This cranberry gingerbread cake is a lightly sweetened and highly spiced gingerbread that's baked with a swirl of tart orange cranberry sauce.
A brief history of gingerbread
Gingerbread dates back thousands of years, with the first-known recipe popping up in Greece around 2400 BC. Although ginger root was first grown in China, it was common in the Middle Ages throughout Europe. People believed ginger could help prevent the plague, and they used it to disguise the flavor of unpleasant-tasting foods. Gingerbread cookies were popular at Medieval fairs throughout England. Even Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the cookies decorated in the shape of foreign dignitaries, perhaps popularizing the concept of gingerbread men cookies.
Of course, we also know gingerbread from fairy tales. If you’ve ever seen Shrek, you can’t forget the interrogation scene where Gingy, the gingerbread man, begs Lord Farquaad not to rip off his gumdrop buttons. We also know what happens when Hansel and Gretel make the mistake of stopping by the witch’s gingerbread house, in the classic tale by the Brothers Grimm.
Gingerbread houses originated in Germany in the 16th century, but the German Grimm brothers repopularized gingerbread in 1812 when they published the first edition of their collection of fairy tales. Although gingerbread, lebkuchen, as they call it, didn't specifically originate in Germany, the country may have the longest tradition of baking and eating it throughout history. Nuremberg, in particular, is known for its gingerbread.
what's the difference between gingerbread and gingerbread cake?
Most often, when people talk about gingerbread, they're referring to the cookies. Gingerbread houses are made out of the same kind of cookie dough but are shaped for the purpose of constructing a house. A cake is, well, more like a cake than a cookie.
The kind of gingerbread I like, cake or otherwise, is a little different from most recipes today. My ideal gingerbread involves plenty of molasses, ginger, and other strongly flavored spices, such as black pepper and cloves. When it comes to gingerbread cookies, I like them more on the crunchy side, not soft. The spicy gingerbread cookie recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook is one of the best I’ve ever made. The cookies are dark, like the color of molasses, and have a bit of a bite to them.
cranberries and gingerbread
Too often, I find gingerbread underflavored and over-sweetened. I wondered how I could combat the sweetness when making a gingerbread cake for a recent party. When I came across a bag of fresh cranberries in my fridge, I realized that their tartness would be a great counter to the cake's sweetness.
It turns out that cranberry gingerbread cake recipes already exist. While I was hoping to create something original, these seasonal flavors make a logical pairing. I liked the looks of a New York Times recipe by Melissa Clark, where you make a cranberry sauce and then stir it into the gingerbread cake batter. Yet, it needed modifying for my taste.
At first glance, there were way too many sweeteners, with white and brown sugars, molasses, and maple syrup all involved. Is it gingerbread candy or cake? I cut these back, though upped the quantity of molasses for its deeper, almost bitter, flavor. I increased the spices' levels, both in the sauce and the cake, while also throwing in some orange juice and zest for freshness.
Note: In the photo, I made a double batch of the cake and put it in too small of a baking pan. It turned out taller than normal. This is a thinner, denser cake, more like a snacking cake than a birthday cake, if that makes sense. So if you use a 9x9 baking pan as mentioned in the recipe, your cake will not be as tall. When serving, I cut my pieces in half.Print