As the holidays are fast approaching it’s time to buckle down, do some editing, and priorities your holiday baking choices. Gingerbread tops my list this year. Gingerbread covers all the bases, it’s easy to make, and who doesn’t have some fond gingerbread memories from holidays past!
Gingerbread’s origins go back to the Roman times and later popularized in Europe by an Armenian monk’s baked gingerbread in France in 922. Spiced ginger loafs and gingerbread men then spread across Europe. Gingerbread’s popularity in North America dates back to the mid 17th century and remains an American holiday favorite to this day.
In the recipe that follows I have upped the ante by using both dry ground ginger and grated fresh ginger along with freshly ground white pepper and the traditional gingerbread spices. This produces a dense, moist, and flavorsome holiday spiced “loaf” that reflects both its past and present and is sure to please one and all!
Needed: a 5 by 10 inch loaf pan, well greased with butter, the bottom of he pan lined with parchment and also greased.
- 3 slices Italian or sourdough bread, crust removed and cut into cubes
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Gingerbread batter :
- 2 ½ cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon finely grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon ground all spice
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 12 tablespoons ( 6 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into cubes
- 1½ cups light brown sugar
- 3 regular eggs
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 cup whole milk
Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c with the baking rack set in the middle position.
For the crumb topping, spread the cubed bread onto a baking sheet and put in the preheated oven and toast until firm with coloring. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then place the toasted bread in the food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse to a course meal.
Add the ground ginger and sugar and pulse together with the bread crumbs into a fine meal. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and set aside to use later.
In a large bowl combine the flour, ground and grated fresh ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, all spice, white pepper, sea salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Whisk the ingredients until well combined and set aside.
Place the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on medium speed until the mixture is fluffy, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.
Then add the eggs one at a time until they are incorporated into the butter sugar mixture. Reduce the speed to low, add the molasses and mix until combined.
On low speed begin adding the flour mixture in three additions alternately with the milk until the batter is smooth.
Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan and even out the surface. Sprinkle the crumb topping over the surface and transfer to the oven and bake for approximately 55 to 60 minutes, turning the pan from front to back half way through the baking.
Test he loaf by inserting a skewer into the center of the loaf. If it comes out clean the loaf is done. If not, return it to the oven and bake for 10 minute intervals and testing until done.
Transfer the loaf to a cooling rack. When the loaf is cool enough to handle, run a knife around the edges of the pan and invert the loaf onto a sheet of parchment. Promptly turn the loaf upright and cool to room temperature.
The gingerbread is ideally best served warm. Slice the loaf as you would a bread loaf and you are ready to serve.
I like to serve each slice with a schmear of salted caramel sauce (see recipe here) and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
If the gingerbread is cold, slice and plate individual thick slices with a generous schemear of salted caramel and the dollop of Greek yogurt on the side. Pop in the microwave for 20 seconds and voila!
The warm caramel sauce glazing the gingerbread makes an undeniably “guilty pleasure” that is worth every last bite!
This rich buttery caramel sauce is so good you will find yourself sneaking off to the fridge with spoon in hand for a discreet indulgence. Friends have begged for the recipe and I have even done a couple kitchen classes for friends so they could make this caramel sauce at home. Believe me, this salted caramel sauce is unctuously satisfying !
So, with the holidays fast approaching, this caramel sauce is an irresistible embellishment to consider for all sorts of holiday treats as well as a perfect larder gift for friends.
The recipe is very easy, but a practice run is probably a good idea as it may be a little challenging for the uninitiated. That said, if you follow the steps as described in the recipe you will be successful on your very first go at it.
Salted Caramel Sauce makes 1 1/2 cups
- 6 tablespoons (3 oz 85 g) salted butter, cubed
- ¾ cup (150 g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream, well warmed
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon flaked sea salt
Best to use a large heavy bottomed saucepan ( 4 quart or larger) with high sides as there is some bubbling up as the butter sugar mixture heats up and caramelizes.
Step 1 Melt the butter and sugar together in the saucepan set over medium heat while stirring continuously.
Step 2 Continue to cook the butter and sugar together, stirring continuously. The mixture will go through several stages, including bubbling up, separating, and finally coming together and smoothing out as the color begins to deepen. Be patient this will take about 8 to 10 minutes.
Once the mixture begins to color the process will speed up quickly. For a light colored caramel you want to promptly proceed to step 3 just before the mixture begins to smoke. If you prefer a deeper amber caramel with an almost nutty flavor you want to stop the cooking when the mixture is just beginning to smoke. There is a fine line at this juncture between browned and burnt caramel sauce so best to be cautious.
Step 3 Immediately remove the pan from the heat and begin adding the warmed cream while stirring continuously. The sauce will bubble up at first and then smooth out as you continue stirring until the sauce is smooth. Stir in the vanilla and salt and continue to stir until the sauce until completely smooth and silky.
Allow the sauce to cool before storing in a clean glass jar with lid. When completely cool store in the refrigerator.
When ready to serve warm the sauce in a water bath or in the microwave to a spoonable consistency before serving .
The sauce stored in a lidded jar will last for months in the refrigerator, though I doubt this will be an issue!
Earlier this summer I noticed an old bundt pan in a neighbor’s garage sale. I had never made a bundt cake and to be honest the whole idea never held much appeal. But as the days passed by and the old bundt pan was still sitting there looking forlorn and neglected my inclinations got the better of me. I went next door and rescued the bundt pan for 2 bucks. It did looked like it was probably left over from the ‘60’s when bundt cakes were all the rage. The interior was scarred and battered and dented here and there. A foreboding of what I might be in fore? A bakers’ worst nightmare? Maybe, but the pan had character and I was up for the challenge.
A little research was in order to find out just what propelled the bundt cake to the heights of popularity and baked in home kitchens across America in the 1960’s.
As it turned out the bundt cake’s origins are tied to the Eastern European kugelhopf. The bundt cake was however very much an American variation. It all came about when a group of Hadassah Society members in St Louis Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota longed to make the dense cakes with a hole in the center that they remembered from Easter Europe before the war. They enlisted David Dlaquist to design a baking pan to match their recollections. His company Nordic Ware then manufactured the cast aluminum bundt pans with a center chimney that made a hole in the center of the cake like those favored cakes from Germany and Poland.
The bundt cake pans didn’t take off at first, but when a bundt cake recipe was featured in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1963 some orders came pouring in. But it wasn’t until Ella Helrich won second prize for her “Tunnel Fudge Cake” recipe in the Pillsbury Bake Off in 1966 that put the bundt cake on the map. Sales soared with over 200,000 bundt cake pans sold across America.
Nordic Ware is still manufacturing various bundt pans as well as a huge selection of bake ware and baking supplies.
You can visit Nordic Ware’s website at www.nordicware.com
Needless to say, the Bundt Cake is now embedded into my baking vocabulary and as beat up as my garage sale bundt pan is, it is probably an original and I’m going to stick with it just as it is!
Zesty Lemon Bundt Cake
Required: 1 bundt pan very well greased to avoid problems when unmolding the baked cake.
I have done quite a bit of research about how to best insure that all your efforts are rewarded when you unmold your beautifully bronzed bundt cake intact and ready for glazing.
Firstly, Using a nonstick bunt pan in good condition will make unmolding the bundt cake that much easier.
Secondly, the best advice I have gleaned is, rather than brushing the interior of the bundt pan with melted butter, using vegetable shortening is a better choice for this application. Take your time and be meticulous about greasing every inch of the inner surface with great care. Then dust the interior lightly with flour, tapping excess flour out of the pan. Inspect the interior of the pan and grease any places you may have missed. This method has worked well for me, though a little tapping of the pan may be required once the cake is is turned over onto a plate. Do not panic. Be persistent and the cake will release.
Should anyone have another foolproof alternative for releasing a bundt cake from the pan I would love to hear from you!
For the cake:
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 cup full fat buttermilk, or full fat Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 350 /f 180 / c
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt n a bowl and whisk until evenly combined.
In another bowl combine the buttermilk or Greek yogurt and the lemon juice and stir until smooth. Then stir in the vanilla and set the bowl aside.
Put the butter in a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, and beat on medium speed until the butter is fluffy. Then add the sugar in three additions while continuing to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
Then add the eggs in three additions while you beat on medium sped until the mixture is smooth.
Lower the mixer speed to low and begin adding the dry ingredients and the buttermilk or Greek yogurt alternately. Continue until the batter is relatively smooth and evenly mixed. Then mix in the lemon zest until combined.
Spoon the batter into the prepared bunt pan and then gently shake the pan to even out the surface.
Place the cake in the center of the rack and bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes.,rotating the cake after 25 minutes.
Test by inserting a toothpick or skewer into the center of the cake. If it comes out clean with a few crumbs the cake is done. If the cake requires more time return it to the oven for five minute intervals until it tests done.
Transfer the cake to a rack ans allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile you can make the glaze.
For the Glaze:
- 1 cup confectioners sugar , sifted
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
Put the lemon juice in a small nonreactive bowl and begin stirring in the confectioners sugar. Once the glaze starts to thicken you can add the milk while continuing to stir. Continue stirring while mixing in the remaining sugar until the glaze is smooth. If it seems a little runny put the glaze in the fridge and let it firm up a bit while you unmold the cake.
Once the cake is cool enough to handle, inspect the rim of the cake and remove any excess cake that may have spread over the edges of the cake pan. Then place a plate over the cake and, using both hands, invert the both together simultaneously . Let the cake settle over the plate for a minute or two.Then clamp the plate and the cake together using both hands and give it a good downward thrust…or two until you feel the cake release onto the plate.
If the cake does not release, tap the mold with the wooden handle of a knife over the surface of the mold and then repeat the downward thrust. If there is still no release place a steaming hot towel over the mold and repeat the downward thrust once again. Eventually the cake is going to relax and release so remain positive and be patient!
Glaze the cake just before serving is ideal, although you may want to refrigerate the cake and the glaze for 15 or 20 minutes so the cake is cool enough to hold the glaze in place.
Take a moment to congratulate yourself and then serve your bundt cake with the satisfaction of being the seasoned baker that you are!
last June I posted a recipe for Fig Tahini and Dark Chocolate Cookies with Orange Peel (See here) that was a winning combo of flavors that’s been begging for a reinterpretation ever since. So here is yet another chocolate and tahini cookie recipe, this time paired with black walnuts. The idea may seem like a bit of a stretch, but ounce the aroma of molten dark chocolate scented with rye and black walnuts is wafting through the kitchen and glistening chunks of warm chocolate catch your eye as you pull the cookies out of the oven the threads that bind these flavors together are apparent. As with all baking there is always some chemistry involved, but once you’ve got that down you can let your intuitive impulses take flight!
A few words about tahini are in order. Tahini is a “butter” gleaned from ground hulled roasted sesame seeds that dates back 4000 years in Mesopotamia. Tahini has been used throughout the Middle East and Asia ever since. Tahini has an impressive nutrient profile and today is best known as an essential ingredient used in making hummus (See recipe here). Tahini is widely available in specialty stores and online.
The texture of tahini will vary depending on the oil content. Generally, the sesame oil will float on top of the solids, much like it does in a jar of unprocessed peanut butter. The oil should always be thoroughly stirred into the solids before use. For baking in particular, the oil content of tahini is critical. Too much oil will make the tahini quite thin, in which case some of the oil should be removed before stirring. The ideal consistency for baking purposes would be a consistency of thick molasses, neither too stiff nor too runny. Any oil removed can be reserved for other uses.
The quality of the chocolate you use for baking also matters. The better the quality the better the results. The dark chocolate I prefer for baking is Callebaut chocolate from Belgium. For this recipe I’ve used dark chocolate discs; 70% . Callebaut chocolates are an excellent choice known for their deep rich flavor, and stability whatever the application. Available online and well worth the investment if you love to bake!
Salted Dark Chocolate Chip Tahini Cookies with Black Walnuts makes 18 cookies
- 4 oz/ 8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
- ½ cup well stirred tahini (as noted above)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- ¾ cup + 3 tablespoons all purpose flour
- ¼ cup buckwheat flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup dark chocolate chips
- 1 cup black walnuts, coarsely chopped
- flaked sea salt for finishing (optional
Place the butter, tahini, granulated sugar, and light brown sugar in a mixing bowl. Mix at medium speed for a few minutes until fluffy and well combined. Add the tahini and beat until combined.
Combine the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla in a small bowl and beat until combined. Add to the butter mixture and beat until just mixed in.
In a separate bowl combine the flour, rye flour, baking soda and salt and whisk until combined.
Begin slowly mixing the butter tahini mixture while adding the flour in three additions while continuing to mix until combined, but don’t over mix.
Then using a silicone spatula fold in the chocolate chips and the walnuts until evenly distributed through out the cookie dough. Mound the dough together and cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Preheat the oven to 325 F / 160 c Line 2 baking sheets with parchment.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and, using a tablespoon, scoop out a heaping mounds of dough and place them about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets; About 9 to a sheet.
Transfer the sheet of cookies to the preheated oven and bake for 12 to to 15 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet half way through the baking. The cookies will spread slightly while baking. The edges should be lightly browned and the centers just set. As always try not to over bake the cookies. They will appear to be very soft but will firm up as they cool on the baking sheet. Top with flaked sea salt (optional)
Ideally the cookies are best served at room temperature while the chocolate glistens and the texture of the cookies is soft and pliable.
Otherwise it is best to store in the cookies in an airtight container with parchment liners between layers in the refrigerator.