I’m always looking for an upside to winter being on the way. I don’t skate and I don’t have a snowmobile, but there’s a spice cupboard in my kitchen blocked with traditional cold-weather flavours to chase away the fall blues.
Can’t say as I’ve ever made a spice cake in July or August, but I’ve never not made one in November. I hope you find at least one of these recipes is perfect to take the chill out of your bones.
Spiced Almond Pecan Coffee Cake
This spice mixture is standard for many fruitcake recipes, but also brightens the profile of this rich, buttery cake. Serve warm with lightly sweetened whipped cream for full effect. Toast the pecans in a dry frying pan over medium heat or in the oven at 350 F for a few minutes, just until you can smell them — keep your eyes open, though, because they can scorch in a heartbeat. The ground almonds aren’t enough to change the texture of the crumb significantly but they certainly add a characteristic nutty taste. Notice that both types of brown sugar — light and dark — are used here, although you could certainly use whichever one you have on hand.
1/2 cup white sugar
5 tbsp. light brown sugar
2/3 cup cool unsalted butter (no other)
2 tsp. vanilla
4 oz. ground almonds
1 cup flour
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tbsp. milk
1-1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. each ground allspice and nutmeg (freshly ground, all the better)
3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
Cream sugars with butter until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time. Stir in almonds. Sift or whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Whisk together sour cream and milk. Add flour mixture alternately with sour cream mixture — three additions of dry and two of wet. Mix only until well combined. Pour half the batter into a greased and floured 9-inch springform pan. Stir together pecans, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and brown sugar. Sprinkle half the pecan mixture over batter in pan. Spoon remaining batter over the nut mixture and smooth the top. Sprinkle on the remaining nut mixture. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan 15 minutes then serve or remove and allow to cool completely before wrapping tightly for later.
Best Ginger Spice Cookies
Nothing goes better with a cup of tea on a cold afternoon than a warm ginger cookie. You can use plain white sugar for the sprinkle on top if you like, but coarse brown sugar is getting easier to find — check out the bulk food store — and it adds that little extra crunch and flavour. I’m making the fresh gingerroot optional, but it isn’t, really. Please give it a try.
1/2 cup soft unsalted butter (or margarine, but omit salt)
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp. orange juice
1 tbsp. finely grated fresh gingerroot
1/4 cup molasses
2-1/4 cups flour
1 tbsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
pinch mace (optional)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. coarse sugar, like turbinado or demerara
Cream butter, shortening and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, orange juice, grated ginger and molasses. Whisk together flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mace, baking soda and salt. Stir into creamed mixture until just combined. Form into 24 small balls. Dip one side, about halfway up, into the coarse sugar and place, sugared side up, on two parchment-paper-lined ungreased baking sheets. Flatten slightly and bake at 350 F for 10 minutes or until the edges are set. Don’t overbake these or they won’t be soft and chewy. Allow to sit on the pan about 5 minutes before removing to a cooling rack.
Molasses Spice Cake
Finally, a recipe that sort of combines the first two. This moist and delicious cake is great as is, or top with butter cream or cream cheese icing. My favourite topping, however, is warm brown sugar glaze. All ingredients should be at room temperature for this recipe. A quick trick is to sit the eggs in warm water for a few minutes, and you can microwave the sour cream.
1/2 cup warm, unsalted butter (no other)
1-1/3 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon and ginger
1/4 tsp. each ground mace, cloves, nutmeg and allspice
1/3 cup sour cream
1/3 cup molasses
2 tbsp. finely grated fresh gingerroot
grated peel of 1 lemon
2 tsp. vanilla
Brown Sugar Glaze:
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter (omit the salt if using salted butter or margarine)
1/4 cup whipping cream
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
Cream butter and brown sugar until light and creamy. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, mace, cloves, nutmeg and allspice; set aside. Whisk together eggs, sour cream, molasses, gingerroot, lemon peel and vanilla. Add dry ingredients alternately with wet to creamed mixture, starting and ending with dry—two of wet and three of dry will be fine. Pour into a generously greased 9-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 F for 40 minutes or until a tester in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan 10 minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. For the glaze, put everything in a small pot and bring to a boil. Whisk until sugar is dissolved and sauce is smooth. Cool until thickened and either pour over cake or spoon onto individual servings.
Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her
c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86,
St. John’s, N.L, A1E 4N1.