Archive for January, 2010

Sometimes I just get an urge to make gingerbread.  I love the simplicity of it, the rich, spicy flavors, the moist cake accompanied by a little bit of vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.  Just writing about it makes me hungry.

The other day the urge came over me.  I began my usual cookbook scan and found several recipes that sounded good.  After a few false starts (I didn’t have the exact pan called for in one recipe, I wasn’t sure if I wanted chocolate chunks in my cake) I settled on a recipe I found in Baking with Julia.

Of course, I still had to make some adjustments.  First, because I only had 1 cup of molasses (instead of the two cups called for in the recipe), I decided to substitute 1 cup of maple syrup.  I also decided to add some chopped crystallized ginger for texture and extra ginger flavor.

And then there was the glaze.  Some of the other gingerbread recipes called for glaze, Julia’s recipe didn’t.  I felt like something a little more festive, so I made a simple chocolate glaze inspired by a recipe in Dorie Greenspan’s book Baking:  From my Home to Yours.

Gingerbread Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate Glaze
(modified from the recipe for Gingerbread Baby Cakes in Baking with Julia)

For the cake
2 cups unbleached flour
¼ cup instant espresso powder
3 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs ground ginger
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 ½ tbs peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 cup maple syrup
¼ cup chopped crystallized ginger

melted butter for greasing the pan

For the glaze
3 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 tbs butter
3 tbs powdered sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 F.  Thoroughly butter and flour a 10 inch round cake pan.

Make the cake
Whisk together the flour, espresso powder, cocoa powder, ground ginger, baking powder, salt and black pepper in a small bowl and set aside.

Put the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy (take your time with this, 4 – 5 minutes is about right).  Scrape the sides of the bowl frequently to make sure everything gets mixed well.

Reduce the mixer speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition.  It’s OK if the mixture looks curdled, it will smooth out as you continue to mix.

Beat in the fresh ginger and add the molasses and maple syrup, mixing on medium speed until smooth (1-2 minutes).

With a rubber spatula fold in the dry ingredients and the chopped crystallized ginger, mixing only until they are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 55 minutes until the top is springy and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cool on a rack for about ten minutes, then carefully remove the cake from the pan.

Make the glaze
Put the chopped chocolate into a heat proof glass bowl and microwave a to melt.  The best way to do this is to use short bursts of power, stirring in between.  Be careful not to burn the chocolate.

Add the butter to the warm melted chocolate and stir until it melts completely.

Sift the powered sugar over the chocolate mixture and stir to mix.

Glaze the cake
Pour all of the glaze (it should be thick) into the center of the still slightly warm cake and carefully spread it to the edges of the cake.  I don’t frost the sides, but you can if you’d like.

Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or on its own.  It’s even better the next day (it will keep, covered, for about three days).


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Readers of this blog will probably remember my post (last September) about the knitted snake scarf I made (originally for my nephew).

That post set off a series of conversations with a friend, M, who was so taken with the scarf that she wondered if I could knit a snake big enough for an adult.

No challenge is too great for an intrepid knitter, so with some additional input from M (color, snake species, etc) I set to work.

Today I am happy to report that the new, grown-up sized snake scarf is ready to be shipped to its new home in California with M.

I added a few new wrinkles — bi-colored eyes (for fun) and an orange (instead of red) forked tongue (looked better with the green of the body, I thought).

I’m excited to hear M’s reaction (and she is an enthusiastic person, so I am sure I will hear something).

In exchange for the scarf, M (a wonderful writer) has collaborated with me on a new project, still in the development stages, but soon to be revealed.  Check this space!

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One of my favorite meals for a cold, rainy Portland winter evening is macaroni and cheese.  Not the kind from a box (though I have been known to mix up a box of Annie’s organic in a pinch), but the kind that requires a real cheese sauce and good pasta.

With that in mind, I made a quick stop on my way home last night to pick up milk and cheese.  I stopped at Food Front, a local co-op and was lucky to find Straus Family milk (the kind that comes in a glass jar and has a plug of real cream at the top, even when the milk is lowfat),

and some local (well, produced in Washington) cheese. I chose two different cheeses:  Medium Cheddar (made with cow’s milk) and Goat Milk Cheddar.

When I got home, I pulled out my favorite mac and cheese from scratch recipe:  the one in Mark Bittman’s original How to Cook Everything cookbook.  I love the aromatic flavor that infusing the milk with bay leaves provides.  Of course, I never follow a recipe exactly, so here’s my version (it serves four hungry people):

1 pound pasta
2 ½ cups milk
2 bay leaves
4 tbs + 1 tsp butter, divided
3 tbs all purpose flour
2 ½ cups grated cheese (I used a mixture of the two cheddars)
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Panko bread crumbs (approximately ¾ cup)

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Bring a large pot of salted* water to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.  Drain pasta thoroughly and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking any more.  Set cooked pasta aside.

Place the milk and bay leaves in a small pan and heat slowly over medium low heat.  When small bubbles form around the edge of the pan, turn off the heat.

Use 1 tsp of butter to grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Melt the remaining 4 tbs butter in a saucepan over medium heat until foamy and just beginning to brown.  Whisk in the flour.  Continue whisking for about 5 minutes until the roux is a light golden brown.

Remove the bay leaves from the warm milk and whisk about ¼ cup of the milk into the roux.  Continue slowly adding milk to the roux and whisking after each addition until all of the milk has been added and the sauce is smooth and thick.  Add the grated cheese and stir until the cheese melts completely.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss the cooled pasta with the cheese sauce and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish.  Cover liberally with Panko bread crumbs.  Add a sprinkle of paprika.

Bake for 15 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and the top is lightly browned.  Serve hot.

*I have mixed feelings about salting water for pasta — some people say it’s a must, others say it adds extra, unnecessary, salt to a dish.  I’ll leave it up to you.

We ate almost all of it — must have been good!

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