Two weeks until Christmas. I can hardly believe it. I remember when the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas sort of meandered along and the season drifted along at this mellow pace. Maybe it’s the hazards of getting older. We have more obligations and more distractions from what’s really important this time of year. I remember when baking chocolate chip cookies with my mom was quite the holiday ritual. She would buy decorated metal tins and we’d stuff each one with tissue paper and hand them off to family friends as a homemade treat – my mom did make exceptional chocolate chip cookies. If we felt fancy, one of us might make curly ribbon bows on them before they were doled out.
Frankly, I miss those days. Where the holidays didn’t feel like an audition for a reality show on HGTV or Hallmark. Don’t get me wrong – I’m in awe of folks that bake, style, spend, give. The Martha Stewart era of holiday treats definitely has its merits. This year, though, I’m plotting how to spend this time simply – spending time with my loved ones and friends collecting memories instead of just stuff. Ball jars of pickled things and preserved lemons. Hopefully a batch of my mom’s snowball cookies. Simple cakes and ever simpler frostings. This is one such cake – and it’s a doozy.
I recently got a copy of a book I’d been peeking at for some time – NPR’s All Cakes Considered. It’s a charming collection of cakes curated by the public radio’s resident cake lady, Melissa Grey. The book is gorgeous and the feeling it has is the feeling I’m having: cozy, straightforward, simple and homespun. This cake gets its quirky name because it contains beer…hence the ATF (alcohol, tobacco, and firearms). I’m not gonna lie – I picked it because it’s name was spunky and a little off kilter for this holiday season. That’s where the jokes end – this cake is awesome. It’s not as sweet as your traditional gingerbread cake. That’s where the gingery cream cheese frosting comes in. It’s so silky with a hint of spice. I’ve topped mine with more crystallized ginger because I had a boatload of it – feel free to do chopped nuts or leave it alone if you so choose.
ATF Gingerbread Cake with Gingery Cream Cheese Frosting – serves 8 to 10 and makes either a 8″ square or 9″ round cake – recipe originally found in All Cakes Considered
Tip: That’s roughly two-thirds of a bottle from a six-pack. Measure out the 1 cup and drink the rest of the bottle, not the rest of the six-pack. Remember: friends don’t let friends bake drunk.
– Center a rack and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray the sides and bottom of pan with baking spray.
– Cream the butter with the mixer on medium speed, add the brown sugar, and beat well. Still at medium speed, add the egg, molasses, and dark beer all together. Beat well for 1 to 2 minutes.
– In a separate bowl, dry whisk the flour, baking soda, ground cloves, ground cinnamon, and salt together. Add the batter in thirds, beating well after each addition. Using a spatula, fold in the crystallized ginger.
– Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick or thin knife inserted in the centers comes out clean.
Gingery Cream Cheese Frosting
From the All Cakes Considered cookbook: “Now, as you might suspect, ATF Gingerbread is a more aromatic and less sweet gingerbread than what you’re used to. If you’re one of those who needs the sweet and doesn’t mind just a little more kick, I recommend this frosting, which I found in Sharing Our Best, a community cookbook project sponsored by the Gideon Sunday School Class of Providence Baptist Church, in Gloucester, Virginia. The recipe makes enough to heavily frost one 8- or 9-inch layer, or the top of a cake baked in a 10-inch tube pan.”
– Cream the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla at medium speed. Add the confectioners’ sugar gradually, add the ginger, and beat until smooth.