Old-Fashioned Gingerbread — The Weekender
When I was younger the thing I loved most about the holiday season was the dizzying array of cookies, candies and breakfast cakes that would suddenly appear in the our house. A practiced food sneak, I’d spirit away frosted sugar cookies and waxed paper-wrapped caramels and eat them in the luxurious privacy of my bedroom closet.
My parents were on to my sugar-seeking ways and would do their best to conceal the best of the treats from me so that I didn’t eat them all in a single day (I’ve since learned much about moderation). The one thing they never needed to tuck behind the cereal boxes on top of the refrigerator was the gingerbread. A yearly gift from our next-door neighbor, it was dense, heavy and smelled just slightly of bourbon. It was clearly not a cake for kids.
But as so often happens in life, my tastes have evolved over the years. The cookies I once craved now seem disgustingly sweet and that gingerbread I scorned appeals to me more than ever. That original recipe is long since gone (our neighbor died when I was 13), but I’ve spent the last few years searching out a similarly solid, barely sweetened cake to make and give out during the holiday season.
I’ve tried half a dozen recipes and none delivers the heft and balance better than Ina Garten’s Old-Fashioned Gingerbread. The interior of the cake is sweetened with molasses and studded with rum-soaked raisins and hunks of crystallized ginger. For those who need a hint more sugar, there’s an optional glaze to pour over top once it cools. It's moist, keeps well and tastes best with coffee. I often bake it in small loaf pans for easy gifting portions. It freezes well, smells delicious while baking and is perfect for The Weekender.
— The recipe has you melt the butter and molasses together. Keep a close eye on that pot, as it can easily boil over.
— This is a sticky cake, so make sure to line the pan with parchment and butter it well.
— For even more flavor, add the leftover rum from soaking the raisins to the glaze. I’m sure Ina would approve!
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round, is now available.