I had been gathering gingerbread recipes like cobwebs or kitchen paraphernalia so, when December arrived, I knew a thorough sweep was in order. I armed myself with bitter-black molasses, ginger in all its incarnations and a good amount of butter. Every week, a new batch, wafting spice and sticky sugar, sat cooling on the kitchen counter.
The first recipe up to bat was a home-run! Pitch-black with a crunchy, caramelized cover that hid its feathery soft insides. The slice I hid at the back of the fridge only got better as it slumped into itself, deeper and denser. Second to hit was a mild-mannered brown number with a lick of golden syrup and sunken cranberry bottom. Next up was an education as Caitee learned that gingerbread is not only a kind of cookie dressed like a man (or boy), but a type of cake! I discovered that applesauce can't be hurried, particularly when using four varieties of apples. Our cake was made partially with kamut flour, barely sweetened with applesauce and distinctly spiced with a blend of aniseed, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and finely ground coffee. A pumpkin gingerbread followed almost immediately. Then a player on a diet that included mustard, coffee, even cardamom, but barely an ounce of butter. It didn't make it past third so the crumbs were folded into a tangy, tiny-bit-boozy ice cream reminiscent of eggnog. Finally, on Christmas morning, there was a gingerbread that was all balls, risen (perhaps not to its full potential) with the help of yeast, drowning in caramel. Monkey balls were the main topic of conversation for the next few days.
You know what? I'm not sick of gingerbread. In fact, I'm already collecting recipes for next year. The competition is heating up! Do you have any gingerbread recipes you want to throw into the fray? As for this year, I'd say the starting batter, black, sticky and gingered-all-over, was the hands-down winner.
Black Sticky Gingerbread
From 101 Cookbooks
In the interest of eating as many different kinds of gingerbread as possible I divided this recipe by two and baked it in an 8-inch square pan. The only tricky part was halving the eggs. I usually crack an egg into a bowl on top of a scale to figure out how much it weighs, then take away half of it to use in an omelette or some other baking project. Also, I used buttermilk instead of milk with no adverse side effects. I didn't line my pan with parchment either but I buttered it very thoroughly.
1 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
3/4 cup flavourful honey
1 cup tightly packed dark brown sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup milk
1 packed tbsp freshly grated ginger root
Preheat the oven to 325 F, with a rack in the centre. Butter and line a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking pan with parchment so it hangs over by a few inches, which will help you remove the cake from the pan later.
Combine the butter, water, molasses, honey and brown sugar in a medium, non-reactive saucepan and place over low heat. Stir frequently until the butter is just melted and all of the ingredients are well blended. Remove from the heat, pour into a large bowl and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, and set aside. When the molasses mixture feels just warm to the touch, add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the milk and stir to combine. Fold the dry ingredients into the batter but don't be concerned if you can't get every little lump out. Stir in the grated ginger.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 60 minutes. The baking time depends on your oven and the shape of your pan. It's ready when the top of the cake springs back after you've touched it.
Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes, then, using the overhang of parchment, lift the cake out of the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting.
Serve with whipped cream, if you like. This cake gets better with age and, if refrigerated, its texture becomes deliciously dense and sticky.
Enough for 12 to 16 people.