This time of year, even folks who’ve never touched a skillet get the baking itch. And how can you resist? The smells of cinnamon, gingerbread, chocolate and everything pumpkin spice wafting in the air instantly make us happier and eager to fill our own homes with that feeling.
In that spirit of conviviality, I wanted to leave you newbie cooks with a ridiculously simple, exponentially more satisfying, and comforting cake for the holidays. I’m hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t love gingerbread, but maybe rolling out cookies or the heavy molasses flavor of dark gingerbreads isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
So, I remembered back to an English gingerbread cake I worked on years ago, but put my own American twist on it. Typically a cake flavored with treacle, an English golden syrup, and lightly spiced, it lends itself to any type of syrup (I use pancake syrup, but you can use cane syrup, maple syrup, or dark corn syrup…and maybe even agave nectar, although I’ve never tried it) and keeps well for days and possibly even weeks.
A lemon syrup gets brushed on the cake after baking to add a punch to the sweetness and give the cake a tender texture. Whole wheat flour also lends an earthy depth, along with the dark syrup, sugars and spices, but if you prefer all white flour, please use it; it will still come out just as wonderful.
Next time you have a holiday party, or even for your Christmas dinner dessert, serve this elegantly homespun cake, sit back and revel in the praises.
Holiday Syrup Gingerbread
Serves 12 to 16
1 1/2 cups cane syrup, sorghum or pancake syrup
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup milk
2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- Heat oven to 325F°. Spray a 9-inch round cake pan or 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick baking spray and set aside. Heat syrup, 8 tablespoons of the butter, and brown sugar in a saucepan over medium heat until loosened and sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, stir in vanilla, and let cool for 10 minutes. Whisk in milk and eggs until smooth.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, wheat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt and baking soda until evenly combined. Pour syrup mixture over dry ingredients and whisk until just combined and there are no pockets of flour left. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool for 20 minutes.
- While cake cools, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons butter with sugar and lemon juice in a small pan until sugar dissolves. Invert cake onto a cooling rack and brush the bottom of the cake with half the lemon syrup. Invert cake again onto a serving platter or cake stand, and brush remaining syrup over top of cake. Don’t worry if some of your cake rips off and sticks to the rack; it’s going to happen and will get covered by the confectioner’s sugar later. Let cool completely, and then wrap loosely in plastic wrap; let sit at least 8 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, unwrap cake and dust top evenly with confectioners’ sugar.
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