I’ve got a delicious and fun gingerbread syrup for cocktails in winter. I love to eat gingerbread, but I don’t love making it. The array of spices, that slight heat of ginger, the clove and molasses, all those flavors just epitomize the season. I just don’t have the patience for cookies, but give me a saucepan and some spices and I’ll mix up a brilliant syrup for all your holiday cocktail needs!
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What is Gingerbread?
Gingerbread as we experience it – with a combination of both ginger and molasses flavors – didn’t come about until 15th century Medieval Europe. Further back, the earliest discovered recipe for gingerbread originated in Greece in 2400 BC, and other versions of it were also found in China in the 10th century.
Gingerbread made its way along the Silk Road and eventually got to Medieval Europe where it became a staple in celebrations and fairs. Credit for decorating gingerbread cookies as we know them today goes to Queen Elizabeth I. “Over time some of these festivals came to be known as Gingerbread Fairs, and the gingerbread cookies served there were known as ‘fairings.’ The shapes of the gingerbread changed with the season, including flowers in the spring and birds in the fall,” said Tori Avey for PBS.org.
What Does Gingerbread Taste Like?
While the original gingerbread made in the 15th century and earlier likely just had ginger as the main spice, today’s gingerbread cookies, houses, and breads include more than just ginger. Often cinnamon, clove, allspice, nutmeg, and more are added to the cookies and bread.
But the predominant flavor in addition to the ginger is molasses. Molasses is sweet and sticky, but also earthy and bitter. It adds depth to the sweetness of the cookie and balances out some of the strong spice flavors with its added sweetness.
Flavors in this Gingerbread Syrup
For me, I love to add a lot of traditional baking spices to any winter-season syrup. A great gingerbread syrup has to have more than molasses and ginger in it. It needs to have cinnamon, allspice, clove, cardamom, and sometimes a bit of star anise.
Instead of adding powdered spices to the syrup, I used whole spices. This meant I could control the depth of flavor by keeping track of the steep time and tasting the syrup as it cooled after cooking on the stove.
Because of the spices in the syrup and because the syrup is steeped, the flavors do tend to increase a bit over time as it’s stored in the fridge.
Be judicious of how much molasses you add to the syrup. Different types of molasses have different intensities of both sweetness and bitterness. Some molasses are very earthy, and others might even have a little of that rum funkiness taste to it!
Remember that you can always add more molasses, but it’s hard to take out if you start with too much in the syrup.
What’s In Molasses?
Molasses is a by-product of the sugar-making process. When sugar is made from sugar cane, it’s crushed so that the juice from the cane can be extracted. Next, the sugar cane juice is boiled down to create sugar crystals that are removed. The remaining liquid is what we call cane molasses in the US.
Molasses comes in several different strengths and styles. Typically you’ll see both sulfured and unsulfured molasses. Sulfur is often added as a preservative to molasses to keep it safe, and preserve the flavor.
In the UK, it’s often referred to as treacle. Treacle is one of the many sugars used to make sticky toffee pudding! Black treacle is a stronger, more potently flavored treacle than light treacle (also known as golden syrup).
While sorghum syrup is delicious in its own right, it’s not a great substitute for this recipe. Sorghum is made from the green juice of sorghum stalks and leaves which have a bitter, but very different flavor from molasses found in gingerbread.
Likewise, maple syrup and light corn syrup are not substitutes to use for molasses in this syrup recipe. Neither will impart the right flavor to evoke the flavor and aroma of gingerbread cookies.
These molasses and syrups are all different in type and flavor from grape molasses, pomegranate molasses and apple molasses – three syrups made from the reduction of fruit juices to a thick, potent, concentrated syrup.
Ingredients in this Winter-spiced Syrup
While you can add or subtract spices I used for my gingerbread syrup, I would encourage you to make it with these ingredients at least once to see how the flavors meld together.
You’ll need the following things to make this syrup:
- Brown sugar
- Ground ginger
- Cinnamon sticks
- Whole allspice
- Whole clove
- Cardamom pods
How to Make a Gingerbread Syrup for Cocktails
I’m using a lot of the same flavors and methods as for my Christmas Syrup, but instead of using a base of orange juice and orange peels, I made the syrup with brown sugar/white sugar and water.
First put the water, brown sugar, white sugar, and molasses in a saucepan on medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the spices, ground, and whole.
Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. Then turn off the heat and let it cool to room temperature.
Taste test before bottling it to see if it has enough of the molasses and ginger flavors in it. If not, add in small quantities until it has the balance you like. Note that some of the flavors of the spice will intensify over the first few days it sits in the fridge.
Tips and Tricks to Make Gingerbread Syrup
The wonderful thing about this syrup is your ability to play with the balance of baking spices in the ingredients. Here are few tips to try as you experiment your way to your favorite gingerbread syrup:
- Make sure your whole and ground spices are fresh. Potent spices like ginger, clove and allspice lose a lot of their vibrancy as they age on a spice rack or in the pantry. If you know your spices are several years old, it’s worth it to purchase fresh spices for this holiday’s baking and cocktail making.
- Toast the spices. One way to make the cocktail syrup more vibrant in flavors (and thus more complex) is to toast the spices for a few minutes in a pan on medium heat while you shake it. Do not scorch the spices. You might only need a minute or two in the pan to toast them. The smell of the spices will bloom, and you know it’s time to turn it off.
- Play with different types of molasses. There are five different types of molasses and each has a slightly different flavor. For this syrup, I advise you to use light or dark unsulphured molasses, not blackstrap molasses. However, if you want to experiment with cooking molasses, sulphured molasses or blackstrap, have at it. Just a teaspoon of blackstrap molasses can add a lot of flavor to a simple syrup like this.
Other Cocktails You Might Enjoy
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You probably already have these, but you may need them, too:
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 oz molasses see above for notes on the type of molasses to use
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 4 cracked cinnamon sticks
- 10 cardamom pods
- ½ tablespoon whole cloves
- ½ tablespoon whole allspice
- Combine dark sugar, water, molasses and ground ginger in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the spices and lower the heat to a slow simmer.
- Let simmer with the whole spices for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it steep as it cools to room temperature.
- As it cools, test until it gets to a flavor level you enjoy.
- Strain and store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.