I love this time of year when so much of our baking involves lots of spice. Spices were once prized as currency around the globe, indicating their special place in many cultures. And wherever we call home, we find ourselves pulling out all our special recipes and spices to share with our closest friends and family during the holidays.
The history of ginger goes back about 5000 years when it was used as a curative in Asia. It eventually made its way to the Caribbean and West Africa and then on to Europe via India. It is in the same plant family as cardamom, galangal and turmeric.
This recipe for Gingerbread Bars is a celebration of some of our favorite spices: ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and black pepper. Combine that with a tad of fresh grated ginger and a power dose of molasses and you have quite a heady mix. And I must say, a touch of orange zest adds just the right note to tie it all together, so don’t leave it out! I’ve also topped the bars with a thin layer of cream cheese frosting for a little bite of luxury.
These bars are chewy, dense and rich, pretty good examples of pastries solidly in the holiday lane. They are perfect with a steaming hot beverage, something to take the chill off these rainy days. And YES, here in California we’ve had some much needed, much cherished rain lately. I’ve almost forgotten the smell of fresh rain, the comforting sound of it, what my raincoat looks like. So I’m really thrilled to see this storm front. Odd, I know, but if you knew how parched our land is, how much of our agriculture is vulnerable, you’d join me in this celebration. So in the spirit of the holidays along with some good rain, pull up a chair and sample a Gingerbread Bar. If you’re a spice lover, it will be just the thing to prepare you for this season of spice.
- The best way to grate fresh ginger is to use a microplane.
- This batter is quite thick. It helps to use a small offset spatula (a favorite tool for pastry chefs!) to spread it evenly in the pan.
- Because this is a thin bar, be sure not to overbake or they will be dry. I started checking them at 20 minutes and wound up baking them about 23 minutes. But every oven is its own beast, so keep a close eye on them.
- To avoid lumps in the frosting, have your cream cheese and butter at room temperature and sift the powdered sugar.
- Store these bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature to serve. Like most pastries loaded with spice, I think they are better the next day.
- More pastries and desserts that celebrate spice: Applesauce Spice Cake, Ginger Chocolate Cookies, Linzer Cake, Blood Orange Five-Spice Baby Cakes, Honey Spice Loaf, Mexican Chocolate Ice Cream, Chocolate Orange Cardamom Pull-Apart and Panforte Siena.
Makes 16 bars
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 oz) flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
4 oz butter (8 tablespoons) @ room temperature
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1 egg @ room temperature
1/4 cup (2 1/4 oz) molasses
2 teaspoons (1/2 oz) fresh ginger, grated
zest of 1/2 orange
4 oz cream cheese @ room temperature
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter @ room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup powdered sugar (2 1/8 oz), sifted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9” x 9” square baking pan. Line the bottom with parchment, leaving an overhang on 2 sides.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
Cream the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the bottom and sides of the bowl once or twice. Add the egg and beat until fully blended. Mix in the molasses, grated ginger and orange zest. Gradually add the flour mixture, beating just until blended. Spread batter evenly in the prepared pan.
Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 22 - 24 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Use the overhanging parchment to gently lift the pastry out of the pan. Peel off the parchment and cool completely.
Beat cream cheese and butter until creamy. Add the vanilla and blend. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Frost the cooled bars.