11.21.11 Proceed Gingerly

Bite 790 xxx
photos by gluttonforlife
Ever get a craving you just can't shake? A couple of weeks ago, I began dreaming of gingerbread: dense and dark, with chewy edges and chunks of crystallized ginger. The cakey kind, not the drier, more brittle sort used for gingerbread men and their over-decorated houses. I'm partial to a tangy lemon glaze on mine. The crackle finish it makes on top and the way it seeps into the crumb is simply irresistible. You don't need anything else with this gingerbread—no whipped cream, no ice cream, no applesauce—just a nice strong cup of tea. I don't recommend it after a hearty stew or pasta, you'll feel too leaden. It's the perfect cold-weather breakfast, lazy afternoon snack or highly anticipated finish to a light dinner.
Powdered ginger 790 xxx
ginger: fresh root and powdered
Do a little research on gingerbread and you immediately unearth all sorts of interesting tidbits. Swedish nuns allegedly baked it to help ease digestion but I'm sure there are easier, more effective (and much less indulgent) ways to get ginger into your system. In England, where they sometimes add mustard and pepper, gingerbread is traditionally eaten on Bonfire Night aka Guy Fawkes Night, when the people celebrate the time King James 1 survived an assassination attempt.
Crystallized ginger 790 xxx
ginger: crystallized
Crystallized ginger is made from slices of the fresh root that have been slowly cooked in simple syrup until soft and chewy, and then rolled in coarse sugar which helps preserve them. It's also known as candied or glacé ginger. It's a great thing to keep in your pantry as it lasts forever and adds a real zip to so many things, from banana bread to yogurt.
Nutmeg 790 xxx
totally grate
Another thing I keep is a small glass jar full of whole nutmeg because there is no comparison between freshly grated nutmeg and the powdered version. Use your microplane to make short work of it and swoon over the lovely spicy fragrance. In Victorian times, personal nutmeg graters fashioned of silver with beautiful detailing became all the rage. Ladies and gentleman carried them everywhere to grate into their punch and food.
Molasses 790 xxx
dark side of the moon: black gold
Molasses is a key ingredient in gingerbread. It can be a little confusing because sometimes you see it labeled as "unsulphured" or "blackstrap." There are actually three grades of molasses: mild or Barbados/West Indian, also known as first molasses; dark, or second molasses; and blackstrap. These grades may be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphured molasses is made from young sugar cane. Sulphur dioxide, added during the sugar extraction process, acts as a preservative. Unsulphured molasses is made from mature sugar cane and does not require such treatment.To make molasses, the cane of a sugar plant is harvested and stripped of its leaves. Its juice is extracted then boiled to concentrate it, which promotes the crystallisation of the sugar. The result of this first boiling and of the sugar crystals is first molasses, which has the highest sugar content because comparatively little sugar has been extracted from the source. Second molasses is created from a second boiling and sugar extraction, and has a slight bitter tinge to its taste. The third boiling of the sugar syrup makes blackstrap molasses. The majority of sucrose from the original juice has been crystallized and removed. The calorie content of blackstrap molasses is still mostly from the small remaining sugar content. However, unlike refined sugars, it contains trace amounts of vitamins and significant amounts of several minerals. Blackstrap molasses is a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron, and is the type most often found in health food stores.
Molasses2 790 xxx
things are heating up: molasses, coffee and chocolate stout
Gingerbread is a particularly easy kind of cake to make since generally the fat is melted and mixed with the flour rather than using the creaming method. However, this recipe uses oil rather than a solid fat, and actually has you heat the coffee, molasses and beer to a boil rather than the fat.
Foaming 790 xxx
the baking soda makes it foam up
Once it boils, you stir in baking soda, which causes it to foam up. Mixed with the remaining ingredients, it comes together in a dark brown, thick and creamy batter that bakes in a parchment-lined springform pan.
Batter 790 xxx
hey, batter batter
The original recipe called only for fresh ginger, but I added both ground and crystallized to enhance the spicy flavor.
Minced ginger 790 xxx
mincing words
Some lemon zest goes into the cake; the rest is whisked into the lemony glaze.
Baked 790 xxx
gingerbread cools quicker on a rack
The gingerbread will pull away from the edges of the pan just a bit when it's done. For such a dense, gooey cake it generally does not present much of a problem to unmold, especially with this type of pan and the parchment lining.
Cake 790 xxx
glazed over
The cake would be delicious without the glaze but I find it adds the perfect tart, bright counterpoint to the rich spicy depths.
Bite2 790 xxx
fork it over
I have to confess that when I made this gingerbread, I forgot to add the egg. So I inadvertently created a vegan version, and it came out just fine! I remembered just after I popped it into the oven, and I sulked for the next hour, sure all my efforts had been for naught. But lo and behold, my gingerbread dreams came true. I had a slice yesterday afternoon and another this morning for breakfast. Let the holidays begin!

Gingerbread with Lemon Glaze

serves 8-10
  • — 2 cups all-purpose flour (gluten-free mix is fine)
  • — 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • — 2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • — 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • — 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
  • — 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • — 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • — 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • — 1 packed cup dark muscovado sugar
  • — 3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • — 2 1/2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
  • — 3 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
  • grated zest of 2 lemons
  • — 1/2 cup grape seed or other neutral oil
  • — 1 large egg
  • — 3/4 cup chocolate stout
  • — 3/4 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
  • — 1 cup brewed espresso
  • — 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • butter or oil, for greasing
  • — 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • — 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • — 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375º. Butter an 8-inch springform cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. Alternatively, you may use a bundt pan, well buttered.

In a bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ground ginger and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Set aside. In a large bowl combine brown and turbinado sugars, fresh and crystallized gingers, zest of 1 lemon and oil. Beat in egg.

Place beer, molasses and coffee in a deep pot. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Mixture will bubble up. Allow to cool 5 minutes.

Whisk flour mixture alternately with beer mixture into brown sugar mixture, in 3 increments. Pour batter into pan and bake 40 minutes without opening oven. Give pan a 180-degree turn and bake another 15 minutes, until cake is springy and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a rack. Once cool, remove sides of pan, invert briefly to remove bottom of pan and paper and set upright on a plate. If using bundt pan, cool completely on a rack, then invert on a plate.

In a small bowl, whisk confectioners’ sugar with remaining zest of 1 lemon, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper and lemon juice. Drizzle over top of cake, allowing glaze to drip down the sides.

Cake may be stored well wrapped or in an airtight container, outside the refrigerator but in a cool spot, for 3 days.

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Wow - that looks totally amazing! Thanks for the historical tidbits as well. Do you think it would be just as good without the stout?
Mily on November 21, 2011 at 8:16 am —
Yes, I think it would be good anyway. You'd have to substitute the liquid, so maybe using a strong black tea would be a good choice.
laura on November 21, 2011 at 8:19 am —
Thanks for this recipe. I will try this weekend!!
tomo on November 21, 2011 at 9:53 am —
Sounds totally fantastic--we are planning to include gingerbread along with pies on Thanksgiving. I'll use this recipe.
Margot Herrera on November 21, 2011 at 3:34 pm —
Thanks for the recipe. oHaving been in Scotland several years in a row on November 5th ("Remember, remember the 5th of November") for hunting I participated in very joyous bonfires of Guy Fawkes effigies. Guy Fawkes was attempting to blow up the Parliament and there are still ceremonial inspections of the Parliament's basement each time the King or Queen give a speech there -- actually just once a year - I have not been back for several years but the 5th of November is for ever in my memory! Thanks for reminding me.
Josée on November 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm —