Have you ever happened to walk outside alone on Christmas Eve? It’s something of a private tradition of mine. On some pretext I leave the gathered family… must get something from the car…. anyone checked the mail?…just a moment. In that moment I step outside, the cold and the silence are indistinguishable. The chill cuffs my nose and swipes at my fingers. (I am inevitably under dressed, mistaking the warmth of good company for warmth of weather.) The silence thumps against my ears as the door closes behind me. Everything is muffled, from the boisterous sounds of family inside to the thrum of traffic. There aren’t even any summer insects to break the silence. It is still. And cold.
In that moment I am aware of the weight of tradition. I feel the presence of Christmases past, both those I’ve been a part of and those that aren’t mine to remember. So much expectation, merry-making, disappointment, loneliness, and hope bound to one night hangs heavy in the damp dark air.
I know the mysteriousness is mainly an invention of my own mind. Perhaps that the same stillness could be felt on other nights if only I were to take notice. But still.
This cake reminds me of that moment I seek out every year. It is combines the warm spice of gingerbread decorating, the stillness of dark chocolate melting on your tongue, and the malty tang of a stout drink enjoyed with friends. And it is most mysteriously dark. Because I used part coconut oil instead of all butter, this cake will stay moist for several days. I like it iced with a frothy whipped cream cheese icing. The cake seems to need it, just as we need to celebrate the light during the darkest time of year. However, neither the cake nor the frosting are extremely sweet. If you’d like a sweeter rather than tangy frosting, feel free to add more honey. I made my cake in a angel food cake pan, but I’m sure this would be beautiful baked in a more decorative bunt mold or even a simple loaf pan. (Note that this recipe makes 2 loaf cakes. If you just want one, cut the recipe in half.) Though if you do use a decorative pan, you might want to consider leaving it unfrosted and instead dusting it with some powdered sugar or even finely shredded coconut.
Christmas Eve Cake
Inspired by Nigella Lawsons’ Chocolate Guinness Cake
and the Stout Gingerbread Cake in The Last Course: The Desserts of Grammercy Tavern
For the cake:
1 bottle of dark spicy beer, such as Guinness extra stout
1 cup dutched cocoa powder
1 T baking soda
1/3 cup sugar honey
1/2 coconut oil
1 cup butter, softened
4 cups white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour, as you wish
4 T ground ginger
2 T ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp ground grains of paradise or freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp ground cardamom
4 T freshly grated gingerFor the icing:1 package of cream cheese, softened
a drizzle of honey (1/8- 1/4 cup, as you wish)
1/2 cup heavy creamPreheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter your pan(s). (See note above.) In a large saucepan over medium high heat, bring the beer, honey, and molasses to a boil. Seriously, get a really large pan. Beer is volitale and boils over easily, as my kitchen floor can attest. Once it’s boiled, take it off the heat and add the baking soda. Stir very very gently. Let it sit as the foam settles itself down. When there is enough space in the pot, add the butter and coconut oil, using the residual heat to melt. Let it cool to baby bath temperature.Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cocoa, and spices, except the fresh ginger in a large bowl. In another large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the molasses mixture to the eggs and mix well. Make a well in the flour mixture and pour the liquid into the dry ingredients. Mix until just blended. Add the fresh ginger and mix gently.
Pour the batter into your pan, gently tapping it on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake in the oven for 60-90 minutes for bundt pan, and slightly less for loaf pans. It’s done when the top springs back gently when pressed. Though it can be hard to see, if it smells like it’s getting too dark, cover the top with foil until the rest of the cake is done.
Remove it from the oven and let cool for a couple minutes before running a knife or spatula around the sides. Gently release the cake from the pan and let cool completely on a rack before frosting.
In a food processor of stand mixer, beat the cream cheese till it’s light and fluffy. Add the honey and cream and beat again until frothy. Frost the cake with a liberal hand. Dust the top with extra spices if you’d like or leave it immaculately white.
Posted 1 year, 5 months ago at 8:10 am. Add a comment
These were supposed to be cookies.
It all started with about an eighth of a cup of leftover sourdough starter that I just couldn’t bear to throw out. There had to be something I could make with it, right? A quick internet search revealed these sourdough cookies whose feet seemed to fill the shoes quite nicely. But, as often happens to me, I hadn’t even finished reading the recipe before I was fiddling with the specifics, imagining how I could tweak, alter, and otherwise change the recipe to fit my tastes. I’d had a hankering for spicy Mexican chocolate recently, so cocoa powder and cinnamon were added to the ingredient list. I also thought that a whole cup and half of sugar seemed excessive. Most recipes, even for sweet things, that I make these days rarely call for much more than 3/4 cup sugar. A full cup if I’m feeling generous and amiable toward the world. So obviously the sugar would need to be cut back. And why not go ahead and double it? If I’m going to the trouble of making cookies, why not have plenty to enjoy and share?
Even as I started the venture, a lecture was rolling in my head. “You know you’re not a baker, Jana. Perhaps you should rethink all these amendments and just make the recipe as is. Or at least choose just one alteration.” But I skipped ahead with an optimism born of past cooking successes. Hadn’t I turned those leftover scrambled eggs and sausage gravy into killer breakfast pitas? What about all the leftovers I’ve cunningly foisted in under the roof of “fried rice”? Surely something with such good things as butter, eggs, and chocolate can’t go too horrible askew, right? Six cups of flour, about a quarter of a box of cocoa powder, and God only knows how much cinnamon later, the cautionary voice in my head was proved right.
I am not a baker.
On the counter stood a bowlful of not quite bad, not really delicious, but definitely wheat-y tasting cookie dough. Don’t let the rich chocolate-y color deceive you. The thing stared me down, hands on hips, eyebrows raised, lips pursed. If it had been a miffed fourteen-year-old girl, it couldn’t have been more sassy. “So what now, Miss Creative Genius of the Fry Pan? Where’s your artistry now, huh?”
I quailed before it.
What had begun with my refusal to waste a few tablespoons of starter now had morphed into a giant ethical dilemma for my frugal nature. Here was a bowlful of half a dozen eggs, two sticks of butter, the last of my stock of chocolate, not to mention my cracking pride. The bowl had all these things in it, but what it definitely did not have was cookie dough. What to do? To give up and throw it out would be to admit defeat and make the waste of that dollop of starter sting even more. But I couldn’t possibly make cookies with it as it looked more like the pizza dough I’d made earlier that afternoon.
And with that, a thought occurred to me with the force and clarity of a forgotten proverb. If it looks like bread, tastes like bread, and acts like bread, then it probably is bread. And so I treated it like bread.
I debated whether or not to post the actual “recipe” for this bread. After all, it was a complete mistake. Since I didn’t even measure half the ingredients, how could I even be sure what the “actual recipe” was? However, I decided that the bread was good enough that I might actually want to make it again- in which case I would appreciate having a place to start from. So, baker beware! The following recipe should not be taken as gospel truth but instead as a draft that the baker ought to edit.
After a few tries of fashioning a free form loaf that always ended up looking like, well, some other amorphous brown substance, I settled on making braids. Though I tried several different sizes, I think the thicker the strands, the better.
Chocolate Sourdough Braid
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups fresh sourdough starter
1/4 cup water
4 cups white whole wheat flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
3-5 T cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Then add the vanilla extract. Gently mix in the water and sourdough starter. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. To make the braids, take three equal balls of dough (the size is up to you, just make sure they are all equal). Using your palms, roll each ball into a long log, just like how you did with playdough as a three year old. Next, squish the top ends of the logs together. You are going to braid the strands together, just like hair. If you haven’t braided before, go find someone’s little sister to help you. Or use the pictures below.
Once you’re done braiding, carefully transfer the loaves to a baking sheet. You can sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar if you’d like. Or try coarse kosher salt, my personal favorite. Bake in the oven for 12-3o minutes, depending on the thickness of your loaves. Skinnier loaves will take less time, while thicker ones will take more time. To take the guess work out, use a probe style thermometer and bake the bread until it’s temperature reaches 200°. Cool on baking racks. Enjoy with butter, greek yogurt, or ricotta cheese.
Posted 2 years, 2 months ago at 8:52 pm. 6 comments