December 4, 2019

Dear friends,
I never met a gingerbread I didn’t like. So when a friend mentioned she had just made a gingerbread cake with dark beer and chocolate, I reacted like a deer in the headlights. I was stunned. Beer! Ginger! Chocolate!

I don’t usually eat desserts, so I had to invent an excuse to make Pennie’s gingerbread. It didn’t take a lot of thinking. Any old event would do. I made it last weekend, after smoking my backup Thanksgiving turkey (that was delicious). Then I sent the cake on a hunting trip with Tony to share with his friends, but not before I carved out a piece for myself.

The gingerbread lived up to my mental hype. It is made with not only beer and chocolate but grated fresh ginger, crystalized ginger and molasses. It is very moist and spicy. A dusting of confectioners’ sugar is all the gilding it needs.

The recipe is from a site I’d never heard of but will revisit: germanfoods.org. The site covers all things connected to eating in Germany or like a German — where to buy products, specialties by region, German table manners, food festivals and an astounding variety of recipes, from venison with chocolate and wine jelly sauce to fourteen ways to cook German white asparagus. The site’s owner is the food importer German Foods North America.

So. The Dunkel Gingerbread is baked, tasted and out of my hair. Now on to Lemon Almond Hearts, a traditional German Christmas cookie. Damn you, germanfoods.org.

DUNKEL GINGERBREAD WITH CHOCOLATE CHUNKS

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup dark German beer such as Becks or Warsteiner Premium Dunkel
1 cup molasses
1 tbsp. fresh grated ginger
1 stick (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened, plus additional for coating pan
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
3 oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped crystalized ginger
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter a 10-cup ring or Bundt pan, dust with flour, and shake out excess.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk together the beer, molasses and fresh ginger in a medium bowl and set aside.

Combine butter, sugar and egg in a large mixer bowl and beat at medium speed with a mixer for 2 minutes, or until mixture is light and fluffy. In 3 additions, alternately beat in flour mixture and beer mixture at low speed until batter is smooth. Stir in chocolate and crystallized ginger. Spoon batter into prepared pan, smoothing top of batter.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or more (I baked it 45 minutes), until a wooden toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan and cool completely on a wire rack. Dust cake with confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

TIDBITS

The New Royal Icing
I came across this easy glaze for sugar cookies that is as hard and shiny as the egg-white version, but without the egg whites:

2 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 tbsp. corn syrup or honey
1 to 2 tbsp. milk
Food coloring (optional)

Mix together with a fork. The mixture should be thick but soft enough that it smooths out after you spread it. If the glaze is too thick, add 1/2 teaspoon of milk. Glaze one cookie. If it settles to a smooth surface within 30 seconds, bingo. If not, add a tiny bit more milk. The glaze will set up hard, so add sprinkles, etc. while it is still wet.

The recipe is from the folks at King Arthur Flour. If you bake but haven’t signed up for the company’s newsletter yet, you can correct your error at kingarthurflour.com. Nose around the site and eventually a box will pop up asking you to sign up.

Lights, Camera, Cookies!
Set your DVR to record the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” at 10 p.m. Dec. 16 or 1 a.m. Dec. 17, when a local baker is set to compete. Kent PR agent Bob Burford sets the scene:

“Leslie Srodek-Johnson has been working in her family’s Cleveland-area bakery since she was in the fifth grade. She’s seen and learned a lot over the years, but she was certainly not prepared for a phone call one day from Food Network.”

Leslie, who bakes cookies and other goodies at Stan’s Northfield Bakery with her mom, Kathie, took the call and, despite a giant case of nerves, agreed to compete in the on-air cookie contest. She was up against four other bakers in the taped episode. The challenge was to make the most dazzling cut-out cookies. She can’t divulge the outcome, but said, “I was so nervous I think I lost ten pounds…. It was harder than childbirth with no drugs!”

Thanks, Bob, for letting me know about Leslie’s star turn, and for turning me on to her family’s old-fashioned bakery, which specializes in cakes, breads, kolacky, paczki, kuchens, pierogi and, yes, decorated cookies. The bakery’s website is https://www.stansbakery.com.

THE MAILBAG

Dear readers:
I was flooded with emails about Chef John of You Tube fame after I wrote last week about discovering him. I love his exacting but humorous way of demonstrating recipes, mostly French. I wrote that the guy deserves to be famous. Apparently he already is. To wit:

From Marty:
Chef John has 3.18 MILLION subscribers. What’s amazing is that we don’t have a local Fork Don’t Lie fan club. Ha!

Note from Jane:
Fork Don’t Lie is a site that sells mugs, t-shirts and phone cases emblazoned with Chef John sayings such as “Never Let the Food Win” and “Don’t Cook Scared.”

From Sandy:
Just wanted to let you know that Chef John has a ton of recipes and videos on allrecipes.com. I’ve been using his recipes and watching the videos for years!

From Kristi:
Big Chef John fan right here. I used his recipes long before I listened to a video. Then I liked him even better. Another blog you might like is agardenforthehouse.com. Kevin is a hoot.

From Paula:
I absolutely love Chef John! I discovered him last year when my mom entered hospice a few days before Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to make things even worse for our family by giving up Thanksgiving dinner, too. It was my first time ever, but I set up my laptop in the kitchen and he walked me through the way to the best roast turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes. My friends and family were so impressed and it was so easy! It feels like Chef John is right there in the kitchen letting you know everything is going to be OK.

Dear friends:
Thanks for your emails. I found a photo of chef John Mitzewich on Wikipedia, and he looks exactly as I expected him to — middle-aged, a bit chubby with a mustache and a great smile. He studied at the California Culinary Academy. After I mainline “The Crown” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I plan to settle in with Chef John.