Merry Christmas, Margaret Mead.

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (and friends)

Chocolate Gingerbread Cake (and friends)

I was sitting at a Christmas party the other day speaking to a chum. Just by coincidence we happened to be seated next to the desserts. Why not? I brought them. My chum –a magazine editor by trade – effects an effortless casual style. I may effect a casual style but it isn’t effortless. I always feel like I’m huffing and puffing to get there. Mr. Magazine Editor routinely flies around the world dressing celebrities for photos that will run in his magazine which is read by millions. I stand in my kitchen baking and cooking for photos that will run in my blog which is read by…you. He takes great satisfaction in the end result of his work. Me too. But…

I mention that we were seated next to the desserts not as an example of my gluttony (which was well under control— that night) but as an example of the fact that sometimes I need to hear strangers’ reactions to my work. I bake for my friends and family often enough, and their reactions are always positive. For some reason (curiosity? neediness?) I feel like I need to listen to strangers for another version of the truth.

Another friend, renowned artist Laura Loving, held her annual Holiday Open Studio this past weekend and asked me to help out with a few desserts. My position next to the dessert table was the closest I can get to one-way mirror / hidden camera-style market research. A behaviorist’s study, if you will, of homo-sapien activity at the holiday dessert table.

Here’s what I learned.

-Kids will try cake. If they like it, they will then quickly grab two or three additional slices.

-Adults will eat a whole cookie if they like it. But the adult cookie rhythm can be somewhat elusive as the time from study to grab can be lightening fast. From what I could see, it goes something like this.

Step One: Bite cookie.

Step Two: Whilst mulling the taste, study the cookie’s appearance at close range.

Step Three: If cookie passes muster, eat remainder of cookie and take another—“for a friend. “

-Frosted items like cake are similar, and the following behavior seems to apply to both the child and adult of the species:

Step One: Bite Frosting.

Step Two: Mull taste.

Step Three: If frosting passes muster finish eating slice. If not, deposit remainder onto serviette. Then deposit filled serviette on rear corner of dessert table. (Thus somewhat fulfilling the belief that the cake part of cupcakes is merely a vessel to carry the frosting.)

(Are you keeping up? Let me know if you need this put into a Visio Workflow illustration.)

Every once in a while I was treated to a bonus when people would approach the desserts in pairs. Usually one of the pair was the designated taster. The other would watch intently for visual cues as to whether the item in question was acceptable. If it was, then the item was either shared (women) or an additional piece was procured (men and married couples.) Verbal cues were few and far between in this sampling; only the occasional, “Well?” and nodding “Mmmm, okay…” could be sampled.

I was gratified by the overall positive response. Refreshingly, Mr. Magazine Editor broke the stereotype I’ve held of people in the fashion business by eating several Fleur de Sel Chocolate Caramel Cookies.

This holiday season I decided to bake along the path of least resistance – in other words, stick to small, easily baked items that pack intense flavors, so my game plan for Laura’s Holiday Open Studio was simple. You’ve seen the aforementioned Fleur de Sel Caramel cookies here before; this time they were the most labor-intense part of the program because I wanted to bring the rolled, cookie cutter sandwich version.

Alongside those was a cookie experiment. Last week’s blog featured the classic Snickerdoodle. I prefer a bit more kick at Christmas, so using the same recipe, I added a large amount of ground cinnamon and ginger, along with chopped, crystallized ginger, and a touch of red sanding sugar on the outside. The resulting cookie, newly dubbed the “Ginger Doodle” promises to become a holiday favorite.

But the third item was my favorite. All season long I have been reading recipes or watching TV cooks bake rather aggressively flavored Gingerbread Cake, no doubt trying to hew closer to Pain D’Epices – the classic French spiced Honey Cake. I wanted something a bit simpler and kid friendly. My version of gingerbread is pumped with chocolate and the most aggressive it gets is a touch of vanilla and a jolt of coffee which are there primarily to pump up the chocolate even more.

My puzzlement was that I wanted to serve something creamy (like whipped cream) on the gingerbread, but knew that the cake needed to sit out for a few hours, making whipped cream impractical. Before too long it would break down and become liquid, plus leaving whipped cream out in a warm room is risky business for people’s stomachs.

A spiced Italian Meringue got the job done, and because it is cooked and therefore stable, stood high and proud on top of each piece of cake for the entire party (or at least as long as the cake lasted.)

All this baking, all this chocolate and ginger and cinnamon and sugar: My house smells good!


Click here for the recipe for Chocolate Gingerbread Cake.

If you’re feeling ambitious but need a bit of cookie baking technique and guidance, read the Butter Flour Eggs Cookie Primer 101 for some basic cookie-baking tips.


Are you still trying to finish Santa’s List? Check out Laura Loving’s incredible, affordable range of holiday gifts. Each piece of art features her iconic designs and will be cherished for years to come.


The Ronald McDonald House of New York is an amazing facility which provides a temporary “home-away-from-home” for pediatric cancer patients and their families. The Ronald McDonald House is supported entirely by private donations. Please read about this amazing place, and keep them in mind when considering your year-end charity donation.


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