Gingerbread is a holiday classic, and I make some almost every Christmas. This year, I opted for a cake-like gingerbread and served it with a complement of caramelized apple slices. It warmed up the evening like a fire in the fireplace.
The flavor of molasses dominates many gingerbreads. While this recipe includes it, maple syrup is also used as a sweetener, making the molasses less pronounced and allowing the spices to share the spotlight in the overall taste. While the gingerbread is very satisfying on its own, the apples, cooked until tender in a butter-brown sugar mixture, are a perfect accompaniment, adding moisture and a pleasing change in taste and texture.
Neither component of this dessert demands a lot from the cook. Once the ingredients are assembled, the gingerbread is in the oven in about 15 minutes, and the apples take only 5-10 minutes longer. Both can be made ahead of serving. In fact, the spices in the gingerbread develop their full flavor a day after baking.
Gingerbread with caramelized apples
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. Make in a 9-by-9-inch square pan with 2-inch sides.
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick)
- 1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
- 1/2 cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B or Grade A amber
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 cup boiling water
- 4 medium-large Golden Delicious apples
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 6 tablespoons packed brown sugar (light or dark)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, extending the foil past two opposing pan sides to use as handles when removing the gingerbread. If using regular foil, grease the pan, foil and all, with a baking spray or with butter. Put the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to mix and aerate. Set this aside.
Cut the butter into at least 8 pieces and put them in a medium saucepan along with the molasses, maple syrup and brown sugar. Over medium heat, melt the butter and stir to combine all the ingredients. Don’t bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, pour over the dry ingredients and whisk until well combined. Whisk in the eggs and, lastly, the boiling water.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake just starts to pull away from the pan sides. Start checking at 35 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Use the foil handles to lift the cake out of the pan. The gingerbread can be covered airtight and stored in the refrigerator for a day or two. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Make the caramelized apples. (This can be done up to three hours before serving, reheat before doing so.). Peel and core the apples, cut them into 1/4- to 3/8-inch slices and set them aside. Cut the butter into pieces and melt them in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter is about half melted, sprinkle the sugar over top and stir until the butter is fully melted, the sugar dissolves and the two are well combined. Add the apple slices and cook over moderate heat until they give off their juices. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the apples are just tender and lightly colored, and the liquid becomes syrupy. If the apples are done before the liquid is syrupy, remove them and continue to cook the liquid. If the liquid is syrupy before the apples are done, pour most of it off and let the apples cook longer. Don’t let the liquid get so thick that it isn’t pourable or the apples slices get mushy. Remove from the heat.
When you’re ready to present the dessert, cut the room-temperature gingerbread into 6-9 pieces, depending on the serving size you want, and plate them. Arrange the warm apple slices around each piece and pour some of the warm butter-sugar syrup over the top.
Editor’s note: The gingerbread recipe is inspired by one published in “The Fearless Baker.”
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly on Thursdays at SummitDaily.com. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.