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High altitude baking: Warm up with gingerbread

by Vera Dawson
Special to the Daily /Vera Dawson
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Dropping temperatures and turning leaves aren’t the only signs of fall at our house. The appearance of gingerbread, in some form or another, is just as reliable a prediction of the change of seasons. This year, when September arrived, I made a cakelike gingerbread and served it with a complement of caramelized apple slices. It warms up the cooler evenings like a fire in the fireplace.

Many gingerbreads are dominated by the taste of molasses, one of its essential ingredients. While the recipe that follows includes this thick, dark liquid, it also uses maple syrup as a sweetener, making the molasses flavor less pronounced. So, in this gingerbread, the mixture of spices (ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg) is quite prominent in the overall taste. While the gingerbread is satisfying on its own, the apple slices, 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 to 10 minutes longer. Both can be made ahead of time. In fact, the gingerbread benefits from some time for the spices to develop their full flavor before serving.

Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet

Make in a 9X9 inch square pan with 2 inch sides

Ingredients

Gingerbread

2-1/4 (two and one fourth) cups of unbleached all purpose flour

3/4 (three fourths) teaspoon of baking soda

1 (one) tablespoon plus 1 (one) teaspoon of ground ginger

1-1/2? (one and a half) teaspoons of ground cinnamon

1/2 (one half) teaspoon of ground nutmeg

1/2 (one half) teaspoon of kosher salt

8 (eight) tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick)

1/2 (one half) cup of molasses (not blackstrap)

1/2 (one half) cup of maple syrup, preferably Grade B or Grade A Amber (These have a more robust taste than the more common grade and can be found at some groceries and at natural food stores)

1/4 (one fourth) cup of packed dark brown sugar

2 (two) large eggs)

3/4 (three fourths) cup of boiling water

Caramelized Apples

4 (four) medium-large Golden Delicious apples

6 (six) tablespoons of unsalted butter

6 (six) tablespoons (this is the same as one-fourth cup plus two tablespoons) of packed brown sugar (light or dark)

Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, letting the foil hang over two opposing pan sides to use as handles when removing the gingerbread. Grease the pan, foil and all, with a vegetable oil-flour 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.

Step Two: Cut the butter into at least eight pieces and put them, with the molasses, maple syrup and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, melt the butter and stir to combine all the ingredients. Remove when the butter is melted; don’t bring to a boil. Pour the liquid mixture 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 about 35 minutes). Remove to a rack and cool. Use the foil handles to lift the cake out of the pan. At this point, the gingerbread can be covered airtight and stored in the refrigerator over night. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Step Three: Make the caramelized apples (this can be done up to three hours before serving, reheat before doing so): Peel and core the apples, then cut them into one-fourth to three-eighths 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 mixture is fully melted and combined. Add the apples slices and cook over moderate heat until the apples 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 it isn’t pourable or the apples slices get mushy. Remove from the heat.

Step Four: When you’re ready to present it, 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.

The gingerbread recipe is inspired by one in The Fearless Baker.

Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.


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