I love the poetry of Emily Dickinson, always have. I studied her in school, read her works for my own pleasure, read her letters... (note to self: burn everything) but it wasn't until recently that I learned that during her life she was better known for her cooking and baking than she was for the written word. There was a recent excellent essay in the New Yorker which explains a lot of the problems she had back in the day with the ways in which one got published, and how much control an author had oven her own works and how they were presented to the public. After reading it I realized that were she around today she'd probably have an artisanal bakery somewhere in Amherst with top Yelp ratings, and her hand written calligriphied poetry tucked inside each and every box of brownies or cake.
She'd hook up with these guys and share a space selling ten buck chocolate bars along with her baked goods.
Who knows? After all, she went to Mt. Holyoke.
Either way once I discovered Emily's cooking and baking chops I absolutely got why she divided her day between the kitchen and her writing space. The simple answer as far as I'm concerned is instant gratification. When one writes, there's many a wait between what goes on the page and anyone actually reading it. Having earned my living as a screenwriter for years makes that very clear. One writes a script, a book, a poem and then comes the rewriting, changes, tweaks, etc. before the finished product ever sees the light of day. If it sees the light of day, and if one is in the screenplay business, if one gets the final credit..or an un-credited rewrite. Whatever.
Emily however didn't care a jot about any of that. She wrote her poems and after being fed up with publishers changes, and the general hurly-burly of being a woman in the world of 19th century letters, shoved it all in a drawer to be discovered after her death... meanwhile she built her reputation on her food, and a well deserved reputation it was.
About a year ago I bought the Emily Dickinson cookbook from the Emily Dickinson museum, and one recipe in particular became a favorite, Emily Dickinson's Famous Gingerbread. I baked some this last summer for the first time, and enjoyed it so much that I decided to try a gluten free version for the menu at CocoaPlanet Tasting Room and Modern French Cafe. This gingerbread will be on the menu soon here in Sonoma.... and it can be made with either regular flour or gluten-free flour. So, if you 'd like a real old school mid 19th century gingerbread, no fooling around, try this with a dab of fresh whipped cream and a mug of hot cocoa. You won't be sorry.
Here's What You Need:
3 and 7/8 cups of flour (either all purpose or gluten free)
1 cup of mild molasses
1 stick of unsalted butter (measures out to 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 Tbs ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
Here's What To Do:
In a large bowl mix together the flour...
...the ground ginger...
...baking soda and salt.
Make sure they're all well blended and set aside.
Pour the molasses into a measuring cup.
Remember what they always said about molasses in January?? Well that applies to December too.
You may need to sit down for this one. When the molasses is finally out of the bottle and in to the cup, place the room temperature butter in the bowl of a stand mixer, and using the paddle attachment beat on low until it's smooth and creamy.
In a separate bowl beat the whipping cream until it starts to thicken but is not fully whipped. Add it to the butter in the stand mixer.
Mix them together on a low speed.
Now, add in the molasses...
...and wait for it....
Blend it all together. Make sure it's mixed together thoroughly.
Add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing it at a low speed.
When it's all blended together, pour the dough onto a length of Saran wrap.
Shape it into a rectangle. Smooth it out as best you can. If using gluten free flour dust it with a bit of tapioca flour, if using regular flour, just dust it with flour.
Flatten it into a rectangle about 1 inch or so thick and wrap it in Saran wrap.
Place it on a cookie sheet and shove it in the fridge overnight... you can refrigerate it for just an hour or so... but Emily preferred the slow cooking method and who am I to argue with a genius?
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place your dough on it. You can use a light dusting of flour to keep things from getting too sticky.
Roll the gingerbread dough out so it fills the rimmed baking sheet and pop it in the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.
You'll know it's done when the edges are browned and the center has firmed up a bit.
Take it out and cut the ginger bread into pieces and place them on a cooling rack.
Now for Emily's glaze.
Mix together 1/2 cup of powdered sugar and 1 Tbs water.
Whip it together until you have a thick icing.
Brush the icing on the cooled gingerbread tiles.
Wait for the icing to set and serve it up.
If you aren't planning on enjoying it right away, don't worry. This will keep in an airtight container for about 2 weeks. This gingerbread is not puffy, this is the real deal early Americana stuff of legend. Serve it with some lightly sweetened or unsweetened freshly whipped cream, or leave it out for Santa. No matter what you've done this past year, this will change his mind.
Coming up next, I finally get around to kheema pav, the Mumbai street favorite...but this time with a local twist. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori