Minor Disasters: Gingerbread

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How could something that seems so simple–so easy–so, so, so…elementary turn out so disastrously?

I bring you my newest kind of post: “Whoopsies.” Here, a baking whoopsie: I bring you gingerbread.

My excuse: okay, I grew up in a household that didn’t do cakey gingerbread. Instead, twice a year, we baked (and we still bake) gingerbread cookies: turkey-shaped cookies for Thanksgiving, and bears for Christmas.  Everyone has a role: my mom expertly pipes the icing, and my sister and I get sprinkles/sugar/red hots duty. You should see the way Mom crafts it. You have never seen more realistic-looking suspenders-wearing bears.

Even though I’ve never made gingerbread in its true loafy sense, I didn’t think that it was going to be hard. And maybe it isn’t hard. Maybe Sunday just wasn’t my day.

How did this ever begin? Well, I should take a second to mention that I live within walking distance of one of New York’s best-kept secrets: Two Little Red Hens bakery.  When I was writing my Master’s thesis, I used to go on long, procrastinatory walk down along the East River, and on my way back I’d stop in for some kind of treat. “You can eat this (cupcake/cookie/key lime tart) when you finish writing a page,” I’d tell myself, but I’d always end up polishing off half of my purchase before I made it to my building. It became such a habit that the counterstaff remembered not only my name but my previous orders. “How was the apple cake yesterday?” the girl behind the counter would say as she handed me a slice of peach pie. For some reason, though, I tended to shy away from the gingerbread because it was one of the only items that was consistently available. Maybe I felt the same way about this gingerbread that pretty girls tend to feel about nice boys: it was too available, too easy to get. It would always be there when I needed it. Until one day, disenchanted by the promises of cheesecake and eclairs, I realized maybe what was in front of me was what I really wanted all along.  So I got the gingerbread. I raved. I swooned. I wanted to make it myself.

But I didn’t until the other night, mostly because it’s actually chilly now and it doesn’t just feel appropriate to heat the whole apartment with my oven–it feels necessary. More than that, according to my tried-and-true Claire’s Corner Copia cookbook,  I was equipped with a cabinet full of the ingredients I already needed to make some gingerbread. Here’s what it was supposed to look like:

Gingerbread for Dummies:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup boiling water

Preheat the oven to 35o. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, molasses, oil, and eggs, beating until smooth. As always, I recommend cracking your eggs into a cup before adding them one by one (and Ina Garten agrees!) in case you have a bad egg. Well, believe it or not, this time I DID have a bad egg in the bunch–it was all off-color and crazy looking. I threw it out, but I should have also accepted it as a bad omen for the deed ahead.  Anyway. Beat all those ingredients until they’re smooth. Then in another bowl mix together your flour, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients in two or three additions to the wet ingredients and whisk them together. Then add the boiling water and whisk it until everything is nice and smooth.

At this point, in a perfect world, I would have filled my greased 8×8 baking pan with the batter and baked it for an hour or so, until a toothpick came out clean.  This, however, was not the case.

I filled my greased 8×8 pan with the batter and noticed that it seemed slightly too full based on the amount of batter I had–usually your recipe should get your pan to about 2/3 to 3/4 full. I didn’t think too much of it, but put a cookie sheet underneath the baking pan just in case it should overflow. In hindsight, maybe I was missing some blatant red flags.

Anyways, I was just settling down to watch Mad Men (best episode yet of this season, by the way) when I heard something rumble within the belly of the oven. I opened the oven only to find that my batter had totally overflowed the pan. I bailed it out with this bowl. I used its contents to fill some of the cups of my muffin tin, which I then baked as well:

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Batter was spattered all over the floor, but also my stovetop, cabinets, and walls. The air of my tiny apartment was heavy with the acrid scent of burning molasses and ginger. Images of gingerbread houses on fire came to mind. Here you can see some windex-covered droplets  on my floor (I didn’t have any other cleaner handy, and molasses is a pain to clean up):

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So then I thought everything was okay and went back to watching the you-know-what hit the fan between Don and Betty (I promise I won’t spoil anything for the DVR crowd here) when I heard another bang from the oven. This burned-up CLOD of batter just felt the need to release itself from my baking pan to meet my oven wall.  I will refrain from commenting on its appearance.

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Anyways, after another 30 minutes or so passed, I went in for the toothpick test and found the ordeal to be over. What was left of the gingerbread was moist and perfect, albeit deflated in the middle and kind of sad looking. It turned out to be delicious, but after all that, I just didn’t want to enjoy it. My hair smelled like burned molasses, there was batter everywhere, and all I wanted was some ice cream and for Don Draper to tell me everything was going to be okay.

The gingerbread is actually still sitting on a plate on my kitchen counter, and I have a bite once in a while when I walk to the fridge. It’s tasty, but in some strange way I kind of resent it. For now, I’m still on the hunt for the perfect gingerbread recipe, but if I’ve learned one thing, it’s that I shouldn’t be too cocky about simple things, because they will turn out to be major kitchen whoopsies.

Until next time, hit me up with your comments! Have YOU had any kitchen whoopsies of late?

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5 Responses to “Minor Disasters: Gingerbread”

  1. vida leming Says:

    you make me laugh out loud!

  2. Mamyte Says:

    My dear child, we have a family history of this. Do you remember the year we unintentionally made earthquake cake? It kept trying to slide into the ocean during an episode of California’s instability…

  3. sis Says:

    oh man, sorry i missed this!

  4. UncleOwl/Bear Says:

    Looked pretty good too me… and I know one other living creature that wears suspenders with everything besides the ginger bread bears….

  5. a nony muse Says:

    you annihilated the gingerbread man!

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