A cursory search in that little box over there to the right for “gingerbread” would produce five different recipes for gingerbread-like cakes. And when I say gingerbread-like, I mostly mean they’re dark with molasses and spiked with ginger, cinnamon and allspice and are variations on this lovely theme of homey gingerbread deliciousness. And now it’s time to add another to that list. Only this one isn’t a gingerbread-type cake, this is like the real deal. This is a simple, old fashioned, nothing fancy, straightforward, dark as sin gingerbread.
I guess it’s safe to say that I’m fairly partial to this particular dessert genre. Well, it would be safe to say that, but it would also be a freakin understatement. My love for molasses and gingerbread-type cakes goes way back to my childhood, but took full flight when in my 20’s I had my own kitchen and could make them whenever I pleased. And that was fairly often.
The first cookbook I received when I married in 1971 was a Betty Crocker volume, and I made her Old Fashioned Gingerbread recipe every Christmas for many years. Actually, there were several recipes that I continued to make from that cookbook through the years. As the kids came along and even after my cooking skills began to ever so slowly improve and other cookbooks grabbed my attention, I kept my old Betty Crocker close. My kids still talk about the corn fritters and popovers that were an integral part of their childhood, courtesy of Ms. Crocker.
But as they do, the kids grew up and I gravitated to more sophisticated recipes and cookbooks, and like a sad moment from a Toy Story movie, Ms. Crocker was relegated to an obscure shelf and rarely, if ever, thought of. Then, in our move from California to the Midwest a few years ago, Betty saw her chance and took off to more appreciative environs, never to be seen again. I really did mourn the loss when I discovered her absence; more from nostalgia than anything else, but still, Betty played a significant role in my culinary childhood and she would be missed.
Fast forward several years and my birthday, 2014, when I opened a gift from my dear Cousin Katie only to find Betty, in all her vintage splendor, replete with recipes and memories that I thought were gone forever.
Thank you, Katie. Thank you. I’ve had so much fun thumbing through the old cookbook, remembering how clever I felt making chicken a la king and veal cordon bleu, and reminded of Sunday evening popovers made for the kids while they watched Pippi Longstockings.
And of course, there was my old friend, gingerbread, waiting to be made again. I really didn’t expect much as I figured my tastes had maybe “matured” and the recipe did seem rather simple. But one bite instantly reminded me just how delicious and heartwarming some of the old recipes are, perhaps because of their simplicity, not in spite of.
I have to confess to one teeny update to our old friend, and that was to replace the shortening with coconut oil; very much better for us without altering flavor or texture. This is a wonderfully moist, vintage gingerbread that requires an affinity for molasses that I possess in spades. I could drink it straight from the bottle. So needless to say, this is my kind of gingerbread.
And because I have discovered the joyful deliciousness of whipped coconut cream, this is how we topped our gingerbread. If you’ve never tried it, I really do recommend you give it a try, especially if you or someone you love is lactose intolerant. We think it actually tastes better than whipped cream, although you can barely tell the difference.
The actual whipping of the cream is a cinch. The trick seems to be in finding just the right product, as most full fat cans of coconut milk contain guar gum which inhibits the cream from whipping properly (you can only use full fat coconut milk for whipping). I’ve solved this problem by using Trader Joe’s Coconut Cream which works beautifully. I’ve also found that Natural Value, which many health food stores carry, whips up like a dream (no guar gum).
But here’s another thing about that…I tried to whip the cream from a can of coconut milk that contained guar gum, and while it didn’t whip up into peaks as I had hoped, it did sort of thicken into a soft, silken cream that could be used as a creamy addition to recipes in place of cream, or a wonderful addition to your coffee. So if you end up with a failed whip, don’t throw it away!
For a complete tutorial on the whipping of coconut cream, here’s a link that you might find really helpful. And as if whipped coconut cream weren’t just the bomb itself, you can whip it up a full day or two before you need it. I’ve kept some in a jar in the fridge for a week now and it’s still perfect.
So if you’re feeling a bit nostalgic for a slice of old time gingerbread, you might want to make up a batch for yourself. Betty would be ever so pleased. Too bad she didn’t know about whipped coconut cream; I think she would have been all over it. Here’s the recipe…
Old Fashioned Gingerbread with Whipped Coconut Cream
Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker' Cookbook (1969)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup dark molasses
3/4 cup hot water
1/2 cup shortening (I used coconut oil)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a square pan (9x9 or 8x8 inches). Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving an inch or two overhang.
Measure all ingredients into a large mixer bowl and blend 1/2 minute on low speed, scraping the bowl constantly. Beat 3 minutes on medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. Pour into prepared pan.
Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. (do not overbake!) Serve warm with whipped cream or whipped coconut cream.