Trying to re-create a gingerbread memory

Published: Wednesday, February 24, 2010 @ 10:01 AM
Updated: Friday, November 16, 2012 @ 10:40 AM

On a sunny, breezy day last spring, I was out for a lengthy hike on the tiny island of Sark. For about four hours I had been exploring the glorious scenery of this part of the Channel Islands, which sit in the English Channel between England and France.

But my feet were ready for a rest, and I was getting hungry. I had had a substantial breakfast at my bed-and-breakfast on Guernsey, less than an hour away by ferry, so I just wanted something light.

Along the main gravel road, I stopped for refreshments at Sue’s Tea Garden, a large expanse of deep green lawn, with tables scattered around a well-manicured collection of trees, plants and flowers.

I sat on a bench at a rectangular wooden table, studied the menu and then requested a piece of ginger cake, a cheese and herb scone and a pot of Earl Grey tea. The scone came with a little pad of butter in the shape of a mouse, complete with long, thin tail. The teapot was snug in its cozy, and the ginger cake rested alone on a plate with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Although I enjoyed everything, the memory of the ginger cake has stayed with me. It was moist without being soggy, the spices were mild but distinctive, and I particularly liked the small pieces of ginger throughout.

While I paid my bill, I chatted with the owner, Sue Guille, who makes everything on the menu, about her garden. I fleetingly thought to ask for the recipes but left without having done so.

I’ve been thinking about the ginger cake ever since. Shortly after I got home, I wrote a card to Guille, requesting the recipes. I never heard back. I don’t know whether she didn’t get my correspondence, didn’t want to share, or she answered and her response went astray.

So I have spent the past several months looking at my cookbooks, searching the Web and trying recipes that might duplicate what I remember.

First I tried a spice cake from Emeril Lagasse that I found on the Web. It was somewhat dry, the texture was too stiff, and it was way too light in color. Probably not enough molasses.

Then I turned to my reliable “Silver Palate Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, $9.95). The gingerbread did not disappoint and I’ve made it several times since, but it was not a perfect match.

Late last year, “Gingerbread: Timeless Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Desserts, Ice Cream and Candy” by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn arrived at the AJC. (The paper often gets new cookbooks from publishers.) “Hmmm,” I thought. “Perhaps I’ll find what I’m looking for in here.”

The gingerbread I baked had pleasantly pronounced spices (including allspice and cloves) and a lovely, deep aroma, but it was too dark in color and had a dense crumb. It, too, wasn’t just right.

Recently I tried a recipe off the Web from King Arthur Flour. It calls for a cup of buttermilk, an ingredient missing from the other recipes. I don’t know whether that’s what made the difference, but to my mind, this one came the closest.

I’ve thought about sending Guille another note, but even without her input, any of these three will do just fine when I want a flavorful cake that reminds me of a cool May day on a windswept island.



Most recipes say to serve gingerbread warm, but I think that room temperature is just fine. Tightly wrapped, gingerbread will stay fresh for several days ... if it’s around that long.

I like to vary the shape, so sometimes I make muffins instead of a cake. All can be topped with confectioners’ sugar, whipped cream or anything else you’d like. But I don’t think they need any adornment.

You can find small pieces of crystallized ginger at Harry’s Farmers Market or Whole Foods. I like the Reed’s brand that comes in a 1-pound resealable pouch.

Betty Gordon,


King Arthur Flour’s Gingerbread

Hands on: 20 minutes Total time: 55 minutes Serves: 12 to 16

This was the winner, the closest to what I could remember of the taste of the ginger cake I had on Sark. Instead of a square cake, try baking the batter as 12 large muffins.

You can use 3 tablespoons of fresh grated ginger instead of crystallized ginger. Add the ginger to the molasses before adding to the flour mixture.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

11/2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted

3/4 cup molasses

1/4 cup water

1 large egg

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, diced (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Melt the butter or margarine in the microwave in a heatproof measuring cup. Add the molasses to the butter. Pour into the dry ingredients, mixing to moisten.

Add the water, stirring until everything is moistened. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir into the batter until it’s evenly combined. Stir in the crystallized ginger.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake just begins to pull away from the edge of the pan. (Make sure the center is baked; it should not wiggle.) Or insert a toothpick in the center and when it comes out clean, the cake is done. Be careful not to overbake.

Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for 15 minutes before slicing.

Adapted from a recipe from Per serving (based on 12): 254 calories (percent of calories from fat, 30), 3 grams protein, 42 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 9 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 39 milligrams cholesterol, 234 milligrams sodium.



Hands on: 15 minutes Total time: 55 minutes Serves: 12

This gingerbread comes together quickly if you’re looking for a last-minute dessert. Don’t worry if the batter seems too thick after you’ve added the molasses. The hot water will thin it and make it easier to mix.

12/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

11/4 teaspoons baking soda

11/2 teaspoons ground ginger

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg, lightly beaten

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup boiling water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, diced (optional)

Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square baking pan.

Sift flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon and salt into a mixing bowl. Add the egg, sugar and molasses. Mix well.

Pour boiling water and oil over the mixture. Add the crystallized ginger. Stir thoroughly until smooth.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Set on the middle rack and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until the top springs back when touched and the edges have pulled away slightly from the sides of the pan.

Adapted from “The Silver Palate Cookbook” by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, $9.95)

Per serving: 243 calories (percent of calories from fat, 35), 2 grams protein, 37 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 10 grams fat (1 gram saturated), 18 milligrams cholesterol, 280 milligrams sodium.


Eliza Leslie’s Lafayette Gingerbread

Hands on: 25 minutes Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes Serves: 12 to 16

Cookbook author Jennifer Lindner McGlinn says a version of this cake dates to 1828 and was included in Eliza Leslie’s “Seventy-Five Recipes for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats.” It is possibly named for the Marquis de Lafayette, McGlinn says.

I made this in a well-greased and floured, fluted bundt pan; McGlinn calls for a springform pan. Sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, it’s elegant enough for a dinner party.

21/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground allspice

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 cup molasses

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 cup hot water

1/2 cup crystallized ginger, diced (optional)

Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon

Confectioners’ sugar

Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-by-3-inch springform pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and cloves.

Place the butter or margarine in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until smooth. (A good-quality hand mixer works fine, too.) Add the brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Pour in molasses and beat until smooth.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well, stopping at least once to scrape the sides of the bowl. In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the hot water.

Reduce the mixing speed to medium-low and alternately incorporate the flour mixture and the baking soda mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Stop once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the crystallized ginger, lemon juice and zest and beat until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until the cake is a dark chestnut brown color, the top is cracked and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Set the gingerbread on a wire rack to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before turning out to cool for about 30 minutes more.

Serve warm or at room temperature. Dust with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

Adapted from “Gingerbread: Timeless Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Desserts, Ice Cream, and Candy” by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn (Chronicle Books, $19.95)

Per serving (based on 12): 311 calories (percent of calories from fat, 25), 4 grams protein, 55 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 9 grams fat (5 grams saturated), 56 milligrams cholesterol, 331 milligrams sodium.

5 things you should know about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting

Published: Thursday, May 25, 2017 @ 8:00 AM

Muslims around the globe are gearing up for the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this weekend.

Throughout the holiday, observers fast from sunrise to sunset and partake in nightly feasts.

» RELATED: Muslims in America, by the numbers

Here are five things to know about Islam’s sacred month:

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the holy month of fasting, spiritual reflection and prayer for Muslims.

It is believed to be the month in which the Prophet Muhammad revealed the holy book — Quran — to Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” itself is taken from the Arabic word, “ramad,” an adjective describing something scorchingly dry or intensely heated by the sun.

» RELATED: Mahershala Ali makes history as first Muslim to win an Academy Award 

When is Ramadan?

The Islamic calendar is based on the moon’s cycle and not the sun’s (what the Western world uses), so the dates vary year to year.

By the Gregorian solar calendar, Ramadan is 10 to 12 days earlier every year.

In 2017, Ramadan is expected to start on May 27 and last through June 24.

Last year, the first day of Ramadan was June 6, 2016.

To determine when exactly the holy month will begin, Muslim-majority countries look to local moon sighters, according to Al Jazeera.

The lunar months last between 29 and 30 days, depending on the sighting of the moon on the 29th night of each month. If the moon is not visible, the month will last 30 days.

» RELATED: 5 inspiring quotes from iconic Muslim women to celebrate #MuslimWomensDay 

What do Muslims do during Ramadan and why?

Ramadan is known as the holy month of fasting, with Muslims abstaining from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset.

Fasting during the holiday is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, along with the daily prayer, declaration of faith, charity and performing the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Last year, according to Al Jazeera, fasting hours around the globe ranged between 11 and 22 hours and in the US, 16 to 18 hours.

The fast is intended to remind Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate and bring believers closer to God (Allah, in Arabic). 

During the month, Muslims also abstain from habits such as smoking, caffeine, sex, and gossip; this is seen as a way to both physically and spiritually purify oneself while practicing self-restraint.

Here’s what a day of fasting during Ramadan is like:

  • Muslims have a predawn meal called the “suhoor.”
  • Then, they fast all day until sunset.
  • At sunset, Muslims break their fast with a sip of water and some dates, the way they believe the Prophet Muhammad broke his fast more than a thousand years ago.
  • After sunset prayers, they gather at event halls, mosques or at home with family and friends in a large feast called “iftar."

» RELATED: Photos of famous Muslim Americans

How is the end of Ramadan celebrated?

Toward the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Laylat al-Qadr or “the Night of Power/Destiny” — a day observers believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad to reveal the Quran’s first verses.

On this night, which falls on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, Muslims practice intense worship as they pray for answers and seek forgiveness for any sins.

To mark the end of Ramadan, determined by the sighting of the moon on the 29th, a 3-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr brings families and friends together in early morning prayers followed by picnics, feasts and fun.

Does every Muslim fast during Ramadan?

According to most interpreters of the Quran, children, the elderly, the ill, pregnant women, women who are nursing or menstruating, and travelers are exempt from fasting.

Some interpreters also consider intense hunger and thirst as well as compulsion (someone threatening another to do something) exceptions.

But as an entirety, whether Muslims fast or not often depends on their ethnicity and country.

Many Muslims in Muslim-majority countries, for example, observe the monthlong fast during Ramadan, according to 2012 data from the Pew Research Center.

In fact, in Saudi Arabia, Muslims and non-Muslims can be fined or jailed for eating in public during the day, according to the Associated Press.

But in the United States and in Europe, many Muslims are accepting of non-observers.


How not to celebrate Cinco de Mayo

Published: Tuesday, May 02, 2017 @ 11:28 AM

Cinco de Mayo is Friday, and before everyone gets ready for happy hours and parties, it helps to go in with a plan.

>> Read more trending stories

There are plenty of ways to celebrate the day, which commemorates Mexico’s victory over France in the Battle of Puebla on May 5 1862, during the French-Mexican war.

Make sure you do not do any of the following:

Dress up in sombreros and fake mustaches

There is no need to "dress up" for this day, but if you do, do not wear a sombrero, mariachi suit, serape, fake mustache or anything of the sort if you are not a member of that culture. Those things have historical and cultural significance, and donning them just for a day caricatures and stereotypes people. That's not fun.

Go out and get drunk

There is nothing wrong with drinking in moderation and doing it socially, but responsibility is key. What is the use in celebrating a day if you get sick or can't remember it?

Make English words Spanish by adding an "o" on the end

Not only does it not make any sense, but by doing this, it makes fun of another language and turns it into a joke. The same goes for plays on the holiday name, so no parties or themes like "Cinco de Drinko."

You can make a margarita cupcake or a fun cocktail, or have dinner at a family-owned Mexican restaurant. There are plenty of ways to celebrate Cinco de Mayo without doing any of the three above.

Woman turns son's hospital bed into giant Easter basket

Published: Tuesday, April 18, 2017 @ 5:14 PM

Marine2844/Getty Images/iStockphoto

A woman turned her son’s hospital bed at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, into a giant Easter basket, and social media loved it.

>> Read more trending news

The hospital posted the image on its Facebook page on Monday. Within 24 hours, the post has nearly 2,000 likes and nearly 400 shares.
“The lengths great parents will go to for their precious children,” one commenter wrote. 

The family is showing support for the post and have commented that they hope this becomes a trend for patients at the hospital every Easter.

Why is it called Good Friday and what’s so good about it?

Published: Friday, April 14, 2017 @ 12:14 PM

Pictured is a mosaic of Jesus Christ inside Messina Cathedral on the Piazza del Duomo in Messina, Sicily.
Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images

Christians believe Jesus was mocked publicly and crucified on a solemn Friday two thousand years ago. Today, the calamitous day is celebrated as Good Friday.

But what’s so good about that?

>> Read more trending news

One answer is that at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion, “good” may have referred to “holy” in Old English, a linguistic theory supported by many language experts.

According to Slate, the Oxford English Dictionary notes the Wednesday before Easter was once called “Good Wednesday.” Today, it’s more commonly known as Holy Wednesday.

And Anatoly Liberman, a University of Minnesota professor who studies the origins of English words, told Slate if we consider the alternative names for Good Friday, such as “Sacred Friday” (romance languages) or “Passion Friday” (Russian), this theory makes a lot of sense.

Another possible reason for its moniker — a theory supported by both linguists and historical evidence — refers to the holiday’s ties to Easter Sunday, which celebrates the resurrection of Christ.

Because Jesus couldn’t have been resurrected without dying, the day of his death is, in a sense, “good.”

“That terrible Friday has been called Good Friday because it led to the Resurrection of Jesus and his victory over death and sin and the celebration of Easter, the very pinnacle of Christian celebrations,” the Huffington Post reported.

A third answer, some believe, is that the “good” in Good Friday was derived from "God” or “God’s Friday” — the way the term “goodbye” comes from a contraction of the phrase “God Be With You.”

Still, not everyone refers to this day as Good Friday. For example, 

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions that, in the Greek Church, the holiday is known as "the Holy and Great Friday." In German, it's referred to as "Sorrowful Friday."

And as aforementioned, “Sacred Friday” and “Passion Friday” are also used.

In addition, because the holiday is also commemorated with a long fast, Good Friday was also referred to as “Long Friday” by the Anglo-Saxons.