Posts Tagged ‘Gingerbread’

A Christmas Carol and Christmas Gingerbread

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

Like me, Charles Dickens liked to read aloud from his works. Unlike me, he got paid for it. (Image Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

My mother and I are staying with my brother and his family while waiting to move into our new winter apartment. (Warning: we will move in the next few days so this will probably be the week’s only blog post!)
A few nights ago I began reading A Christmas Carol to my nephew Michael at bedtime. To say that the ten-year-old boy is enjoying the story is an understatement. He is devouring it.
This short novel penned by Charles Dickens in 1843 is so familiar to me—as it is to much of the English-speaking world—that experiencing it as utterly new through Michael’s eyes and ears gives me special pleasure.
A Christmas Carol is the sort of text that scholar Tony Bennett (no, not THE Tony Bennett) describes as layered with encrustation.
In the essay in which he introduced this concept, Bennett talked about the ways in which the public perception of Ian Fleming’s James Bond has changed with each successive reinterpretation of the character—from the original books to Sean Connery to Daniel Craig.
Bennett likened the changes in our view of Bond to encrustation on a shell or a boat, explaining that re-visionings of a text attach themselves to and reshape the original so that we can no longer see it without them.
A Christmas Carol is one of the most encrusted texts around. Not only has it been adapted more or less as is into play and film form; its basic plot has also been used for numerous theatrical and television films (who could resist Bill Murray in Scrooged?) and holiday episodes of regular television programs.
Such familiar characters as Mr. Magoo, Yosemite Sam, and Oscar the Grouch have taken on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, whose “bah humbug” attitude toward Christmas and his fellow humans sets the plot of A Christmas Carol in motion. 

Each of these characters, like each of the actors who has played Scrooge (from Alastair Sim to Susan Lucci), has left his imprint on our mental picture of Scrooge.

The upcoming Doctor Who Christmas special, set to air on Christmas Day on BBC America, is also rumored to play with the story of Scrooge.
I can’t wait to watch it!
I have to admit that I take pleasure in Scrooge’s story pretty much every time I read or see it. In that sense it is well named. Like the carols we sing to celebrate this season, it resonates—even improves—each time we repeat its cadences.
And despite the tale’s sentimentality, it always behooves us to listen to and learn from A Christmas Carol’s message of charity, good will, and redemption.
Naturally, Michael and I have to nibble on something as we enjoy Dickens’s story of Scrooge, the Cratchits, and the ghostly visitors. (We’re willing to share both the story and the food with the rest of the family.)
I made gingerbread Sunday because I couldn’t think of anything more wholesome and Christmasy than this dense, lightly spiced treat. We ended up with two complementary aromas in the house—the warm gingerbread and the fresh new Christmas tree. Heaven!
My regular cakey gingerbread has been a bit dry lately so I played with the recipe here. You’ll find this version is quite moist, almost brownie like in spots. It has the traditional gingerbread flavor, however.
I should probably warn readers that my gingerbread (including this version) almost always sinks a bit in the middle, hence the use of the word “swamp” in the recipe title. Every bite is delicious, including bites from the swampy section. 

God bless us, every one.

Christmas Swamp Gingerbread
1-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup sweet butter, melted
1/2 cup firmly packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8-inch-square pan.
In a bowl combine the flour and spices.
In another bowl whisk together the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Stir in the flour mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
Bake until the cake tests done—from 30 to 45 minutes, in my experience. If it starts to look dried out before it is done, cover it with foil for that last few minutes. If your gingerbread collapses a bit in the middle, ignore it!
Serve with whipped cream or applesauce. 

Serves 8 to 12, depending on appetite.


And now … a small reminder to all holiday shoppers that copies of my Pudding Hollow Cookbook are available for you to give your friends and relatives! I ship priority mail within the continental U.S. so there’s still time for Christmas delivery. If you’d like a copy, please visit the Merry Lion Press web site.

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A Taste of the Hearth

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
Susan Luczu and Her Gingerbread

Susan Luczu and Her Gingerbread


We sometimes take our kitchens for granted. They are much more than just rooms in which food is prepared. They serve as the centers of the home, places of warmth figuratively as well as literally.


My kitchen is like my life—colorful, messy, and full of projects in various stages of preparation!


Historic New England has dubbed 2009 the Year of the Kitchen and has put out a wonderful book America’s Kitchens (of which I’ll write more soon!). I hope to follow its lead, not just by going to some of the events it has scheduled to celebrate this special year, but also by writing about the kitchens of neighbors and readers.


My first personal Year of the Kitchen event took place recently in East Brunswick, New Jersey, where I observed food historian Susan Luczu give a talk called “A Taste of the Hearth” at the East Brunswick Museum. Susan lives in an early-18th-century house near the museum. She collects historic kitchen equipment, which she uses to cook authentic, tasty foods in her house’s huge original fireplace. Susan brought several of her treasures and several of her foods to share with museum visitors.

The East Brunswick Museum

The East Brunswick Museum

The East Brunswick Museum is a tiny jewel located in a 19th century church in the historic village of Old Bridge. It is celebrating its own Year of the Kitchen with an ongoing exhibition called “What’s Cooking” that features kitchen tools and accessories. Some are part of the museum’s permanent collection while others are on loan from supporters like Susan.


Susan began with a bit of background about her interest in culinary history. She then showed off a number of the 18th-century kitchen tools and utensils she has collected over the years, which ranged from heavy pots to a portable toaster. “People back in that period were pretty sophisticated in their cooking,” she said of our colonial forebears.


Susan is almost as inventive as the 18th-century cooks she studies. She described how she had recreated some of her props. One of these was a sugar cone; she explained that people in the 1700s bought and stored sugar in cones and showed us how to extract a little sugar at a time using her antique sugar nipper (it looked a bit like pliers). Another homemade tool was a corn pot-scrubber for cleaning cast-iron pots, which she made from a whisk broom.

Pinching Off Some Sugar

Nipping Off Some Sugar

Naturally, Susan concluded her talk with a lavish tasting. She was nice enough to share her recipes with her audience so I can pass one of them on to you.


Susan’s next presentation at the Museum in East Brunswick New Jersey will be a Victorian Tea Day on Sunday, May 17. The Museum asks participants to reserve seats in advance; here is the web page with contact information. (Attendees are encouraged to dress in garden-party finery.) I highly recommend this event: Susan is knowledgeable, smart, funny, and down to earth.


New Englanders looking for a Year of the Kitchen event may want to attend the Spring Herb Sale this weekend at the Lyman Estate Greenhouses in Waltham, Massachusetts, or take the tour “A Tale of Two Kitchens” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire on Saturday, May 9. Information about both of these events is available on Historic New England’s Events Calendar.

To learn more about Susan, visit her web site.


I’ll be looking for more kitchen events to write about soon. Meanwhile, here is one of Susan Luczu’s recipes. She baked this gingerbread in a lovely Turk’s Head mold.


Part of the East Brunswick Museum's Kitchen Collection

Part of the East Brunswick Museum's Kitchen Collection


Taste of the Hearth Gingerbread Cake


1-1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup powdered sugar for garnish


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch round cake pan or a small (4-cup) cake mold.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and spices. Set aside.

Cream the butter until it is fluffy. Add the brown sugar and beat well. Add the egg and molasses, and beat for 1 minute more.

Gently add the flour mixture, alternating with the water. Stir (or mix on low speed) until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, and bake it until the top springs back when lightly pressed with a finger—or until a cake tester comes out clean (35 to 45 minutes).

Cool the cake for 5 minutes in the pan; then turn it out onto a plate and let it cool completely. Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar.

Serve the cake warm or cold with vanilla sauce, lemon curd, or butter. Serves 8.

By the way, we have a winner for the Lamson Good Now Green Tool!  Chris Miller of Lebanon, New Jersey, will receive a potato masher. Thanks to Lamson & Goodnow and to all who participated in the drawing. I’ll announce another prize at the end of this month………