Spring is here. The calendar says so, the bees with their pollen baskets say so, the shorts my kids wear to school say so, however for much of April I have been cold. Something all month has been telling me to stay inside, drink lots of tea, pull on a sweater, then cozy up in an armchair with a good book and some gingerbread. Not very springlike instincts. Today’s weather proves my instincts to have been spot on. I woke up this morning to snow–really.
The only plants safe were those located under the eaves of our house. I began to wonder if my raking of last fall’s leaves a few weeks ago had been a mistake. Luckily the scented geraniums are tough plants being the first to come up and the last to die down. That plus their density makes it nearly impossible to get all the leaves out so they had a bit of coverage.
My craving for things warm and wintry now seemed like a premonition. For the last two weeks I have been making gingerbread. Normally I only make gingerbread during the winter months but for some reason I made (and helped eat) several batches of various gingerbreads, to the point where I need to replenish my ginger supply. Perhaps I was in deep need of some comfort and spice during this spring which is not truly sprung.
There are two main types of gingerbread–one is moist and somewhat sticky while the other is more cake-like. Both varieties have their followers. Being an equal opportunity gingerbread eater I like both, though I tend on the cake-ier side. Here are two of my favorites.
The first gingerbread is from Sally Schneider. I first met Sally when I was just starting out as an assistant food stylist in New York. She was an amazing food stylist to work for, lived in an apartment in the village that I wanted to move into the first day I saw it, but most lasting was that Sally started me thinking about how people wrote about food, how they crafted language they then used to describe what and how we eat. At her suggestion I started reading MFK Fisher. There is now an end bookshelf in our bedroom which holds over a dozen books by MFK Fisher along with a few by Anne Lamont (another favorite, though not a food writer). I haven’t seen Sally in years but I think of her whenever I use her cookbooks. This gingerbread is adapted from her first book, The Art of Low Calorie Cooking. I usually have a chunk of fresh ginger in the fruit bowl, waiting for either dumplings or gingerbread, whichever I decide to make first. If you are an espresso drinker the way Sally was you may have a few Tablespoons around to use, but the powdered instant seems to work well as a substitution. I also never seem to have dry mustard at hand so I use an equal amount of dijon instead. Works a treat.
Sally’s Fresh Ginger Gingerbread
3 Tablespoons + a bit more unsalted butter
3 packed Tablespoons brown sugar (dark or light)
1 large egg
1/3 cup dark molasses
2-3 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
2 Tablespoons strong brewed coffee or 2 heaping teaspoons instant espresso powder dissolved in enough boiling H2O to make 2 Tbsp
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup buttermilk
whipped cream (optional)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. With the extra bit of butter grease an eight-inch round or square cake pan. In a large bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula cream the butter and brown sugar. Beat in the egg, then molasses and fresh ginger. Sift together the dry ingredients in one bowl or onto a sheet of wax paper and stir the remaining wet ingredients together in a measuring cup. Alternate between adding dry and wet ingredients until everything is well mixed together.
Pour batter into pan, bake for 30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake has stopped “talking” (making snapping and popping noises). Cool until you won’t burn the roof of your mouth and serve with a dollop of whipped cream, a spoonful of applesauce or just a sprinkle of powdered sugar.
The second gingerbread recipe comes from a cake article my friend Rick Ellis wrote for Gourmet magazine shortly after Ruth Reichl took the helm. With a cookbook collection of nearly 5,000 volumes Rick is someone who not only knows the history of an iconic food such as gingerbread he also knows a great recipe when he comes across one. Having worked as one of the top food stylist in the country for nearly thirty years (his work is so luscious it makes you want to eat the page it’s printed on) Rick has made just about every food you can think of to put in front of a camera and often uses his extensive library for research. Which is exactly what he did when he wrote then styled an article on The Great American Cake. He also got recipes from some great bakers including a recipe for Oatmeal Stout Gingerbread developed by Gramercy Tavern’s former pastry chef Claudia Fleming. It’s moist and rich and better the second day around, though many of us cannot wait that long. An added bonus is it leaves you with a decent amount of stout to drink after you’ve used what is called for in the recipe. Now there’s a thoughtful cook for you.
Rick’s Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread
1 cup oatmeal stout (pour with the measuring cup tilted so you don’t get a big head)
1 cup dark molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 Tablespoons powdered ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of cardamom
3 large eggs
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
whipped cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10-12 cup bundt pan then flour, knocking out any excess. The more complicated the bundt pan design the more time you need to spend getting into every nook and cranny with butter.
In a large saucepan bring the stout and molasses to a boil. Take off heat, whisk in baking soda, and let sit 4-6 minutes. Sift together the dry ingredients. Mix the eggs, sugars and vegetable oil and when combined add in the cooled molasses mix. Whisk in the dry ingredients. The batter will look a bit like molasses soup and smell divine. Pour into the bundt pan and rap the pan sharply on the counter a few times to get out any air bubbles. Bake for 50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean. After cooling for ten minutes give the bundt pan a good solid smack on a countertop or cutting board to loosen to gingerbread from the pan then jiggle it out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. As with the any gingerbread serve with whipped cream, applesauce or a sprinkle of powdered sugar.
The comfort of winter in the middle of a cold spring–warm gingerbread and applesauce.