It never fails. When the temperature drops and snow is in the air, I start craving gingerbread cake. It’s one of those ultra-comforting sweets that has so sparked bakers’ creativity over the years that it now boasts hundreds of variations. Maybe thousands. Look at the lineup of gingerbread cakes on TasteSpotting.
However, for gingerbread inspiration this year, I had only to open the cookbook Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe by Harvard educated mathematician turned professional baker, Joanne Chang. I scored the cookbook earlier this fall while at the South End location of Joanne’s Flour Bakery in Boston.
The next time you are in Boston, you have to check out this quintessential new American bakery. Everything I sampled over several visits to both the South End and Fort Point Channel locations was superlative—from the excellent flaky crusted quiche, to the exceptional sandwiches (Grilled Roast Chicken with Brie, Arugula, Roasted Red Peppers, and Caramelized Onions!), to the mountains of scones, muffins, tea cakes, sticky buns, and tarts.
I love the sensibility behind this bakery. Nothing is too fussy, too precious, or too predictable. You might think you purchased an ordinary, albeit very pretty, scone, but then you bite into it and realize this is no ordinary scone. The same thing happens with nearly everything you order. You start to feel guilty, because you want to taste EVERYTHING.
The pastry case sparkles, every item tested repeatedly and perfected over time. You can actually taste all that focused dedication in each bite. The phrase “best-of-class” came to mind as I ate my way through the pastry case and menu. Each item stood as an example of perfection in its category. I would return for that one item if it were the only good thing in the shop. Fortunately, however, everything is wonderful at Flour. And now, thanks to the cookbook, you can enjoy the best of Flour Bakery from your own kitchen.
When I buy a new cookbook, I read it from cover to cover and put a sticky tag on every recipe that intrigues me. Books with tons of sticky tags are obviously my favorites. Suffice it to say that the Flour Bakery cookbook has tons of sticky tags. Here are some of the recipes I can’t wait to try:
- Apple Snacking Cake
- Chunky Lola Cookies
- Classic Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- Cranberry-Maple-Pecan Breakfast Cake
- Flour’s Famous Banana Cake
- Fresh Lemon-Poppy Pound Cake
- Milky Way Tart
- New Tiramisu
- Nutmeg-Spice Cake with Creamy Rum Buttercream
- Rosemary Shortbread
- Southern Pecan Pie
- Sticky Sticky Buns
- Sugar and Spice Brioche Buns
- Super Pumpkin Pumpkin pie
- Toasted Coconut Cream Pie with Lime Whipped Cream
- Vanilla Cream-Filled Doughnuts
- White Coconut Cake with Coconut Frosting
But don’t be misled by some of the pedestrian sounding recipe titles. Joanne Chang establishes a high bar for each item and works steadfastly until she achieves the best possible result. We have all had good carrot cake, for instance. But Joanne describes hers as “…the best I’ve ever eaten: incredibly moist crumb; loads of shredded carrots, raisins, and toasted walnuts; and a sweet-but-not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting.”
Of course I’m going to try it. And the way she reduces the pumpkin to pack the most pumpkin flavor into the pie intrigues me. As does the way she uses caramelized sugar and lemon juice in her pecan pie to offset the sweetness. And the way she layers flavor by using both shredded coconut and coconut milk in her coconut cake. These little things can make a huge difference.
And so it’s the little things that make the difference with this particularly delicious gingerbread. The tender, moist cake is loaded with ginger, both fresh and powdered, and enhanced with a subtle amount of cinnamon and cloves. Then there’s the surprise of a full teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. It doesn’t overshadow the other flavors, just adds a welcome kick to the finish of each bite. To push the experience all the way into sublime territory, a transparent coffee glaze is brushed over the cake while it is still warm. Gingerbread doesn’t get better than this.
Joanne Chang’s Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread with Coffee Glaze
This delicious gingerbread cake has a full measure of ginger (both fresh and ground), as well as freshly ground black pepper. The latter give it an unexpected and very welcome kick.
Note Recipe shared with permission. My additions are in brown text.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 large eggs
3½ cups (490 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 ½ cups (480 grams) unsulphured light or dark molasses
1 cup (240 grams) boiling water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
2-3 tablespoons double-strength brewed coffee
- Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, or other pan/s of equivalent capacity.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), cream together the butter and brown sugar for 2 to 3 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (This step will take 5-6 minutes using a handheld mixer.)
- Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the grated ginger and eggs until blended. On low speed, slowly add the egg mixture to the butter mixture and mix just until combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl again and beat on medium speed for 20 to 30 seconds, or until the mixture is homogeneous.
- In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, ground ginger, pepper, cinnamon, and cloves.
- In another medium bowl, whisk together the molasses, boiling water, and baking soda. It will foam up! On the lowest speed, add about 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg-butter mixture, and mix until incorporated. Add the rest of the molasses mixture and mix until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl. Again on the lowest speed, add about half of the remaining flour mixture and mix until incorporated. Add the rest of the molasses mixture and mix until incorporated. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add the remaining flour mixture, mix on low speed for about 1 minute or until the batter is homogeneous. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes (or 35-40 minutes for mini bundt cake or mini loaves), or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the middle with a fingertip. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack.
- To make the glaze: In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and enough of the coffee to make a smooth, thick, spreadable glaze.
- While the cake is still warm, spread the glaze evenly over the top. Let the glaze set for at least 1 hour before serving.
- The cake can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Makes one 9- by 13-inch cake or one mini bundt cake (5-6-cup capacity pan) plus two mini loaves (2-cup capacity pans).
Connect with Joanne Chang and Flour Bakery
Flour Bakery in the Press
- A Passion for Food: Boston, Part II: Flour Bakery
- Boston Magazine: Flour Bakery + Cafe
- Cake and Commerce: Flour Bakery + Cafe
- Examiner Boston: Flour Bakery in Cambridge
- Food Enthusiast: Flour Bakery: Boston
- LA Weekly: Cookbook Review: Flour Bakery, Where Boston Gets Its Homemade Nutella Fix
- Nooschi: Flour Bakery + Café, Boston
- Pen & Fork: Cookbook Review: Flour
- Serious Eats: Boston’s Flour Bakery Buns Are So sticky, They Named Them Twice
- Tiny Urban Kitchen: Flour Bakery
- We Are Not Martha: Lunch at Boston’s Flour Bakery
Copyright 2010 Susan S. bradley. All rights reserved.