Like most (though not all) of the known universe, I am a sucker for baked goods, and I have a definite sweet tooth. This is the main reason I don’t bake very much at all – if I don’t bake it, I won’t have it around to eat. If I do bake it, I try to wrap up at least half of it in tinfoil and a ziplock and put it in the freezer immediately, so it’s not readily available. (But it defrosts quite nicely if I need it) Doing this, like getting half of your restaurant meal wrapped up before you even start eating, is one of those obnoxious health-fanatic pieces of advice that we hear over and over again and that can turn out to be surprisingly difficult to put into practice (not to mention kind of annoying, I mean, who wants to be that person). But, study after study shows that if a food is right there you’re far more likely to eat it, even if you’re not hungry. And, the more food you have around you the more you’ll eat. Interestingly, willpower has almost nothing to do with it! This is because willpower comes from the conscious control part of our brain, while our response to the sight and smell of food in front of us happens in the part of our brain we have no control over. Our biology is set up so that if there is more food and a greater variety around, we actually physically have to eat more in order to feel satisfied! This means that the claim food companies make that eating should be only about personal responsibility, so they shouldn’t be regulated, is a bunch of hooey. But, in places where we do have control, for example what foods we keep around in our house, it makes it all the more important to focus on good, real foods.
That said, baking can also be a wonderful, even relaxing, sensory and creative experience. The act of measuring and stirring can be meditative while the smells wafting from the oven and the feeling of having produced something lovely and delicious are not to be sniffed at. Plus, if you can train yourself to relish your homemade treats, full of good old-fashioned butter and spices, then you can at least gain the advantage of eventually finding commercial baked stuff pretty unsatisfying, even gross.
Yesterday was a horrendously chilly, drippy, windy day that absolutely cried out for baking. And not baking just anything, but baking something pungent, homey, and full of autumn flavors. I think the flavors most associated with autumn are cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, maple or molasses. And with good reason. All of these are warm, yet spicy, flavors that go well with a lot of the fruits and vegetables that come into season at this time of year: apples, pears, cranberries, dried fruits, winter squash, sweet potatoes, carrots. Then, a nice accent to these flavors is something a little citrus-y to complement their warmth, or something creamy and vanilla to offset their spicy kick. I finally settled on baking a good old-fashioned gingerbread to share with friends, whom I invited for a potluck (way better to invite friends over than to mope about on a dreary day).
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened
- ¾ cup molasses
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 2 tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger, or 1 tsp. ground ginger.
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- ¾ cup boiling hot water
- Heat the oven to 350F and grease an 11X7 cake pan. In a bowl, beat the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until the mixture is pretty smooth. Then beat in the molasses, then the eggs until smooth.
- Add the flour, baking soda, and spices, and beat together. Finally, add the cream and hot water and beat everything together (carefully at first because the water might not want to incorporate) until well blended and smooth.
- At this point, you could stir in ½-1 cup of any of the fall flavored fruits I mentioned – pear chunks, apples chunks, cranberries, chopped dried fruit, or even a tsp. of lemon or orange zest (the grated very outside of the peel). Or leave it as is. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until you can stick a knife or toothpick into the cake and it comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan before serving.
- The gingerbread is delicious plain, but also goes well with toppings. I served mine with whipped cream (whip together 1 cup of heavy cream with about 1 Tbs. sugar and 1 tsp. vanilla until it forms peaks). It would also be delicious with other creamy options such as ice cream, cream cheese frosting (whoa!), a dollop of yogurt, or even some pumpkin butter if you have some around.