Published January 1, 2011.
This snack cake’s moist, tender crumb typically comes at a price: a gummy, sunken center. And we wanted the glut of extraneous spices gone, too.
Most recipes that have moistness also suffer from a dense, sunken center, and flavors run the gamut from barely gingery to addled with enough spices to make a curry fan cry for mercy.
Our ideal gingerbread was moist through and through and utterly simple—a snack cake that would bake in a square pan.
We decided to focus on flavor first. We bumped up the ginger flavor by using a hefty dose of ground ginger and folding in grated fresh ginger. And only two of the “guest” spices that showed up in our research recipes made the cut: cinnamon and fresh-ground pepper, which worked in tandem with all that potent ginger to produce a warm, complex lingering heat.
We also used the liquid components as an opportunity to add more flavor. Dark stout, gently heated to minimize its booziness, had a bittersweet flavor that brought out the caramel undertones of the molasses. Finally, swapping out the butter for cleaner-tasting vegetable oil and replacing some of the brown sugar with granulated cleared the way to let all those spice flavors come through.
Next, we confronted the sinking problem. We bucked the usual protocol for cakes and incorporated the baking soda with the wet ingredients instead of the other dry ones. Baking soda is used to neutralize acidic ingredients before they get incorporated into the batter, and this step helped to minimize the sinking center.
Some of our research recipes dated back hundreds of years, and most resulted in tough little bricks thanks to a strange kneading step. Kneading develops flour’s gluten, which is the enemy of tenderness. But our batter was loose anyway, so we had tenderness to spare. We added some of the wet ingredients to the dry, then mixed vigorously to form a smooth paste. We then incorporated the remaining wet ingredients in two more installments, mixing until smooth after each addition. Sure enough—nary a crater in sight.list of recipes