Last week, I went to the housewarming party for Elyse, a friend from ELLE, where I do freelance copyediting. She’d promised to make Yuletide wassail, or mulled wine. That had me rsvp’ing lickity-split.
While I loathe sangria, the idea of hot mulled wine triggered all the pleasure centers in my brain, igniting an orgy of images of white Christmases, roaring fireplaces, festive carolers, and snowball fights.
What to bring to such a party? Gingerbread immediately sprung to mind, being another Yuletide treat that’s as traditional as Santa himself.
While I don’t know Santa’s age, I can say that gingerbread has over a thousand years of history. Brought to France by an Armenian monk in 992, gingerbread gets its name comes from the Old French gingebras, which is derived from the Latin word for ginger, zingebar. In the 13th century, German immigrants carried it to Sweden, where it was used to ease digestion. Over time, gingerbread was being sold by monasteries, pharmacies, and town markets all over Europe, reaching a peak in popularity in the 1700s.
The following recipe comes from New York’s famed Gramercy Tavern (cofounded by Top Chef’s head judge, Tom Colicchio). It's truly a classic, with dark molasses, traditional baking spices, and—surprise!—Guiness stout. (Try getting people to guess this secret ingredient; they never do, so you can put some sure money down on that bet.)
So, build that snowman, cue up some holiday tunes, then gather round the fireplace with steaming mugs of wassail and a plate of sugar-dusted gingerbread. It's guaranteed to bring good cheer.
GRAMERCY TAVERN GINGERBREAD
1 cup oatmeal stout or Guinness
1 cup dark molasses (not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1- 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cardamom
3 large eggs
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Confectioners sugar for dusting
10" bunt pan or 9" square pan
Preheat oven to 350°F. Generously butter bundt (or 9” square) pan and dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk in baking soda, then cool to room temperature.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and spices in a large bowl. Whisk together eggs and sugars. Whisk in oil, then molasses mixture. Add to flour mixture and whisk until just combined.
Pour batter into bundt pan and rap pan sharply on counter to eliminate air bubbles. Bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs adhering, about 50 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Turn out onto rack and cool completely.
Serve cake, dusted with confectioners sugar (optional), with whipped cream.
- This recipe was tested with Grandma's brand green-label molasses.
- Like the chocolate decadence cake, the gingerbread is better if made a day ahead. It will keep 3 days, covered, at room temperature.
Though wassail is typically made with red wine, in the medieval past it was made with cider, beer, or mead. The beverage was mixed with sugar and spices in individual serving bowls, then topped with toast to sop up the last drops.
1 cup sugar
4 cinnamon sticks
3 lemon slices, plus more for garnish
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 cups orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
6 cups dry red wine (e.g. Valpolicella)
1 cup dry sherry
Boil the sugar, cinnamon, and 3 lemon slices in the water for 5 minutes and strain. Discard the cinnamon sticks and those lemon slices. Combine with the syrup mixture with the remaining ingredients, heat but do not boil, garnish with lemon slices, and serve hot.