Grasmere Gingerbread Recipe

If you’re a keen baker, and interested not only in British baking recipes but in the history behind them, Regula Ysewijn’s Oats in the North, Wheat from the South: The History of British Baking, Savoury and Sweet is a book for you.

Read our full cookbook review of Oats in the North, Wheat in the South.

Regula Ysewijn's Grasmere Gingerbread

In the meantime, enjoy this recipe for traditional Grasmere Gingerbread, shared with permission from Murdoch Books.

Regula Ysewijn's Grasmere Gingerbread
4 from 5 votes

Grasmere Gingerbread

Grasmere is a small picturesque village in the hilly landscape of the Lake District in the north of England. Its surroundings are poetic, so it is not surprising that the poet William Wordsworth took up residence here to write. His sister, Dorothy, wrote in her diary in 1803 that she was going to buy gingerbread for her brother in Grasmere. 

Fifty years later in 1854, Sarah Nelson started baking her version of Grasmere gingerbread, which she sold from her little gingerbread house–like stone cottage just a few yards from the final resting place of William Wordsworth. Now, more than 150 years later, you can still buy gingerbread in the same little house. The name Grasmere gingerbread has since been given a trademark and no other gingerbread can carry the Grasmere name. This led to a gingerbread war about ten years ago, because Sarah Nelson was not the only one selling her biscuits in the area and gingerbread had clearly been made in Grasmere before she began selling it. In the village, there is talk of the Dixon family, who sold gingerbread in the 18th century, and in a book from 1912 I discovered that in the church a few metres from Sarah’s shop, gingerbread was given to the children as early as 1819. They called it Rushbearers gingerbread. (‘Rushbearing’ is an old English church ceremony for which bundles of grass are collected to cover the rough earth floor of the local church. The bundles had to be replaced every year; this usually happened on the name day of the church and was called ‘Wakes Day’. In Britain, there are many bakes connected to these ‘Wakes Days’.) 

The same 1912 book says that the Walker family baked gingerbread in their small shop, and that in 1912 a Mrs Gibson ran a gingerbread store after a Mrs Mary Dixon had been the gingerbread maker there for years. Strangely enough, Sarah Nelson is not mentioned in this book. What is special is that it seems that baking gingerbread was a women’s task, while at that time bakers were mainly male.

Servings 4 large pieces or 8 halves
Author Regula Ysewijn

Ingredients

  • 225 g (8 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour
  • 115 g (4 oz) soft brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 115 g 4 oz butter, at room temperature butter, for greasing
  • flour for dusting

Recipe Notes

For a 20 cm (8 inch) square cake tin.

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).

  • Prepare the cake tin: Apply a thin layer of butter with a folded sheet of paper towel and divide it nicely into the corners of the tin. Apply a strip of baking paper in the tin that covers two sides and protrudes slightly above the top of the tin so that you can remove the cake more easily after baking. Dust the lined tin with flour, hold the tin above your workbench or sink and tap on the bottom to remove the excess flour.

  • Put all the dry ingredients in a bowl and rub the butter into the mixture until it is the consistency of breadcrumbs. This is best done in a food processor or blender. The dough won’t come together as with other cookie doughs – it will remain as crumbs.

  • Weigh 70 g (2½ oz) of the crumb mixture and set it aside. Press the remaining crumb mixture into the cake tin, using a mini rolling pin or a sheet of baking paper to push the crumbs down firmly. Spoon the reserved crumbs over the top and press very lightly to distribute the crumbs over the surface of the dough.

  • Lightly score the top of the gingerbread, first dividing it into four squares and then dividing each square in half.

  • Bake the gingerbread for 25 minutes, then immediately remove it from the oven. Cut the gingerbread into portions along the marked lines while it is still hot.

If you decide to buy this book after reading our content, please consider clicking through our affiliate link, located within the post and in the footnote at the end.

Kavey Eats received a review copy of Regula Ysewijn’s Oats in the North, Wheat from the South from publisher Murdoch Books. Photography by Regula Ysewijn. Available on Amazon UK at time of review for £17.70 (RRP £25).

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19 Comments to "Grasmere Gingerbread Recipe"

  1. Shereen

    That reads like a really interesting recipe, thank-you for sharing. As a fan of the cakey gingerbread with molasses in it, I’m going to have to give this one a go. So I’ve just added soft brown sugar to the shopping list.

    Reply
  2. Sarah Trivuncic

    I’m very familiar with Grasmere gingerbread as I already related to you via Facebook but I hadn’t known about the Wordsworth connection nor the background to the recipe. Looks like another well researched book from the lovely Regula!

    Reply
  3. Jacqui

    I just made this. It’s not quite the same as the original plus not enough ginger! It’s quite light in colour compared to the original , so a bit of work needed to get it right

    Reply
  4. Beth

    I have made this a few times and love it! I tend to amplify the ginger a bit more than the recipe calls for. My relatives from the Lake District enjoyed it very much!

    Reply
  5. Anna

    Does anyone know what the part about preparing the tin, see page 21 means? Does it just refer to greasing it or using baking paper, or something more involved/specific?

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Apologies, I’d not spotted that when I published the extracted recipe, I’ll amend.
    In the meantime, the instructions on preparing baking tins are as follows:
    Apply a thin layer of butter with a folded sheet of paper towel and divide it nicely into the corners of the baking tin. Apply a strip of baking paper in the tin that covers two sides and protrudes slightly above the top of the tin so that you can remove the cake more easily after baking. Dust the lined tin with flour, hold the tin above your workbench or sink and tap on the bottom to remove the excess flour.

    Reply
  6. Pia

    I love Grasmere gingerbread, so I’m looking forward to trying your recipe. But shouldn’t there be lots of little bits of candied ginger in the recipe?

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Hi Pia, this recipe is extracted exactly as written from Regula Ysewijn’s Oats in the North, Wheat from the South. Hee recipe is based on historical research that she undertook.
    You are welcome to adjust if you would like!

    Reply
    Mel ceavey

    I loved the recipe, it makes fantastic gingerbread,. I also read Regulas book and although the recipes were great, I didn’t think there was enough information about how baking evolved in Britain. I managed to get hold of a copy of Emma Kays History of Bitish Baking, and thought it covered much more of the aspects of baking through British history, which is what I was looking for.

    Reply
  7. Mel ceavey

    I loved the recipe, it makes fantastic gingerbread,. I also read Regulas book and although the recipes were great, I didn’t think there was enough information about how baking evolved in Britain. I managed to get hold of a copy of Emma Kays History of Bitish Baking, and thought it covered much more of the aspects of baking through British history, which is what I was looking for.

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Ah thank you for the feedback, and for the book recommendation as well, really appreciate it!

    Reply
  8. Susan

    I made this recipe after seeing a post along with a photo of the result on reddit, from someone who had just made some.
    We thought it was delicious and also, as someone above mentioned, thought next time we would slso “amplify” the ginger. I wonder how it would be with fresh grated ginger or grated candied ginger?

    Reply
    kaveyeats

    Thanks so much for your feedback. I’m guessing that being a traditional recipe, flavours were more subtle than we prefer them to be now. I think adding extra ginger in the form of candied or fresh would work really nicely!

    Reply

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