Like most us, I eat not only when I’m hungry, but also when I’m bored, when I’m sad or lonely or drunk, when I’m angry or anxious or feel like I deserve a reward. In almost all of these cases, what I want most is dark, dense, not-too-sweet cake. For that very reason, I almost never make such a cake. One must wear pants, after all, and I am not in a position to buy new ones every other month.

Still, there are times. I recently forgot about a bunch of black lentils I had left boiling away on the stove. All the water evaporated and they had burnt to a crisp by the time the biting stench reached my room. I started over with new lentils and managed to salvage the pot I’d been using, but no matter how many fans I turned on and how many windows I opened, I couldn’t get the bitter, charred smell out of the house. I had a friend coming over for dinner whom I didn’t want to repulse. Acrid lentil fumes begone: I would shoo them out, or at least mask them, with the warm and spicy aroma of fresh gingerbread, the ultimate snacking cake.

I found this recipe, which sounded exactly like what I was looking for–almost. I didn’t have the applesauce it called for, but I figured plain yogurt would do. I also didn’t have whole wheat flour but wanted the same dense, nutty quality it imparts, so I replaced it with a mixture of white and rye flour. I misread the recipe and thought it said only ¼ cup each molasses and maple syrup. That seemed like very little sweetener for a whole batch of muffins, so I dumped in some brown sugar. The other gingerbread recipes I had looked at all called for eggs, but this one didn’t—I cracked one in. I was in too much of a hurry to measure spices, so I tossed in a bit of this and a bit of that and hoped it would taste good.

When I pulled the muffins out of the oven twenty-odd minutes later, no trace of the lentil debacle remained. The muffins were a deep caramel brown, bounced back at the touch, and smelled like Christmas. Unfortunately it turned out that my guest doesn’t like ginger, but I devoured mine with fervor enough for two.

Gingerbread (for the Hungry, the Sad, and the Smelly)
Makes about 16 muffins or 1 8×8 pan

*Note: if you don’t have rye flour, you can use whole wheat flour, buckwheat flour, or another whole-grain flour.

¼ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
¼ cup real maple syrup
½ cup plain yogurt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
¼ cup brown sugar, packed down
1 ½ cup rye flour
1 cup all-purpose white flour
1 ½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. allspice
¼ tsp. cardamom
¼ tsp. nutmeg
1 cup hot water
1 tsp. powdered sugar for dusting, if desired

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin cups with paper liners or butter and flour an 8×8 in. baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the molasses, maple syrup, yogurt, butter, egg, and brown sugar. Mix until well blended.
  3. In another bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ones, stirring until just combined. Stir in the hot water. Pour into prepared muffin cups or pan.
  4. Bake 20-25 minutes for muffins or 35-50 minutes for cake, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Sift powdered sugar over the top if desired. (Jiggling the sugar through a fine-mesh sieve works well for this.) Allow to cool before serving.
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