Tuesday, December 4, 2012

TWD: Baking with Julia - Gingerbread Baby Cakes

Our recipe this week for Tuesday's with Dorie was Gingerbread Baby Cakes.  I was really looking forward to this recipe, so I was thrilled to give it a go!  And perfect timing!  Now that it is December, gingerbread is the perfect treat!

Karen, of Karen's Kitchen Stories, was the host of this recipe, and you may find the written out recipe on her blog.  You can also see what other bakers thought of this recipe by visiting the Tuesdays with Dorie blog and clicking on the LYL: Gingerbread Baby Cakes tab.  This is where we all leave links to our blogs where we post our success with each recipe!

Anyway, on with the recipe.  I have never made a gingerbread cake before, so the only gingerbread-type item I can compare this to is gingerbread cookies.  I have yet to find a FAVORITE gingerbread cookie recipe, however.  It seems like most that I try are either too bland or the texture is too crunchy or too soft.  I like a cookie that is somewhere in between crunchy and soft, with a crunchy exterior but the soft interior.  If anyone has a favorite gingerbread cookie like this, please send it my way!!  Anyway, I digress.  In comparing this recipe to the cookie recipes I have made, I found many differences.  There were many more flavor profiles in this cake.  Whereas the cookies generally have molasses and a selection of cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and nutmeg (or all of the above), the only of those spices that this recipe had was the ginger.  Instead of all of the other spices, this cake recipe included espresso powder, cocoa powder and chopped fresh ginger.  Plus there were 2 cups of molasses, which is a LOT.  We'll get to the molasses later.  Let's start with espresso powder.

I often see espresso powder or coffee in chocolate items.  In fact my favorite chocolate cake recipe uses coffee.  It makes the chocolate even more chocolate-y, if that is a word.  I never thought of using it with gingerbread, though I would imagine that it probably provides the same benefit.  My problem with this is that it uses 1/4 cup of espresso powder, which is a lot (in my opinion), especially for someone who never drinks coffee or has caffeine other than in chocolate.  So I was a bit nervous about using the espresso powder but used it anyway.  I wonder if there is a decaffeinated espresso powder I could use instead?  Or maybe use decaffeinated coffee but more of it since it isn't as strong as espresso?  I must admit, I had a hard time eating the cake as I worried about my ability to sleep later.  Would it affect me?  I hope not!! 

Cocoa powder:  I am happy to use cocoa powder in anything and I can see how cocoa powder would go with gingerbread.  They both have that dark, deeper taste, so I get it. 

Fresh ginger:  I have considered using crystallized ginger in gingerbread cookies before, and actually think the crystallized form might have been better here.  You are supposed to finely chop the fresh ginger, but unless you actually grate it, you will find some small chunks in your bites of cake, which makes a somewhat weird cake texture.  I think the crystallized ginger would have softened a bit so it would not be as surprising in the mouth.

Now, the molasses.  Two cups of molasses is a ton of molasses (pretty much an entire regular sized bottle) so if you have any dislike at all of molasses, bypass this recipe immediately!  Here is where I feel I led my baby cakes astray.  For reasons I can't actually figure out, I had unsulphured (which is right) blackstrap molasses in my pantry, instead of "regular" unsulphured molasses (like the Grandma's brand).  Blackstrap molasses is WAY stronger/more bitter than Grandma's molasses and had I realized this at the get-go, I would have used a lot less and added maple syrup or something instead. 

I have two baby (4-inch) cake pans, and once I had them in the oven, it occurred to me that maybe there was something I could do to cut the intensity of the molasses flavor in my batter.  The batter was fairly bitter and I worried about the outcome!  After some internet research I realized that I should have figured this out BEFORE adding the molasses at all.  In fact, many sites said to NEVER substitute blackstrap molasses for regular molasses.  OOOPS!  I decided to attempt to reduce the bitterness anyway, since if the cake was too bitter it wouldn't be eaten, and if I made the batter chemistry to weird by adding things to it, it still wouldn't be eaten, so I might as well try.  I added several glugs of pure maple syrup and two heaping tablespoons (not packed) of brown sugar to the batter, dumped the remaining batter into a 9-inch cake pan, and hoped for the best!

The 9-inch cake cooked for about 45-50 minutes before I thought it was done.  There is a little bit of a caramelized crunch to the bottom of the cake, where I suppose some of the brown sugar landed without fully dissolving.  However, the caramelized crunch is actually quite nice!

I finished making these cakes late at night (again - I WILL get my baking schedule back on a more timely fashion, I will!) so Mr. Clever Mom and I tried them the following night.  I served the baby cake (original recipe) with some sweetened whipped cream.  My husband thought it was great!  I however, found it a bit too bitter for my tastes.  I cut a slice of the bigger cake (which I had desperately tried to sweeten) and it is much better!  The consistencies of the cakes are the same, so I must not have altered the batter chemistry too badly!  They are very moist cakes (with tiny pieces of that fresh ginger).  The "altered" cake still had a big molasses flavor but was sweetened up enough that I found it quite good!  It still has a strong molasses flavor, but with 2 cups of molasses, even the right kind, I think that would be the case!

I am very curious as to the success of this recipe for other bakers.  I suspect it is worth doing again with Grandma's molasses, and maybe some sort of substitute for the espresso powder.  The overall flavor is really good, and if the molasses was toned down a bit (which the right molasses would do) I think it would be like eating a good gingerbread cookie in cake form!  Slather some sweetened whipped cream on top and would could be better??

Fellow TWD bakers and other wonderful blog readers, should I give it another try??  Oh, and if you happen to have that perfect gingerbread cookie recipe, please share!


  1. I used the molasses as suggested and that was all I could taste. Smothered with cream it was almost edible--I say almost. The cream was good the cake not so much.

  2. I used regular molasses and grated my ginger and liked it - I really think it comes down to personal taste. If you really like molasses and ginger (esp. molasses), this cake is for you. If you aren't a huge fan, then it might not be worth a redo.

    I like your mini cakes :-)

  3. Love the look of a mini cake. (wish I had the pans) I found the cake come out so dark, because of my dark cocoa. And I really wasn't a fan of the flavour of the cake either. I might try it again too.

  4. I used regular molasses and unfortunately found out that I do not like the taste of molasses. :(

    Your mini cake looks great!

  5. I can barely stand regular molasses so I cannot imagine how 2 cups of blackstrap would have changed the overall bitterness of this cake! I liked this cake very much and my husband, like yours, was crazy about it. I think it's definitely worth making again ... especially because the cute little cakes make such a delightful presentation for a dinner party or whatnot. :)

  6. Even with regular molasses, it's a very strong taste! Compared to the blackstrap, it might seem more mellow, but if you're not a fan, it might still be too much. I think I like molasses, which may be why I liked these (with a topping!). I think the espresso might be what takes it over the top. Still, yours look lovely, and I love the improvements you made to the bigger cake. That sounds good to me!

  7. It's amazing how divided everyone seems to be on this cake- it's either one you love or one you hate. I used regular molasses, but cut it by 1/4 cup because I ran out and I loved it! If you like the flavor of your sweetened cake, may I suggest Cook's Illustrated molasses crinkle cookie? They are very similar in flavor and I think just what you're looking for in terms of texture too.

  8. Love your story. We learn something new every day. I have to say that even using unsulphured regular molasses, I thought that 2 cups was too much. Since, I'm not crazy about gingerbread anyway, I may not make this cake again, but if I did it would be with less molasses and more maple syrup or brown sugar.

  9. Your cake looks great. We reduced the regular molasses by 1/2 cup (we ran out), and that might have helped balance out the flavors. Overall, we really loved the flavor of the ginger. It tasted great served with vanilla whipped cream.

  10. Your cake looks delicious. I used sorghum and maybe that let the ginger and espresso shine through. Whether or not to do it again is a tough call. My husband does not like it all but I do.

  11. The same reaction happened at my house..My hubby liked it and I did not. Your cake sure looks pretty:)

  12. Great looking cakes. I wouldn't make this again, but I do have to say that the flavors mellowed a bit after a few days. Still...

  13. Looks wonderful with the whipped cream! I really wanted to like these cakes for they were easy, smelled heavenly and loved the look and texture. Unfortunately the flavor was way too strong even using regular unsulphured molasses.


Due to some bizarre spam comments I have recently received, I am moderating the comments for a while. I hope this spam craziness stops so this becomes unnecessary!