Earlier this weekend, I went grocery shopping and found myself in the baking ingredients aisle, looking at a little carton of old-fashioned blackstrap molasses. I can’t remember anymore what I had originally gone down the aisle for, because as soon as I saw that old timey-designed carton on the shelf, any planning I had done for this weekend’s blog post was completely replaced by a serious need to make (and eat) gingerbread cake. And I know the first week of October isn’t exactly the kind of winter holiday/Christmastime season that gingerbread is so associated with in North America, but it was as though just looking at that carton, I could smell the freshly baked gingerbread cake I was going to make this weekend.
Of course, once I had brought home the little carton of molasses, I had to hop online to find a quality gingerbread cake recipe I could adapt for today’s post. That led me to onetime Winnipegger Stephanie Jaworski’s website, Joy of Baking.com, and her original recipe for gingerbread cake. In her post, Stephanie outlines the history of gingerbread, briefly discussing how spiced cakes laced with sweetener like honey were popular even in ancient times in Greece. Her brief write-up about the history and development of gingerbread is quick and interesting, and I encourage you to stop by her website to give it a read.
Just as Stephanie says, gingerbread is a kind of food that has been adapted throughout the years by many different peoples and cultures. As a result, treats that fall under the moniker of gingerbread are pretty fluid in their flavour profiles and physical make-up. Gingerbread has been altered a lot throughout history and can vary quite a lot from one cake to the next. Even the word gingerbread can mean different types of baked goods to a single group of people, or it can be used to describe a specific treat as well. It can be a cake, a cookie, a bread, or nearly anything in-between. Chewy, spiced molasses gingerbread cookies are another kind of gingerbread that I like best, but this weekend, I wanted to make an entire gingerbread cake to portion out and freeze for later use as weeknight desserts. I decided to alter Stephanie’s recipe a little bit (eliminating citrus components, and using a dark, robustly flavoured molasses instead of a light molasses) for this weekend’s recipe, and ended up making a dense, spiced cake that I dusted with icing sugar.
And even though it isn’t wintertime yet, or anywhere near the Christmastime part of the year, sifting icing sugar down onto the top of the cake looked a little too similar to snowflakes falling on the ground for my liking. So I ended up taking my slice of cake outside on a plate, and ate it in the sunshine on the patio just to remind myself that winter isn’t here yet, and that I should try to enjoy what remains of our non-snowbound time of year.
My altered recipe for gingerbread cake can be found under the cut, and I encourage you to alter it even more when you make it at home yourself! After all, gingerbread has stood the test of time as a favourite treat, likely due to its flexibility. I’d suggest fiddling with spice quantities to match your own tastes, or maybe add toasted and chopped walnuts to the cake batter, or dried cranberries, a few chopped-up slices of candied ginger, or a handful of raisins that have been soaked in rum for an hour or two (and then drained well!) to make your own variation on the recipe.
Gingerbread Cake (adapted from joyofbaking.com)
This recipe is quick to put together, and delivers a dense, moist and flavourful cake. And while it bakes, the cake will fill your entire kitchen with the most homey, deliciously spicy smell. Who needs to light an overpriced, gingerbread-scented candle when you can have actual gingerbread baking in the kitchen?
2 cups of flour, sifted
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup cooking molasses
1 cup milk
icing sugar for dusting
Make sure your oven rack is set to the middle of your oven. Preheat your oven to 350 F. In a large mixing bowl, combine your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, salt, and spices), using a whisk.
In another mixing bowl, using an electric mixer on a low setting, combine your butter and brown sugar until they are light and fluffy. Add your eggs to your butter and sugar mixture one at a time, and be sure to mix well after adding each egg so that they are fully incorporated. Add the molasses to your wet ingredients and mix well.
Add your mixed dry ingredients to your molasses mixture a bit at a time, mixing well with your electric mixer on a low speed after each addition. Alternate between adding dry ingredients and milk until you have fully incorporated all ingredients into a single bowl of cake batter.
Pour the cake batter into a greased 9-inch round cake pan, and bake the cake at 350 F for about 40 minutes. Test with a cake tester (or toothpick) to make sure your cake has baked the entire way through at 40 minutes. Remove your cake from the oven, and allow to it to cool in its pan on a cooling rack for 10-15 minutes.
Once your cake has cooled, remove it from its pan, plate it, and dust with icing sugar sifted through a sieve. Cut and serve at room temperature.