I don't know where you are, but I'm in Connecticut looking out at a bunch of snow. Sure, I've seen a robin or two, but it's not feeling rhubarbish around these parts yet, which is why these baby cakes, which Johanne Killeen, she of Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island, made when she came to bake with Julia Child, look so good to me.
I know they look like moist little chocolate cakes, but they're really moist little hot and spicy cakes, sweet little things pumped up with ginger and black pepper and fortified with cocoa and espresso powder.
Johanne, a fabulous baker and a mistress of all that is small, likes to make this recipe in pans that are 4 inches across and 1 inch deep. If you don't have mini pans, you can try making the cake in muffin pans or use one 10 inch pan, in which case it will have to bake for 50 to 60 minutes.
The cakes are great with whipped cream and candied lemon zest and just as good with ice cream—particularly coffee ice cream. A couple of bites could give us northerners the patience we'll need to wait for spring.
About the author: Dorie Greenspan is the author of several books on dessert, most recently Baking: From My Home to Yours. Dorie can also be found at DorieGreenspan.com and on the Bon Appétit website, where she is a special correspondent.
Johanne Killeen's Gingerbread Baby Cakes
Adapted from Baking with Julia
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (Johanne uses unbleached flour)
- 1/4 cup instant espresso powder
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 1/2 tablespoons peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger
- 2 cups unsulphured molasses
- Melted butter, for greasing the pans
- Sweetened whipped cream, for serving
- Candied lemon peel (optional)
Positon a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the insides of 8 mini- or baby cake pans, each 4 inches across and 1 inch deep, with a light coating of melted butter, dust with flour and tap out the excess. (Or use a 10-inch round cake pan.)
In a small bowl, whisk the flour, espresso powder, cocoa, ground ginger, baking powder, salt and black pepper together just to mix; reserve.
Put the butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or use a hand-held mixer, and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. The butter and sugar must be beaten until they are very light and fluffy, so don't rush it—the process can take 6 to 8 minutes with a hand-held mixer, 3 to 4 minutes with a heavy-duty mixer. Reduce the speed to medium and add the eggs one at a time, beating on high speed for 30 seconds to 1 minute after each addition. The mixture may look curdled, but that's OK—it will smooth out as you continue to mix the batter. Beat in the fresh ginger and add the molasses, mixing on medium speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until completely smooth.
With a rubber spatula, fold in the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated.
Divide the batter among the prepared pans and rotate the pans a couple of times to level. Bake the cakes for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cakes are springy to the touch and the tops crack. (The 10-inch cake will take 50 to 60 minutes to bake.) Take care not to overbake the cakes; they should remain moist.
Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around the edges of the pan to loosen and unmold the cakes. Turn the cakes over so they cool right side up.
Serve the cakes warm or at room temperature with a generous dollop of lightly whipped cream and a shower of chopped candied lemon peel, if desired.
Storing: These moist cakes will keep covered at room temperature for 3 days or, wrapped airtight, can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.