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.
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.