Sunday, October 28, 2012


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.


  1. Yum - I think I'm going to try this one. Why did you add more buttermilk and how much did you add? Thanks, Dee

  2. Mmm, gingerbread. Will have to make some soon.

    Thanks for the idea of how to use the Steen's. A friend brought a bottle from New Orleans for me as a gift, and I have been at a loss for what to do with it.

  3. Gram, the batter just seemed too stiff, and on repeated tries I found that adding a couple more tablespoons of buttermilk made a more moist cake. Also, my oven may cook hotter than Laurie's did.

    Karen, I'm going to see if I can find Steen's here. One note I didn't add is that I always make this gingerbread with Succanat (which is unrefined sugar, rather than brown sugar, which is refined sugar with molasses added to it to add taste and color. I'm sure it's yummy either way.

  4. I love Laurie Colwin's food books, and in general books that combine food and life. And I love gingerbread.

    Thanks for the reminder that's it's been too long since I've made it.

  5. You are So right! The fragrance of gingerbread...xoo

    Stay safe, everyone! Report in on how you all are..

  6. Debs, this sounds delicious. I haven't had gingerbread since I was a little girl.

    We had a wonderful neighbor who made a very dark gingerbread that she would serve to children who came by to visit in the afternoon. It was very moist and had a deep rich feel and taste, much like the photo you used in your post.

    She made us feel very special, as she invited us to select our favorite teacup and saucer from her hutch in the dining room. Each was different. I always selected the one with brightly colored pansies on a black background or the white one with little green shamrocks.

    We would have tea and her homemade cake or cookies and would talk about the events of the day. It seemed very grown up to me. I haven't thought of this in so long, but I have been collecting china tea cups and saucers, each set different. I keep them in an old hutch I inherited, along with my small collection of teapots.

    I've wondered for many years why the adults of the neighborhood never joined in and why they avoided her. It has been a mystery all my life and so very appropriate to remember here.

    I returned to visit her as a very young adult, and two of the other girls, who used to have tea with her when we were children, were there. One was a nurse for diabetic children, and the other was a horse trainer. I was happy that she had adult friends yet found it odd that she'd had to develop them over the years, nurturing all kindly into adulthood.

    Thank you, Debs. Thank you, Barbara.

  7. Laurie Colwin. Oh my, I loved Laurie Colwin. Her HOME COOKING: A WRITER IN THE KITCHEN is one of those books that finds its way to my nightstand from time to time. I love it. I love to pick it up and randomly open to any page and savor her words. A memoir/cookbook is a joy for me, and it makes me sad that she left us far too soon. Another writer's memoir/cookbook I love is Pat Conroy's.

  8. Reine, what a lovely story about your neighbor. Those are just the sort of things that tickle a novelist's imagination...

    And I love your collection of teacups and pots. Just the thing to go with Laurie's gingerbread.

  9. Mmmm . . . gingerbread . . . warm cake with lemon sauce . . . the smell of this cake baking is almost as good as the smell of yeast bread baking . . . .

  10. Oooo! Real gingerbread! I love it! What passes for gingerbread too often these days is a pallid imitation, I think. I have a wonderful old recipe from my grandmother that looks much like this when baked. It's so moist and delicious. I must admit I don't bake much anymore unless it's for the holidays or a family get-together with my kids. Neither Ben nor I can afford to have anything too delicious and large in the house since we each must watch diet in different ways. I may have to experiment with making gingerbread and freezing part of it for later, though. Reading this has brought back to me the great smells and taste.

    Reine, we often wish we had some of the warmer sense of community that surrounded us when we were growing up, but with that, too often, came a strong insistence on conformity, especially for women. It's easy to forget that. I'm so glad your lovely friend was able to finally have accepting adult friendships.

  11. Thanks for the tale of the added buttermilk. LOL With the storm hitting tomorrow I may bake!!! We have a gas stove. (and a generator)Dee

  12. Linda... yes, Barbara fought her exclusion with conformity to a standard that was out of place and time. I don't know where she came from. She showed up one fall day and moved into the house next door.

    At the time, we lived in a pine forest in Massachusetts. Barbara could not drive. There was no public transportation. We had dirt roads and pine needles. It was as if she'd been exiled there. And in her exile she brought something beautiful.

    She introduced herself to all the neighbors, but no one would have her in. Still, every year she delivered handmade Christmas gifts to each family. She didn't act based on how other people treated her. She did not look different from the rest of us. I don't know what the adults knew, or thought they knew. No one ever said. I am left to guess.

    But no, no. It is true that I did not learn how to be a feminist from Barbara. That came later, but it did, clearly, grow out of that experience of being with her. Despite her daily conformity, she lived with her differentness in a community that harshly excluded all but the most conformist. No, she was different. I don't know how, though.

    I don't know why she went to live there, but she had the stamina to stay and gave to those who allowed it. Just children who needed attention. Mystery.

  13. Hi Deb~ I loved Laurie Colwin too & have several copies of her fiction and cookbooks. Still miss her columns, but I occasionally reread and sometimes cook from the Home Cooking books,filled with her lovely stories.
    Will have to make that gingerbread as soon as I get my oven repaired this week!

    As for the Steen's syrup, my dad, being a displaced Cajun, still eats his Steen's once or twice a week, on pancakes, waffles, cornbread, banana or apple fritters, you name it. We just got back from visiting the folks at their new house in Rockwall (outside of Dallas) & Mom gets her Steen's at WalMart, and I think Kroger also has carried it for several years, so you shouldn't have a problem finding it. (It costs less than $5 for a big can, around 12 oz. or so)

    For Karen in Ohio, you can use the cane syrup as a simple syrup thinned with water for cocktails, or make salad dressings with it...lots of uses besides pouring it over something or baking with it. Check out a few Cajun food sites, oh and Emeril Lagasse probably has suggestions on his site, too. Hope that helps.

  14. Laurie Colwin was a treasure, and I adore gingerbread. Ever since my oldest great-niece (now 23) was a youngster I've baked with my great-nieces and -nephews.

    Ten year-old Sam and I love to make the Buttermilk Gingerbread from my Elvis Presley cookbook, Fit For A King. When we first started doing this, Sam hadn't ever baked with molasses and he was suspicious of it, not sure anything good could come from it. He trusted me though, and as he beat the 1/2 cup of buttermilk into the mix (which already had yummy spices) he began to see and smell for himself what I was talking about. Now it's one of his favorite things to make.

  15. Reine's story about the lady who offered children gingerbread reminds me of Emily Dickinson who lowered a basket of gingerbread from her bedroom for local children. Dickinson's recipe for gingerbread is on the Internet and apparently is quite stiff, as Colwin's seems to be.