an antique cookbook, some cloves, a wooden mixing spoon, metal measuring spoons, and winter greenery, berries, and pinecones.
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