This is definitely the time of year for gingerbread. The aroma of baking gingerbread is one of the most elemental of Christmas fragrances, and gingerbread houses and gingerbread people have been important parts of our family’s celebrations for many years.
When our children were little, we spent a full weekend every year making a gingerbread house and decorating it with gum drops, candy canes, and Christmas sweets. The plans for the house came from Cooking of Germany from the Time-Life Foods of the World series.
Sometimes, a corner of the roof would mysteriously disappear, but mostly the house stayed intact throughout December. More than once we would try to preserve the house for the next year by wrapping it tightly in plastic and putting it in a secure, cool place. That never worked, and I suspect that various varmints got their own Christmas celebration.
This year, one of our younger grandchildren announced that gingerbread would be on the menu for Santa’s visitation treat. Probably the little one was referring to gingerbread people, always fun for children’s hands to make and decorate.
This year, too, Sarah decided to make a deconstructed gingerbread dessert for Rich Table. She asked her mother for the favorite family recipe that she remembered from childhood to use as the beginning point for the dessert. The finished plate doesn’t look anything like gingerbread that I have made.
Susan pulled up her old standby, “Edith’s Gingerbread” from M.F. K. Fisher’s classic book, How to Cook a Wolf, first published in 1942 and in a revised edition in 1951.
If you have never read anything by M.F.K. Fisher, I would encourage you to do so. A contemporary of Julia Child, James Beard, Craig Claiborne, and the cookbook editor, Judith Jones, Fisher is unique as a food writer. Her first recognition came as the English translator of The Physiology of Taste or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (Counterpoint Press, Washington, D.C.) But she ultimately became well known for her own writings, including the books, How to Cook a Wolf, Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, The Gastronomical Me, An Alphabet for Gourmets, and the compendium, The Art of Eating along with The Cooking of Provincial France in the Time-Life series, Foods of the World . Fisher had an unusual ability for describing eating as a sensuous activity, but she also wrote interesting anecdotes, revealed much of her own life, and included simple and excellent recipes for all sorts of food including boiled eggs and gingerbread. Try Edith’s gingerbread.
You might also want to try serving your gingerbread with lemon sauce. That was a combination my mother always used, and I loved it. You might enjoy it, too.
- ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ cup molasses
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup boiling water
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg, beaten
- With an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar.
- Beat the baking soda into the molasses until it is light and fluffy. Add to the shortening and sugar.
- Sift the spices, flour, baking powder, and salt together. Set aside.
- Stir the remaining ¼ teaspoon of baking soda into the boiling water. Then add alternately with the dry ingredients to the shortening, sugar, molasses mixture.
- Fold in the beaten egg.
- When all is well mixed, pour into a greased and floured 8 x 8 inch baking pan. (Fisher’s notes instruct you not to be worried if the batter seems too thin and not, under any circumstances, add more flour!)
- Bake in the middle of an oven preheated to 325°F for about 20 minutes. Cool on cooling rack for about 5 minutes, cut into squares and serve.
- This is not as sweet as many gingerbread recipes. I like it that way, but if you want it to be sweeter, you can always add more sugar.
- If you are baking at high altitudes, you may want to cut back to ¾ teaspoons of baking powder to reduce the risk of the dreaded central collapse during baking.
- Gingerbread seems to beg for whipped cream, ice cream, hard sauce, or something sweet on top. My favorite is the lemon sauce below.
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 cup water
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- zest of one lemon
- juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tablespoon Limon cello
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the sugar, water, corn starch and salt.
- Stir frequently while slowly bringing the mixture just to the boil. It should become thick and translucent.
- Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, lemon zest, lemon juice, and Limon cello.
- Serve while still warm.