This is the third and final post about how I cooked my way through the hurricane. While it’s been good for my blogging productivity, let’s hope there are no more natural disaster-induced motivators, hmm?
Anyway, having survived Irene basically unscathed, I found myself with far more time than I expected the day after. So I baked, but just because I had the time doesn’t mean I had the inclination to pull out all the baking stops and do something stupidly “Thank God, we’re alive!” manic like eclairs (though I did make eclairs during the blogging hiatus, because there is, in fact, a correct time and place for stupidly manic cooking). I just wanted something comforting, low on the effort scale, and, since I didn’t know if commuter rail was going to be back up in time for me to go to work on Monday morning, capable of keeping an extra day if necessary. What fit that particular bill excellently was gingerbread.
As we all know, my quest for ever more obnoxiously in-your-face gingery things is a lifelong one, and in that quest, I had tried the Classic Gingerbread Cake recipe in this January’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated. Apart from the bordering-on-foolhardy quantities of both fresh and powdered ginger, the recipe had two other things going for it: the clever use of stout to deepen the flavor, and the promise of eliminating the sunken and damp middle gingerbread is so often prone to. The recipe delivered on both intense gingery flavor and structural soundness, and was particularly well-received by the coworkers, who as we’ve established are surprisingly amenable to having their palates challenged via their weekly baked goods.
The one snag was that I had no stout on hand, and because I live in a state with patently absurd liquor laws and was not going to make a special trip to the beer distributor on the day after a hurricane to buy stout by the full case, I had to substitute what I did have: a nice hard cider. To make up the required volume and add some more depth, I spiked it with some really spectacular rum we picked up on our now-annual summer jaunt to the Berkshires with His Lordship’s community orchestra. Despite the fact that the CI people said it wasn’t worth making the recipe with anything but stout, I noticed no dumbing down of the cake once baked. The cider, rum and very dark blackstrap molasses I had in the pantry contributed more than enough low notes to support the double-ginger assault. Honestly, I think it’s just as good with the substitution, and since we have not much use for stout while I adore hard cider, I’ll be going with this combination from now on.
For ease of distribution, as usual with Monday treats, I converted the recipe to cupcakes, which I spread with a cream cheese and lemon curd frosting. The frosting is seriously optional, and if it were up to His Lordship there would be no question about leaving it off, since he didn’t care for the additional sourness. For those of you who are similarly less obsessed about citrus than I am, feel free to eat them plain or with a dab of salted butter for just the merest bit of decadence.
For the gingerbread:
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bottle (11.2 ounces) hard cider plus enough dark rum to make 1 ½ cups
1 teaspoon baking soda
⅔ cup blackstrap molasses
⅔ cup honey
1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs
⅔ cup canola oil
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
For the frosting (utterly optional):
4 ounces (half a block) of cream cheese, at room temperature
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
½ powdered sugar
2 pinches sea salt
Half a (10.5 ounce) jar of lemon curd, or more to taste
Whisk together flour, ginger, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and black pepper in a large bowl and set aside.
Bring the cider and rum to a boil in a small pan over medium heat. In the meantime, set the oven rack to the middle position, preheat the oven to 350 F and line 2 ½ muffin trays with cupcake liners.
Pour the hot cider and rum into a medium bowl and stir in the baking soda, which will foam up aggressively, then stir in the molasses, honey, and sugars. Once the sugar has dissolved and the mixture is a bit cooler, whisk in the eggs, oil and grated ginger.
Add the wet mixture into the dry ingredients a third at a time, whisking vigorously between additions until completely smooth before adding the next third. (For once, you need not be afraid of over-mixing.) The batter will be quite liquid after the final addition, so use a ladle to divide it evenly among the lined muffin cups.
Tap the filled muffin trays gently against the counter a couple of times to release any air bubbles, and bake 25-30 minutes, until the tops are firm to the touch and a tester comes out mostly clean. Cool briefly in their tins before lifting out by the liners onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
While the cupcakes are cooling, beat the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and salt together in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light. Beat in the lemon curd and taste, adding more if you want a more pronounced lemon flavor. Spread the frosting thinly over the cooled cupcakes.
Unfrosted cupcakes will keep for several days at room temperature in an airtight container. Once frosted, they really should be refrigerated, though you should bring them back to room temperature before serving since the chill will blunt some of the spicy kick.
I could have stretched the batter among three full muffin tins, yielding 36 cupcakes, but they would have been slightly smaller than I wanted. If you prefer that many, start checking them at 20 minutes for doneness. If you want to make a large sheet cake instead, pour the batter into a 9×13 pan, greased and floured, and bake 35-45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan before frosting and slicing.
The quantity of frosting here is just enough to thinly cover the full batch of cupcakes. If you want to be much more generous or to pipe designs with it, double the quantities.