Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Gingerbread Man (Honey stout gingerbread cake, honey glaze)

As the Thanksgiving dust settles, baking cakes may be the last thing on your mind, but as winter drags on, I expect that you (like me) will come creeping back into the kitchen. Call it culinary therapy. Winter demands sturdier, more substantial, more warming foods, and this month's honey stout gingerbread cake fits the bill, perfectly.    A bundt cake, this takes advantage of the pretty, fluted mold and uses a simple glaze you can just pour over the top, rather than fussing with layers and smoothing icing. Triple-spiked with fresh, ground, and crystallized ginger, it's an easy pick-me-up with just the right amount of not-to-sweet gingery fire.

The inclusion of stout was inspired by my go-to chocolate cake: a recipe from the Barrington Brewery that I doubt could ever be improved upon. The dark, rich bitterness of the beer comes through subtly in the finished cake, flavor-wise, but imparts a dense, velvety softness that can't be beat. Most cakes could technically be classified as quick breads, because they're leavened primarily by baking powder and/or baking soda, rather than the more time consuming rising or yeast or whipping of egg whites. The inclusion of stout, however, adds a yeasty, malty undertone to ground the other flavors. In Elizabethan baking, some cakes and breads used barm: the frothy head from beer as a source of yeast for leavening, and this helps carry on that tradition.

Behold: barm
In a break from tradition, I chose to substitute honey for molasses. Molasses is typically a requirement in gingerbread and ginger hermit cookies, imparting both the characteristic deep brown color and a full, dark, slightly bitter flavor. But it's a flavor I find highly distinct and old-timey (I call hermits "granny cookies," ranking them as to oatmeal raisin cookies as oatmeal raisin cookies are to chocolate chip) and kind of overkill when there's already darkness and bitterness implicit from the stout. Whereas I would be hard-pressed to distinguish one brand of molasses from another, honey has a magnificent variety. I played it safe and used an extra-dark buckwheat honey from New Hampshire, probably as close to molasses as I could get. The Williamsport area offers varieties of dark amber goldenrod honey and rich red-brown Japanese knotweed honey that would be ideal.

Sweet & hot, like me
The star performer of gingerbread is, of course, the ginger, and this recipe is no slouch. Three different types of ginger root are used: the fresh grated root (actually much easier to grate if you peel and freeze it, first), the dried powder most people expect, and finely minced nubs of chewy crystallized ginger, for interest. Complimented by the warmly familiar blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, each bite packs an intense burst flavor. The thick, honey-sweet glaze offers a milder counterpoint. Those with a less pronounced passion for ginger could reduce the fresh and ground quantities by half a tablespoon.

Let them eat cake
Honey stout gingerbread cake, honey glaze
Adapted from Kim Laidlaw
For a virgin version, replace the stout with cooled espresso.

1 cup stout (such as Guinness, measure the dark liquid level, not the barm floating on top)
1 cup honey
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed 
3/4 cup canola oil
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract 
2 tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped

For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon half and half

Preheat an oven to 325 F and butter and lightly flour a Bundt pan, placing it on a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk the stout, honey, brown sugar, canola oil, vanilla extract, and eggs together in a large bowl.

Deep & dark
In a separate large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg, ground allspice, and salt. Mix in the crystallized ginger.

Mixin' in the fixins
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and gently fold with a wire whisk until just combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted near the center pulls free clean.

Good to the last drop
Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate and remove the pan to cool completely.

Note how the finished cake pulls away from the sides
Whisk together glaze ingredients in a medium bowl and drizzle over cooled cake, sprinkling with more minced crystallized ginger for effect.



LCP said...

Want to try this recipe!

LCP said...

Want to try this recipe!