19 October 2011

appearances; or how Old Fashioned Gingerbread might not be old at all

one of these days I'm going to stop rhapsodizing about fall. This is not one of those days. Despite the cold rain scheduled to begin falling outside my window, I'm planning a dinner out with friends. We're going to have some Mexican, wander about town, maybe catch a late movie. Somewhere in there, I'm going to take my camera and look for interesting things to photograph. Later, I'm going to kick myself for not jut staying inside, wrapping up in a blanket and drinking cocoa with gingerbread and lots of whipped cream on both.

No matter that the brilliant color that was once up in the tree limbs lies now on the ground, I'm still enjoying the novelty of layering. Long skirts hide multitudes of socks, as do boots. Cardigans go so well with buttoned shirts, scarves and tweed and gloves and hats. oh, and an umbrella. Granted, this isn't the sort of autumn weather that does learn toward the much loved, but it does toward the poetic. It's the sort of weather that, come March, one hates with a passion one is amazed to find within oneself.
But now, I'm rather fond of this weather. After a hot summer and a sticky early September, anything that inspires coziness is really a lovely change. PeppertheDog likes to cuddle, even when it is ninety degrees, but right now? Being used as a pillow by a puppy, with a blanket over top is bliss. Just like yesterday, I still want to gather everyone together and feed them. It's the sort of weather that encourages stews and braising, cinnamon flavor, nutmeg, and pumpkin. An oven smelling of molasses and ginger is just the sort of hearthside everyone wants to gather 'round...and anything that comes with whipped cream is just perfect.

My grandmother wrote down this recipe sometime between 1965 and 1990, labeling it Old Fashioned Gingerbread. That means it was either old fashioned when properly vintage clothes were new, it was old fashioned when I was a child, or the cookbook or magazine she copied it out of called it "old fashioned." It's rather difficult to tell. In any case, this may be called gingerbread, but it bears no resemblance to either gingerbread men or bread. It's rather an intensely flavored molasses cake.

While the taste does bear some similarity to my Molasses to Rum to Slaves cookies, those cookies are sweeter and less moist than this cake.Whipped cream, sweetened, is just about a requirement for the best flavors of this gingerbread to come forward. Maybe that is why it is "old fashioned." Now, people seem to usually want everything pre-sweetened and ready to go. No one drinks coffee plain and black, we all want things with sugar and flavors and made-up names. This cake is a plain cup of coffee. A bit caramel, a bit sweet, with a hint of bitter.

Old Fashioned Gingerbread (2 loaves or 1 cake)
1/2 cup shortening
1/4 cup sugar
pinch salt
1 egg
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup wheat flour
1 and 1/4 cup white flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
dash ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup boiling water

cream together the sugar, shortening, and salt, then add the egg and molasses. Mix well, then add the flour (you're looking for 1 and 1/2 cups flour total. I like to put the wheat flour in a half cup, fill with white flour, then add the whole cup of white flour. Feel free to use entirely white flour), spices and baking soda. Mix together, then add half the boiling water. Mix well, then continue to add the water until the batter is a standard cake batter consistency. You may need a bit more or less water, depending on the humidity in your kitchen.
Pour batter into a greased 8 inch square cake pan, or two small loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-40 minutes. Insert a knife or toothpick in the center to check for doneness. If it comes out clean, the gingerbread is done. If you've baked it in the cake pan, just cut pieces like a regular cake. If in the loaf pans, you can either cut pieces like a cake, or allow to cool (completely.) then remove from the pans and cut in slices like pound cake. Either way, a bit of sweetened whipped cream goes very well on top.
Do make sure the whipped cream is absolutely not Cool Whip or anything from a can. With a hand mixer or a whisk, making whipped cream is as simple as pouring some heavy cream in a bowl, adding a couple tablespoons of sugar, and beating until it begins to stiffen and froth. You'll know when you're done, because it looks like the best whipped cream you've ever tasted.

"Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch." - Garrison Kellior

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