One of our wedding shower gifts was this amazing American Cake cookbook given to me by my awesome bridesmaid Becca. I have quite a collection of cookbooks now thanks to my generous family and friends. I definitely have a high bar for cookbooks – I want narrative, drama, personal stories! And of course great recipes. What rocks about American Cake is the history the book presents of cake in American culture. The author, Anne Byrn, writes about cakes in a chronological order, updating some early American recipes to make it easy for a modern cook to replicate. Each recipe contains more little side bars with interesting historical facts or chef’s notes. It is a pleasure to look at, to read, and to cook from.
Most everyone who has eaten my food has tasted my ginger molasses cookies at some point (the recipe for which I still owe you), so I naturally gravitated toward the American Gingerbread recipe in the first chapter. According to Anne, this recipe is the second of seven versions of gingerbread provided by Amelia Simmons who wrote the first American cookbook in 1796. This version is not the kind of gingerbread you roll out and cut for cookies or press into a mold; this gingerbread is more cake-like which I found immensely intriguing. My ginger-molasses cookie is also softer and more cake-like than normal ginger cookies.
And just like my version of ginger cookies, this cake was amazingly easy to pull together. The only advance prep is softening the butter to room temperature and dissolving the baking soda (which I have a huge appreciation for after reading Anne’s historical account of how it revolutionized baking) in water.
Anne suggests blending the first few ingredients with a wooden spoon to, I suppose, mimic the way it was made in early America. I, however, used the stand mixer which worked out perfectly. 35 minutes at 375 and a 20 minute rest = one delicious gingerbread-cake. By itself the cooked molasses flavor is a bit strong, but Anne suggests serving each slice with a bit of cream poured over it. Since all we have is French Vanilla (for coffee!), that is what we used. The combination was heavenly. It was soft and spongey, spicey and warm. The cream softened the strong flavors and turned this treat into a comfort dish.
This would make a freaking delicious breakfast pastry, afternoon tea-snack, or dessert. Winter’s coming! And this dish is worth every minute.
No. 2 Gingerbread (American Gingerbread) by Anne Byrn
1 tsp baking soda
1 Cup boiling water
1 Cup molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 Cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 Cup white sugar
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
Butter a 8″ x 9″ baking pan and preheat the oven to 375. Boil 1 Cup of water and dissolve the baking soda inside it. Set aside.
(This is a deviation from Anne’s directions) Put softened butter, molasses, eggs, sugar, flour, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice into the stand mixer and mix together on low until combined (scrape sides if necessary). Then add in the baking soda water and mix on low for a full minute.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 35-40 minutes. Let rest on cooling rack for 20 minutes. Serve with a bit of cream if you like.