As a child, I was a big fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series, and some of my favorites parts of those books are the descriptions of what they ate. Almanzo’s childhood culinary recollections in Farmer Boy are particularly vivid. It sort of sounds like a nonstop year-long dinner party! A few years ago I was fortunate to come across on the internet a letter that Laura, at that time in her 80s, sent to a friend in 1953, enclosing her recipe for gingerbread. It’s been a labor of love to create a healthier version of this pioneer treat that still does justice to the original flavor, but leaves out the eggs and lard.

By Micaela Karlsen, PhD, MSPH,

Last Updated:


  • 3 cups spelt flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup applesauce
  • ¾ cup molasses
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar


  • Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a 3-quart rectangular baking dish with parchment paper. In a medium bowl whisk together the first nine ingredients (through salt).
  • In a large bowl stir together the remaining ingredients. Add 1 cup boiling water; stir to combine. Slowly add flour mixture while stirring just until combined. (The batter will be quite thin.) Pour batter into prepared dish.
  • Bake 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in dish 20 minutes. Remove gingerbread from dish. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Comments (34)

(5 from 22 votes)

Recipe Rating

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I loved this! Cut the salt to <1/4 tsp, used 3/4 c maple syrup instead of 1 c, and made applesauce by cooking an apple (unskinned) and processing it. Used the apple cooking water as the "boiling water." My only complaint is that it was more of a Yellow Light food than a Green Light one, due to the high amount of added sugars and absence of any superfoods like flax, beans or greens. The spices are beneficial, though.


I made this cake for a donation to a fund raiser for a cancer patient. Whoever bid and got it raved about it, and asked for the recipe! I live alone so I made one for myself and ate the whole thing! OOPS!! It's that good!


Delicious with following changes: 1 c date paste in place of maple syrup. Only had 1/4 blackstrap molasses on hand so that is all I used. Made applesauce in microwave w one apple. Poured applesauce, date paste, and boiling water into 14 c Cuisinart to make smooth purée. Omitted salt. Used Bragg apple cider vinegar. Pour into glass Bundt dish and grab-it dish. Cook Bundt dish 8 min. @ 60% power and grab-it 4 min @ 60% power. Let cool. I think entire batter would fit in Bundt dish but w 2 T bp I decided to put some of batter in another dish. Spice blend is perfect.

Jeanne Lebow

A whole cup of maple syrup? Not healthful!! I use date sugar, which has fiber. Add 1/4 cup of water to compensate.


I subbed date sugar for the maple syrup, added ~.25 cups water to compensate for the moisture. I also used blackstrap molasses instead of regular molasses. And I subbed 1/3 of floor with rolled oats. All of these changes worked really well, whole family enjoyed


Just made this using whole wheat flour. Made half the recipe into muffins and the rest in a pan. Very tender and moist with loads of flavor. House smells like Christmas when you bake them. 😋 This is definitely one to make again.

Liz Mckinnon

You can make applesauce easily. Peel and core apples put in a pot. Add a little water and cook slowly until you have a sauce


Jenni I make my own apple sauce, simply stew apples until soft with a tiny amount of water, if needed. Then puree. I do a batch and freeze in 1/2 cup portions.


One cup of maple sugar = 840 calories. Is this really a healthy recipe? There is roughly the same amount sugar in a cup of maple syrup as in a cup of granulated sugar. Although maple sugar does have a lower glycemic index, still the body converts it to glucose. That's a lot of sugar! Maybe a notice to only use for special occasions?


Looks delicious! Do you think this would come out ok in one of those intricate Nordic Ware Bundt pans? Or would it stick too much?


My guess it will stick to a Nordic Ware Bundt pan. it is a sticky recipe. I would stick ( no pun intended! lol) to the suggestion in the recipe. You could use round cake pans but make sure you use parchment paper.

Jenni Masters

Where in Australia can one buy unsweetened Apple Sauce? I haven't been able to find any.


You can purchase that in Target store. Mott's is one of the brands.


Easy to make and makes the house smell like fall. Husband and I both love the seasonal flavor.


I don’t know what I did but this recipe was a disaster. The ‘batter’ was almost a dough when it went in the oven even after I added an extra cup of water because the mixture was so dry


I think I used the wrong molassis? Are there many types? Mine is called sugar cane molassis and has a very unique strong smell and taste which made the whole cake a little bitter. But it would have been wonderful had it not been for this molasses taste, so the recipe is great!

Sherry Siddall

Spicy, moist and delicious. Everything you want from gingerbread. I used 2 cups fine whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose einkorn flour.


Wow, this recipe worked perfectly and is absolutely delicious! Tastes just like the gingerbread cakes I remember from childhood. For the molasses I used mostly blackstrap and a bit of date syrup and it isn't bitter at all. It's the perfect balance of spices and sweetness. Major complements to the recipe creator. I'm impressed with how much rise it achieved and it was really easy to lift from the baking dish even without parchment. I'll be coming back to this recipe again and again, this is a new holiday staple. Thank you!


I make this every holiday season! We love it. Chewy, rich, decadent.


Has anyone tried this using blackstrap molasses?

Paula Smith

It is a chilly, breezy fall day, perfect, I thought, for something spicy, like gingerbread. This Pioneer Gingerbread was the perfect recipe. Easy to make and I altered the recipe only by using a quarter cup less maple syrup. Then I worried that it might be dry but it was night. It was moist and so delicious!


This is scrum-dilly-umptious! I've made it twice - once with whole wheat pastry flour, and again with half whole wheat pastry flour, half buckwheat flour. The latter was more hardy and a little drier, but both were delicious. I'm going to keep experimenting with flours, and probably give spelt a go next time. I also subbed half the maple syrup with date paste in the second batch, and used 2/3 cup date paste for every 1/2 cup maple syrup. The added dryness of the buckwheat combo batch could be due to this, or, maybe, the different flours. I'll be experimenting more to find the perfect ratios. I might tweak the baking time too. The first whole wheat pastry flour batch went for the entire 35 mins with no dryness, but the second whole wheat pastry/buckwheat flour went for 30 and it was drier.

Cathy Plante

So easy and so delicious! My husband wants as his birthdsy cake this year.

Terri Peer

Absolutely delicious. Very spicy and warming. I used whole wheat flour since it’s what I had on hand.

Chef Katie

This recipe is great! I made the gluten-free version (using half oat and half buckwheat flour), and it is sooo good. Texture is great...lots of warming spices. I'll be making again.


This is so good! Tender, moist, and chewy, and not too sweet despite what seems like a lot of syrup and molasses. I made it exactly as written and it’s delicious, just what my husband asked for. Thank you!


I used whole wheat pastry flour and followed the recipe exactly until baking. I baked for 27 minutes and then removed from the oven. Either my oven is especially hot or I just like the consistency of slightly-underbaked goodies. Either way, this was FANTASTIC! I ate it for breakfast with berries for 4 days…


I've made these a few times, they're always great and even go down a treat with carnivorous friends so thank you! I've recently had to give up sugar though so does anyone know if I could sub the molasses for date syrup or more applesauce?


What is the difference between date syrup and molasses?


I love this gingerbread! It is a comfort dessert for my family and perfect for cold weather afternoons with tea.


This cake is really lovely: spongey, sticky and very yummy. I used a little extra ginger - just because I like the flavour. I was a little casual about the measurements and the recipe was very forgiving. I didn't have a glass baking dish that sort of size, so used my enameled, cast iron dish lined with reusable non-stick sheets. I warmed it in the oven first as I thought the mixture might be sitting for too long waiting for the heat of the oven penetrated the dish. The recipe makes quite a lot so have frozen half after cutting it into squares - hope it defrosts ok....! Thanks again for the recipe.

Leah Stolar

I baked half the recipe in mini silicone muffin pans for 10 minutes and it worked perfectly. The other half in an 8x8 Pyrex and didn’t even require parchment paper. Delicious! Perfect texture and intense gingerbread flavor.

Sarah Richardson

Absolutely delicious! Moist, flavourful ... and so,so more-ish! Thanks Forks over Knives!


Delicious another wonderful recipe i can not believe all these are free!! I added some crystalized ginger and they were divine.

About the Author

Headshot of Micaela Karlsen, MSPH, PHD

About the Author

Micaela Karlsen, PhD, MSPH

Micaela Karlsen is the author of A Plant-Based Life and a contributor to the New York Times bestseller Forks Over Knives: The Plant-Based Way to Health. She currently serves as senior director of research for the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Karlsen holds a PhD in nutritional epidemiology from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and an MSPH in human nutrition and public health from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Find her on LinkedIn.
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