How was your Thanksgiving? This was the fourth Thanksgiving we’ve had at our house. With a few years under our belts (and our three little additions to the headcount) I’ve learned that anything that can be done in advance, should be done in advance. Also, delegate. Our people are always happy to bring something and even happier to take requests. And because they are family and friends-so-close-they-are-also-family, I’m not shy. I ask for exactly what we need to round out the meal as well as the specific dishes that I know I want to eat. That takes care of at least half of everything. The rest, well, that’s where planning comes into play.
This year I made one of our desserts a full two weeks in advance and froze it. Paul made fun of me for this but mostly as retaliation for not allowing him to sneak a piece. I won’t lie to you, I made this one for me. I LOVE gingerbread. The deeper and darker the better. My father-in-law has told me in the past that gingerbread is a food memory for him and I’m not surprised. Gingerbread cake goes perfectly with a cup of tea and the type of brisk late-autumn weather that can be found both in Chicago and Ireland.
I’m not sure how I landed on this particular recipe. I just knew that I wanted to do something different for dessert and after reading all of the reviews for this cake, I was sold. I’m also a sucker for upsidedown-anything and desserts that scream to be served warm with vanilla ice cream on top.
For once I actually followed the recipe (almost), which can be found here. I used ¾ cup dark molasses and ¼ cup agave nectar because I couldn’t find light molasses and I folded about a pear's worth of diced pears into the cake batter before pouring it over the topping. I cooked the cake longer than 50 minutes. I recently learned that the internal temperature of a cake should be 206°F. This helps immensely in dealing with variation caused by the size and material of different baking pans. It's more reliable than the toothpick test because it allows you to know when the cake is almost done, so you don't overcook it. For this cake, I used a 10 inch cast iron dutch oven and it took close to 80 minutes for the center to cook through.
Here’s where I followed instructions that I probably shouldn’t have. I waited 5 minutes before flipping the cake out onto a cake plate. By then the pan had cooled down so much that almost all of my pear pieces stuck to the bottom on the dish. I didn’t let it bother me. My people aren’t prissy. I just stuck the pears back on and went about my day. Yes, the cake would have been prettier without the sticking. But it was destined for a big scoop of slowly melting vanilla goodness anyway and still looked up to the task. Plus, it was freezer friendly so all I had to do on the big day was remove it from the freezer, unwrap it and warm it in a low oven before serving.
It was a good feeling to head into the Thanksgiving cooking frenzy with one dish stowed away. It made the rest of the planning that much easier. But when yesterday came I was reminded that, while we are fortunate to have such an abundance of food, its not what's on the plate that is important so much as the people we are breaking bread with. We've been blessed with an amazing group to gather with each year in addition to the family and friends both near and far who are always with us. There is so much to be thankful for.