Run, run, run, fast as you can, can’t catch me ’cause you had some of this.

Good Night Gingerbread

Mr. Peña and I turned in before 9 last night, partly due to overenthusiastic helpings of shepherd pie, but mostly from the effects of one too many return trips to the best gingerbread I’ve ever had. And I’ve had a lot of gingerbread. The following recipe produces a single-layer iced cake perfect for a holiday dessert, but you could also serve it plain for breakfast, hot from the oven with a slab of salted butter and a tall glass of milk.

2 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C shortening
1/4 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1 egg
1 C unsulfured molasses mixed with 1 C hot water

1/2 C powdered sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
cold water

Set your oven to 350, then grease and flour a square 8×8 or 9×9 cake pan. Mix the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar until fluffy. Stir in the egg, then dump in the dry ingredients as well as the molasses water and mix well. Use a stand mixer or hand-held to beat on high for 3 minutes before pouring into the pan, then bake at 350 for 50 minutes, but check at 40 to make sure the edges aren’t in danger of burning. If they are, cover them with aluminum foil, leaving the center exposed, and continue baking until an inserted pick comes out clean. Let it cool in the pan for 10 minutes, run a knife along the edges, and flip it out onto a work surface. I cut the top off with a cake leveler, then ice it bottom side up. I suggest you do the same.

To make the icing, put the sugar and maple syrup in a small mixing bowl and stir, adding water by the tbsp as needed until you achieve the desired consistency; it should drizzle but not weep. Cover the ball of a whisk with the icing and flick it back and forth over the cake for some artsy striping, and serve while it’s still warm. If you plan to consume the entire cake yourself, you can retain some semblance of dignity by going through the motions of cutting individual slices and using a plate, as opposed to taking the whole thing into the bathtub.

It appears I bought too many bananas.

Reserved Banana Bread

I can take or leave banana bread, but my boys love it, so I make it once a year during the holidays, and I throw a bunch of stuff at it that I can actually get excited about. Now seems as good a time as any in light of my recent overestimation of our weekly banana consumption. This is a good recipe for taking stock of your pantry. If the only ingredients you’re missing are ungodly over-ripe bananas and sour cream, you’re doing it right.

1 stand mixer, or a boatload of can-do

3 1/4 C flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp cloves

4 eggs, preferably at room temperature
2 C sugar
1/3 C brown sugar

1/2 C vegetable oil
1/2 C applesauce
3 C mashed very ripe bananas
1/4 C sour cream
1 tsp vanilla

1 1/3 C chopped walnuts, toasted

Set your oven to 350. Grease and flour 2 9x5x3 loaf pans. Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium mixing bowl. Put the eggs and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium-high with the whisk attachment for about 10 minutes, until you can see the batter forming ribbons as it mixes. Reduce the speed to low and slowly pour in the oil and applesauce. Once those blend in, add the bananas, sour cream, and vanilla. Let it go for another minute before removing the bowl from the mixer. Fold in the flour mixture and walnuts, softly poking around for dry clumps and incorporating.

Divide the batter between the pans and bake simultaneously at 350 for 1 to 1 1/14 hr, or until a pick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the loaves cool in the pans for 10 minutes before turning out onto wire racks, then cool them for a few minutes more so you don’t scald yourself while slicing. The bread should, however, still be warm enough upon serving to melt a pat of butter.

Take advantage of yet another opportunity to garner popularity with the second bread. Our local recycling crew gets a little rough with the bins as it grows colder, but a foil-wrapped loaf tied up with a ribbon early in December tides our receptacles over until the annual end-of-year tip, which buys a good month of excellent service.

My childhood tasted like cranberries.

Congregational Coffee Hour Bread

Each bite reminds me how much I love being an adult. When I make this on a chilly Sunday morning, I am truly grateful that I don’t have to stand in an icy church hall every week and make clean small talk while my itchy tights slowly ride down beyond inconspicuous salvation.

3 1/2 C flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 C butter
1 C sugar
2 tbsp grated lemon zest
2 eggs
2/3 C freshly squeezed orange juice
2/3 C whole milk
2/3 C chopped walnuts
3 C cranberries

Cream the butter and sugar until they’re fluffy. Stir in the eggs, lemon zest and orange juice. Once these are well combined, sift in the flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Stir the flour into the mixture with one hand while pouring the milk in with the other, in a steady stream. Using either a hand-held or stand mixer, beat the dough at high speed for three minutes. Stir in the walnuts and cranberries. Pour the dough into 2 greased and floured standard loaf pans and bake separately at 350 for 40 minutes.

For maximum parochial presentation, chill the finished loaves for an hour after they’ve cooled, cut into 1/4″ slices, then cut those slices down the middles and fan out on floral stonewear. For Sunday morning heathens, butter a slice while it’s warm and turn on Stephy.

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