Thanksgiving is over. (Check) One holiday down, more to follow. Take a deep breath, buckle up and grab whatever gaiety you can muster to make December happen. The goal here is to find a reason to pull your Joy lever everyday.
Alone for Thanksgiving, first time ever, I was determined to flip my favorite holiday from the anticipated sad to happy. Needing to save the Ski Season, our Colorado governor and Aspen mayor issued Stay-At-Home-orders. So for days prior to the holiday I did just that. Baking was my comfort buffer.
Remember that ravishing Triple-Layer Parsnip and Cranberry cake from my Thanksgiving post? Using that recipe, I pulled out my favorite mold and baked mini-bundt desserts for friends who were also going to be alone for the holiday. I already had an inventory of Pandemic-proof Window Cake Boxes and Weck jars for the sauce.
Thanksgiving morning I put together my cargo and first headed down valley to deliver some of my 18 dessert packages. By noon, feeling quite pleased at having surprised everyone, I’d finished all my doorstep deliveries. Waiting for me, I already knew, was a traditional Thanksgiving feast dropped off by my friends, the Overeynder’s.
After justifying those extra calories by taking a not-at-all strenuous hike, catching up with far-away family and friends and watching “Holidate” on Netflix (Yes, it was cheesy. Yes, I loved it.), the holiday was in the rear-view mirror. Not the best Thanksgiving ever but it was fine.
Wait, it gets better. On the next day my down valley buddies who had included me in an elaborately orchestrated and safe tailgating food exchange on Thanksgiving, brought my portion to Aspen. What can I say? There was enough food to feed a family of four!
TIME TO MAKE A LIST
My Thanksgiving story is not to minimize the suffering in the world or America’s pain. Yes, we’ve experienced a rock-hard eight months with a horrendous winter forecasted. This past month I’ve seen (Thank God for Zoom.) the agonizing inner courage of a childhood friend whose daughter is doing battle with this virus and another Manchester friend who recently received a disheartening diagnosis.
With everything reeling-out of-control I began to feel helpless again, reminiscent of trying to get home from Paris last March and being quarantined for two weeks. Full stop. I’m not returning to that dark place again. Time to Make a List. For whatever reason, Lists work for me. I cross out the uncontrollable and am always left with what I call a Plan Possible forward.
After getting through Thanksgiving, packing up, driving and getting settled in Boulder, I need to plan how to live, work, study, and entertain myself in an impermanent, unfamiliar location as safely as possible. Just having received a library card, for example, and meeting neighbors who, if they see The New York Times’ piling up on my doorstep, will come calling, helps. Decided to forego gift giving and donate to organizations feeding the hungry this year. A feel-good idea.
MOLASSES COFFEE CAKE.
After my last post’s cake, a triple-layer showstopper, it seems unfair to feature this Molasses Coffee Cake now. It’s like comparing Plain Jane to Cinderella. Don’t be fooled. While not particularly photogenic or even splashy, it’s dense, moist, flavorful and complex. As a colleague wrote, ‘It has a whole lotta zing.’
Here’s some additional thoughts because this is not only a perfect holiday coffee cake but, gussied up with ice cream or whipped cream, it will be refreshing at tea time, as a fancy dessert or the best midnight snack Santa has ever tasted. It’s all about the coffee and the spices. And, that glaze? Oh My, you must.
MOLASSES COFFEE CAKE from “Everyday Dorie: The Way I Cook,” by Dorie Greenspan
Makes 8 to 10 servings
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup uncultured molasses
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup hot coffee (can be made with instant coffee or espresso powder)
1 1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, plus more (optional) for decoration
1 teaspoon boiling water
5 ounces best-quality white chocolate, finely chopped
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces, at room temperature
Whipped cream, for topping
This cake is even better on the second day — the spices have more time to ripen.
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan that’s at least 2 inches high (use a springform if you don’t have a regular cake pan that’s tall enough), fit a round of parchment paper into the bottom of the pan, butter the paper and dust the interior with flour; tap out the excess.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt ginger, five -spice powder, cinnamon and pepper.
3. Working in a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together on medium speed for about 2 minutes. Add the molasses and beat for 2 minutes more, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the egg and beat for 2 minutes, then beat in the vanilla.
4. Turn the mixer off, add the flour mixture and pulse to begin incorporating it. Then beat on low speed only until the dry ingredients disappear into the batter. With the mixer on low, add the hot coffee, again mixing only until it is incorporated. Scrape the batter into the pan and swivel the pan to even it.
5. Bake for 28 to 33 minutes, until the cake is beautifully browned and has risen uniformly. It will pull away from the sides of the pan if gently tugged and a tester inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean.
6. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the cake rest for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife around the sides of the cake. Turn the cake out onto the rack, gently peel off the parchment, invert onto another rack and cool to room temperature; or, if you are using a springform, simply remove the ring. The cake may develop a little dip in the center — that’s its personality.
7. Dissolve the instant espresso powder in the boiling water. Put the chopped chocolate in a small heatproof bowl.
8. Bring the cream to a boil (you can do this the microwave oven), stir in the espresso extract that you make and pour the cream over the chocolate. Let sit for 30 seconds and then, using a whisk or the small heatproof spatula, stir until the mixture is smooth. /add the butter one piece at a time, stirring until it is melted and incorporated.
9. Set the cake on the rack on a piece of of foil to catch drips. Pour as much of the glaze as you want over the cake and use a long spatula or a table knife to spread it. I like it when the glaze drips down the sides of the cake unevenly; if you want to smooth it, you can, of course.
10. Sprinkle with a little instant espresso powder to decorate, if you like.
11. Put the cake in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to set the glaze, then return it to room temperature for serving. Pass any remaining glaze a the table.
Storing: Wrapped well, the cake can keep at room temperature for up to 3 days. Wrapped airtight, it can be frozen for up to 2 months, glaze and all.