DEBORAH CROMBIE: Autumn has officially arrived in North Texas. Last night we had our first fire; tonight our first frost. And as that chilly arctic air dips down, my thoughts turn, as usual this time of year, to gingerbread.
Specifically, the late novelist and food writer Laurie Colwin's gingerbread. It has been suggested that Laurie was the first blogger--her columns, which she wrote for Gourmet Magazine from the mid-eighties until her untimely death from heart failure in 1992, were so chatty and friendly and casual. When you read them, you always felt like you were sitting at her kitchen table. I have both collections of Laurie's essays, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, and both books have gingerbread recipes. I prefer the one from the second book, More Home Cooking.
Cooks are such magpies--Laurie borrowed this recipe from a British Penguin book, The Farmhouse Kitchen, by Mary Norwak, so I'm following the tradition by passing it on.
Laurie was a great fan of Steen's Cane Syrup, but I've used ordinary molasses. Now I think I'm inspired to hunt for Steen's. Laurie was also very insistent that the powdered ginger be fresh, and I agree, so if your ginger has been sitting in the cupboard, buy a new jar just for this.
Laurie Colwin's Old-Fashioned Gingerbread
1. Preheat oven to 375 F. and line the bottom of a buttered 8-inch round tin (2 inches deep) with parchment paper.
2. Melt 1/2 half cup cane syrup or black treacle with 6 tablespoons butter.
3. Beat 1 egg with 4 tablespoons buttermilk.
4. Sift together 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 heaping teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar, and a pinch of salt. Mix in 3/4 cup dried currants or raisins.
5. Add the egg mixture, then add the syrup mixture, and mix well.
6. Bake 10 minutes in the 375 degree oven turn the heat down to 325 F., and bake for 35 to 40 minutes more. A few crumbs stick to a tester when the cake is done.
I've added my own notes (along with a few bits of smeared gingerbread batter) in the page margins in pencil, the true sign of a well-loved recipe : Add more buttermilk. Check temps carefully. Cook less than recommended.
This cake is lovely all on its own, but a tiny bit of fresh unsalted butter or a dab of whipped cream when the bread is warm from the oven makes it divine.
And nothing, I guarantee, will make your house smell more welcoming on a crisp autumn day.