Every year when I make gingerbread, the kids sniff their way into the kitchen looking for little men. But to me gingerbread is not a cookie – it’s a moist, tingly, richly flavored cake. I crave it every December.
I thought it was going to be so easy to share this recipe, a favorite for many years from Instant Gratification, by Lauren Chattman. But my usually reliable recipe ended up looking like this:
Apparently even gingerbread can get depressed during holiday season.
In my vague memories I think I may have had this deflated-center issue before, but since the gingerbread tasted good anyway, I probably wasn’t that concerned. But if I’m passing along a recipe, I want to know for certain that it works every time. Time to pull out my ingredients again.
Round 2: I try a highly rated recipe from allrecipes.com that I made as my holiday gift for neighbors last year when I’d left my regular recipe in California. Everyone loved it then, and I know it didn’t come out with a crater in the middle.
The result: Even depressed, my regular gingerbread is better – a much lighter crumb and a cleaner ginger taste. Looks like I’m going to need more molasses.
Round 3: As luck would have it, the current issue of Cook’s Illustrated features “Classic Gingerbread Cake.” The lead sentence? “This snack cakeâ€™s moist, tender crumb typically comes at a price: a gummy, sunken center.” Bingo.
Cook’s Illustrated found that an undermixed batter contributes to fallen cake. And in fact Lauren Chattman’s original recipe calls for mixing the gingerbread in a food processor, whereas I mix by hand. How to know how much mixing is enough, especially with so many different mixing methods? There has to be a more reliable way to make sure the cake won’t fall. I decide to add a bit of heft by increasing flour a 1/4 cup and using a whole egg instead of just the yolk (the white part of the egg adds structure; the yolk adds richness).
The result: The center holds up nice and firm…but the cake loses some of its delicate tenderness. Depressed gingerbread is still better.
Round 4: I’m hoping egg white will give enough support to the batter without the heaviness of the extra flour. So back to the original recipe, with whole egg instead of egg yolk. And even though it compromises the controlled experiment, I also substitute oil for butter. Cook’s Illustrated thought that the neutral taste of oil let the spice flavors come through more clearly, and I think about my favorite chocolate cake, in which the use of oil allows for a deeper chocolate taste than recipes with butter.
The result: Again, the center holds up beautifully. Crumb is tender and moist, virtually identical to the original. I don’t find a huge difference between butter and oil, but it may be my taste buds are burned out from all the ginger. I think I’ll go with the oil version on Cook’s Illustrated‘s recommendation – also since it makes the recipe even easier. (I didn’t try the Cook’s Illustrated gingerbread recipe – no doubt delicious – which with Guinness and crystallized ginger goes beyond the simple recipe I’m looking for here.)
So ends my unexpected turn as a test kitchen. Good thing we have plenty of friends and family to take all this gingerbread. I think I’ve had plenty of tingle to keep my taste buds satisfied until next year.
And now for the recipe…finally.
Start with the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, salt. Stir with fork and set aside.
Add molasses to boiling-hot water.
Add baking soda to molasses-water and watch it fizz. Set aside (someplace where the kids won’t see it, think it’s root beer, attempt to drink it and get a dangerously hot surprise).
Mix oil, brown sugar and egg. Beat well.
Add 1/3 of the molasses mixture and mix well. Follow with 1/3 of the dry ingredients, again mixing well.
Repeat, beating well each time, until ingredients are all fully incorporated. Mix a little extra for good luck.
Pour into prepared pan.
Hopefully the gingerbread comes out nice and happy, like this.
Cool in pan for 15 minutes before serving. Cooling helps the pieces come out cleanly instead of falling apart into a pile of crumbs.
I like gingerbread with a snowy dusting of powdered sugar. A lemon glaze is classic on gingerbread, but I just saw a recipe for whiskey maple cream sauce on thepioneerwoman.com that I think would be decadent drizzled on top.
I’ve tried many gingerbread recipes, and this is my standby – moist, light, simple and classic. Adapted from Instant Gratification, by Lauren Chattman.
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 large egg
- 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 t salt
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or spray 8″x8″ baking pan.
- Heat water to boiling on stovetop or microwave. Add molasses and baking soda; set aside to cool.
- In medium bowl, mix flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon and salt. Use fork or whisk to mix dry ingredients together.
- In large bowl, beat brown sugar, oil and egg until well combined.
- Add 1/3 of molasses mixture. Mix well.
- Add 1/3 of flour mixture. Mix well.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 until ingredients are fully incorporated. Mix a little extra for good measure (helps keep gingerbread from falling in the center).
- Pour batter in prepared baking pan. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
- Let cool in pan 15 minutes before serving. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.
Here’s the link to a printable version: Gingerbread cake recipe for printing.