GINGERBEAD – THE RECIPE

Just a few months ago I posted a blog titled “Gingerbread“.  In case you think I might be losing my mind, I’m not (hopefully), this blog is about making (and eating) Gingerbread.  If you want to know the origins of how this exotic spice became such an important part of the culture in Great Britain, please click on this link … GINGERBREAD.  It will give you all the background you’ve ever wanted to know about ginger and the making of this confection.  Meanwhile, I’m actually making my own moist, dense, rich ‘GINGERBREAD‘.

As always, before making any recipe, I go through all my cookbooks (of which I have more than I can count) as well as check all the internet foodie blogs to find the ‘best of the best’ recipes.  Some recipes were more like a light, fluffy spice cake with cream cheese frosting.  Not what I was looking for at all.  What I wanted was an old-fashioned, dense, rich cake-like bread.  It should be easily held in your hand, not requiring a plate.  It should be packed full of peppery ‘ginger’ flavor … not cinnamon, cloves or allspice.  It should be moist … not dry.  And, most of all, it should be delicious.

I’ve tried more recipes than I want to admit.  And culled from a few different recipes, here is MY favorite by far.  It is quite easy to make, but it’s not for the timid.  It’s for ginger lovers everywhere.  If you want more or less ginger, feel free to adjust the quantities.

GINGERBREAD
Bake at 350°  Makes one large round bundt pan, or two or more loaf pans.

3/4 cup butter, cubed
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup cane syrup, or corn syrup or honey
1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa
3 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons ground ginger (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup full-fat milk
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

About an hour before you want to make the Gingerbread, combine the following ingredients in a saucepan:  Cubed butter, vegetable oil, water, molasses, brown sugar, golden syrup or honey.  Simmer over low heat until the butter is melted, the sugar has dissolved and everything is well combined.

Cool completely before adding this mixture to the dry ingredients.  It should be just warm to the touch.  If you want to cool this mixture quickly, set the pan into a bowl of ice water.

Preheat the oven to 350° and prepare your baking pans – a large round pan, or as many smaller pans as you’d like.  Grease well.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dry ingredients:  flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, ground ginger and cinnamon.

In a separate, smaller bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, milk and grated ginger.

When the syrup mixture has cooled, add it slowly to the dry ingredients.  Blend well, but don’t beat.  Then add the egg/milk/ginger combination to the batter.  Again, be sure to  blend well, but be sure not to overbeat the batter.  Low speed on an electric mixer is fine.  You don’t want to build up the gluten.

Pour the batter into the greased pan(s) and bake.  Depending upon the pan size and shape, it could take between 45 and 60 minutes.  Check for doneness when a tester comes out clean.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.  Then put on the kettle and don’t be afraid to dive in.  It freezes well if you want to wrap it tightly in foil.  Or it will keep nicely in the frig for a week, wrapped in cling film.

Dense, gingery and moist.  I love this Gingerbread warm with a dusting of powered sugar and a big mug of tea!   This is perfect for the holidays.  Keep one on hand ready to serve for anyone who drops by … or just make to enjoy all by yourself!!
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THE COURTING CAKE

Today you might think it a very thoughtful gesture to ‘bake a cake’ for your loved one … especially for Valentine’s Day.  But there was a time, in northern Britain, when baking a cake to show your love was exactly what you did.

Lancashire County, north of Cheshire and west of Yorkshire, was a very working-class area.  Although the low lands were and are important agricultural areas, the predominant industries were coal mining and textile mills. The Industrial Revolution actually started in this county with the invention of steam power, fueled by coal, and the resulting creation of the factory system.  The coal mines were staffed by men (women were forbidden to work underground in the mines … but that’s a story for another day), and the textile mills were staffed by women.  The work was hard, usually six days a week, with little time and few places for socializing.  But these young, hard-working men and women found a way.

Each Saturday and/or Sunday, eager-to-meet-the-opposite-sex, young men and women would dress in their finery, and along a designated area of the town square … women friends together on one side of the street … men on the other … each group would stroll or “promenade” up and down the streets. Hopefully, you might catch the eye of the opposite sex and, if you liked what you saw, you would accidentally meet at the local tea shop.  Different towns had different designated “promenades” and “accidental meeting spots”.  In some towns the “sorting” process was even more segregated.  In one part of town the promenade would be comprised of only factory workers, while across town, would be those who worked in offices.  The end result, however, was the same … to find true love.

We’re all familiar with the old saying “a way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”, well this is where the “courting cake” makes its appearance.  Should the connection be made and true love was found, the young woman would bake her betrothed a cake … a “courting cake“.  Was this to impress the young man or perhaps the potential mother-in-law, we’ll never know, but the cake was always the same … a shortbread base, filled with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.  How can you go wrong with that classic combination?

This tradition didn’t just exist in England.  It actually crossed the Atlantic into America, as so many traditions did.  The future “first lady of the United States”, Mary Todd, made this cake for her betrothed, Abraham Lincoln.  Upon tasting it, Lincoln proclaimed, “it was the best cake he had ever had”.  This recipe eventually became a tradition in the Lincoln home and is printed in Mary Todd’s cookbook.

As a symbol of love and in keeping with the Lancashire tradition, in the last public appearance before they were married, Kate Middleton and Prince William were presented with a courting cake.  The shortbread-based, two-layer cake was baked was in the shape of a heart with the couple’s names on the top.

I’m all about keeping traditions alive and with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I think my day is going to be spent making a “courting cake” to show my love for my special guy.

COURTING CAKE
Bake 350°F.  25-30 mins.  Makes one two-layer cake.

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla
1/4 cup milk
2-3/4 cups all purpose flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups strawberries
1/4 cup confectioners sugar

Butter and flour two (or three) round cake pans.  In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy … about 6 to 8 mins.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla.  In a separate bowl, thoroughly sift together dry ingredients.  Fold the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture.  Slowly add the milk.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans.  Bake between 20 to 30 mins (a little less if using three pans).  The top should be lightly browned and firm to the touch.  Remove and cool thoroughly.

Meanwhile, slice the strawberries and whip the heavy cream.  I like a touch of vanilla and tablespoon or two of confectioners sugar in my whipped cream.

To assemble, place one layer on the plate, top with half the whipped cream (or 1/3 if making three layers) and half the strawberries.  Place the top layer on and repeat.  Be sure to arrange the berries in a decorative pattern.  Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and enjoy.

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References:  Downton Abbey Cooks, New Opinions, Lancashire Life, Curious Taste Bud
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