It was Caroline's Aunt Sophie who brought Dream Gingerbread into the Campion home. The recipe was given to Sophie by her mother (Caroline's maternal great-grandmother), and was one of family lore. As the tale was told, Sophie's mother "made the cake in a beautiful dream one night, and waking, was so impressed by the quality of her dream cake that then and there she flew to her kitchen in nightcap and gown and made a cake exactly like the one in her dream."
Gingerbread has been around since at least the Middle Ages, and save texture differences, has not changed all that much since then. Beyond the charming name, this is a pretty typical specimen, redolent with molasses, not too spicy. I remember reading somewhere that the Victorian palate veered towards the bland, so perhaps to the 18th century this cake would have had quite a bite, but to today's standards it rather mellow. A kid-friendly kind of gingerbread.
What really drew me to bake this cake was not the cake itself but rather the brief quip about Aunt Sophie preferring it topped with nothing more than a paste of brown sugar and sour cream. I've had that combination in crepes, but never once thought of trying a dollop on a cake.
I brought the cake into work with both the sugared sour cream as well as powdered sugar, and let people pick their poison. Going with Sophie's choice myself, I rather liked the tang in contrast to the spice and can imagine it's even better when the spice is kicked up a notch.
Adapted from Victorian Cakes by Caroline B. King
1/2 cup (113 g) soft shortening
1/2 cup (1 stick; 113 g) softened unsalted butter
1 cup (220 g) dark brown sugar
1 cup (336 g) unsulphured molasses
1 cup (240 g) sour milk or buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 T powdered ginger
1/2 t each powdered cinnamon and mace (you can use nutmeg)
3 1/2 c (437 g) all-purpose flour
Preheat your oven to 350° and prepare a 9" x 13" baking pan.
Whisk together the flour and spices and set aside. Beat the shortening, butter, brown sugar, and molasses on medium-high speed until thoroughly whipped and lighter in color. Add each egg, one at a time, beating well before cracking in the next. Stop and scrape the bowl! On low speed, alternate adding the flour/spice mixture with the sour milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the dry. Stop before all of the dry has disappeared and mix the rest in by hand. Smooth the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 32-35 minutes, or until a cake test comes back with just a few stragglers and the cake starts pulling away from the sides of the pan.
Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Serve with Sugared Sour Cream (I mixed 1/2 c sour cream and 1/4 c brown sugar), powdered sugar, or plain.