The website Allrecipes has a remarkable number of Christmas Dessert Recipes, now numbering more than 1400. Its Favorite Old Fashioned Gingerbread recipe, described as “everyone’s holiday favorite, even the busy cook’s, because it is so easy to make” caught this home cook’s eye when I searched on the internet for a gingerbread recipe.
A few years ago, we shared an heirloom recipe for gingerbread boys and baked up a dozen gingerbread boys for the Christmas holiday. Back then, we noted the special appeal of using ginger in a holiday treat. According to my well-thumbed copy of Edible, An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Food Plants (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2008), “Ginger is one of the few spices to have virtually all of its medicinal claims verified.” The list of ailments that may improve are remarkable:
“It has been found to successfully treat motion sickness, postoperative nausea, bacterial dysentery, malaria, coughs, and migraines. Ginger extracts have been found to improve blood cholesterol levels, elevate low blood pressure, and prevent cancer in animals. Gingerols, the chemicals responsible for ginger’s heat, are helpful in treating pain and fever, and its volatile oils may have a positive effect on cold and flu viruses.”
In addition, using blackstrap molasses as a sweetener in a holiday dessert also has appeal. As we noted in the earlier recipe for the gingerbread boys, Blackstrap molasses is a very good source of calcium and iron.
And once again, the organic ingredients used in this recipe for gingerbread were obtained from the Bulk Food department of the Honest Weight Food Co-op in my hometown of Albany, New York, except for Sparrowbush Farm Bakery’s freshly-milled rye flour. Started by Ashley Loehr and Antoine Guerlain, Sparrowbush Farm Bakery is a small wood-fired production bakery and stone mill, specializing in naturally leavened bread and fresh milled flour, much grown on its small Hudson River Valley farm near the small city of Hudson (Columbia County) in upstate New York.
This past November, on a visit to the Farmstore operated by Chaseholm Farm, a dairy and creamery located in Pine Plains (Dutchess County), New York, besides offering the dairy and creamery’s own small batch, artisanal cheeses, yogurt and milk, it was a pleasant surprise to see other locally grown and produced farm products available, including bread and freshly-ground rye flour from Sparrowbush Farm Bakery. A serendipity of sorts, since before the visit to the farm store, I had noted King Arthur Baking Company’s celebration of rye flour and all the baking possibilities it offers, from complex flavor to surprising versatility.
Substituting rye flour for half of the flour in this old fashioned gingerbread recipe resulted in an especially delicious gingerbread, extra moist and with a mild nutty flavor. Why extra moist? Cook’s Illustrated notes that rye flour is rich in water-absorbent carbohydrates called pentosans that allow it to hold ten or more times its weight in water while wheat flour is only able to absorb twice its weight.
The original recipe from Allrecipes was also tweaked to use freshly grated (at home) organic ginger and cloves. To actually see the ginger rhizome and cloves, instead of shaking the ground spices from a bottle, although complicating the preparation, is educational, especially for children able to assist in the kitchen.
In addition, according to a recent article by Jennifer Purdie on Livestrong.com, fresh ginger doesn’t taste much like ground ginger because it contains essential oils and resins, with flavor released into a dish more slowly resulting in hints of flavor. In other words, this gingerbread does not taste strongly spiced which appealed to this home cook in a household with others who like to avoid potent spicing of foods.
To ensure flavor and freshness, BBC Good Food, advises that it’s best to grind whole cloves into powder using a pestle and mortar just prior to using them. It explains that a clove is the dry, unopened flower bud of the tropical myrtle tree family, and my local food co-op’s bulk department had whole cloves available, which resulted in this additional tweak. A mortar and pestle are handy in my kitchen since I use it routinely to grind sea salt crystals into finer particles.
However, I did find that it wasn’t possible to grind cinnamon sticks finely enough to use in this recipe, so I did use ground organic cinnamon. Still it remains of interest for children (and adult cooks) to have an understanding of where ground cinnamon comes from by seeing cinnamon sticks (the dried inner bark strips from cinnamon trees). In short, preparation of this gingerbread can be a happy educational experience as well as resulting in a delicious dessert.
1/2 cup fair-trade, organic sugar
1/2 cup local Kriemhild butter
1 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups Farmer Ground all purpose whole-wheat flour
1 cup of Sparrowbush Farm Bakery’s rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking solda
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger root
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup hot water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour a 9-inch square pan. (I used for this special holiday treat a favorite Bennington Potters square baker.)
In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Beat in one egg, and mix in the cup of molasses.
In another large bowl, mix together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
Blend the dry ingredients into the bowl with the creamed mixture. Stir in the 1 cup of hot water. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake 1 hour in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cook in pan before serving.
(Frank W. Barrie, 12/22/20)