When someone tells me they don’t like gingerbread, I have to stop myself from giving my head a shake and staring at them like they have two heads. Not like gingerbread . . .phish-posh! No such thing! And then I have to consider that they actually mean they don’t like gingerbread cookies . .those hard, often store – bought stale cut outs decorated with rock hard icing and candy for buttons. Which aren’t really gingerbread at all. And real gingerbread isn’t really a bread, but a spiced cake . . . so yeah, I understand the confusion.
True gingerbread is attributed to being invented by the Greeks around 2800 B.C. and was originally thought to be made from breadcrumbs, spices and honey mixed together and formed into individual cakes. Today, ground ginger is always used; along with other spices such as cinnamon and ground cloves. Citrus zest, either lemon or orange can be used and will alter the flavor accordingly.
There are two type of molasses generally used in making gingerbread: Fancy or Cooking. Fancy molasses comes from the first boiling of the sugar cane and is lighter not only in colour but also in flavor. Dark or “Blackstrap” molasses results from the second (or sometimes third) boiling and is more condensed, giving it a more robust and deeper flavor. Cooking molasses is a blend of Fancy and Blackstrap molasses. In addition, molasses are specified as either “sulphured” or “unsulphured”, depending on whether or not sulphur dioxide was used during the processing.
The gingerbread that I make for make family and friends is a soft, moist snacking style cake made with Fancy molasses. You could use Cooking molasses . . . just keep in mind that the flavor will be stronger and you may need to increase the amount of sugar and reduce the spices to accommodate for the more pronounced flavor. This recipe freezes well, so it is great for making ahead and then thawing as needed. You can bake the recipe in the standard 13x9 inch baking pan or be creative in your presentation. Try dividing the batter between individual mini loaf pans, muffin tins, or use a decorative bundt pan. Be sure to adjust your baking time accordingly.
In addition to being a nice treat to snack on, this cake is delicious served as a warm dessert, especially during the fall and winter months. Sometimes I make it with a toffee or caramel sauce, sometimes with an orange cream sauce. Often I will sauté some apple slices in a little butter and brown sugar and pour this over the top, allowing the sauce to seep into the cake. Which of course means vanilla ice cream? Or a dollop of fresh whipped cream. Or both.
Soft Gingerbread Cake
½ cup sugar
½ cup butter, room temperature
½ cup fancy molasses
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground allspice
¾ cup water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a 13x9 inch baking pan (or other pans as selected).
In a medium sized bowl, blend together dry ingredients and spices. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in molasses. Beat in eggs on at a time and mixing well after each addition.
Blend flour mixture into creamed mixture, alternating with water. Gently pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake @ 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove pan from oven. Allow to cool for 20 minutes before serving warm, or cool completely if freezing.
Did someone say CUPCAKES ???
Prepare recipe as above, divide batter into cupcake pan(s) or into muffin tins lined with paper liners (you will get about 18 cupcakes). Once the cupcakes have cooled . . .
Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, room temperature
2 tsp lemon peel, grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups icing sugar
1-2 tsp milk
In medium bowl, beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add in grated lemon peel, cinnamon and vanilla and continue beating until combined. On a low speed, gradually beat in icing sugar, alternating with milk. Only add enough milk until mixture is a spreadable consistency.
Either spread or pipe frosting onto the top of each cupcake. Garnish or decorate with pieces of candied ginger or lemon peel, sparkling sugar, sprinkles (I like just plain white round sprinkles). Or, to be really cheeky, bake miniature gingerbread cookies and stick them in the frosting.
Quick tip: only frost as many cupcakes as you need. Frosted cupcakes in the refrigerator will dry out and who wants dried out cupcakes . . .?