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Entries in gingerbread (4)

Sunday
Nov242013

Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

It was the end of summer. I sat on top of a suitcase, using my weight to close it an extra inch so I could draw the zipper closed. Brushing myself off, I stood back and surveyed my handiwork. Three suitcases lay side-by-side, holding all of my material possessions within their zippered walls. I was moving the next morning, fifteen hundred miles and a country away, going to Montreal for graduate school. This wasn't my first time leaving home, but it was my first time leaving everyone and everything I knew behind. As excited as I was, it was difficult to say goodbye.

For the first few weeks, I fumbled around as a non-French speaker in a French city, learning to read foreign signs and labels and trying to collect enough language to make it through a cash register exchange. As much as I was falling in love with the city and culture, there was still a part of me that ached for the familiarity of my old life. Growing up, the kitchen was where family and friends converged, exchanging stories over warm cookies and cold milk. I especially missed this gathering place.

Before the move, I had begun learning how to bake. It felt natural to continue that quest as I adjusted to my new life, so I began spending more time in the kitchen, finding a little of the familiarity I had been longing for.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

When I first learned the basics of cooking, my mother would get phone calls from me daily, asking questions about everything from cooking chicken to beating egg whites for meringue. Living so far from her now meant that my mother was no longer a simple call away. When I ran into kitchen trouble, I was on my own. Despite this, our past conversations hovered in the air, her wealth of knowledge in my memory and her voice echoing in my mind. As I cooked dinner, she reminded me of the ratios for cooking rice and how to make toast without a toaster. Though she didn’t know it, my mother continued to guide me through the kitchen, stubbornly refusing to let me forget everything she had taught me over the years.

Lessons from my grandmother soon followed in my tiny kitchen. Her voice revealed that coffee brought out the flavor of chocolate and reminded me that butter made everything better. Her gnarled hands showed me how to knead bread as I struggled with my first ventures into yeast. I remembered watching her cook, sprinkling salt into her palm to finish off a dish and throwing the rest over her shoulder. Though I felt awkward about it, I followed her practiced motions, feeling as though there must be a greater reason for it. I couldn’t quite see the purpose, though; I envisioned my feet tracking salt over the rest of the apartment and me having to clean it up later. Perhaps there were some kitchen tricks I could do without after all.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

Re-runs of Julia Child’s cooking shows found their way into my apartment and I watched as she whisked up omelets and stewed Boeuf Bourguignon. Though she didn’t teach me how to cook, she did teach me that a little clumsiness and awkwardness in the kitchen was perfectly acceptable. After dropping two frosted cakes and a pitcher of blended margaritas onto the floor (the latter of which I’m still not ready to talk about), the solidarity I had with Julia made scraping the frosting off the floor more bearable. I imagined Julia whispering that if I quickly picked up the cake and placed it back on the stand no one would notice. Even though Julia was quite wrong—my crime was painfully obvious—putting it back on the stand did make it easier to eat with a fork.

Several months after I moved, during a quiet autumn afternoon, my mother came to visit. The morning before she arrived I set out to make her a welcoming cake. I had just finished paging through a food memoir and a recipe for gingerbread with caramelized pears caught my eye. Though I had never worked with fresh ginger or caramel, Julia’s fearless attitude and my grandmother’s voice guided me in using fresh spices and creating the perfect caramel without a candy thermometer.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

When my travel-weary mother stepped into my kitchen for the first time, I dusted off my apron and welcomed her into my new home. I made tea and sliced the cake. We spent the next few hours catching up over warm pastries and caramel—the perfect therapy for a mother and daughter who had missed each other.

The experience of my grandmother, the guidance from my mother and the wit of Julia Child taught me how to bake (and reminded me never to take food too seriously). Even though there was only one set of hands working in my small kitchen, a chorus of voices filled the air, directing me along my course. The wisdom from these women in my life was a simple reminder that even in an unfamiliar place, I was never truly alone in the kitchen.

Gingerbread Cake with Pear Caramel Glaze

Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Pear Caramel Sauce is a cozy treat to enjoy on frosted nights. The flavors of fresh ginger and molasses harmonize together in this dark, spiced cake. The addition of sour cream and a handful of spices lend a rich moistness to the cake while rounding out the flavor. Just before serving, the cake is glazed with a pear caramel sauce to add the right touch of sweetness. The caramel is made from a pear juice reduction—eliminating the need for a candy thermometer—making this cake as easy to prepare as it is to devour.

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Saturday
Dec152012

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies

The fireplace is roaring in front of me; the flames dancing to a song known only to them. This ballet of intertwining colors is mesmerizing to watch. Whether I'm next to a bonfire on a cool summer's eve or watching the flames next to a frosted windowpane, I have a difficult time averting my eyes from the entrancing display of light and crackling wood.

I am home for the holidays, curled up on the couch after a long afternoon's drive. With the enchanting, yearning songs from Sufjan Steven's Christmas Album filling the silence of the room (my favorite of all holiday music), a peaceful atmosphere is set. It feels good to be home. The familiarity lends a snug, comforting quality that the white walls of my apartment simply cannot provide. This is especially true around this cold time of year, as the warmth from the twinkling white and colored lights greet me as I travel around the house.

Gingerbread Cookies Gingerbread Cookies

A few days ago it occurred to me I had never made (or eaten) gingerbread cookies. It was an abrupt realization, taking me off-guard for a moment. Certainly I've had gingerbread before, I thought to myself, searching for memories of taste or gingerbread men. I searched the corners of my childhood, but the memories never came. As a baker, it's not often that I surprise myself suddenly or so powerfully. More often than not, it feels like I've made everything, particularly as I'm sitting down and trying to imagine up new recipes to share with you.

The time was right to create new memories.

Gingerbread Cookies

I assembled the ingredients from my cupboard, brought out my stand mixer, and the gingerbread journey began. With the spice of gingersnaps and the softness of a sugar cookie in mind, I created a hybrid of the two recipes—my version of a gingerbread cookie. It seemed only fitting to create gingerbread men out of the dough, as the old folktale I had heard so long ago came to mind. The cookie cutters were already in the cupboard, used to shape men out of my family's favorite honey cookies for the holidays last year. This time, however, it seemed the cutters were following their true purpose.

Whether decorated in their best attire or left plain to enjoy straight from the oven, these gingerbread men bring a little happiness into the lives of those who devour them, one limb at a time.

Gingerbread Cookies

Gingerbread Cookies are a holiday cut-out cookie with character. The cookies have a dark undertone, furnished from the dark brown sugar and a heavy amount of molasses. Spiced with the flavors of winter and ground ginger, the cookies are fragrant with a distinctive taste. The dough rolls out easily with the aid of a little flour. These cookies are wonderful to enjoy with family or brought to parties to share with friends.

For perfect cut-out cookies, follow this set of tips!

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Sunday
Nov252012

Gingerbread Muffins

Gingerbread Muffins

There are thousands of years of history in my spice cupboard. Wars were fought, enemies were made, and tenuous relationships with countries were strained over simple ingredients like cinnamon and nutmeg. It is hard for me to imagine that spices were worth more than gold at one time, creating a spice trade that drove the economy of ancient civilizations for hundreds of years. India was (and is) the greatest producer of spices in the world, producing a whopping 86% of the world's spices.

Sometimes I like to remind myself that the act of opening my under-stocked spice cupboard would have been like discovering a treasure chest to the wealthy of the past. This simple thought makes me feel incredibly affluent.

Gingerbread Muffins

Truth be told, I was never really into spices growing up. Salt was the only spice I wanted (or needed), and I sprinkled it on my plain, buttered noodles. My picky eating habits didn't leave space for adventure and variety. It was years until I was ready to put a little pepper on my macaroni and cheese (and years further until I was ready to accept more foreign flavors). While I like to think that my tastes have outgrown the bland choices of my youth, plain, buttered noodles are still a part of my regular diet.

Perhaps we never completely outgrow our past.

Gingerbread Muffins

The one place I don't mind a little extra spice is in baking (surprise, surprise, I know). I look forward to autumn and winter each year for an excuse to put warm, cozy spices—cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves—into everything I eat. Gingerbread is perhaps the most spiced food I have made in a long, long time. When I was looking around at various recipes, I noticed a major commonality between them all. They all use ground ginger. Since I have never made anything gingerbread before, I had assumed they all included fresh ginger, straight from the root, and I was disappointed to find out otherwise. How could it truly be considered gingerbread without using the (easily accessibly) fresh version?

When I went out to create these gingerbread muffins, I made certain to use fresh ginger. And I think it makes all the difference in the world.

Gingerbread Muffins

Gingerbread muffins make for a lovely addition to a cold, frosted morning. The muffins are spiced with the classic fall flavors along with a good dose of freshly grated ginger and a pinch of black pepper. Molasses harmonizes with the heavy spices, creating a muffin that doesn't require any add-ins to feel special. A simple spread of butter is all these muffins need to round out breakfast.

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