Kitchen Witch - The real old spice

Classic gingerbread

Autumn is tricky; although beautiful (golden harvest colors, crimson leaves), delicious (apples, pumpkins and sweet potatoes) and eventful (Halloween, Thanksgiving), it’s our cue to bundle up and hunker down. Every year at this time, I go through a major mood adjustment, ever searching for ways to help brace myself for the darkest parts of the year.

As I review my list of kitchen antidotes, I spot the old reliables — apples baked any which way, beef stew, puree of winter squash — dishes that undoubtedly have propped my sagging spirits over winters past.

I try to dip into my cold-weather treasure chest judiciously so as not to use up all the goodies in one fell swoop. The control-freak delayed strategy is part of my warped world view that if somehow I delay making a batch of hot chocolate, it will never get cold and I will never turn into a bag of icicles in the middle of the night. The theory has traditionally applied to gingerbread as well; it’s a Christmas treat, end of discussion.

A recent hankering for a spiced molasses cake got me thinking that my theory needed to be banished and that autumn was indeed perfect timing for a pan of gingerbread. The spiced perfume alone coming from the oven should probably be studied for its serotonin-stimulating qualities.

What’s more, some variation of the stuff has been around for centuries; if it’s the only thing Costard, the king’s clown in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour Lost will spend his money on in the 1590s — “An I had but one penny in the world, thou shouldst have it to buy gingerbread” — well, then, sign me up, too.

With the recipe below, you too can follow the trail of ancient bread crumbs.

From The Best Quick Breads by Beth Hensperger

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon ground mace (Note: I had none in the house, so I used grated nutmeg instead)

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup unsulphured molasses

2/3 cup water

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees if you are using Pyrex or dark-cast metal pan). Grease an 8-inch square, round or springform pan or use an oil spray.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add molasses and slowly blend. Add egg and beat for 30 seconds.

Bring water to a full boil — 212 degrees. Add flour mixture to butter in three portions, alternating with the boiling water and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed. Beat gently just until the ingredients are evenly incorporated, only about 1 minute. Do not overmix. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the center of the oven until the top springs back when touched and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Let cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake, turn it out onto the rack, and place it right-side up to finish cooling.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at