How delightful to be back in a beautiful home area where we can freely visit the cows who share their thick cream and milk with us and the chickens (and occasional ducks or geese, apparently) who provide us with fantastic fresh eggs. How can I not want to return to cooking and baking!
Hi! Didja think I was dead? Hahaha! No luck, you sillies!!! Been out living a very busy life. I know you are, too. So I won’t bore you with all the details, but since I last wrote you I can say in summary that my spouse retired from the last [we think] decade of his academic career to hop back into freelance life, I followed him home to the Pacific NW where we’re settling into a dandy little town in the top left corner of the US, we’re already skipping around the map with various family and gig trips, and life is grand.
Spending some time planning a bit of family-friends party time for the season ahead, as well as spending some time wandering in both familiar and unfamiliar locales having fun while working, I’ve been in holiday-thoughts mode. And like nearly all other modes of mine, this one is food-centric and excessive and fun. It’s gotten me a little nostalgic. Nostalgia often (as longtime friends here know) involves a ton of fat and sugar and a generous toss of spice, and as I am fond of noting about it: What could possibly go wrong??? Y’know: other than my getting fatter and more complacent and less useful to society in general. Which we all know full well is going to happen anyway, so…
Given that it’s a Tuesday and Tuesdays have traditionally been my food-posting days, here goes….
Seems to me it could be a benison to exploit the holidays and their overindulgent indulgences to their full extent by combining the beauties of such old-school delights as gingerbread, fruitcake, plum pudding, eggnog, holly-leaf bites (if you don’t already know these childlike charmers, they’re merely Rice Crispy marshmallow treats made instead with corn flakes and lots of green food coloring, mounded rather than pressed in a pan, and topped with a few cinnamon red-hot “holly berries”), and, say, ummm…booze.
So why not make a really dense, rich gingerbread (in loaves, so it can be easily stored and also cut small, being so over-the-top), stud it with dried and candied fruits, nuts, and chocolate chunks, soak it in dark rum or sherry or whiskey and wrap it up in cheesecloth and tinfoil to rest for at least a couple of weeks before treat-time! Might be a fine idea, in fact, to double-batch the stuff and save Batch 2 for next year!
I’m thinking the fun could be varied to taste by providing “plain” gingerbread (below) alongside the studly kind. And also by providing a DIY (guests spread it on or not) plum-pudding style hard sauce/icing of eggnog butter (brown butter puréed with hard boiled egg yolks, grated nutmeg, and light brown sugar, then warmed to melt/blend with a generous shot of booze if desired before cooling/storing), a handful of other super-festive treats to complement (salted nuts, yummy cheese bites, 1-bite holly leaf crispies, Frangos, buttery shortbread, toffee bars—the graham-or-saltine-cracker kind—and tiny buttery cinnamon and cardamom “donut hole” buns), and an assortment of drinks (bubbly, eggnog, and hot cocoa, all with or sans alcohol). Idea for a slightly edgy Xmas-y effect in a drink: a Lighted Tree (Retsina, bubbly, a sprig of Doug-fir or pine or rosemary, and a few pomegranate arils or cinnamon red-hots).
The ladies at Dungeness Valley Creamery run a tight ship—I’m guessing the trio above brook no nonsense!—but are friendly and generous nonetheless, as Juliet here will happily tell you in exchange for a little bit of cheek-petting and conversation. Bonus points if you let the calves and cows suck on your sleeve for a while when they pop by to say hello.
GRAMERCY TAVERN’S GINGERBREAD, slightly reinvented, via Smitten Kitchen’s marvelous maven Deb:
This is dark and sticky and chewy and heavy and spicy and a zillion other adjectives that end in y that are so overused, they border on hackneyed, but you know what? It is not this cake’s fault. It can’t help being awesome, and fragrant (our living room smells like Christmas), attention-grabbing (nobody puts it in the corner) and totally respecting of your busy schedule (because it tastes even better on days two and three than it did out of the oven).
Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread [Sparks edits bolded here]
The only snafu I ran into with this recipe is that the cake sank a bit. Since it was in a bundt pan (flipped upside-down for serving) no one will be the wiser, but I suspect if the problem is anything like the sinking honey cake, there might be too much baking powder in it. You’ll only want to consider dialing it back a pinch if you are subdividing it into a pan that you won’t serve upside down.
Speaking of, I have successfully divided bundt pan recipes into two full-sized loaves before, but haven’t tested it with this recipe yet. If you do, let us know.
1 cup dry-style hard apple cider
1 cup dark molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup peppery olive oil
Diced/chopped add-ins for 2nd loaf: preserved soft ginger, TJ’s candied orange slices, candied citron, dark chocolate, and toasted piñon (whole) and walnuts (chopped).
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter pan and dust with finely powdered decaf coffee and/or Dutched cocoa powder, knocking out excess. (She is not kidding about this. I used a nonstick pan with a butter/flour spray and still lost a chunk of cake. I will be more generous next time.)
Bring cider and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Pour batter into pans and rap pans sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.
Douse with dark rum, wrap, and store in a cool dark spot until serving.
Eat up, everyone! And don’t blame me for your lack of self-control; I did warn you about mine.