Gingerbread Cake and Glühwein

I love baking for the Holidays.  There's just something about the flavors of winter I find so appealing , the combination of nutmeg and cinnamon and citrus. The depth of molasses and wine. That's why this pairing is perfect combination for any winter gathering, and since there's a lot of overlap in ingredients, they're easy to make together. 

Gingerbread Cake with Orange Glaze

Serves 8-12

Gingerbread is an obvious choice for the holidays, but this take on the classic has a soft and light crumb, and isn't overly dense or spicy, as I find some gingerbread to be. The cake is best when the spices are allowed to meld for a bit, so make the day ahead, if possible. For a spicier cake, increase the amount of ginger, or replace powdered with fresh. You may also increase the amount of molasses, as desired.

For the Cake:

  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup molasses
  • ½ cup brewed coffee, at room temperature
  • 1½ sticks ( 1¼ cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups light brown sugar
  • 3 eggs + 2 egg yolks, at room temperature

For the Glaze:

  • 1½ cups powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbl milk
  • 2 Tbl orange juice
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • pinch of salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour or spray a 10-cup Bundt pan (I find Pam with Flour works the best for those tricky Bundt pans). 

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter until smooth using a wooden spoon or mixer. Add brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy, making sure butter is fully integrated and there are no visible chunks. Add eggs to butter mixture one at a time, mixing in completely before adding the next egg.

In a separate bowl, shift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

In a small bowl or cup, mix together room temperature coffee with the molasses.

Add the 1/3 of the flour to the egg/butter mix, then 1/2 the molasses, 1/3 of the flour, the remaining molasses, then the remaining flour. Mix until just combined. 

Pour batter into prepared pan and snap against the counter to remove any large bubbles. Smooth out the top with a rubber spatula.  Place in center of oven an bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. 

Let cake cool in pan for about 7 minutes, then turn onto a cooling rack. Let cake cool completely, transfer to serving plate, and then glaze.

To make glaze: mix all ingredients, adding liquid slowly until desired consistency is achieved. Pour over cooled Bundt cake, making sure to allow glaze to drip down both sides. Scoop extra glaze out of cake center and re-drizzle as desired.

Glühwein, or German Mulled Wine, is perhaps less familiar, but a wonderful addition to winter gatherings. I discovered Glühwein when searching for mulled wine recipes, and then immediately emailed a German friend for her take on the tradition. I've merged her recipe with some I found online, but mulled wine is something that is easy to vary to meet your own tastes. Throughout my wine-mulling process, I kept running to Mr. Cleaver with a hot mug and saying "taste this." We quickly ran through the batch at my knitting group's annual Christmas fête, so I think my test-taster served me well.

Glühwein - German Mulled Wine

  • 1.5 L dry red wine
  • 2 1/3 cup orange juice (juiced oranges + pre-made orange jucie)
  • 2/3 cup brandy
  • 4-5 oranges, peeled (see instructions below) and juiced
  • 1 lemon, peeled and juiced
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 20 cloves
  • 1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • up to 1/3 cup sugar, to taste

Using a paring knife or vegetable peeler, peel all citrus into wide strips, avoiding as much of the bitter white pith as possible. Juice all fruit, making up the difference with pre-made orange juice as needed.  Reserve some peels for garnish.

Combine wine, juice, remaining peels, and spices in a heavy covered stockpot. Bring pot to a low simmer. Add Brandy and continue to simmer. Add sugar to taste. 

Serve hot, not warm.

What are your favorite holiday recipes? Share links below!!

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Epic Birthday Weekend























Little Miss Cleaver turned one this weekend, and it's hard to believe it's been a year already. The days can be long (3:30 wake up calls, anyone?) but the weeks and months, and now year (!), just speed by.  It seems not so long ago she was just this tiny squishy thing and now she's walking and babling, and has opinions and is just a tiny little person.

To celebrate her first birthday we made a weekend of it. First on Friday, Mr. Cleaver and LMC met me at work and we went out to lunch at the Olive Cafe, picked out some birthday presents at the local toy store, and LMC tasted her first ice cream - Gelato Fiasco of course!

For her actual birthday on Saturday we kept it fairly low key. She wore a new mom-made birthday dress. There was breakfast and cards. Then we went to LMC's very first swim class, the first half of which involved a wet baby clinging to me like a barnacle, until we got to the picking up and splashing into the pool part and especially the singing part. During the singing she clapped her little hands with joy and looked at me as if to say, you didn't tell me there'd be singing mom, I'd have been more open to this whole thing if I knew there would be singing! The swim class totally wiped her out and resulted in a nearly two-hour mom lap nap.

In the afternoon Memere joined us for a few balloons, a few presents, and a cake. In honor of her birth on Maine Maple weekend, I made a applesauce cake with maple buttercream frosting. I modified the original recipe to use 3/4 cup of whole wheat flour, less sugar in the cake, and no nuts/raisins. I'd probably cut back on the whole wheat flour next time, as it got a bit dense. I also added a bit of water to the frosting to get it to a spreadable consistency, but it was otherwise delicious.  The frosting tasted almost exaclt like maple sugar candy. The cake decorations I made myself out of some scrapbook paper. The birthday crown was a free pattern on Ravelry that took about an hour to make.

Later in the day our neighbors, who watch LMC two days a week and are like second family to her came over for a while.  Then we ate some pizza, gave LMC a bath, and everyone went to bed about a half an hour early and slept in late.

Today was Maine Maple Sunday itself, and we made our usual jaunt up to Sebago for a pancake breakfast and sugar shack visit. All in all it was a sweet time with a sweet little girl and a very good first birthday/first year of parenting celebration.

Let Them Eat Cake!


Frequent readers are aware that my knitting group celebrates National Pie Day each year in January, and we thought it unfair that cake didn't get it's own special day, so we made one up.

Our original idea was to tie it to an important Marie Antoinette date of some kind, but it got moved around a bit and the first (annual?) Let Them Eat Cake Day was celebrated this past Sunday.


We had meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato "frosting," crab cakes, corn bread cake with chili sauce, pink lemonade cake, lemon blueberry cake, blueberry pound cake, pumpkin whoopie cake, and leftover graduation sheet cake.


After gorging ourselves on a round of savory cakes and a round of sweet cakes, we traipsed outside to a) slip into a food coma or b) burn off some sugar high with a game of croquet.


Maggie demonstrates the proper food coma form.








Afterward we pulled out our Tupperware and divvied up the copious leftovers, and let's just say I'll be celebrating Cake day all week!

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Sunday Baking

Chocolate & Zuchinni

One of my ongoing goals this year is to cut as many processed foods out of my diet as I can. I'm looking into ways to consistently make my own bread (I've done some work with a bread machine and a friend lent me a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I hope to try as soon as I have some room in the fridge to try it.) and I've been figuring out ways to make my favorite microwave and takeout foods from scratch (check back in about a week for my chicken pot pie recipe!). Come farmer's market season I'd like to look into some preserving.

Flour and eggs

Along these same lines, I've had a recurring thought about only eating sweets that I've made myself. Now I have the second-biggest sweet tooth I know and what with my schedule, I though that to only eat home-made sweets meant pretty much giving them up. I'm sure doctors and dentists would think that's plenty fine, but I like a good cookie, or piece of cake, brownie or slice of pie... you get the idea.

In any case, I'm thinking it's much more feasible than I originally thought. 

Rows of Cookies

I'm currently working full-time and rehearsing a play about 4 nights and one weekend day a week. I'm pretty busy. But for the past month I've found the time to bake every Sunday. 

I don't own a mixer (I find mixing by hand both bicep-building and relaxing) and my kitchen is ill-designed for any kind of food-making, but I'm getting the job done. And I love putting on an apron from my collection and baking.

Sugar- Crusted Orange Cake

A few weeks back it started with "le gateau piege" from Chocolate and Zucchini, a Cleaver house-hold favorite.

Chocolate & Zuchinni Cake

Then it was the titular Chocolate & Zucchini cake from the C&Z cookbook, which was dense and moist.

Honey Spice Bread

Having good luck with Clotilde, I made the Honey-Spice Loaf from the same cookbook. We like it warm with butter.

Around Wednesday this week I asked Mr. Cleaver what he wanted. He didn't have any suggestion, so I decided to troll the recipe index on my other favorite food site, Smitten Kitchen, where I came across these:

Homemade Oreos

Homemade oreos!

These are just like the ones in the store, but way better, especially slightly warm. As noted in the recipe, I used the lesser amount of sugar in the cookies, and if Mr. Cleaver had his way, I wouldn't have frosted any. As it was I only needed half the frosting called for, but I highly recommend them. And some soothing Sunday afternoon baking.

Do you have a favorite baking recipe? Send along recipes and links and I'll be happy to give them a go!

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Can't Say It Wasn't Memorable

Okay, so this weekend was so chock-full of wonderfullness, that I'm going to have to break it down into several posts over the next couple of days. We'll do it chronologically, starting with Thursday.

Birthday Cake

July 3 :

Mr. Cleaver's birthday.

The day dawned and I did NOT want to get out of bed, I was so groggy that I was the worst wife ever and forgot to say Happy Birthday to Mr.Cleaver - who after about 10 minutes decided to jog my memory. Oops!That said, as embarrassed as I was, this ended up low on the totem pole of things to go wrong that day.

As I headed off to work, Mr. Cleaver was hunkering down to watch Wimbleton on the laptop, only to discover that our internet wasn't worked, only to call our service provider and discover that the phone wasn't working wither (same company). Mr. Cleaver is probably the first to admit that he's not the world's most techno-savvy guy, and was quickly frustrated, especially when it looked like neither phone nor DSL would be repaired for a few days.

Fortunately, I was able to come home a little early from work, due to a co-worker's going-away party. So I stopped at the grocery store and picked up some ingredients for the birthday cake and the manliest looking flowers I could find for my guy.

Birthday Flowers

Well, the flowers perked him up and so did my present. We also decided to go to our favorite fancy restaurant to dinner, so things were looking up. I started working on the cake, and frosting so it could cool while we were out to eat.

The cake fell a little in the center, but otherwise, seemed to be fine. We walked up the street to the restaurant only to find it boarded up and smelling of smoke. Yes, our favorite restaurant had burned down. At this point, really, we just had to laugh. And eat Chinese, which was nearby and also very good.

When we got home the internet seemed to be momentarily working and we discovered that the restaurant had caught fire in May and didn't look to be re-opening anytime soon.

I set to assembling the cake and it seemed - well -dry. I did a quick check of the reviews on epicurious and discovered I had forgotten to include 1 cup of water.

[wp_caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="How Many Candles?"]How Many Candles?[/wp_caption]

Well, this was just perfect. Again, we could do nothing but laugh, and despite the dryness, enjoy the cake. I can't say anything about the cake itself, having not made it right, but Mr.Cleaver and I both think the frosting is to die for, so it came out all right. (It also didn't stop us from finishing off the whole thing by the end of the weekend - fresh raspberries help cover a multitude of sins).

Birthday Cake


In the eveing we headed down to the lakefront to try and see if we could catch any of the City of Chicago fireworks (they always do them on the 3rd, more on that in the next post).

Not exactly what I would have wished for my husband's birthday, but you can't say it wasn't memorable.

My New Go-To Chocolate Frosting from Nana Edie's Devil's Food Cake

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 oz unsweetened chocolate, chopped
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Bring sugar and cream to a boil in a heavy saucepan, stirring constantly, and simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add chocolate, butter, and vanilla, stirring until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill frosting, stirring frequently, until thickened and spreadable.


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Chocolate Banana Bread Cake

Chocolate Banana Bread

The way these recipes are coming, people are going to start to think that the only place I ever ate decent food was in Portland, Maine and that I don't live in a rather major U.S. culinary city these days - because, yes, today's recipe was inspired by something I ate in Portland, Maine.

The restaurant in question today is Bibo's Madd Apple Cafe. This lovely and eclectic little spot is right next door to the theatre I used to work at. Actually it's the same building. In any case, this is one of my favorite eateries in the city and exactly what I like to think a cafe should be: classier and more adventurous than a diner or sandwich/burger joint, but not so intimidating that you couldn't eat lunch there. That is, a place a low-paid twenty-something could take both her friends and her parents. The jaunty atmosphere doesn't hurt either.

The first time I went there for lunch I sprung for dessert: the ever-so-delicious Chocolate Banana Bread Pudding Cake (with a warm chocolate center and whipped cream). Now as readers of this blog may know, I love me some banana bread. I also love me chocolate. So this dessert was right up my alley.

Though my Chocolate Banana Bread Recipe isn't the same as Bibo's (frankly, I'd have to try it again to get a better feeling of the dish), I'm pretty happy with how this variation turned out. This recipe is based on the aforementioned banana bread recipes and Clotilde's Chocolate and Zucchini Cake from her cookbook. I wanted a texture that was somewhere between cake and bread and this does that pretty well. The chocolate flavor is prominent, but not overly sweet and a sprinkle of powdered sugar makes a sweet compliment. I don't know if I'm completely finished with the recipe, but I've made a lot of banana bread in the past month or so, so I'm giving it a rest for now.

Chocolate Banana Bread

Chocolate Banana Bread Cake

(inspired by Bibo's Madd Apple Cafe and Clotilde's Chocolate and Zucchini Cake)

Makes 1 medium-sized loaf

  • 2-3 overripe bananas
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar
  • 4 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate melted and mixed with 1/2 a cup of granulated sugar (or 4 oz. of chocolate chips).
  • 1¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup wheat flour
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ cup unsweeted cocoa
  • ½ tsp salt
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F

Break up the bananas and butter into a large mixing bowl. With a sturdy whisk, mash together the butter and bananas until mixed well - the butter will still be a little chunky, but should be about pea-sized. Add eggs, milk and lemon juice, adding the juice last. Pour in the melted chocolate and mix well.

In a separate bowl, mix flours, brown sugar, cocoa, soda, and salt. Add to wet ingredients and mix well. If desired, you could add some unmelted chocolate chips at this point. Pour into a greased loaf pan.

Bake 55-60 minutes, or until tester comes out clean. Dust with powdered sugar and serve.

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Booze Cake

Friday afternoon I received a call asking me to provide treats for this Sunday's coffee hour at my local Methodist Church. Now I'm not actually a Methodist, but I never turn down an excuse to bake, so naturally upon acceptance my first thought of what to make for the Methodists was "booze cake," specifically Sherry Nut Bundt Cake, henceforth known as SNBC.

My mother is a complete teetotaler and as a result there the only alcohol that ever made it into my mother's house was an occasional and random light beer that came home with my dad after a night out with some college friends and the cooking sherry for this cake.

The SNBC is a hand me-down from my Grandmother Leota and is a classic 50's recipe. The base of this almost-coffee cake/ rather bread like dessert is yellow cake mix and Jello pudding in a Bundt® Pan. If that doesn't scream post-war packaged food frenzy I don't know what does.

SNBC Ingredients

(an ingredient still life inspired by Pioneer Woman Cooks)

Sherry Nut Bundt Cake

Cake on Plate

1 pkg. yellow cake mix (no pudding in the mix!) 2 small packs of instant vanilla pudding 4 eggs 1 cup cream sherry ¾ cup oil ¼ cup sugar 2 tsp. cinnamon ½ cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a Bundt® pan. Mix first five ingredients, adding oil last. In a separate bowl - mix sugar, cinnnamon and nuts together.

Pour about ¼ of the batter in the pan and sprinkle half of the nut mixture over the batter (I find this is easier to do uniformly if you use a spoon and not your fingers).

SNBC Layer 1

Top with 1/2 of the remaining batter and the remaining nut mixture.

SNBC Layer 2

Add the remainder of the batter.

SNBC Layer 3

Bake for 45-55 minutes or until a tester (I like to use a piece of spaghetti) comes out clean. Allow to cool before inverting. No need to frost, just give to your favorite Methodist as is and enjoy!

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