It’s officially ‘that time of year.’ Thanksgiving has passed, and the season takes a hard left into whimsical territory. Garlands, carols, and peppermint infuse every corner of your day. Whether you like it or not.
And I think we know what side of that fence I fall on. (Hint: the tree is sitting pretty in my apartment already)
Cue the gingerbread. I was never a big gingerbread man lover when I was younger. I always thought they tasted dry, crumbly, and all-around strange. Why would anyone want that when they could have fluffy sugar cookies or chocolate peppermint cupcakes? In fact, I kind of thought that they were solely for trimming the tree with. As ornaments. I mean you spent so much time decorating them, they may as well be appreciated somehow.
I came around to the idea of ginger cookies in the form of gingersnaps several years ago. But I would never question ‘where’s the gingerbread’ if it was missing from the month of December. Then, this cake happened. I first baked this gem last year and fell in love right away. I was seriously left thinking ‘where has gingerbread like this been my whole life?’ It’s more of a traditional gingerbread in that it’s cakey and not a cookie. It’s a spicy, flavorful gingerbread cake that’s moist and complex. With fresh and ground ginger in addition to cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves, it quickly became a favorite. Then I topped it all off with a honey mascarpone that buffers the flavors a bit, and the light whipped texture is like a cloud that texturally softens the bite of the fresh ginger. The perfect holiday treat.
This cake uses honey and molasses as the primary sweeteners which lend a deeper flavor than granulated sugar. Honey is also used to sweeten the mascarpone frosting slightly. And because this time of year is the biggest occasion for all-things-baking, I thought it would be fun to talk about honey—its functionalities and benefits. And highlight what I look for in a honey.
Full disclosure: This post is sponsored by Aunt Sue’s Raw & Unfiltered Wildflower Honey, though all words and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting brands that help make Appeasing a Food Geek successful!
Honey is actually a very complex topic, so I’ll be going through the biggies over three posts. Sort of like an extended ‘In Appreciation Of’ category. Buckle up buttercup! Because honey is about to blow your mind.
Honey is thought to be the very first sweetener available to humans dating back to the stone age, and it was the only largely available sweetener until the 19th century when industrial sugar production became more efficient.
Honey is primarily made of simple carbohydrates, AKA sugars. But unlike granulated sugar which is sucrose, honey is composed of a high percentage of glucose and fructose. Sucrose is glucose and fructose chemically linked together. In fact, honey contains an enzyme, invertase, that breaks sucrose down into its component parts.
Those single sugars, glucose and fructose, have much different functionalities than sucrose which is why it’s difficult to solely sub in honey when making a baked good or candy. For example, glucose and fructose are much more hygroscopic which means they attract water more readily than sucrose. This can lead to difficulties in final eating and keeping qualities if no other adjustments are made in the recipe (more on that if you guys want some troubleshooting advice!). Additionally, fructose is much sweeter than sucrose, so you can occasionally get away with using less honey as a sweetener than sugar alone.
Water makes up approximately 17% of honey which means that honey is a supersaturated solution. The result is that honey is always in limbo teetering toward crystallization of the sugars, especially the glucose. If you’ve ever stored honey for a long period of time or in the fridge, you’ve seen this! The glucose crystallizes out, having a lower solubility than fructose, and forms an opaque, white-ish solid. When this happens to you, just heat your honey up a little, and the white crystals should go away for a while.
Honey also contains other things like proteins, enzymes, vitamins, and fibers, though these are at much lower percentages. Nonetheless, the presence of these more beneficial components gives honey a boost in the ‘healthier’ sweetener category. Of course, honey should not be guzzled like water, but if you consume tea with a spoonful of honey each day over table sugar, you’re doing yourself a small favor.
In the next two posts over the coming months, I’ll go through more of these benefits and nutritional highlights of honey—including some explanations on raw unfiltered honey. It’s a truly fascinating topic! And I’ll try to peel back the false promises for you and just discuss published scientific results.
In the meantime, I highly recommend Aunt Sue’s Raw and Unfiltered Wildflower Honey for your holiday-baking-and-cooking extravaganza this season. Fun Fact: I used the honey from this company at my previous candy technologist role when on Long Island, and I was impressed by the quality and flavor. So while this is a sponsored post (full disclosure), I truly believe in this brand. I respect the fact that it is a co-op with over 290 beekeepers across the US, and that it supports the honeybee population. It is also 100% pure with no sugar or glucose syrups added.
Additionally, this season Aunt Sue’s is hosting a social media campaign inspiring us all to ‘Share a Little Sweetness’ through small actions like volunteering or baking a batch of cookies for a friend in need. I encourage you all to do just that and use the hashtag #ShareSweetness when you do. It’s thoughtful actions like these that make me the most excited for the holidays. Let the season officially begin!
Let’s start with this cake. Holly jolly and so so good. Be sure to tune in next week when I’ll share my Thanksgiving holiday adventures in London on the blog! And look out for more honey knowledge coming soon. xoxo
Gingerbread Sheet Cake with Whipped Honey Mascarpone
Makes 1-9×9 inch cake
Slightly adapted from The New Sugar and Spice
*Note: Wait to frost this cake until the day of serving. The mascarpone has a tendency to color around the edges from the dark color of the cake.
1 ¼ cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1 ¼ cups (150 grams) whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup molasses
1 ounce (28 grams) peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
½ cup sour cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup warm water
8 ounces mascarpone
2 tablespoons Aunt Sue’s Raw & Unfiltered Wildflower Honey
- Preheat oven to 325⁰F. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan. Line the pan with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on two sides.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, ground ginger, cinnamon, soda, cardamom salt, and cloves. In another large bowl, whisk together the butter, sugar, honey, molasses, fresh ginger, and orange zest. Stir in the sour cream, eggs, and water.
- Add half of the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until mostly smooth. Add in the remaining wet mixture and stir until just combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a couple of moist crumbs attached. About 50 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack completely.
- When cool, remove the cake from the pan using the overhanging parchment and transfer to your serving plate. Whisk the mascarpone until slightly lighter, about 2 minutes. Whisk in the honey. Frost the cake with the mascarpone topping. Slice, and serve!