Dear Ms. Witch. Your house smells good: Gingerbread cake

Remember the story of Hansel and Gretel? The little kids who stumbled upon a witch’s gingerbread house while walking through the woods, only to be wooed inside by the promise of sweets and fattened up so the mean old witch could enjoy some tasty kid stew? No matter what version of the story you heard as a kid, chances are the overarching morals were pretty much the same: Don’t talk to strangers; don’t be gluttonous; steer clear of homes built entirely of sweets (this final message, of course, was immediately rebuked upon a first viewing of Willy Wonka or a spin with the ol’ Candyland).

I always felt pretty sorry for poor Hansel and Gretel. There they were walking in the woods all day, so they were probably pretty hungry. And I never got the idea that they were exceedingly wealthy, so cookies and candies were probably a luxury they weren’t used to. What’s supposed to happen when two hungry, sweet-deprived children happen upon a sugar-filled home and its proprietress, who’s more than willing to share her bounty? I bet it’s pretty hard to turn down fresh-baked gingerbread under those kinds of circumstances (particularly because it’s pretty hard to turn down fresh-baked gingerbread under any circumstances). The truth is, if the wicked witch tried to fatten me up with gobs of gingerbread goodness, I’d probably be a good 15 pounds in before I realized (or cared) what she was up to. Of course by that point, trying to escape from her witchy grasp with my newfound padding attached might be a little tricky. So I might just eat more gingerbread and call it a day.

Then again, I have a soon-to-be new baby to think about, and I suppose a responsible parent wouldn’t so readily ignore the merits of the Hansel and Gretel teachings. But I do know that kids are kids — and kids like sweets. So how will I keep the Bean (if she’s anything like me) from wandering into a gingerbread house and eating her weight in cake, you might ask? I think the easiest solution is making sure she knows that the best gingerbread she can find is safely baked in her own kitchen, not suspiciously hammered to some cottage in the woods. For all her growing-up years, baking will be frequent, and sweets will be savored. So some day if she does finds herself face to face with a silly old witch who offers her dessert, our little Bean will happily reply: “Thanks, but no thanks. My mom has gingerbread waiting for me at home. It’s pretty delicious, and it doesn’t double as construction material.” Lesson learned.


Gingerbread Cake
Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart 

• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (plus a bit more for the pan)
• 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour (plus more for the pan)
• 1 cup boiling water
• 2 teaspoons baking soda
• 3 teaspoons ground ginger
• 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
• ½ heaping teaspoon ground cloves
• ½ teaspoon nutmeg
• ½ teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
• 1 cup unsulfured molasses
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• confectioners’ sugar (for dusting top of cake)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-inch cake pan, and set aside. In a small bowl, combine boiling water and baking soda, and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, spices, salt and baking powder.

Using an electric mixer, cream butter until light, then beat in the brown sugar until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the molasses,, baking-soda mixture and flour mixture. Beat in the eggs.

Pour batter into cake pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, then dust with confectioners’ sugar.


What baked good is your ultimate sweet-tooth weakness? Do you have a favorite recipe that you bake for your kids? Or maybe one that you remember from childhood that you plan to pass down some day? And does anyone else out there feel a bit too much affinity for the gingerbread-gobbling Hansel and Gretel? Humph. Maybe that’s just me.



  1. says

    i wasn’t a huge fan of gingerbread when i was little cuz i couldn’t get over the chalky/cardboard consistency.. but i think this cake might just be the remedy to that.. it looks wonderful!

    ps i love the storytelling for this- too cute

  2. says

    I am a brownie lover more than a cake lover (bit of a snob when it comes to cake because it better be the best tasting cake). I grew up with homemade goodies so maybe this is where it stems from. Love your post.

  3. says

    Outstanding! Both the post and, yes, GINGERBREAD.
    I share your love of the latter. For me it has exactly the connotation you’re hoping to achieve with the Bean: delicious childhood security. When we lived outside Chicago for a couple of years in my youth, the school lunch policy was actually divided into stay-ins and go-home lunchers, and our family was in the fortunate second category. My sisters and I didn’t always feel so fortunate about it, though, as on those true days of winter cold when the drifts around the shoveled sidewalks reached our shoulders and the wind cut through those little tunnels mercilessly. But when we got home and opened the door and there was the smell of fresh-baked bread pudding or gingerbread wafting out . . . well, you can imagine that suddenly the million-mile slog from school (probably about six or eight blocks in reality) was utterly beside the point and if it had turned out we were being fattened for later slaughter, then Oh Well, It was Worth It. Gingerbread. Hot from the oven.
    Your baby will be a very lucky child too!

    • says

      What a great story! It’s funny how we can appreciate those wonderful homey things like fresh-baked treats so much more once we’re grown up. Sounds like your long trek home in the snow was always well worth it. :)

  4. says

    These look really really yummy. I’ve got a recipe for gingerbread cake I just can’t wait to try out. I feel pretty sorry for Hansel and Gretel too, it wasn’t particularly fair.

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