Depression Era Gingerbread Cake

While this wasn’t exactly the recipe my Mom would have baked for us, she loved baking a soft gingerbread cake quite often. This dates from the Great Depression Era, but due to it containing butter and an egg, it would have come from kitchens on farms, that could provide these fresh ingredients. That it also has a sauce is even more decadent. So Mrs. J. M. Williams was for surely running a kitchen on a successful farm, and feeding hungry men who worked from sunup to sundown. Which meant that working on that farm was good living because you ate.

The recipe calls for sorghum syrup, and since I don’t live in the deep south, I used molasses instead (light syrup would have been corn syrup, Karo clear, most likely). Want to know the difference? This explains it well.

I noted it didn’t have a pan size, nor baking time. So I used an 8″x8″ glass baking dish and started checking at 20 minutes. I found 40 minutes in our oven seemed to be about right.

Gingerbread Cake


  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup buttermilk*
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp salt (used sea salt)
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp ground ginger
  • ½ tsp allspice


Lightly oil a glass 8″x” baking dish. Preheat oven to 350°.

Let butter soften a bit, then add to a stand mixer bowl. Beat it till smooth, then add in the sugar till well mixed. Add in the egg, beat in.

Ass in the molasses and beat in for 2 minutes.

Add half the flour, salt, baking soda and spices, then half of the milk, repeat and beat till smooth.

Scrape into prepared dish and smooth out.

Bake for 30 minutes, then check every 5 minutes till done (middle is set). I found it took 40 minutes for mine.


*To make soured milk, since having buttermilk on hand isn’t so common now, just add a ½ teaspoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to milk. The baking soda needs acidic milk to activate in this recipe.

Vanilla Sauce


  • 1 cup milk
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt (used sea salt)
  • 1 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract


Add the milk to a small saucepan. Bring to a just simmer over medium-low. It will be bubbling if you shift the milk. Don’t let it boil.

Whisk in the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Continue to whisk till it thickens, lowering the heat as needed.

Take off the heat, whisk in the butter and vanilla.

Chill before serving. You will need to stir well before, to ensure it is smooth.


The recipe called for 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, which isn’t enough to even lightly thicken the milk. I have to wonder if it wasn’t a mistake. So I used what I would use to produce a real sauce, which is 1 Tablespoon cornstarch to cup of liquid.

See all of our Great Depression Era recipes.