If you’re like me, the slightest hint of the holidays brings back a flood of food memories. My favorite is a steaming loaf of gingerbread fresh from the oven and slathered with whipped cream—just like the one my great-grandmother used to bake. But as much as I crave gingerbread’s familiar flavor and the warm, fuzzy feelings it stirs up, I often find myself growing weary of loaves and cutout cookies long before Saint Nick arrives on Christmas Eve. So what do I do to spice things up? I take other popular desserts and infuse them with the holiday spirit using gingerbread’s defining ingredients: molasses and the spice trio of ginger, cinnamon, and cloves.
For the holiday sweets in these pages, I sifted through my recipe files and selected desserts with the same rustic simplicity that had endeared me to gingerbread in the first place and then gave them a gingerbread twist. So, for example, my pear cobbler has a gingerbread biscuit topping that adds an element of surprise to this classic crowd-pleaser.
I drizzle a luscious eggnog crème anglaise over a moist steamed coriander-gingerbread cake, and I make a creamy cheesecake doubly delicious by adding molasses and spices in both the gingersnap crust and the filling. (Cheesecake, by the way, is a real boon during the holiday rush because it has to be made ahead so it can chill overnight.) Finally, a velvety gingerspice ice cream is an unexpected and delicious treat—especially if you serve it with the cobbler.
When it comes to ground spices, freshness is key
Before you bake any of these desserts, check your ground spices for freshness. An old spice can mean the difference between a pleasantly spicy dessert and one that’s downright bland. Grinding whole spices is the best way to ensure that they’re fresh. But it can be time-consuming, especially when you’re juggling baking with tree-trimming, gift-wrapping, and all the other little tasks of the season. So bottled ground spices are fine if time is short. To make sure they’re as fresh as possible when you buy them and that they stay fresh, follow these simple steps:
- Inspect the expiration date on spice bottles and choose those with the most distant dates, ideally six months away or more.
- Throw away old spices. Discard bottled spices if they have been open longer than six months.
- Store spices properly. Though you might be tempted to store spices (ground or whole) in pretty containers above your stovetop, where they’re handy, they will stay fresh longer in a cool, dark cabinet or a corner of your refrigerator.