The holiday season is here, cozily tiptoeing its way into my days. One minute I was crunching on a carpet of rustling fallen leaves in the park, feeling all pumpkin-y and eager for the dark nights that herald the coming of Halloween. And the next moment, I blink, and the grocery store checkout aisle is lined with foil-wrapped chocolate Santas. My Pandora station plays Charlie Brown Christmas songs. Our mantlepiece is strung up with twinkly tea lights. Last night I lit a fire and set some red tapered candles out on the dinner table—how’s that for ambiance?
The bitter cold makes me particularly happy to come inside at night. Lately I’ve been working in the afternoons in bright little cafes, the buzz of conversation and people staving off that low energy 3 PM slump that plagues me as a writer sometimes. I order a creamy matcha latte, the cheerful bright green surface dotted with a foamy cap of oat milk. I write. I watch people come and go: holding hands. Bickering. Talking on the phone. Searching for their keys. Laughing with the barista. I write more. When I finish and the day starts its slow turn to darkness, I trundle through the city streets, wrapped in all manner of scarves and coats and gloves. I open my lobby door, stepping into the welcome warmth.
Along with the Christmas carols and the music and my red flannel pajamas, my baking has taken a seasonal turn. Though I certainly don’t reserve warm, aromatic spices like cardamom and cinnamon for wintertime only, they have an undeniable appeal in December, so I give them their time in the spotlight.
Instead of regular cookies, we make cardamom-scented snickerdoodles. Instead of almond sweet rolls or sticky orange morning buns, we make cinnamon rolls, heavy on the spice. And instead of any kind of muffins, I’ll be making these spicy ginger ones from here on out.
I found this recipe in an old issue of Gourmet magazine, which remains an enduring treasure trove of stories and recipes, even though it’s no longer in print. The recipe was tucked away on a page half covered in advertisements for Canadian hotel deals, and I nearly missed it. But there it was: GINGER CAKE, adapted from a Viennese bakery in Toronto.
I didn’t have much time in the morning, so rather than bake the recipe as a cake, I divided the batter between muffin tins. The results were spectacular. Best of all, these muffins get better the second and third day, staying incredibly moist with slightly sticky tops. The recipe doesn’t sound like much…and they don’t look like much either, I know.
But the flavor is wildly assertive, thanks to 4 (!!!) teaspoons of ground ginger. Combined with molasses, some cinnamon, and brown sugar, the muffins are tender-crumbed and warmly spiced. They’re much softer and more delicate than a muffin, which makes sense given that it’s really a cake recipe. I like to crumble them into ice cream—this is weird, but stick with me here, they are very good with pistachio ice cream.
Give them a try. I suspect they’ll win you over as they did me.
Adapted from Gourmet
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons molasses
1 cup boiling hot water
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a standard muffin tin or line it with muffin papers (you can also bake this in a greased 9” springform cake pan—but make sure it’s at least 2” high).
In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until very pale and fluffy.
In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk together the molasses and boiling water. Add the baking soda and whisk rapidly—it will foam up! This is fun! Like a science experiment!
Add the molasses mixture to the butter/sugar along with the flour, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Mix until the batter is smooth; don’t overmix.
Add the beaten eggs and mix until well-incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the muffin tins and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. The muffins are ready when they just spring back lightly to the touch. If you’re using a 9” springform pan, bake for about 50 to 60 minutes.)
Remove from the oven and let cool.