The flavors of gingerbread are a veritable artist’s palate of tastes with white and dark chocolate, coffee, caramel, coconut, all manner of stone fruits (especially pears, apricots, and apples), lemon, orange, dairy, raisins, dried fruit, winter squash, berries (especially raspberries, which make a smashing side sauce to drizzle over gingerbread), and warm spirits such as rum and sherry. Its almost infinite in culinary terms.
The other crucial flavoring is in the sugar. To get the lovely butterscotch flavor associated with gingerbread, you need brown sugar and a light or dark molasses (not blackstrap-it is too bitter). Don’t limit yourself to just the old familiar brown and refined white sugars. Brown sugars are now available in a host of rich flavors–use a specialty sugar like light or dark brown muscovado or demerara. I also buy organic molasses from Trader Joe’s and am pleasantly rewarded with a spectacular full flavor.
The Many Forms of Ginger
Ginger is available in three forms–ground, fresh, and crystallized. Buy a new jar of ground ginger every holiday season. It is at its peak used within 6 months, but it is easy to lose tract of when you bought what in the spice rack. Fresh ground ginger is rich, pungent, and mildly hot to the palate.
Knobby branches of fresh ginger are available in the produce section of the supermarket. It should feel firm and not be wrinkled. Store the unpeeled knob wrapped in a damp paper towel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a month.
Candied crystallized ginger is one of the sensations of the dessert kitchen. It is used like candied peels and a little goes a long way. I usually get a package that equals about 1/2 to 1 cup. Chopped or minced, you will have little melted pockets of hot-sweet in your gingerbread. Store in a cool dry place for up to a year.
This version of Buttermilk Gingerbread is just old-fashioned gingerbread, just like the Colonial American housewives made it–dark with molasses and pungent with spices. This is the recipe I whip up during the holidays or when children are coming for dinner. You can serve with just whipped cream, but here is a delightful warm fruity sauce made with apple juice reduced until it is syrupy to drizzle over.
Buttermilk Gingerbread with Warm Cider Sauce
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
1 large egg
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 cups fresh apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
2/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
Preheat the oven to 350º (325º if using a Pyrex or dark cast metal pan). Grease an 8-inch round cake pan or 8-by-8-inch square pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, espresso powder, baking soda, spices, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugars until fluffy, 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the molasses and egg; beat 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with the buttermilk, and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed. Donot overmix.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and tap the pan on the counter to smooth the top. Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Then run a knife around the edge and turn out onto the rack, right side up, to finish cooling, or remove the springform sides, although you can serve right out of the pan, if you desire.
Make the cider sauce. In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the apple juice, sugar, butter, and lemon juice. Bring to a full boil over medium-high heat, about 8 minutes. Boil 3 minutes. Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. Stirring constantly, pour into the hot sauce and cook until thickened and clear, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve warm, spooned over wedges or squares of gingerbread. Store sauce, covered, in the refrigerator up to 1 week, reheating in the microwave or in a saucepan. Makes one 8-inch cake, serving 8, and 2 cups sauce.
This uber-delicious tube cake gingerbread is moist and spicy, perfect to take to a holiday open house. I like to use one of the special decorative bundt tube pans from Nordic Ware to make this look really special. Serve with a small scoop of pumpkin gelato, which I make the day before baking the cake (alternately you can also pick up some hand packed pumpkin ice cream at Baskin Robbins if you don’t want to make your own).
Applesauce Gingerbread Spice Cake with Pumpkin Gelato
2 quarts vanilla ice cream
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin purée
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each of ground cloves, ginger, and allspice
2 tablespoons Cognac
1 cup light molasses
1 16-ounce jar unsweetened applesauce
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup light olive oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
4 large eggs
Powdered sugar, for dusting
Let the ice cream soften slightly at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. With an electric mixer or by hand, beat the ice cream until just creamy. Add the pumpkin, spices, and Cognac; blend on low speed until evenly distributed. Working quickly, scrape the ice cream back into the carton with a large rubber spatula. Refreeze at least 6 hours to overnight before serving. Makes 2 quarts.
Preheat the oven to 325º (300º if using dark cast metal pan). Grease and flour a 12-cup fluted tube pan or 10-inch angel food cake tube pan. Combine the applesauce, molasses, and baking soda in a saucepan and heat to melt the molasses; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, espresso, spices, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed, beat the oil and sugars until thick and double in volume, 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs and beat 30 seconds.
On low speed, add the flour mixture in three portions, alternating with the warm
applesauce mixture. Beat gently just until evenly incorporated, only about 1 minute. Do not overmix.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the top springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 65 to 75 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto the rack to finish cooling. Transfer to a serving platter, dust with sieved powdered sugar. Serve warm or room temperature. Makes one 10-inch tube cake, serving 12 to 14
Excerpted and adapted from The Best Quick Breads, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2013
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.