High Altitude Baking: Gingerbread a traditional holiday treat
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Gingerbread — it’s as much a part of the holidays as holly and mistletoe. And this one, with a bold ginger taste and moist, rich texture, could get even Scrooge singing Christmas carols.
Make sure your spices are fresh and your crystallized ginger (the secret to this cake’s knock-out status) is soft and pliable. When mincing it, grease your knife to prevent it from sticking and mince until the pieces are small enough to melt into the batter as it bakes.
The recipe doesn’t do well when doubled and baked in a 12- or 16-cup capacity pan (the edges overbake), so if you want to feed a crowd, make two cakes.
The gingerbread is best a day or two after it comes out of the oven, so make it ahead.
When serving adults, I forego the lemon glaze and top the warm gingerbread with rum hard sauce; it’s a delicious combination.
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above
Make in a 7- or 6-cup-capacity Bundt or tube pan, preferably non-stick
2 cups plus 3 (three) tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)
1 tablespoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
2 packed tablespoons finely minced crystallized ginger
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg plus 1(one) large egg yolk
¾ cup plus 2 (two) tablespoons dark molasses
½ cup boiling water
Lemon Glaze, optional
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
About ½ (one half) cup confectioners’ sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Generously grease the pan with a vegetable oil-flour spray (yes, even if it’s non-stick).
2. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon and salt in a bowl and whisk vigorously to blend well. Stir in the minced crystallized ginger. Set aside.
3. Cut the butter into eight pieces, place them in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until smooth and combined. Add the egg, beat well, then add the egg yolk and beat again. Continue beating at medium-low speed and drizzle in the molasses. On low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture, stopping immediately when it’s incorporated.
4. Stir/fold in the boiling water, one third of it at a time, by hand with a large rubber or silicone spatula. Do this gently, making sure it’s thoroughly blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, filling it no more than 1 ¾ inches from the top. If you’re using a 6-cup capacity pan, you may not use all the batter, but don’t be tempted to fill the pan any higher or the gingerbread may fall. Bake until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 35-45 minutes. Don’t open the oven door to check until the top of the cake has set, about 25-30 minutes.
5. Remove to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, (the gingerbread may fall slightly as it cools, that’s OK), then invert, remove the pan, and return the gingerbread to the rack to cool completely.
6. Make the glaze, if using: Strain about ¼ cup of confectioners’ sugar into the lemon juice and whisk to combine. Add more sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until the mixture reaches the consistency of molasses. Taste, if too bitter, add a teaspoon of water or milk, a little more sugar, and whisk again. Drizzle over the cooled gingerbread and let set. Store, covered airtight, at cool room temperature, for up to five days. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook Cookies in the Clouds, (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.
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