Other people’s recipes: Joanne Chang’s Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread

The third, and by far most popular, dish I made the week before Christmas was “Deep, Dark, Spicy Gingerbread” from Joanne Chang’s Flour (Chronicle Books, 2010; p. 200). It is, as the recipe promises, deep and dark — so much so that many people mistook it for a chocolate cake. It also makes a fairly large quantity: it fills a standard 9×13×2 baking pan, and portions easily into 24 two-inch squares — twice as many as Chang suggests — and in circumstances like the family holiday party, there were plenty of already-overstuffed people looking for even smaller pieces. Even after two Christmas parties, I came home with ten squares left over, most of which I brought in to work on Monday (but due to the light crowds had trouble giving them away). Everyone who did try it, though, thought it was fabulous; in the recipe headnote, Chang admits “I’m not shy with the spices in this cake”, which is a break from her usual style. It’s remarkably a remarkably simple recipe, too, with only one unusual step. Here is how I made it:

Mise en place
Let’s start with the ingredients. This gingerbread is made by the butter-cake method, so we start with two sticks (225 g) of unsalted butter and 165 g of light brown sugar; the butter phase is rounded out with two eggs and three tablespoons (actually, I only got 2½ tbl) of freshly grated ginger. The dry phase is 490 g of all-purpose flour, a tablespoon of baking powder, two teaspoons of ground ginger, one teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper, half a teaspoon each of ground cassia and kosher salt, and a quarter-teaspoon of ground clove; as usual in this method, all of the dry ingredients are sifted together before adding to the batter. Finally, the liquid phase consists of 480 g of molasses, a cup (240 ml) of boiling water, and a teaspoon of baking soda — again, these ingredients will be mixed together before use. (The eagle-eyed among you will notice that I have much more than a cup of water here, and it’s far from boiling. It’s always better to boil more water than you need, and then measure — if you measure it cold, you probably won’t end up with the right amount after bringing it to a boil.) Although I show the Adjust-A-Cup being used for the molasses in this photo, I weighed it out rather than measuring by volume (the recipe gives a volumetric measurement of 1½ cups).

Butter-sugar-egg mixture
The butter-cake method starts out by creaming the butter and sugar together, then adding eggs. In this recipe, the eggs were first whisked together with the grated fresh ginger, which helps to incorporate the ginger throughout the batter.

Molasses thinned and neutralized
The boiling water in the liquid phase of this cake serves two purposes: obviously, it provides moisture, but it also serves to loosen up the molasses and allows the baking soda to neutralize the natural acids that molasses contains. (Baking powder, which is the main leavening of this cake, works best when the batter is close to neutral pH.) The bubbles seen here are the result of this process — the baking soda releases carbon dioxide as it neutralizes the acids. (HCO3 + H+ → H2O + CO2↑)

Unbaked batter in pan
Following the usual butter-cake method, the dry ingredients and the liquids are mixed into the cake batter, interleaving the dry in three parts with the liquid in two parts. Once the batter comes together, it’s spread in a prepared 9×13 (230 mm × 330 mm) baking pan. (Chang says to “butter and flour”, which I did, but I should have made a parchment sling instead. For some reason I have to re-learn this lesson every three months or so….) The cake is baked on the middle rack of a 350°F (175°C) oven for about 50 minutes.

Finished gingerbread cooling in pan
While the gingerbread is still hot, a glaze made with confectioner’s sugar is applied. Chang’s recipe uses a coffee glaze, but my regular readers know what I think of that flavor, so I substituted water and a bit of vanilla. Either way, it starts with a cup (140 g) of confectioner’s sugar, and you just add enough liquid to make it smooth and spreadable, then spread it over the still-warm cake.

Gingerbread squares on platter ready for transport
After the cake had fully cooled, I removed it from the pan (should have used parchment!) and portioned it on the cutting board into twenty-four 2×2 squares. I then transferred the cake to this fancy winter-themed serving platter and wrapped it up for transportation to Connecticut. As I mentioned above, everyone who tried a piece raved about it — including my mother, who had specifically asked for it — but there was still a lot left over. This definitely seems worthy to go on my list of recipe recommendations for the holiday season. (And have a look at that calorie figure below: in this serving size, it’s one of the lowest-calorie desserts I’ve done.)


Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1 2¼″×2⅙″ square
Servings per recipe: 24
Amount per serving
Calories 269 Calories from fat 72
% Daily Value
Total Fat 8g 12%
 Saturated Fat 5g 24%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 38mg 13%
Sodium 161mg 7%
Potassium 131mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 45g 15%
 Dietary fiber 1g 3%
 Sugars 27g
Proteins 3g 7%
Vitamin A 6%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 7%
Iron 9%
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