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February 28, 2023. Dear Kids– This recipe is dedicated to The Mom, who absolutely loves gingerbread, for Valentines Day this year. Yes, I realize I’m a bit late for Valentine’s Day, but as I’ve told The Mom many times, I just can’t fit all my love for her into just one day. As for the salty caramel sauce, that’s more for me, as Mom is not a fan of most things salted.
This recipe is named for the “mean” teacher who gave the recipe to one of you kids many years ago. I swapped out the water in the original recipe from the mean teacher for beer because, as you should know by now, “Water ez ze ennime of flavóur!”. Perhaps, if the teacher had used beer in her recipe she might not have been as mean.
We all have our opinions about your teachers over the years- my least favorite was the one math teacher who wouldn’t recommend that one of you kids sit for the test to get into an advanced math class because your average wasn’t in the range he deemed necessary to be successful in that class- it was just a point or two lower! As it turns out, you ended up hiring a tutor (you were in middle school mind you), passed the test and have been accelerating ever since! However, this was not the teacher who inspired the name for this recipe.
As for that teacher, I thought she was more strict and/or not hip to your learning style than mean, but through your grammar school eyes it came across as “mean”. In any event, this is the teacher that gave you and the rest of the class her cherished family gingerbread recipe one holiday season and that is the recipe that inspired the recipe you see here today. Perhaps, now that years have passed and you have some perspective, you might not consider that teacher all that mean- after all, how mean can someone be who gives you a cake recipe?
Now it’s time to let bygones be bygones and get to making this sweet and spicy cake that literally comes together in minutes before it goes into the oven.
Prep Time: 10 minutes at most
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes minutes
Servings: 9 or more depending on how you cut it (9 inch square cake)
GET YOUR STUFF OUT
- 250 grams (2 cups) of all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup stout, warmed in a microwave on high for 1-2 minutes
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup dark molasses- not light or “blackstrap”
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) melted and cooled unsalted butter
- 2 large eggs
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2/3 cup heavy cream, at room temperature or warmed
- 1/2 teaspoon Maldon or other salt
COOK AND PLAY
Play “Gingerbread” by Frankie Avalon, a catchy little ditty ranked 100 on Billboard’s Top 100 Hits of 1958- it’s even older than The Dad!- while you mix up the batter that’s full of sugar and spice.
1. Dry Bowl- No Ginger, Go Figure? Set up middle oven rack and preheat to 350°. Lightly coat a 9 inch, square baking pan with butter and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.
2. Wet Bowl- There’s Beer, So Who Cares About No Ginger. In another bowl combine sugar with stout. Whisk until you don’t see or feel any grains of sugar on the bottom of the bowl, then mix in molasses, butter and eggs.
3. A Very Pourable Batter. Thoroughly combined contents of Wet Bowl with contents of Dry Bowl, which will give you a very pourable batter. Pour into greased pan and bake until toothpick comes out clean- about 35-45 minutes. Cool slightly on rack. Serve with whipped cream and/or vanilla ice cream and salted caramel sauce.
4. The Best Leftovers. This cake is infinitely better when served warm, so to crisp up the edges and crust on any leftovers- pop pieces of gingerbread on a baking sheet and into a 350° oven for about 10 minutes, and you’ll see what I mean.
Salted Caramel Sauce.
1. Hot, Hot, Hot. While gingerbread bakes, add water to a deep and sturdy, 3 quart saucepan, mix sugar with water, making sure not to stir any sugar on side of pan, and bring to a simmer. . Adjust heat as needed to maintain a gentle simmer- the liquid will start to turn a caramel color- at first you will see the sugar melt into a clear liquid, the liquid will start to bubble, the bubbles will become larger and slower as you begin to see wisps of caramel color in the liquid- usually around the edges.
Carefully and gently swirl the pan to distribute heat evenly- the liquid sugar will fully caramelize in the range of 340° to about 385° (not far past that, it will be burnt to a waste)- an infrared thermometer or candy thermometer is best for an accurate temperature reading.
The lower the temperature, the lighter and sweeter the caramel, the higher the temperature, the darker and more bitter-sweet the caramel. If new to caramelization, it’s best to err on the lower temperature end of the spectrum. In spite of that advice, here’s a look at what to expect for a caramel on the darker side-
2. Hot Lava! Understand when you add the butter and cream to the caramel in this step, the different temperatures of the butter and cream compared to the molten hot caramel will cause the sauce to “erupt”, bringing pain and damage to any living thing in its path– sometimes it erupts to 3 times its original volume- that’s why you want a deep pan. Keep this in mind as you continue. PS- If butter and cream are room temperature or warmed before adding, the reaction is lessened.
As soon as the caramel is at the proper stage, turn heat off under the pan and carefully add the butter and then cream, being sure to stay clear of any spitting sweet lava that may erupt as the cold/warm and hot ingredients meet.
Use a metal whisk to carefully stir the sauce until it becomes silky smooth- returning to heat briefly if sauce needs encouragement to smooth out. Stir in salt. Store cooled sauce, in clean, covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks and warm before serving.
“Slower Than Molasses”. For most of my life, my only experience with molasses was when I encountered someone not moving all that quickly and thinking, as Granny would say, “They’re slower than molasses!”. Little did I know, in spite of it’s slow reputation, just how interesting molasses could be in baked goods.
Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar making process and the depth of flavor is impressive- perhaps a bit overwhelming to the faint of heart- but that’s what Nilla Wafers are for. For the rest of you, enjoy the depth and practically savoriness of flavor offered by this treat you find in the Baking Aisle. I call molasses the “sweet fish sauce”- just a small whiff or taste of it practically repels you, as you immediately wonder why anyone would cook with such a abomination, but as soon as you taste it in a cake, a cookie, pie, ice cream, oatmeal, coffee, BBQ sauce, you instantly see the light. Molasses is available in three varieties- light, dark and blackstrap- from lightest and sweetest to darkest and most potent, respectively. It’s a bit like the stages of caramel and is why the caramel sauce is a nice compliment to the molasses in this recipe.
Molasses is also very sticky, so if you’re looking for another kitchen gadget keep in mind this little measuring projectile for sticky substances-
Hot Beer? What are we in England? The original recipe was definitely “old timey”- calling for a boiling liquid- originally water (“ze enemmi of flavóur!”) that The Dad upgraded to stout- to be added to the batter. The purpose of this was to dissolve the sugar enough so the battery isn’t grainy, with an added benefit of a crisper exterior. You don’t see this technique much any more- most cake batters call for the sugar to be creamed with butter which, while it aerates the batter, also mostly dissolves the sugar.
Warning- make sure the stout and batter are not too hot when you mix in the eggs- it shouldn’t be if you mix in the order given in the recipe- as a high batter temperature will start to cook the eggs and activate the baking power to the detriment of the final texture of the cake.
Caramel Tips. Working with caramel or any heated sugar can be tricky, so here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are making caramel.
- My caramel turned to rocks! This happens for a few reasons- one reason, haphazardly stirring the sugar water so that sugar granules splash on the sides of the pan where they will form into crystals that will infect your entire batch of caramel. If you are messy and see crystals on the side of the pan, you can keep them in check by wiping down the sides of the pan with a wet heatproof pastry brush. The other reason is more complicated and I will spare you the details (I bet that surprises you, this being a lecture and all), but this can be prevented by adding a bit of corn syrup or lemon juice with the water to stabilizes the sauce. I rarely use lemon juice or corn syrup and have only had my caramel seize up on me one time because I was messy and didn’t have a heatproof pastry brush- I just threw out the $0.30 worth of sugar and started over.
- My rubber spatula melted when I used it to stir my caramel! The point being, caramel gets pretty darn hot. Think of how hot fish or any other grease gets- 350° or so. You certainly wouldn’t think about getting your delicate cooking equipment or body parts near hot oil. Well, caramel gets just as hot as boiling oil, so keep that in mind when you make it.
- My polyester leisure suit melted onto my skin when my caramel erupted after I added butter and cream to make a caramel sauce! This was more of a problem way back in the 70s, but even with the more breathable fabric of today, you don’t want to have your fine fabrics or body parts near caramel when you add cooler ingredients because the reactions when the two meet makes the molten caramel spit and sputter it’s hot lava in an around the pot. A deep pot helps keep this under control and being aware that it will happen will keep you on your guard to let the fireworks die down before you get in there to stir things up.
- I burned my caramel! I like my caramel on the bitter sweet side- I mean desserts are already sweet enough- but getting it there is a bit of a dance with the devil. That’s because there’s a fine line between tantalizing bitter sweet caramel and disgusting bitter and burnt caramel. It also doesn’t help that the “carry over” temperature from cooking to such a high heat will increase the caramel’s temperature even after you take it off the heat. For those who like a show with dinner, the bottom of the cooking pan could be placed into a pan of cool water (watch out for steam) to stop the cooking temperature from going any higher. Carry over temperature is less of any issue when adding cooler ingredients, like butter and cream, but my advice is still to err on the side of caution when you first start making caramel- turning off the heat when the caramel is a shade or two lighter than you want. Keeping a check on the temperature with an infrared thermometer helps too- just about 380° is were I like it. Then, once you get a feel for working with it, you can let the caramel go as dark as your experience dictates.
- I can’t get this stuff off my pan, counter, stove, etc.! Once the sauce is poured from the cooking pan into a heatproof jar to cool, fill the pan with hot water and any caramelized utensils used in the process and pick up a washcloth with a set of tongs to wipe the caramel away. If that doesn’t do it or, if you forgot to clean your pan right away, fill the pan with water just past the mess and simmer on stove until it liquifies and carefully pour the mess down the drain. As for your countertop and stove, I’m very careful with my caramel and haven’t run into this issue, so I guess you’ll have to Google it.
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