About a year ago, a friend spontaneously dropped by with goodies from the adorable bakery Miette Confiserie. Although I have never been to Miette or Confectionary Row for that matter, I know that it is my kind of bakery after admiring its gorgeous web site and photos for hours. Yes, it is the kind that would make guys squirm at all the pinkness and frills, but I admire that it also takes great care in its packaging after all, it did enclose a lovely postcard and sealed each box with a colorful Miette sticker. I am a total sucker for all things packaged adorably :P
Among the distinctly French confections my friend bought, there was a single cupcake, which happened to be their very popular gingerbread cupcake. Unaware of this at the time, I nibbled away at it, thinking that this was a pumpkin or other spiced cupcake. Of course, when I found out, I was mortified. The first time I had true gingerbread, I did not do it justice by mindlessly eating away at it. Now, I still don’t know what it tastes like!
Fast forward a year later, I was armed with multiple gingerbread recipes–the Gramercy Tavern Stout Gingerbread, Claire Clark’s, Tartine’s, and Emily Luchetti’s. While I originally had the Stout Gingerbread in mind, my brother or his friend drank the stout I had been saving for that. (Evil! I deliberately bought it as extra stout, so they would not be tempted to drink it since it would not be a tasty beer! Wait, is “tasty beer” an oxymoron?) That left Claire Clark, Tartine’s, or Emily Luchetti’s. Because I was pretty sure that all of the recipes would do gingerbread justice, I let my friend who brought the Miette goodies pick.
That choice, of course, happened to be Emily Luchetti’s Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon. While the full pairing of apples and sabayon sounds wonderful in that sitting-warm-by-the-fireplace kind of way, I did not have apple brandy or the ability to share “warm apples and cider sabayon” with friends (who I was meeting for brunch at a French cafe_ hence the “naked” version of her gingerbread.
The result was a cake that reminded me very much of a Chinese steamed cake I grew up with, 黑糖糕. Even the process of making this gingerbread (less the spices) reminded me of it since gingerbread cakes use hot water with molasses to internally “steam” the cake, which gives it its characteristic moist texture. Of course, the molasses flavor is more pronounced here with its characteristic sticky sweetness, but how odd is it that two distinct culinary cultures and traditions produce very similar cakes?
P.S. Pardon the horrible photo, but with a bad camera, stormy weather, and icky kitchen lights, there was no way that I could take a halfway decent photo.
Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon
Adapted from Food Gal and Emily Luchetti
Butter for the pan
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Pinch of ground cloves
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar (I chose light brown because I was uncertain how much I’d like the molasses flavor; I also think if you are serving to people who don’t like their cakes too sweet, it’s all right to cut down to 1/2 cup sugar)
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan. (I used a 9 x 13-inch pan, and the baking time listed below worked fine for me.)
In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in molasses and baking soda. Set aside to cool to lukewarm. Sift together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and baking powder onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add salt and set aside.
Combine butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the cooled molasses mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool to room temperature.
Note: Gingerbread may be made a day in advance. Wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.