autumn has always been my favorite time of year. it's a little sad to say good bye to the sunny days and long evenings that summer in Seattle brings, but I love the sense of anticipation that comes with the cooling weather. for some reason the world seems to vibrate with potential. maybe it's the bright blue skies, or my favorite thing of all, 'apple cider air,' crisp and fresh against your cheeks, carrying with it the sweet muskiness of falling leaves.
it's the perfect time to head back into the kitchen and that's where this gingerbread comes in. it's a heritage recipe, handed down from my grandmother. I have fond memories of cooking with grandma dorothy, and although she taught me many invaluable things, including how to peel peaches for pie (and how to curse!), I don't remember ever baking this gingerbread together. even so, I think of her each time I make it.
it's a lovely cake, spicy and dark with molasses, and not overly sweet. serve it with a glass of milk for an after school snack, or dress it up with a little whipped cream for an after dinner treat. although I suppose I could make this cake at any time of year, I always wait until September. the richness of its flavors seem to require it. but when the days grow shorter and the air is filled with apple cider promise, it's the first thing I bake to celebrate the season and welcome in autumn.
this is an old-fashioned recipe, with a slightly unusual method, which once (and I'm happy to say only once) led me to forget to add the eggs. don't forget the eggs! you can bake the batter in a 9x9 pan, as directed, or in a loaf pan, as pictured. I like to bake the loaves so I can share the cake with friends, but sometimes I bake a full size and then use the leftover cake to make gingerbread bread pudding (!)
3 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups boiling water
confectioner's sugar for dusting
butter and flour for greasing your baking tin
1. preheat oven to 425 degree Fahrenheit. grease and flour a 9x9 square baking pan (or two 8 1/2x4 loaf pans). set aside.
2. in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices and salt. set aside.
3. in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle (or using an electric mixer) beat the butter with the sugar until pale and creamy. slowly add molasses to the butter mixture, being sure to scrape down the sides and bottom so that the molasses is fully integrated into the butter.
4. put some water on to boil (using a tea kettle is easiest, but you could also heat some up in a pan or in the microwave).
5. add the dry ingredients about a cupful at a time, letting them be mixed into the batter before adding the next cupful. the mixture will be very stiff.
6. measure your boiling water into the same measuring cup that you used for the molasses (this will help grab all the last bits of molassesy flavor, and make it easier to clean!). stir the baking soda into the hot water to dissolve.
7. slowly pour the water/soda into the batter, with the stand mixer running at low speed. be careful not to add too much water at a time, or it will splash up the sides and out of the bowl.
8. stop the mixer and scrape down the sides to make sure that the water is getting mixed in to the batter thoroughly.
9. once all of the water is added, and the batter is smooth and integrated, add the eggs, one at a time, with the mixer running. wait for each egg to be incorporated before adding in the next egg. once all of the eggs are incorporated, the batter should be smooth and glossy, and should have the consistency of a pancake batter.
10. pour the batter into your prepared pan/s and place the pans on a rimmed baking sheet.
11. place the cakes in the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes.
12. reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking the cakes until the center is risen and just baked, rotating the pans halfway through. the baking time for this cake depends on the pan: it will take about 40-45 minutes for the 9x9 pan and about 30-35 minutes for the loaf pans. be sure to check for doneness with a toothpick or a skewer at least 5 minutes before the minimum bake time because oven temperatures vary.
13. the baked cake will have a domed center that is just baked, and the cake will be just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
14. place the baked cake/s on a wire cooling rack and let them cool in their pan for about 15 minutes. then turn the cake out of the pan to finish cooling on the rack. if you baked loaves, it's best to cool them on their sides, so the heaviness of the top doesn't crush the bottom.
15. dust the finished cake with confectioner's sugar and serve.
this is delicious any time of day, and should last (wrapped in plastic wrap) at room temperature for 2-3 days. if you won't finish it before then you can freeze a bit to eat later, or let the cake get stale and then use it to make gingerbread bread pudding or gingerbread french toast! didn't I say that autumn is simply the best?!