I considered making some sort of dessert with citrus, since Casey loves all things tart and lemony. But lemon bars, and tarts, and pound cakes weren't really doing it for me. And then I thought about making something more seasonal, like a spice cake. The dessert in my imagination had a light and airy crumb and autumnal spices, maybe some sort of glaze on top?
But my dream dessert didn't seem to exist. A cookbook and Internet search only yielded recipes for muffin-like quick breads, or pound cakes, which wasn't exactly what I had in mind. But as I paged through Nigella Lawson's How to Be a Domestic Goddess, looking at page after page of cozy desserts, I stumbled upon exactly the right thing: gingerbread with lemon icing. The photo in the cookbook shows two identical slabs of dark, almost black, cake capped with a snowy layer of icing. And in her typical purple prose-y, Nigella way, she writes, "lemon spruceness of the topping is perfect with the musky sweetness beneath it." Sold and sold!
The cake, which called for fresh ginger, was easy enough to whip up. But when I tasted the batter, it lacked the heat and spiciness I expect from gingerbread. So I added a bit of ground ginger and an extra dash or two of cinnamon for good measure. When the cake emerged from the oven, it was puffed and fragrant--the house suddenly smelled like fall. The next morning, I packed up a few slices in a Tupperware and filled a plastic baggie with icing so I could assemble the dessert right before we ate it, preventing the gingerbread from getting soggy. Even though we were full, this cake went down easy. I even spied a few fingers sneakily pressing up the last few remaining crumbs.
As usual, Nigella was correct. The tart and sugary icing offsets the warm stickiness of the cake, adding a nice balance, and yes...a lemon spruceness, as well.
Fresh gingerbread with lemon icing
Adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe. I replaced the corn syrup with honey, which pairs really well with the molasses.
(Makes about 15 to 20 squares)
For the gingerbread:
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup (or honey)
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. molasses
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
2 large eggs, beaten to mix
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 Tbsp. warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour
roasting pan, approximately 12 x 8 x 2 inches, greased and lined with foil or parchment paper
For the icing:
1 Tbsp. lemon juice,
1 tsp. grated lemon zest (optional)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 Tbsp. warm water
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the sugar, syrup (or honey), molasses, ginger (fresh and ground), and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs, and baking soda in its water.
Measure the flour out into a bowl and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until very well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter). Pour it into the pan and bake for 3/4 - 1 hour until risen and firm. Be careful not to overcook it, as it is nicer a little stickier, and anyway it will carry on cooking as it cools.
And when it is cool, get on with the icing. Whisk the lemon juice and zest into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water. You want a good, thick icing, so go cautiously and be prepared not to add all the water. Spread over the cooled gingerbread with a palette knife, and leave to set before cutting.