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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.

Oh my heavens, how could I have just posted Chocolate Coma Cake without its partner in crime? Here you go.

This is the same icing that led to the recent unfortunate icing disaster, but that’s just because I was truly messing with it. Done without fiddling, this icing is foolproof — dark, delicious and easy.
Read the rest of this entry »

My other favorite cake in this book — the best basic yellow cake around — makes two restrained layers. If you’re going for chocolate, however, you might as well jump in with both feet: Three hefty layers, tangy with sour cream and rich with chocolate.

This recipe is mine, not Grammy’s. I handwrote it, years ago, when all my recipes fit into a half-size canvas loose-leaf binder. The title of the recipe started as plain “chocolate cake,” but after a few makings, I amended the title with the word “coma.”

When you serve this, you have about twenty minutes after the cake hits plates until your guests develop glassy stares and conversation lapses into sugar-induced silence. The cake is worth it.

Renee's birthday cake from Baking FamilyBesides pure heft, the advantage of a three-layer cake is that you can get fancy with the icing. The last two times I’ve made this, I’ve put a simple dark chocolate frosting between the layers, then topped the whole thing with white buttercream and used the rest of the chocolate icing to decorate. Fun, and not as complicated as it sounds.

(I almost called the dark-chocolate frosting a “ganache.” Then I realized that at least a few of my dear readers would laugh their heads off if I put “ganache” and “simple” in the same sentence.)

The straight-up way to serve this cake? Just wrap that chocolate frosting all around, inside and out. That’ll give you the full “coma” effect. And your guests — or family or co-workers — will love you for it.

Chocolate Coma Cake from Baking Family

Chocolate Coma Cake

Makes one 9-inch three-layer cake

  • 6 ounces (6 squares) unsweetened Baker’s chocolate
  • 12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 2-1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour — or butter and line with parchment — three 9-inch cake pans.

Break chocolate into a saucepan and melt over moderate heat; don’t let it boil. Cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light. Beat in eggs one at a time. Add cooled chocolate and vanilla.

In another bowl, combine dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture in three parts, alternating with three parts milk and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into the pans, and bake for 15-20 minutes, until cakes smell good and are springy to the touch. Set pans on racks to cool, then turn cakes out onto racks to cool completely.

Photos and recipe copyright 2010 Garside Group LLC

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