“And I had but one penny in the world. Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread.” – William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost
By Dana Zia
The Golightly Gourmet
Well, if you haven’t noticed, I am obsessed with everything gingerbread lately.
There is something so comforting and so warm about it! (After this last week of cold anything warm is a very good thing!) Just the smell of gingerbread baking takes me to that jolly place inside that we all crave this time of year. No matter where I am, if I have gingerbread baking in the oven, I’m home.
Gingerbread has been making a house a home for a long time. The cookie’s ancestors originated in ancient Greece where they were sweetened with honey and shaped like little hearts. They morphed and ran all over Europe and the Middle-East until they finally settled into their shape and flavor (as ginger became more available) in the Middle Ages. Their popularity during the holiday season has been strong ever since.
Queen Elizabeth 1 is actually credited with making gingerbread cookies into shapes because she had her bakers make gingerbread cookies into the forms of her courtiers and dignitaries that were visiting. Now that was a holiday party that is still remembered! But as alluring as the cookies are, my very favorite type of gingerbread is the cake.
Dark brown, sticky, gooey, moist and redolent with rich spices of the season, the cake is what has my heart and tongue. Gingerbread cake AKA soft gingerbread that was sweetened with molasses, was born in America probably as soon as pioneers could figure out how to make it. Molasses was a much cheaper form of sugar to early Americans and out of necessity most baked goods were sweetened with it. George’s Washington’s mother, Mary Ball made soft gingerbread famous as she proudly served her recipe, full of rich molasses, to her son’s dignitaries. Her gingerbread cake made political socials sweet and homey.
Soft gingerbread has had many modifications made to it over the years. My personal favorite is adding fruit to it to soften it even more. This upside-down pear ginger cake is as much fun to make as it is to eat. The batter as you are beating it turns into this fluffy molasses scented marvel that is hard to keep your fingers out of. It takes a while to bake, so take that into consideration, but it can easily be baked the day before. The flavor gets better over a day or two (or three). Happy Holidays and may your home be filled with the warmth and joy of gingerbread.
Gingered pear upside-down cake
Make sure and use at least 4 pears in this cake. If you don’t think they will fit just layer them all in there, the batter will cover them, and your cake will be amazing!
For the gooey topping;
3 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 cup of brown sugar
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
4-5 medium juicy, slightly firm pears, I used bosc pears
For the batter;
1 cup of butter (2 sticks) at room temperature
3/4 cup of brown sugar
2 tablespoons of fresh ginger, grated
3 large farm eggs
2/3 cups of unsulphured molasses
3 cups of unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and lightly butter a 9 inch springform pan. Cut out a piece of parchment paper the size of the bottom of the pan and line the inside of it. Now you can get busy making magic. To make the topping, melt the butter in a sauce pan and add the sugar and cinnamon and mix well. Pour into the lined pan and carefully spread evenly. Next, quarter your pears, core them and then slice them in 1/4 inch slices, length ways. (If you cut a slice and keep it connected at the top of the pear to the other slices, it makes it easy to fan them all purdy like) Place the fanned pears in a circle in the middle of the pan in the caramel stuff, then artfully arrange the rest of the pear slices on the outside edge. Keep layering the pears till you have at least four pears in there.
Time to make the batter, toss the butter and brown sugar in the mixer and cream on a medium speed for 3-5 minutes till the mixture take on a silky smooth texture. (yes, blend that long, it makes a difference) Add in the grated ginger and mix a little longer. With the mixer still going, add one egg at a time till it is incorporated then repeat with the other eggs. Slowly add the molasses and beat till it’s very fluffy. The mix may look like it is “breaking” and granulated but no worries. It will all work out.
In a medium-ish mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, soda and salt till well combined. Turn the mixture back on slow and add a cup of the flour mix, then a 1/2 cup of the butter milk and let mix a bit, then repeat till all mixed together. Do not over mix, as soon it is all incorporated turn off that blender! Pour carefully into the cake pan over the pears and smooth out. The pan will be almost full, amazingly enough. Tuck the cake in the oven on the center rack to bake for.. drum roll… 1 hour and 30 minutes. (Yes, you will have time to clean up the kitchen and wrap all your presents.)
Start checking the doneness of the cake at 1 hour. (One time, I had one bake in 1 hour 10 minutes. I have no idea why.) The cake will be done when the center does not jiggle and a long pick comes out clean. Cool for 10-15 minutes on a wire rack before taking off the cake ring. Place a plate on the exposed bottom of the cake and carefully flip upside down onto the plate. Remove the cake pan bottom and tenderly peel off the parchment paper and voila! A beautiful, yummy, delicious cake that is a wonder to all. Serve warm or at room temperature with gingered whip cream. (One teaspoon of ground ginger and 2 tablespoons of sugar per pint of whipped cream) Have a gentle holiday filled with gingerbread.