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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.

For some reason, Grammy did not include her classic Christmas cookie recipe in the sheaf of recipes she gave to me. At the time, she was still baking, so I didn’t need the recipe. We got a tin-full instead. In 1994, however, after Grammy had stopped baking, no one but Grammy’s nephew Ted could put his hands on this recipe. I have Ted’s carefully typed-out copy of the classic recipe.

There were several types of cookies that showed up in December, but these bore the central title of Christmas cookies. Like the almond crescents, these rated a guilty grin from Dad as he popped one, whole, into his mouth. Oddly, the two cookies are very different. Almond crescents: Crunchy, delicate flavor. Christmas cookies: Soft, spicy, full-flavored. That contrast makes them a great pair on a cookie plate.

Now, I know I’m posting these after the fact, but these would also be a good January cookie. The recipe calls for a maraschino cherry right in the middle of the icing. I can’t stomach that. I made them with currants instead. You could use dried cranberries or cherries for a festive look, or for a January cookie, you could make them with a candied pecan or just a good walnut in the center of the icing. Muted, but delicious.

Aunt Helen’s Christmas Cookies

Makes 6-7 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 1 teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped dates (from about 8-10 big dates)
  • 3 cups cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Icing:

  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar, or a bit more
  • Dried fruits, nuts or (shudder) maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add beaten eggs, molasses, soda mixed with hot water, nuts and dates. In a smaller bowl, mix flour, cinnamon and cloves. Add flour mixture to butter-and-sugar mixture; add vanilla. Mix well.

Butter cookie sheets, or cover with parchment paper. Drop batter by teaspoonsful at least two inches apart on the sheet. Bake 12 minutes. After removing pan from oven, allow cookies to cool on the sheets for a few minutes before removing to racks or a plate.

To ice the cookies: Heat milk in a small saucepan on the stove, until just under a boil. Stir in 2 cups confectioners sugar and cook for 2-3 minutes, until icing is smooth. Take off heat and allow to cool for 15 minutes; if needed, add a bit more sugar. Drop by scant half-teaspoons onto top of cooled cookies. Place dried fruit or nut in center of icing.

Recipe and photo copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC.

I hate fussy rolling-pin cookies. This may stem in part from the fact that my default cookies are Toll House chocolate chips. Any final step that’s more complex than “drop by teaspoonsful onto cookie sheets” is fighting an uphill battle. But if one is going to go to the trouble to roll out cookies, those cookies should be not too greasy, not too sticky, nice and tasty.

These fit the bill.

Spicy, very dark and with a determined snap, these gingerbread cookies have a grown-up twist: A touch of orange. I found that the skin of a good-sized clementine yields just about the right amount of grated rind.

The dough will be soft, startlingly so, before you chill it. Once you take it out of the fridge, it’s easier to work with hockey-puck sized pieces, rolling them out and cutting them, rather than plopping the whole chunk on the counter and wrestling it flat. You can gather up the dough bits once and reshape them. Any trimmings left from that second roll-out, find another use: Dough handled that much is too tough to make a good cookie.

This is — once again — adapted from Peter Pauper Press’s “Holiday Cookies.” (That’s where Grammy found her almond crescents, which became the stuff of family legend.) The old directions simply say “cut into boy-shapes” — which is such a great line, I’ll leave you with it.

Gingerbread Boys

Makes about 3-5 dozen cookies, depending on your cut-out size

  • 1-1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon grated orange rind

Mix flour, baking soda and ginger in a large bowl. Place molasses and butter in small saucepan; heat gently, stirring to melt butter and blend with molasses. (You can do this in the microwave as well: Place molasses and butter in a microwave-proof bowl or measuring cup, and heat, watching carefully, until butter melts. Remove container from microwave and stir well.) Cool slightly; add to flour mixture and stir. Add orange rind and mix well. Dough will be very soft.

Chill thoroughly, at least two hours and up to two days.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Sprinkle flour on your rolling surface and rolling pin. Either butter a baking sheet or put parchment on it.

Remove dough from refrigerator, and break off a hockey-puck sized piece. Warm and flatten gently between your palms; when pliable, roll out to 1/8-inch thickness, using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking. Cut into your favorite shapes. Place on parchment-covered cookie sheet, 1/2 inch apart. Bake 8-10 minutes. Cool on sheet or racks.

Recipe and photo copyright 2009 Garside Group LLC


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