"Gingerbread made from scratch takes very little time and gives back tenfold what you put into it. Baking gingerbread perfumes a house as nothing else. It is good eaten warm or cool, iced or plain. It improves with age, should you be lucky or restrained enough to keep any around."
- Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking
Many years ago, I chose Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking for our book club. (Thanks to our book club archivists Martha and Sara, I know it was fourteen years ago, in March 2001.) If you love reading about food and haven't read Home Cooking, I urge you to pick up a copy. In every chapter, the author writes about food she loves, and in nearly every chapter she includes a recipe. The entire book is great, and you'll find a dozen recipes you want to try immediately. But the chapter in which I found my kindred spirit is the one called "How to Make Gingerbread."
As Colwin writes, gingerbread is the kind of old-fashioned, unglamorous dessert nobody really makes any more. And that's to our detriment. It may not have the dazzle of a three-tier iced cake, but I can't imagine a better way to celebrate my birthday than with a cake whose subtle aromas make the house smell like Christmas, and whose flavour is something The Nutcracker's Sugar Plum Fairy would have adored.
Colwin suggests icing the cake with cocoa icing, or using lemon icing. She also suggests serving it with creme fraiche and a poached pear, or simply shaking powdered sugar on top. I'm sure all those variations are wonderful. But the first time I made it, I served it with raspberry jam and whipped cream, and I will never, ever make it any other way. It is exquisite.
How good is this cake? When I served it, Andrew told me it's his favourite of all my recipes. Given the huge number of recipes I make, both on the blog and not, I have to think that's pretty high praise. I think I'll make it for his birthday, too.
"This ... little cake will feed six delicate, well-mannered people with small appetites who are on diets and have just had a large meal, or four fairly well-mannered people who are not terribly hungry. Two absolute pigs can devour it in one sitting - half for you and half for me - with a glass of milk and a cup of coffee and leave not a crumb for anyone else."
- Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking
I'm pleased to say the four of us (apparently delicate, well-mannered people) enjoyed our cake, with leftovers put away in the fridge. But the leftovers were gone by noon the next day.
Note: Be sure to test the doneness of the cake. It can be a little finicky; sometimes the centre is still uncooked by the end of 30 minutes.
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup dark or light brown sugar
1/2 cup light molasses
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 Tbsp ground ginger, or to taste
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
2 tsp vanilla extract or lemon brandy (do not use lemon extract)
1/2 cup buttermilk
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9" cake pan with parchment paper, or butter the sides and bottom.
Cream 1/2 cup butter with the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy, then add molasses and beat some more. Beat in the eggs.
Add flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and allspice. Stir until combined.
Add vanilla extract and buttermilk, and stir until combined. Turn batter into pan.
Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, checking after 20 minutes. Cool on a rack.
Serve warm or cool, with raspberry jam and whipped cream.