Sunday, January 8, 2012

Laurie Colwin's Gingerbread

Have you ever felt close to someone that you never met. And sadly never will.

With a few sentences Laurie Colwin became my friend. Years ago, I would open my Gourmet magazine and go straight to her column. I have always read cookbooks, just as though they were novels. Hers truly were. A little bit of life, love, common sense, and then something delicious that you wanted to dash into the kitchen and begin to prepare. Laurie filled minds, hearts and stomachs.

These were not recipes that would require you to head off in search of exotic ingredients. Most likely you had everything in your very own cupboards. No need to be an accomplished chef or baker either. You could do it.

Laurie’s food writing was compiled and published in two books “Home Cooking” and “More Home Cooking”. Search for them. You won’t be disappointed.

Laurie passed away on October 24th, 1992 at the age of 48. I will always remember the moment I heard and my first thought of “her beloved husband and daughter”. She wrote of them often and I didn’t want to imagine the hole that this “heart of the home” woman would have left.
But, she also left us better for having had her in our lives. And she lives on in the hearts and kitchens of many.

I will leave you with a few of her words and her delicious recipe for gingerbread. Perfect for a winter day.

"I love gingerbread in its true cake form – moist, spongy, and spicy... It is strictly home food, but no one makes it any more. Those who crave it get their fix from mixes, and if you give them the real thing, they appear confused. Why doesn’t their gingerbread taste that good?

There is nothing to be said about mixes: they are uniformly disgusting. Besides, gingerbread made from scratch takes very little time and gives back tenfold what you put into it. Baking gingerbread perfumes a house as nothing else. It is good eaten warm or cool, iced or plain. It improves with age, should you be lucky or restrained enough to keep any around.

Gingerbread exists in some form or other all throughout northern Europe. Florence White’s classic Good Things in England, for example, has twelve recipes. Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, published in 1824, has three. It is definitely food for a cold climate. Its spicy, embracing taste is the perfect thing for a winter afternoon. Ginger warms up your stomach (and is believed by many to purify the blood). When you serve it, once they have stopped giving you a funny look, people often say: 'Gingerbread! I haven’t had that since I was a child.' "If you are feeding sophisticates, you can either take them back to childhood and serve it plain with a little whipped cream, or fancy it up by adding crème fraîche and a poached Seckel pear.
I use either light or dark brown sugar. Light brown makes a slightly spongier cake, and dark brown creates a more sugary crust. I also add two teaspoon of lemon brandy, a heavenly elixir easily homemade by taking the peel from two lemons, cutting very close to get mostly zest, beating up the peels to release the oils, and steeping them in four ounces of decent brandy. I have had my bottle for thirteen years and have replenished the brandy many times. Besides the ginger, the heart of gingerbread is molasses. Now, there is molasses and molasses and there is the King of Molasses, which is available in the South but virtually unknown in the North. [This may have changed since 1988.] It comes in a bright yellow can and can be ordered by mail… Steen’s 100% Pure Cane Syrup. You do not need Steen’s to make gingerbread, but I see it as one of life’s greatest delights: a cheap luxury."

The following recipe makes one nine-inch cake:
1. Cream one stick [1/4 pound] of sweet [unsalted] butter with 1/2 cup of light or dark brown sugar. Beat until fluffy and add 1/2 cup of molasses.
2. Beat in two eggs.
3. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and one very generous tablespoon of ground ginger (this can be adjusted to taste, but I like it very gingery). Add one teaspoon of cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice.
4. Add two teaspoons of lemon brandy. If you don’t have any, use plain vanilla extract. Lemon extract will not do. Then add 1/2 cup of buttermilk (or milk with a little yogurt beaten into it) and turn batter into a buttered tin.
5. Bake at 350 degrees [F.] for between twenty and thirty minutes (check after twenty minutes have passed). Test with a broom straw, and cool on a rack.

"This will feed six delicate, well-mannered people with small appetites who are on diets and have just had a large meal, or four fairly well-mannered people who are not terribly hungry. Two absolute pigs can devour it in one sitting – half for you and half for me – with a glass of milk and a cup of coffee and leave not a crumb for anyone else." Laurie Colwin

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