This being the holiday season, my non-Jewish spouse asked if I might bake him some Christmas cookies.
Jews don’t inherit boxes of Christmassy cookie cutters from elderly relatives. This meant I had to shop for some. (The cutters, not the elderly relatives.) My tribe, we’re good at shopping.
In short order I assembled a small collection of cookie cutters.
I was ready to bake.
Back in October I’d prepared a lebkucken recipe–that is, German gingerbread dough. The recipe advised aging the dough, promising the wait would produce a cookie of unrivaled depth and Christmassy wonderfulness. Dutifully I covered the lebkuchen with a plate and dishcloth, storing the whole shebang in the darkest recesses of the IK.
Between October and Monday, when I extricated the bowl from the cupboard, the man who wrote “The Waiting Is The Hardest Part” had a heart attack and died.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the waiting is no longer the hardest part. Just reading the news has become a challenge.
Returning to the lebkuchen.
One was instructed tip the dough onto a floured counter, roll it out and put your new Christmas cookie cutters to work.
Although a dough smelled very nice–a combination of expensively scented candle, rye, and gingerbread, it did not tip from the bowl. It stuck, steadfast, having hardened into firebrick. Aromatic firebrick, but firebrick nonetheless. Efforts to pry it free caused crumbling.
I did not photograph this.
Meanwhile, I’d promised my spouse Christmassy sweets.
A recipe for chocolate gingerbread swam into my brain. I’d love to say better logic was at work–I’d long wanted to bake gingerbread, or had warm childhood memories of the stuff, or some such bloggy blather. In truth, I dimly recalled a Canal House recipe. A brief search turned up Chocolate Gingerbread in Volume 2, entitled “Fall & Holiday.”
I made two minor tweaks, adding candied ginger and swapping out a small amount of molasses for Lyle’s Golden Syrup. Once difficult to locate in the United States, Lyle’s Golden Syrup is increasingly available in better markets–look in the “international” aisle, where the molasses is sold, or, of course, online.
This being a Canal House recipe, it worked beautifully. Even I, no lover of sweets, inhaled a piece.
The chocolate is subtle here, as is the sugar. The original recipe includes a simple frosting of melted chocolate chips and heavy cream, which I left off, the gingerbread being perfect as is.
Lightly adapted from Canal House, Volume 2: Fall & Holiday
By Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer
Serves: 10-12 (or two people for many days)
Baking time: 40 minutes
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
8 tablespoons (1 stick) sweet butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup (optional)
1 cup molasses (if using Lyle’s Golden Syrup, make the cup of molasses scant; just over 3/4 cup)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
1 cup espresso or very strong coffee, cooled
4-5 ounces candied ginger, chopped if pieces are large (optional)
You will need a 9-inch springform pan, medium bowl, and either a standing or handheld mixer to make this recipe.
Preheat oven to 375F.
Butter your springform pan–the butter wrapper is useful for this task. You can either flour the pan and tap out the excess, or do as I did and use cocoa. To avoid possible batter leaks, I set my springform pan on a baking sheet.
In the medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, mustard, and pepper.
In the mixer, beat butter on medium until it’s fluffy, light, and turning white. This takes longer than you might think. Gradually add the brown sugar, stopping to scrape down the bowl with a spatula if necessary. Add eggs one at a time.
Add molasses and golden syrup, if using. Add the chocolate. When mixture is blended, begin adding flour and coffee in alternate increments. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with a spatula to ensure flour is blended. Fold in candied ginger, if using. Batter will be liquid.
Pour batter into the prepared pan, which you have wisely set on a baking sheet, as noted above. Carefully place the cake, resting on its baking sheet, in the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Other signs of a baked cake are a top that springs back at your touch and a house smelling of gingerbread.
Place cake on a rack and allow to cool before unclipping sides. I find it easiest to serve cake from the springform bottom.
Gingerbread keeps at room temperature, well-wrapped or in a tin up to 7 days. It will keep up to 3 months in the freezer. I’ve seen longer freeze dates, but any food I’ve kept frozen longer than three months degrades in flavor and texture. Besides, who wants to eat gingerbread in June?
I used two tablespoons Lyle’s Golden Syrup and just over 3/4 cup regular dark molasses with great success.
I melted the chocolate chips in the microwave in 20-second bursts. Place the chocolate chips in a Pyrex or other microwave-safe measuring cup. Melt in 20-second increments, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend the chocolate.
For the coffee, I used Italian instant espresso, adding two teaspoons to a cup of boiling water.
If you want to make the frosting, melt 8 ounces of chocolate chips. Stir into 4 ounces of heavy cream. Drizzle over the cake.