The scent of cinnamon drifting out as I open the door invites me to plunge inside, but I can’t help taking my time. A deep, slow breath: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice. Ginger. A smack of icy air throws my collar up around my ears and gives me the final push to dash inside, the storm door slamming behind me.
Mama loves us. The school board thinks it better we all traipse home, damp and frost-speckled, through the sidewalk maze of shoveled snow than that we stay snugly tucked into the school with a sack lunch, and we kids complain at the bitter wind and the icy ground. Slipping sidelong into the snowdrifts isn’t as fun when we still have the slog back to afternoon class ahead, wet and miserable, blue around the nose and chin or not.
But some lucky few of us have the respite of bath-towel-wielding mothers, a pair of dry socks hanging over the back of the chair, and on top of it all, a homemade lunch waiting for us at home. Lunch with gingerbread. Sweet, so hot from the oven that clouds of spice envelop us at the threshold. So hot that even after we’ve gobbled our sandwiches and soup to get to it, the layer of homemade applesauce on top can’t keep the uppermost layer of whipped cream from melting faster than those last snowflakes in our hair.
Gingerbread. Mother’s love and blessed relief from the cold winter’s day all wrapped up in a helping of almost unbearably delicious goodness. Sigh. Back to school. Repeat. Maybe there will be enough gingerbread left over for after supper, if we hurry home fast enough.My Own Gingerbread with Rum Caramel
Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C. Blend dry ingredients gently with a whisk: 2 cups [gluten-free, in my case] flour, 1 cup packed brown sugar, 1 cup granulated sugar, a scant 1 1/5 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp baking soda, spice mix [2 T ginger, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves, nutmeg, and white pepper, + 1 hefty pinch each cardamom and salt]. In a saucepan, melt 3/4 cup coconut oil and add to it 1 cup molasses, 1/2 cup whole milk yogurt, and 1/2 cup dark rum (cane sugar cola, root beer, or ginger ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative), warming just until thoroughly blended. Add 3 large eggs and beat them in well, tempering the wet ingredients if the warmed ones are still at all hot so the eggs won’t curdle. Combine the wet and dry ingredients and pour into a heavily greased and floured (I used cocoa powder mixed with cinnamon, to keep from building up any unseemly white dust blooming on the finished goods) cake or loaf pan, cupcake tins, or a combination of these, allowing plenty of space for a bit of rising as the batter bakes.
For small portions like the cupcakes, start with no more than 18-20 minutes’ baking; larger batches like a Bundt pan can be checked later, allowing up to nearly an hour for full baking. Check occasionally, removing them from the oven when they seem nearly done; a very little under-baking keeps them nicely sticky and gooey, good cousins to the Britons’ glorious Sticky Toffee Pudding.
While I’m on the subject of toffee, there’s nothing at all wrong with the idea of a caramel kind of topping to accompany a nice, intensely spicy gingerbread like this. So I made some Rum Caramel Sauce: in a nonstick saucepan, I cooked together, until melted, 1 cup brown sugar (again!), 1/2 cup browned butter (I’d just made up a nice big batch of my beloved beurre noisette), 1/4 cup dark rum (see above note for non-alcoholic versions), plus a touch or two of cream to thin it as desired at the last. Terrible stuff; you wouldn’t like it at all. May I have your serving of it?
Lastly, of course, if one is feeling particularly indulgent-and-when-am-I-not, it’s good to top all of this with a heaping spoonful of cream whipped up with lots of vanilla and dark maple syrup. The resulting calorie-free, eternal-life-conferring dessert met with approval at snack time, after dinner, in the late evening, and for breakfast. So you can expect that my friends and I will be outliving all of you. Or at least, dying contented. I didn’t get any no-thank-yous when I offered thirds, anyway. As I’m sure my mama never did, back in the old days of snowy trudges and school lunches.