A holiday classic takes vacation: Blueberry gingerbread is worth turning on the oven for in summer

Gingerbread tastes just as good in June as it does in January, maybe even better with a scoop of ice cream on top

By Mary Elizabeth Williams
Published June 27, 2020 4:59PM (EDT)
Gingerbread (Mary Elizabeth Williams)
Gingerbread (Mary Elizabeth Williams)

This is the time of year that the worn out phrase "seasonal eating" really means something. I've just passed through a springtime of ramps and rhubarb mania — I even snagged a few fiddleheads in there — and have now settled in to my annual blur of strategic thinking around strawberries and stone fruits. When it's time for real corn and tomatoes, I plan to go absolutely bonkers. Yet even I know that despite what it says in Ecclesiastes, there really doesn't have to be a season for everything. And I don't see any reason to confine the greatest of cakes, gingerbread, to the holidays.

I would rather eat gingerbread than almost anything else you can name. Gingerbread! It's spicy, but in a way that a Northern European person can handle! It's sweet — but not so sweet that you can't justify eating it for breakfast! I usually make it with beer, so there's that! If there is any downside to gingerbread, it's only that it goes away for 90% of the year. Why? It's not like it's buche de noel, for chrissakes.

Still, some acknowledgment of the rising mercury seems a good idea here. My regular holiday gingerbread is a complicated creation that tests my spirit every time I bake it. For summer, I require a more relaxed project — and one not designed to feed a crowd. If December's gingerbread is for champagne and fancy clothes, this time of year demands a gingerbread for bare feet, barbecue and ice cream. Definitely ice cream. I suppose it should come as no surprise then that I found exactly what I was dreaming of from King Arthur Flour, everybody's favorite quarantine support system.

Blueberry gingerbread is an idea so good — and so simple. I can't believe it hasn't completely taken its rightful place alongside peach cobbler and strawberry shortcake among things worth turning your oven on for in this heat. The King Arthur recipe relies on an old-fashioned technique — and the unfortunately unappetizing name "hot water gingerbread." But don't let that dissuade you, and don't be distracted but other versions which insist it be made with shortening. Just keep going here: I'll talk you through it. It's worth the moist, impressive cake you can pull together, from start to finish, in under an hour.

First, don't get attached to the whole hot water thing. I know I never see water in a recipe that I don't think, "Challenge accepted." Water, sure, but could I use broth? Wine? Coffee? And there is something about its presence here that immediately opens up a chance to bust another dish out of its seasonal prison.

I love barm brack, a fruity Irish quick bread that usually shows up around Halloween and again for New Year's. It's best when made with brewed tea, which brightens and elevates all its humble elements. So after digging around a bit, I found that Crosby's Molasses suggests hot tea as an acceptable swap for water in its hot water gingerbread recipe. It seems obvious that a lemon ginger variety does the job at hand perfectly, but any tea would likely work fine here.

In fact, this is a gingerbread which seems ideally suited to adaptation at nearly every point — in addition to the liquid, you can play around with the type of fruits you use, even the type of sugar. It would also be lovely with a generous grating of lemon peel added to the berries. And while I eliminated the expected touch of cinnamon here and replaced it with fresh ginger, there's no reason you couldn't add a few shakes of your favorite baking spices.

Maybe — if I'm being honest — there is a part of me that wants to sing "We Need a Little Christmas" and would prefer to be sometime six months into either the past or the future I hope for. Certainly the part of me that misses associating hunkering down inside with coziness and safety instead of dread and anxiety could use a boost. All I know for certain is that putting off anything that is harmless and brings happiness feels absurd right now. And that gingerbread absolutely tastes just as good in June as it does in January.

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You don't need to buy several different whisks to pull off recipes like this blueberry summer gingerbread loaf. Salon Food is a huge fan of the FlexiWhisk, a whisk with a balloon mechanism that allows you to change its shape. All you have to do is press a soft rubber button and push up to adjust the size to fit your mixing bowl.

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Recipe: Summertime Gingerbread, adapted from King Arthur Flour

Makes one round cake, or approximately 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup Demerara sugar (You can substitute white)
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries (You can substitute any soft fruit you like, peeled and cut into half-inch chunks)
  • 1 1/2 cups al-purpose flour
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup molasses
  • 3/4 cup hot ginger lemon tea (You can use any hot tea you like, or plain boiling water)
  • Generous pinch of salt
  • Optional: 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel 

Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly oil a 9" springform pan (or 9" cake pan), and line it with greased parchment. The cake rises significantly, so make sure your pan is at least 2" deep.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the berries and Demerara sugar well. Add lemon peel, if using. Evenly spread in the bottom of the pan.
  4. Using the same bowl (why not?) mix all the other ingredients together well, and pour into pan.
  5. Bake approximately 45 minutes, or until the cake looks firm and springs back when you touch it.
  6. Remove from the oven and cool.
  7. Release from the pan. Cover with a serving plate and gently unmold it so the blueberries are on top. Serve with ice cream.

You don't need to buy several different whisks to pull off recipes like this blueberry summer gingerbread loaf. Salon Food is a huge fan of the FlexiWhisk, a whisk with a balloon mechanism that allows you to change its shape. All you have to do is press a soft rubber button and push up to adjust the size to fit your mixing bowl.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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Baking Blueberries Food Gingerbread Recipes Summer Eats