Ginger-jack babycakes are Southern comfort food
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s Note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
This dessert is not for the faint of heart. Dense, moist gingerbread, redolent with molasses and a thick, almost-sticky crumb, is topped with a rich sauce flavored by Jack Daniels whiskey. There is nothing delicate about it. These are bold flavors and heavy textures … Southern comfort food.
The gingerbread and whiskey sauce are a perfect pair. After experimenting with other toppings, I wouldn’t consider serving these babycakes with anything else. But, if you absolutely insist on a non-alcoholic accompaniment, try a commercial caramel sauce, warmed, and/or whipped cream. Lemon sauce, the traditional accompaniment to gingerbreads with a spice-cake quality, didn’t work well with this recipe; my testers gave it a big “thumbs-down.”
Both the sauce and the babycakes can be made a day or two before serving. In fact, the gingerbread is better after it has rested for at least a day. Both come together quickly and require little in the way of kitchen equipment, not even an electric mixer.
While the difference isn’t huge, I think bleached all-purpose flour produces a babycake with a more appealing texture than unbleached all-purpose flour.
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Bake in a Bundtlette pan or large muffin pan (cups with a 6 ounce capacity), preferably non-stick
Yields 7 babycakes
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of bleached all-purpose flour (Measure by gently spooning into measuring cup and leveling the top.)
A pinch of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of allspice
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons of ginger
1/2 cup of boiling water
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half of a stick)
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup of molasses
Jack Daniels Sauce
4 tablespoons of unsalted butter (half a stick)
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
3 tablespoons of Jack Daniels or bourbon whiskey
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1/2 of a large egg (Whisk a large egg to combine yolk and white. Measure out one and a half tablespoons of the mixture. This equals half an egg.)
Make the gingerbread: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. (If your pan is a dark, heavy metal, reduce the heat to 335 degrees.)
Generously grease and flour the mini-Bundt or muffin cups. Do this carefully; cakes stick to the pan at our altitude. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, allspice, cinnamon and ginger in a large bowl and whisk vigorously to combine thoroughly.
Pour the half cup of boiling water into a measuring cup or bowl, cut up and add the butter and stir until the butter is completely melted. Add this mixture to the flour and whisk or stir to combine. Add the beaten egg and the molasses and stir or whisk until combined. Spoon the batter into each Bundt or muffin cup until it is 2/3 full. Bake until the cake is firm, starting to pull away from the sides, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. This takes from 18 to 22 minutes in my oven. Don’t over bake or you’ll destroy the gingerbread’s moist texture. The babycake should spring back when touched but shouldn’t seem dry.
Remove the pan(s) from the oven to a cooling rack. After about five minutes, slip a thin-bladed knife around the sides of each cake, then invert the pan onto the cooling rack and rap it lightly to release the babycakes. Let them cool completely. Wrap them airtight for at least a day and up to two days before serving. You may serve them the same day they’re made, but their taste and texture improves with a waiting period.
Make the Jack Daniels Sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the sugar, Jack Daniels or bourbon, nutmeg and salt. Keep stirring until the sugar is dissolved (test by rubbing a bit of the mixture between your fingers; it should be completely smooth, no graininess at all) and the ingredients are blended. Remove the pan from the heat. Whisk the half egg until it’s frothy and add it to the saucepan, whisking quickly to combine. Return the pan to medium heat, bring to a simmer and stir gently until the sauce thickens (this takes 2-4 minutes on my electric stovetop).
You can serve the sauce immediately or cool and refrigerate it up to two days before reheating over low heat and serving. If the sauce separates when reheating, remove the pan from the heat and whisk in a little warm water. Drizzle the warm sauce over the room-temperature babycakes and serve.
The sauce is a variation of one in” The Joy of Cooking.” The gingerbread is inspired by one in “Baking from the Heart.”
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com.