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It’s a gingerbread time of year. My cousin Christopher sent me a note this past week asking about Grammy’s gingerbread, feeling like a little spicy dark cake would help round out his snowbound New York life.

What? I did not yet have this on the blog? I couldn’t believe I had not posted it yet, but then I remembered why: Conflicting hand-written recipes. Which was the real one?

Steph eating Fallen GingerbreadAs it turns out, the pan was the clue; only one recipe specified the correctly shaped baking pan. Grammy made her gingerbread in a bundt or tube pan, creating a round cake with a big hole in the middle. If you were serving this for any sort of occasion, that big hole was a perfect “bowl” for a pile of whipped cream.

That’s not what made this gingerbread stick, though. What I remember best about this O-shaped gingerbread was the lament. Almost every time Grammy made it, her gingerbread fell. A sunken crease deflated the ring, and Grammy wondered what on earth had gone wrong. According to her, this dessert was a failure every time. She’d apologize, she’d agonize, she’d throw her hands up–ignoring the fact that everyone loved her gingerbread.

I envisioned fixing Grammy’s perennially collapsed gingerbread, solving its issues. But really, why? It tastes delicious. It’s an excellent foil for whipped cream and for homemade applesauce. It always stays moist, a challenge for many gingerbreads.

So rather than say the cake needs fixing, let’s just call it like we see it: Fallen gingerbread. Go ahead and smile when you see that crease. Tell people this is exactly the way the cake should be. And if your cake DOESN’T fall, shoot me a note and tell me what you did differently!

Fallen Gingerbread from Baking Family

Fallen Gingerbread

Serves 6-8

  • ½ cup butter (1 stick) at room temperature
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 egg, well-beaten
  • 1½ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour a 10-inch tube or bundt pan. (I’d suggest you do this even if the pan is nonstick.)

Tip: Just move creamed butter and sugar aside, beat egg in the same bowl before combining all

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg. Sift all dry ingredients together; mix water and molasses. Add the dry and the wet alternately to the butter and sugar mixture, about half of each at a time.

Pour batter into the pan, and transfer to the oven. Bake the cake for 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester, skewer or broom straw inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in pan, then loosen around the edges and turn out onto a serving platter. Serve either warm or at room temperature.

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One of the cookies always in Grammy’s Christmas tins were a peanut-butter-and-chocolate combination. They were sparkly cookies: Grammy rolled the unbaked cookies in granulated sugar.

You know, I never really liked those cookies.

It was not until I started to play around with them that I realized why. Even for a Christmas cookie — in the season where too much sugar is not enough — these cookies were too sweet. And the chocolate was not good. Grammy used Hershey’s Kisses, big sweet milk chocolate blobs. If a cookie was on the small side, you really just got a Kiss with a bit of dough. Not satisfying on the cookie front, and certainly — with apologies to those who just love Hershey’s Kisses — not satisfying on the chocolate front.

Ghirardelli bittersweet chocolate chipsSo I messed with the remembered cookie. I used natural peanut butter — chunky — instead of creamy Skippy peanut butter. That cut the sweetness considerably, and upped the peanutty goodness. Sugar on the outside? Gone. And the chocolate? Ghirardelli 60 percent chips, a surprisingly good bittersweet chip that has the bonus feature of being a bit bigger than semisweet chips. I happen to be able to get these at my Whole Foods; if you can’t find Ghirardelli, see what you can find in bittersweet. Because one chip was just NOT enough, I lined up three, making the cookies look like little shirt-fronts with buttons.

What we have now is a bit of a grown-up version of Gram’s standard — less sugary, a bit crunchier, better flavor and fun to look at. And I can hear Grammy saying, “now these are interesting.”

Peanut Butter Buttons from Baking Family

Peanut Butter Buttons

If you have a Kitchenaid mixer, use it for this recipe; if you don’t have a mixer, make sure the peanut butter and butter are very soft (or that you really like a mixing arm-workout).

Makes about 6 dozen

  • 1 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup good peanut butter (natural and unsweetened, if you have it)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Bittersweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, beat together butter, peanut butter, the sugars, eggs and vanilla; work until fluffy and well blended. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt; first combine gently to keep from spilling, then mix well.

Pinch off 1-inch blobs of dough, and using your palms, roll the dough into balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Transfer cookie sheet to oven and bake for 12 to 14 minutes, until cookies are just beginning to brown. Remove sheets from the oven, and immediately press three chips into each cookie. Let cookies cool slightly on the pan, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Store cookies in an airtight container; they will keep for several days, and can be shipped.

You’ve got the standards done. Now, hmmm, the dessert that no one has had before. Or the dessert that reminds you of Thanksgivings past. Or just the easy dessert that you can make with the help of willing small hands (that’s the Free-form Apple Pie). Three options:

Pumpkin Custard No. 1

Cranberry Nut Pie

Free-Form Apple Pie

Here’s to happy memories in the Thanksgiving kitchen!

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