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One of the better-known family-connected gingerbread recipes is attributed to George Washington’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, who is said to have served it to the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her in Fredericksburg toward the end of her life; it came to be called Lafayette Gingerbread, in honor of the beloved French general.

That recipe calls for orange juice and orange zest, ingredients that are substituted for the lemon used in Eliza Leslie’s recipe, from which the one here is adapted. This gingerbread is delicious on its own, but it can also be served with orange-scented Fairy Butter spread on top.

This recipe is a modern adaptation of the 18th-century original. It was created by culinary historian Nancy Carter Crump for the book Dining with the Washingtons.



  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • Scant 2 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2 large eggs, plus 2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
  • Fairy Butter for serving (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch-square cake pan.

  2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, or in a large bowl beating by hand, combine the butter and brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the molasses, and continue to beat until well combined.

  3. Sift the flour with the ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.

  4. Alternately add the eggs and flour to the butter mixture, beating very well after each addition.

  5. Add the orange juice and zest, and continue beating for several minutes until the batter is smooth and light.

  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a rack to cool completely in the pan before slicing.

  7. Serve squares of the cake spread with Fairy Butter, if desired.