Thanksgiving’s turkey has been carved, consumed, and whittled to the wishbone. Gravy-slathered leftovers have been licked from their plates, and the last slice of pumpkin pie’s been polished off. I can smell the shifting season in the air: an evergreen, spice-scented fragrance on the wind. Christmas is coming.
I love ginger. Unassuming little root that warms you from the inside out. Lively and bright, it mingles well with everything from cinnamon to garlic. It’s the guest you want at any party. But I think it’s personality (both comforting and invigorating) shines brightest at the breakfast table. And never more than when the sun grows drowsy and the air smells faintly of snow.
I’ll be honest, I never tasted the original Starbucks version of this loaf. It always looked so dried out and forlorn. Not something this rendition suffers from.
This moist loaf is rich, spicy, and incredibly moist, even the next day. Especially the next day. I almost prefer it then, when the flavors have had a longer chance to harmonize. The cream cheese icing can be made the night before and refrigerator while the loaf rests on the counter, growing tastier by the hour while you sleep the lengthening night away. In the morning, spread it thick and scrumptious and sprinkle with some chopped crystallized ginger for the perfect pick-me-up with your morning cup of rooibos (I recommend spiced if you can find it) or some plain, ol’ Joe.
Whatever you choose, be sure to make it hot. You’ll want to linger over this one.
Iced Gingerbread Loaf
adapted from A Cup of Mascarpone
There’s a lot of spice in these babies. Don’t skimp. The intense bite of ginger combined with the warmth of the cinnamon and the richness of the cloves really makes this recipe. Notice the butter used is salted. This is because the delicious organic butter at my local COSTCO is salted, and I create recipes accordingly. If you want to use unsalted butter, add an extra 1/2 teaspoon of salt. In addition, I specify homemade applesauce, but store-bought apple butter is a fine substitute. The orange oil makes these extra special, worthy of holiday gift giving, a winter bridal shower, or a celebratory St. Nicholas Day breakfast spread. But you can make it for no occasion at all. You never need an occasion to spoil your family with something this scrumptious.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes (can be made ahead)
Yield: 2 loaves, each loaf serving 8
for the loaf:
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 cup salted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon orange extract, or 1/4 teaspoon orange oil
2 cups homemade applesauce
2 teaspoons baking soda
for the frosting:
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract, or 1/8 teaspoon orange oil
3 cups confectioner’s sugar
chopped candied ginger
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9″x5″ loaf pans. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and cloves. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, followed by the orange extract (or oil). Mix in the applesauce and baking soda. Add the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Divide the batter between the prepared loaf pans.
Bake 1 hour and 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pans onto rack and cool completely before continuing. (At this point, the loaves can be stored, wrapped in wax paper then plastic wrap, at room temperature for up to 24 hours. You can also freeze the loaves for 1 month by wrapping in wax paper, plastic wrap, then storing in an airtight freezer zip-top bag. Thaw at room temperature overnight.)
Beat the cream cheese until fluffy, then add the vanilla and orange extracts. Slowly beat in the confectioner’s sugar. Spread the icing thickly over the top of the loaves, then sprinkle with chopped candied ginger.
Serve, sliced, at room temperature. You can also wrap loosely in plastic wrap (place toothpicks at the corners of the loaves to keep the plastic wrap from squashing the icing) and refrigerate. The flavors will be more intense at room temperature, but some people prefer the texture of a firmer icing. Either way, it’s delicious.