Feeling knee-deep this week? Spicy gingerbread cake may help. This one is adapted from a recipe developed by my friend and former Sunset colleague, Linda Anusasananan. I can’t explain the chemistry behind the first step in the recipe, which involves stirring baking soda and molasses into hot water and watching it bubble up like a science experiment. But I can confidently report the result: a dark, moist, deeply spicy gingerbread that's just the thing for cheering up a gloomy winter day.
Gingerbread is delicious served plain or with a little powdered sugar on top, but—in honor of the winter storm we're expecting this week—I covered this one with a blizzard of whipped mascarpone flavored with bergamot. Bergamot is a yellow citrus fruit with an astringent, lemony flavor that you might recognize from drinking Earl Grey tea. Keep an eye out for them at produce and farmers markets in December and January.
spicy gingerbread with bergamot mascarpone
1 cup dark molasses
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour an 8- or 9-inch cake pan—either round or square.
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and stir in the molasses and baking soda. After the mixture stops foaming, stir in 1/2 cup cold water; let cool to room temperature, stirring often, about 15 minutes.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves.
With a mixer on high speed, beat the butter and brown sugar until well blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour and molasses mixtures alternately on low speed until both are incorporated, then beat the batter (it will be thin) on high speed for about 30 seconds until it looks well blended. Pour it into the prepared pan.
Bake until a wood skewer inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs attached, 45 to 50 minutes. Let it cool 10 minutes in the pan, and then run a paring knife around the inside edge of the cake pan and invert. Cool completely before frosting.
Don’t overbeat the mascarpone and cream or the mixture will look grainy rather than smooth. (If you do overbeat it slightly you can stir in a few tablespoons of liquid cream, which will help recover the creamy texture.)
6 ounces mascarpone cheese
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 cup heavy (whipping cream)
2 to 3 teaspoons bergamot juice (substitute lime or meyer lemon if you can't find bergamot)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Place your mixing bowl in the freezer for a few minutes, if you have the space. With a mixer on low speed, beat the mascarpone and sugar until smooth. Switch to a whisk attachment if using a stand mixer. Slowly beat in the cream, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Increase the speed and beat until the mixture forms soft peaks. Whisk in the bergamot juice to taste and the vanilla. You can store the frosting covered in the refrigerator for several hours before using; frost the cake right before you plan to eat it.
Makes 8 to 10 servings