Tuesday, January 27, 2009

{TWD} Chocolate Gingerbread, and a Gingerbread Taste Test

Adventures of a gingerbread purist, part 2

Being the gingerbread snob that I am, I was dubious about the concept of chocolate + gingerbread. I'm not one of those people who think that a handful of chocolate chips or a drizzle of chocolate improves everything. And I really don't want anyone messing with my gingerbread (or pumpkin pie, either. Remember that Thanksgiving Twofer Pie? That was just wrong.)

But this week's TWD selection was Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread, so I put on my best game face and set out to bake it. I figured I'd serve it to my book group and get rid of it get some opinions that were a bit more objective than mine (although I must say the book group is pretty fond of my usual gingerbread.) I made this back at the beginning of January.

n.o.e notes:

- I made a full recipe, so everyone will be relieved to know that no math is involved this week! Although I must say that I wish I'd made half a recipe.

- used 8 T butter + 3 T nonfat Greek yogurt

- For flour, I combined white flour with a white/wheat flour blend

- I used dark brown sugar

- I forgot to look for/buy stem ginger so I just left it out

- I added pinch of salt and would have added pinch of black pepper but in the end I forgot.

- I liked the technique of mixing the fresh ginger with sugar, which produced a lovely ginger-y syrup.

- Since I was using a dark silicone pan set on a dark cookie sheet, I reduced oven temp to 330. The inside was still very jiggly at 38 minutes, so I increased the oven temp to 340. It baked for around 10 min more.

- For the frosting, I didn't want to brew any coffee, so I used 1/4 tsp instant espresso + 1 T water


The cake took a lot longer to make than I anticipated, so I had to rush at the end. I brought it straight to book club (We were late) just after spreading the frosting. We served it before the frosting had fully set up, and it was harder to cut (neatly). By the next day, the frosting had hardened and the cake itself cut much smoother and neater (top picture).

the verdict:

The cake was beautiful, dense and moist. It held up beautifully on the counter, covered, for days.

But I found it totally disappointing in the flavor department. I love chocolate and I love gingerbread. I. do. not. love. chocolate gingerbread. at. all. But we sort of guessed that would happen, right? Let's move on to my testers, the wonderful members of the book club (and some children of the host couple).

A couple of people loved it completely

A couple people loved the cake part but thought the frosting detracted

A couple people thought "eh, not worth seconds"

and

1 person thought it was really intense and thought the ingredients conflicted with each other. He
suggested using semisweet instead of bittersweet chocolate - something less assertive that might complement the ginger rather than fight with it.

I gave away most of the cake to those who liked it, but kept a bit of it to photograph (let's ignore how skewed that sounds - keeping cake I don't like because I had to take pictures of it - shall we?) Over the next few days I'd periodically cut a bite for myself, thinking, "it looks so good and smells pretty yummy, maybe I'll like it this time." Although it kept promising, it never delivered. Great texture, fabulously moist, quite aromatic. At first it seems that these flavors will pop out, but then it ends up strangely bland. Like they've had a battle and canceled each other out. What was left was a moist chocolate cake with a bit of spice. (I did love the frosting however)

And although I could detect the ginger under all the chocolate, good gingerbread is all about the perfect balance of spices and not just the ginger.

Speaking of balance and canceling each other out, here's the opinion of the family that I left most of the cake with: they really loved it the second day, after it spent the night in their fridge. They said that the cold toned down the chocolate and let the gingerbread flavors come through. However, one of their sons did say, "I like gingerbread better without the chocolate." I'm with him!!

taste test:

I actually brought gingerbread blondies to book club in addition to the chocolate gingerbread. So the next day I poured myself a cup of Earl Gray and ran a personal taste test of gingerbread-y goodies. The contestants and my impressions:

A) Dorie's chocolate gingerbread: no matter how hard I try, I just can't find the gingerbread flavor under the chocolate

B) Martha's gingerbread blondies, which I made without white chocolate and with extra ginger: these were soft and chewy with a mild flavor. They are fairly sturdy and easy to transport.

C) my favorite gingerbread (I had a bit left from Christmas baking): this really is the gold standard. Even 10 days old it beat the ginger off either of the others. It's not as deep and dark as Trader Joe's, nor as ginger-y as Dorie's, but it hits the right combination of spices. The streusel topping takes it to the next level.

D) Trader Joe's gingerbread mix (wasn't actually part of the taste test because I made it a few days later): it was dark and dense but was missing a strong gingerbread-y presence. But it's very easy to bake, since it's a mix and all. I'd take it over the chocolate gingerbread, and probably over the blondies.

53 comments:

Marie said...

Nancy, beautiful post and nobody can say you didn't try hard to like this gingerbread! I loved mine, but that could be because I left out the chocolate frosting and I added a teaspoon of the gingersyrup from the preserved ginger to the mix, which could have given it more of a gingery bite! I am not sure the chocolate chunks added anything to this cake and in fact next time I will probably leave them out completely. It was wonderfully dense and moist though, which I loved, and mine was quite spicy, which I also loved. Great post Nancy!

SiHaN said...

wow.. you actually did a taste test.. I"m impressed! i guess you're right on the fact that it was hard to detect the gingery note underneath all that chocolate. But then again. Non-spice lovers can rejoice in that fact. haha.

Audrey said...

It's okay, you're among friends. You can tell us you kept something around just to photograph it...we've (sigh) done it to. I too liked the texture and moistness of this cake but not the flavors. It feels great to know that our tried-and-true recipes sometimes still rule, doesn't it?

The Blonde Duck said...

I'm with you--traditional gingerbread all the way! Kudos for you for trying!

Cooking for Comfort by Jennifer said...

WOW! Quite a taste testing among you and your friends!

I hadn't ever made gingerbread until this recipe, so, I have nothing to compare it to. I didn't use fresh ginger, just the ground spices and I thought it was great...but again, I have nothing to compare it to.

You did a beautiful job and I always learn so much from you!!!!

natalia said...

Ciao ! Nancy , after all this gingerbread love I do have to bake your favourite !! Baci

Maria said...

I love the review!! Thanks for testing out so many gingerbread treats!

Cathy said...

I couldn't wait to read your post this morning, Nancy, because I consider you a true gingerbread connoiseur, and I knew that you would help sort out this whole gingerbread mess for us. I wholeheartedly agree with your view of the chocolate/gingerbread combo -- each flavor seems to drag the other down rather than elevating it. I am going to stop wasting my time and just make your usual gingerbread recipe next time I want gingerbread! Oh, and the camera thing would have sounded weird to me 6 months ago, but now it makes just as much sense as if you were to give your friends the leftover gingerbread on the sole condition that they photograph it outdoors in that optimal 4 p.m. natural light and send you the pictures.

leanne said...

After your review, I am going to have to try your orginal recipe!

Peggy said...

Nancy I love that you know HOW to exchange ingredients on recipes. I wouldn't have a clue as to how to use greek yogurt instead of butter. I'm with you on the traditional gingerbread. I really like mine with a lemon sauce but the chocolate was a nice adventure to take.

Gabe's Girl said...

Great post. I love the taste test. Very interesting. They all looked scrumptious!
What book did you read? I love books, too.

Jessica said...

Nancy, you definitely get an A+ for effort and thoroughness, my goodness! I am so impressed by all of your gingerbread trials. I am going to try your favorite gingerbread recipe. I agree that it was really hard to find the gingerbread flavor in this week's TWD recipe.

Flourchild said...

Im glad you enjoyed it. YOur bread looks great. I thought it was better tasting the next day.

chocolatechic said...

I am glad to see that I wasn't the only one that dropped a pinch of salt into the batter.

I loved this, and am sorry you didn't care for it.

pinkstripes said...

You are the the only gingerbread expert I 'know' and I really value your opinions on the subject--I mean really, I don't know anyone who has made 4 different gingerbreads in a month or so.

Maybe that's why I liked this one so much, I'm not a gingerbread fan. Yours does look yummy.

Mary Ann said...

Wow- that is a whole lot of gingerbread. I have to agree though, the piece I sampled was too chocolately. I love that you tried so hard to like it.

Danielle said...

I was wondering how the combo of ginger and chocolate would be so I skipped. I had already made a cake so that gave me another reason to skip this week!

Karen said...

Wow!! That is a lot of gingerbread to make. For a gingerbread lover though what a great idea to do a taste test. I would have been with the people that loved it! :)

Reeni♥ said...

That is Gingerbread heaven to me-all those different ones! The cake sure does look beautiful, such a dark, rich color. Sorry you were disappointed in it.

Anne said...

It's funny how a recipe like this really brings out peoples preferences! I made Martha's chocolate gingersnaps from the cover of her Cookies book and just didn't like them, so I was happy to stay away from chocolate for this recipe. I love the tip about the Greek yogurt- I'll write that in my margins for next time. :)

Mara said...

overachiever on the taste test, i love it!! hahaha. i found i liked chocolate gingerbread more than regular, but then again i DO love my chocolate. i used only dried ground also so i think that may have helped, too much spicy + choco may not have worked as well.

Di said...

I love reading your notes on the comparison between the different versions. I'm wondering what I'll think of this one. I love chocolate and I love spices, but I don't usually care for them together.

Lisa magicsprinkles said...

So, just eh. Good to know. It's wonderful to have an objective panel of judges on this one. You cooks notes are stellar as usual!

AmyRuth said...

Nancy, you did an awesome job giving us all a great comparison of gingerbreads. Thanks for all your work. I had a hard time with the flavoring of this gingerbread too. I haven't identified the "thorn." Mine was dry for whatever reason and so I just couldn't get past that for starters. I really like ginger and strong flavors so I was really blindsided on this recipe.
Glad to know there are those out there who liked it though.
AmyRuth

Melissa said...

Great pictures! I'm sorry you didn't like the taste. I wasn't too impressed with it either.

jillbert said...

As a gingerbread newbie, I'm impressed by your thorough review and comparison of different recipes! I'll have to try making a traditional gingerbread.

mike said...

Looks great! I did the same thing with the espresso powder. I think it gives it an extra "kick" of coffee flavor anyway (over regular brewed coffee). Great notes too! -- always like to hear how the recipe went for others, and especially the taste tests!

Jess said...

Your gingerbread looks great...but I think I'm with you on the chocolate gingerbread; I prefer it the plain old way! My personal favorite recipe is from Fannie Farmer. I enjoyed the taste test - now that's dedication!

kim said...

i have to agree that the chocolate covered the flavor of the ginger, but i'm not complaining ;) i thought it was really good, but i definitely want to try your gold standard gingerbread!

bakingwiththeboys said...

Well, I think you must have to be indifferent to gingerbread to have loved this one. I really liked it but I do not have the gingerbread pedigree you do. I am guessing the unadulterated chocolate of next week will be better.

Tammy said...

It's funny how you can love two things but not love them together - I love chocolate and I love almonds but I dont like chocolate coated almonds! I loved this cake though

spike. said...

Sorry you didn't like the chocolate/ginger combo but at least you had a few happy people in the book group

Teanna said...

I'm sorry you weren't such a fan of it, but it is gorgeous, nonetheless! And I love those blondies!

cupcake said...

I love reading your blog. You always have so much more information to add and your taste test this week is testament to that. Your pictures always look fantastic even when you don't especially care for the final product!

Jess said...

Re: the Fannie Farmer gingerbread recipe...I have my Marion Cunningham "Learning to Cook" handy, which is like a super-condensed Fannie Farmer...let's see; it appears in that book and Fannie Farmer as Sour Cream Gingerbread. Another one to try!

Kayte said...

Well, I am feeling much better about not making this for this week. I was feeling a little guilty as everyone else seems to be raving about it. Yours certainly looks beautiful, and I am sure that those who got to take some home for later to enjoy were absolutely delighted.

Carol Peterman said...

I was not thinking this would work for me either, but I really liked it. The texture won me over as well as the flavor. I got a really nice strong gingerbread flavor from the spices and molasses and the chocolate didn’t compete, but blended well. I too am cautious about tossing in a handful of chocolate chips to this or that because I usually don’t like it (for the cover cake recipe I leave out the chocolate chunks because it’s overkill to me). I did add 1/2 tsp. of salt and was really surprised the recipe didn't call for salt especially with all the spices involved. I am always fascinated at how we all have such varied results from week to week. At least no one can accuse you of jumping to conclusions!
By the way, I am half way through my jar of Cloudberry Jam. I finally had a reason to go to Ikea last week and picked some up. It’s really good and I like the crunchy seeds.

Pamela said...

I think I remember you posting about the GB blondies and I have to say that those sound incredibly good. I wasn't sure I would like this, but I was happy to learn that I did. Sorry it wasn't the best, but you already had "the best" in your repertoire, didn't you? :o)

Kimberly Johnson said...

Sorry you didn't like the gingerbread. :( It looks fabulous though! Great job!

Leslie said...

I laughed about saving a piece to photograph. Many of my photos are taken as I'm running out the door with the dessert. I agree that maybe ginger and chocolate don't make each other better.

Jules Someone said...

Yowser are you thorough! Sorry you didn't love it. I really ended up liking the glaze and I'll use it for other stuff.

Megan said...

Anyone that does a 3 way tasting with gingerbread is my hero. Really.

And thanks for not testing my weak math skills this week! :)

Jacque said...

I'm with you all the way... I wish everyone would stop trying to make chocolate + spice work. I say let them shine on their own.

But anyway, nice writeup. I'm going to check out your gingerbread recipe. I do love gingerbread :)

The Food Librarian said...

Nancy, please submit your resume to Cook's Illustrated! You are a great reviewer and tester!!

Natashya said...

Love your comparisons!
This recipe didn't appeal to everybody.. but I do agree that it go better over time. I plan on finishing it up for breakie tomorrow.

farah said...

I love your post. I haven't tried mine with icing yet and i'm not a big chocolate person. I'm sorry you didn't like it but you're right, it does look beautiful :)

Kristin said...

I served this to my book club too! Unfortunately, hardly anyone had any and I had tons left over. This was a miss for me, maybe I too do not like chocolate w/gingerbread.

Amanda said...

You get the award for testing ginger-flavored desserts! Sorry you didn't like Dories, but it looks like you have some good recipes anyway. I like mine, and did use semi-sweet, which I think does work better - it lets the ginger sing but not kill you either. I also left out the ginger stem because I can't find that in Italy.

Kaitlin said...

Love the thorough analysis. I'm going to check out your tried-and-true gingerbread recipe next.

TeaLady said...

Just didn't do it for you, huhn? Ah well. I could taste the gingerbread but not the chocolate that much. Different strokes. Enjoyed the post. Your gingerbread looks really good.

Cakelaw said...

Oh well, full marks for trying it. Glad some of your book group liked it.

Jessica said...

Hey Nancy, I wanted to let you know that I use the recipe for "soft gingerbread" from Fanny Farmer. I like it because it's nice and spicy and moist. However, next time I make gingerbread I'm going to try your "favorite" gingerbread because from what we both wrote about, it sounds like we have similar tastes in our gingerbreads!

LyB said...

That gingerbread with the crumble topping is getting bookmarked right now! Even though you didn't like it much, your chocolate gingerbread looks great. :)