High Country Baking: Make this cake-y gingerbread shine brighter with caramelized apples
Special to the Daily
High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column, published on Thursdays, presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Gingerbread is a holiday classic. I make some almost every Christmas. This year I opted for a cake-like gingerbread and served it with a complement of caramelized apple slices. It warmed up the evening like a fire in the fireplace.
The flavor of molasses dominates many gingerbreads. While this recipe includes it, maple syrup is also used as a sweetener, making the molasses less pronounced and allowing the spices to share the spotlight in the overall taste. While the gingerbread is very satisfying on its own, the apples, cooked until tender in a butter-brown sugar mixture, are a perfect accompaniment, adding moisture and a pleasing change in taste and texture.
Neither component of this dessert demands a lot from the baker. Once the ingredients are assembled, the gingerbread is in the oven in about fifteen minutes and the apples take only five to ten minutes longer. Both can be made ahead of serving. In fact, the spices in the gingerbread develop their full flavor a day after baking.
Gingerbread with Caramelized Apples
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in a 9-by-9 inch square pan with 2-inch sides
2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick)
½ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
½ cup maple syrup, preferably Grade B or Grade A Amber (These have a more robust taste than the more common grade and can be found at some groceries and at natural food stores)
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup boiling water
4 medium-large Golden Delicious apples
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons light or dark packed brown sugar (this is the same as one-fourth cup plus two tablespoons)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, extending the foil past two opposing pan sides to use as handles when removing the gingerbread. If using regular foil, grease the pan, foil and all, with a baking spray or with butter. Put the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to mix and aerate. Set this aside.
2. Cut the butter into at least eight pieces and put them, with the molasses, maple syrup and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Over medium heat, melt the butter and stir to combine all the ingredients, don’t bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, pour over the dry ingredients, and whisk until well combined. Whisk in the eggs and, lastly, the boiling water.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake just starts to pull away from the pan sides, start checking at 35 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Use the foil handles to lift the cake out of the pan. At this point, the gingerbread can be covered airtight and stored in the refrigerator for a day or two. Bring to room temperature before serving.
4. Make the caramelized apples (this can be done up to three hours before serving, reheat before doing so): Peel and core the apples, cut them into one-fourth to three-eighths inch slices and set them aside. Cut the butter into pieces and melt them in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter is about half melted, sprinkle the sugar over top and stir until the butter is fully melted, the sugar dissolves and the two are well combined. Add the apple slices and cook over moderate heat until they give off their juices. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the apples are just tender and lightly colored, and the liquid becomes syrupy. If the apples are done before the liquid is syrupy, remove them and continue to cook the liquid. If the liquid is syrupy before the apples are done, pour most of it off and let the apples cook longer. Don’t let the liquid get so thick it isn’t pourable or the apples slices get mushy. Remove from the heat.
5. When you’re ready to present the dessert, cut the room temperature gingerbread into 6-9 pieces, depending on the serving size you want, and plate them. Arrange the warm apple slices around each piece and pour some of the warm butter-sugar syrup over the top.
The gingerbread recipe is inspired by one published in The Fearless Baker.
Dr. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She’s lived in the mountains since 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at email@example.com.
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