I began this exploration with a question. “What is the difference between sticky and regular gingerbread?” Put another way, “What makes sticky gingerbread, well, sticky?”
A couple of rounds of baking later, I had identified the differences. Namely, sticky gingerbread starts with a fluid, molasses-heavy batter, which, if not over baked, creates a beautifully moist cake, which if wrapped and refrigerated for a day or two and then brought back to room temperature, has a dense, chewy, somewhat sticky texture.
Additionally, bakers frequently douse this cake with a syrupy, decidedly sticky sauce, accompany it with a lush custard sauce, or both. So one way or another, sticky is an apt description.
But then, while I was testing a few traditional gingerbread formulas, another question arose. Why do most gingerbread recipes call for dissolving baking soda in hot water or other liquid prior to adding to the batter? After all, this practice activates and dissipates the gas in the baking soda, rendering it useless as a leavener in the batter.
I am not a food chemist, but here are some of the reasons my research uncovered:
- One explanation claims that the baking soda is added to neutralize the acids in the batter, in addition to adding tenderness. This makes sense when you consider that the leavening must be balanced to achieve a neutral pH. Molasses and brown sugar are very acidic, thus the baking soda neutralizes this acidity, allowing the baking powder, which in itself is balanced, to do the actual leavening.
- When baking soda is added to hot liquid, gas releases that changes the pH of the recipe and darkens the color of the batter (especially when cocoa is part of the batter).
- Hot water loosens the gluten strands in the flour, creating a lighter textured gingerbread.
- Warming the eggs prior to baking the gingerbread allows them to expand to their utmost in the oven.
All of these explanations seem plausible, but the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. All I know for sure is that I followed the time-honored dictate of adding baking soda to the hot liquid ingredients and the process works.
This is the BEST gingerbread I have EVER tasted. I’ve tested dozens of gingerbread recipes over the years and THIS is IT. It’s also as easy as cake making gets. No mixer, no beating, no aerating butter with sugar.
The classic method for making gingerbread involves melting butter with molasses, liquid of some type, and sugar, adding baking soda, and then incorporating liquid ingredients into dry ingredients. It’s that simple.
Surprisingly, the ingredients that take this gingerbread over the top were sitting in the fridge, staring at me each time I opened the door. And all the while, I kept asking myself, “How can I increase the moisture level of this cake, as well as the intensity, while keeping the various flavor notes in perfect balance?
Here are the secret ingredients.
Additional Inspiration from Around the Web
- 101 Cookbooks: Black Sticky Gingerbread
- Baking 911: Leaveners
- Delia Online: Sticky Gingerbread Puddings with Ginger Wine & Brandy Sauce
- Design Sponge: Yvette Van Boven’s Luxurious Gingerbread
- Food Network: Nigella’s Chocolate Gingerbread
- Food to Glow: Three-Ginger Parkin (Sticky Gingerbread)
- FoodGawker: Sticky Gingerbread
- Gastronomic: Garam Masala Gingerbread
- Google Search: Sticky Gingerbread
- Mima + Moo: Sticky Gingerbread
- NPR: Nigella’s Sticky Gingerbread
- Smitten Kitchen: Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread
- The English Kitchen: World’s Best Gingerbread Cake with Spiced Lemon Sauce
- The Guardian: Fresh Ginger Cake Recipe
- The Telegraph: River Cottage Sticky Gingerbread
- Will Cook for Friends: Pumpkin Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Toffee Sauce