Every January, I regularly confront a list of things I "should" be doing over the next 12 months. Among the suggested "shoulds" recently aimed in my direction have been exercising more, eating a better breakfast and rotating my tires. I am not opposed to any of these prescriptions, although there seem to be several schools of thought on which direction -- front to back or on the diagonal -- that the tires should move.
In prior new years, I have started off walking the road to reform, only to wander in a more interesting direction by St. Patrick's Day.
So I began 2008 by shooting for more hedonistic goals. First, I will strive to eat more molasses and, secondly, I want to eat better cake.
Happily, I found a cake that fills both of these needs. It is a dark beauty, flavored with molasses and fresh ginger topped with a unique lime cream. It combines the bittersweet flavor of molasses with a citrus zing.
I do not generally classify myself a person of the cake persuasion. By that, I mean I can walk right past almost any piece of cake and not fall under its spell. I have some cake-resistant genes.
But this one snared me. In the past few months, my wife and I have made it a couple of times. Each time, we like it more.
It is not especially sweet, even though the batter contains a cup of sugar as well as a cup of molasses. This ability to impart flavor without sugary sweetness is, I learned, a prized property of a type of molasses known as dark unsulfured. Molasses is the syrupy liquid that remains after sugar cane or beets have been boiled into a juice and then the sugar crystals have been removed.
The world of molasses, I read, is roughly divided among three types: light, dark and blackstrap. In addition, the tags "sulfured" or "unsulfured" designate whether sulfur dioxide was used during the process. The type of molasses I used, dark unsulfured, is commonly called cooking molasses and is not as sweet as light molasses, which some people pour on pancakes.
Coming out of the bottle, this molasses lived up to its reputation as slow-moving. But when combined with some fresh ginger, it produced a gingerbread cake that was not nearly as cloying as other gingerbreads I have encountered.
I admit that I am a sucker for cream, and the lime-cream topping on this cake had me from hello. It is rich, but I told myself that eating it might yield health benefits. The lime juice, for instance, fights scurvy, and the calcium in the cream is good for my bones.
Yet when I analyzed why I like this dish so much, I kept coming back to the color of the cake, to my mood and to the hue of the winter sky. All were dark.
My theory is that I have a seasonally affected appetite, which -- like a medical disorder carrying a similar name -- could mean that my eating behavior changes as daylight decreases.
In other words, in the dim of winter I crave dark cake. Moreover, its white topping could be seen as a ray of sunshine. Or it could be that I just like the cake.
Either way, I can't get enough of it. I do worry that other changes in my seasonal behavior may be in store. For instance, will I now refuse to take down my bright Christmas lights?
The other morning, while trying to eat a better breakfast, I had a piece of gingerbread with my coffee. As I savored the cake, the notion of leaving the lights up seemed mighty appealing. It is something I "should" consider, as soon as I polish off the cake.
See Rob Kasper each Wednesday on ABC2/WMAR-TV's News at Noon.
Molasses Gingerbread With Lime Cream
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, plus 1 teaspoon for buttering pan
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons baking soda, dry
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 cup unsulfured molasses
2 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in 2 tablespoons hot water
Lime Cream (see recipe)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then butter and flour an 8-inch square pan.
Melt the stick of butter, pour into a large bowl and allow it to cool slightly. Beat the sugar and eggs into the butter.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves, dry baking soda and grated ginger.
Bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Using a wooden spoon, stir the molasses and the baking-soda solution into this water.
Whisk the dry ingredients into the sugar and eggs, then stir in the molasses mixture.
Pour the batter into a prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake pulls out cleanly, about 40 minutes to 1 hour.
Cool cake on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the rim of the pan to loosen the cake and invert onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Cut into squares and serve with Lime Cream or whipped cream, sweetened with brown sugar and a couple of tablespoons of bourbon.
From "Crescent City Cooking" by Susan Spicer
Per serving (cake only): 304 calories, 4 grams protein, 9 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 52 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 75 milligrams cholesterol, 528 milligrams sodium
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
zest of 1 lime grated (about 1 tablespoon)
4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup heavy cream
Whip the eggs and sugar in a bowl of an electric mixer, using the whisk attachment until the mixture doubles in volume and has a light color. Lower the speed and blend in the lime juice and zest.
Pour this mixture in the top of a double boiler (or into a medium metal bowl placed over a pot of simmering water). Cook over high heat, whisking often until smooth, very thick and custardlike. Remove from the heat and use a wooden spoon to stir in the butter, a few pieces at a time, until it is fully incorporated. Cool to room temperature.
Using an electric mixer or wire whisk, whip the heavy cream into soft peaks. Gently fold a fourth of the whipped cream into the lime curd. Then fold in the remaining cream.
Per tablespoon: 75 calories, 1 gram protein, 6 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 5 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 36 milligrams cholesterol, 28 milligrams sodium