I don't know how it got to be just five days before Christmas (and therefore almost the end of 2007—yikes!), but here we are. The stockings are already hung by the chimney with care and the carolers will be at the door any second. And by now you just might be cookied-out, having baked for the cookie exchange, the office party, the kid's school, a bunch of charitable groups or a house party—or maybe all of the above. So, this week I'll skip the cookies and give the recipe for what I think is a fabulous gingerbread cake.
The cake has all the good ingredients you expect in gingerbread—the spices, brown sugar and molasses—and more: as billed, it's got (grated) fresh ginger and chocolate (melted and chopped), but it's also got snippets of stem ginger in syrup (optional, but so good) and a luscious chocolate icing. I think of it as being quintessentially Christmasy because it's got just about every holiday flavor.
A word of caution: The cake bakes up tall and needs a true 9-x-9-inch pan with sides that are at least 1 1/2 inches tall. If your pan is smaller and/or shorter, don't fill it all the way (it might overflow)—just pouring the batter to the three-quarter mark should be fine. You can make cute little mini-muffins with any leftover batter.
Playing around: To make this cake even more Christmasy, when you add the chopped chocolate and ginger in syrup, also fold in 1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped best-quality candied orange peel.
Merry Christmas to all!
Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
- For the cake:
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons ground ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (5 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate—2 ounces melted and cooled, 4 ounces finely chopped
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger in syrup (available in Asian markets), optional
- For the icing:
- 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon strong coffee
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 3 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and put it on a lined baking sheet. (Make sure your pan measures a true 9-x-9-inches; see above.)
To make the cake: Put the fresh ginger and sugar in a small bowl, stir and set aside. Whisk the flour, baking soda and spices together.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together at medium speed until they are light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Don't worry if the mixture looks curdled at this stage. Pour in the molasses and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate along with the sugared ginger. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients in three additions and the buttermilk in two (begin and end with the dry ingredients), mixing the batter only as much as needed to blend the ingredients. Fold in the chopped chocolate and the ginger in syrup, if you're using it. Pour the batter into the pan (remember, if your pan is small, do not fill it to the top).
Bake about 40 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Don't be concerned if the cake has domed and cracked—it will settle down as it cools. Transfer the cake to a rack, cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the cake. Turn right side up and cool to room temperature before icing. (The edges of the cake might be quite brown, but don't fret—you can trim them after you ice the cake.)
To make the icing: Fit a bowl over a pan of simmering water, put the chocolate and coffee in the bowl and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl and, using a small whisk, stir in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Sift the confectioners' sugar over the chocolate and stir it in. Transfer the bowl to a counter and let the icing sit for about 10 minutes.
Put the gingerbread, still on the rack, on a piece of wax paper or foil (the drip-catcher). Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and use a long metal spatula to spread the icing evenly over the top. Allow the icing to set for 30 minutes (you can hurry it along by chilling the cake briefly). If the edges of the cake are overbaked, now's the time to trim them. Then cut the cake into 9 even pieces.
Serving: Serve the gingerbread as is or with whipped cream or crème fraîche.
Storing: Gingerbread is a good keeper. You can wrap it and keep it at room temperature for about 3 days or freeze it, iced and all, for up to 2 months.