I love gingerbread. It’s always been one of my favorite flavors, particularly when served warm with some soft cream. It represents the essence of winter comfort food, not too sweet, with depths of flavor beyond most other desserts. But that depth was sometimes illusory, as it was just a smack of molasses paired with a touch of ground ginger. This holiday season, I wanted more flavor. I wanted more complexity. I wanted a goddamned adult version of gingerbread.
Thank goodness for Karen Barker.
Barker, the co-owner and Beard Award winning pastry chef of Durham’s Magnolia Grill, has the hand’s-down-bet-the-farm-you-can-take-it-to-the-bank-absolute-best gingerbread you’ll ever taste. This isn’t one of those pale cakes that you whip together in 2 minutes that will still taste just fine. This is a dark, foreboding-looking gingerbread, with three types of ginger, coffee, black pepper, and dry mustard in it. It’s a gingerbread that has some kick, without being piquant. It’s not a dense cake, but it’s really rich. And when paired with something somewhat sweet, like Barker’s Hot Buttered Rum Raisin Sauce and some vanilla-nutmeg ice cream — oh, my.
And that’s what my guests were saying last week when I concluded a 6 course dinner party last weekend. This dish is a winner. This gingerbread means business. And hell, yeah, I made three of those cakes, so there was plenty for breakfast the rest of the week.
- 2-1/2 cups flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 1/4 tsp dry mustard
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 Tbsp peeled, very finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 Tbsp finely chopped crystallized ginger
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1 cup molasses
- 1/2 cup brewed coffee
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 cup orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9X9X2 square pan or a 10X2 round pan. Line bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper.
Whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, ground ginger, dry mustard and salt.
With a mixer, cream butter with the sugar and the fresh and crystallized ginger. Add eggs one at a time to blend.
Slowly add the oil and then the molasses. Mix to blend.
Gradually add the flour and spice mix until just barely blended, scraping bowl as needed.
Heat up the coffee in a small saucepan to a simmer, add the baking soda, stir, and add to the mix. Add the orange juice until fully combined. The batter will be thinner than what you would expect.
Pour batter into the pan and bake at 350F for about an hour and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool in pan. Invert onto parchment paper, and then flip back over onto serving platter. Eat. And then eat some more.
From “Sweet stuff: Karen Barker’s American Desserts” by Karen Barker, University of North Carolina Press