Alicia Kennedy, Food & Drink Writer

old blog

all the joy, all the stuff / gingerbread cake w. lemon buttercream

I began last week in a post-vacation funk. That's the danger in making little dreams come true: reality hurts. Luckily, this time of year is not reality, so my misery only lasted through a Tuesday night King Noodle/The Narrows food and cocktail double-header. It was especially necessary, because to compound my agony I spent that morning reading Chloe Caldwell's devastating Women. It's a novella about a doomed relationship and its collapse, with meta elements and honesty that capture the simultaneous banality and soul-crushing enormity of heartbreak so well you cry into your Chemex and need, desperately, the satisfaction of a lot of soy sauce and a decent amount of rum.

On Thanksgiving, I picked up my meal order from Cinnamon Snail before heading out to Long Island to see my glorious family. I've been going out there less since giving up my car, and I've missed the space, the knowledge that the water is right there if I need it. My dinner of pecan and sage encrusted seitan, horseradish cashew mac, kale, mashed potatoes, and bread pudding was appropriately gluttonous and utterly wonderful. Thank you, Cinnamon Snail, for making it so no one had to bust their ass to get me fed among the omnivores.

I stayed out there with my mom and sister, had a (terrible) diner breakfast, and ... went to the mall on Black Friday. Was this a terrible sin? Does this discount any good things I have ever done in my life? My excuses are that I am rarely in such a convenient position to pick up things I'd like without regard for how much I can carry, and I am rarely given such a huge chunk of time with my family, and what is the most comfortable suburban pastime? Shopping. Whatever. I had a lot of fun. Christmastime is my favorite time; the bustling and whatnot fills me with some strange joy. The same strange joy that fills me up in Disney World. I got myself some fresh lipstick, picked up some Christmas decor for the apartment, and happily got a Le Creuset spoon rest on super sale, along with a new Wilton 1M pastry tip because I'd lost mine. The 1M is crucial.

Saturday was a big, fun day back in the city, going to one of my favorite places for brunch, Cent'Anni in Crown Heights, where I get a vegetable sandwich (with different bread and none of the spread the menu calls for) and am always very, very happy with the result. Beautifully seasoned, perfectly grilled vegetables on a good baguette—simple, satisfying. Then it was on to the MoMA, my third art museum in two weeks (after the Met and the Art Institute of Chicago—it pains me much to say the latter was the best). I loved the Robert Gober exhibit "The Heart Is Not a Metaphor," which was disturbing and humorous and prescient, but felt otherwise pretty distracted and adrift there. We followed it up with St. Patrick's Cathedral, which I've not been to since I was a kid, where I lit a candle but was mostly grossed out by the tourism and the gift shop and the commemorative coin machines. 

This long weekend felt so goddam luxurious, though. Sunday seemed to go on forever, starting with waffles, then on to the indoor Brooklyn Flea/Smorgasburg, which is in such a better space than it was last year. You can breathe and move in this one! All this breathing and moving encouraged me to buy the tiny black, wooden cake plate of my dreams from Avian and John, who do amazing things. I could not believe it was $28 and did cartwheels in my head. Eventually we found Moontree Letterpress. Apparently the designer foraged all the leaves that make up her current collection, scanned them, and made a typeface. I had to buy a notebook. Had to. It would've been remiss to leave without a stroll through the Smorgasburg section, and this led to the discovery of Dona Chai. They had soy chais for sampling, and it is just the best chai concentrate you can imagine. There is no terrible, syrupy sweetness that you can feel in your throat after every sip. It is clean flavor, with good ingredients, and I can't wait to bake with it (if I don't drink it all first).

After all that, the only thing I was sure I was going to do for the rest of the day was bake a gingerbread cake with lemon frosting to put on my new cute cake plate (I ended up also eating an arepa and going to Rough Trade—par for the course of my existence). We've got the Christmas lights up and the stockings hung, and Doug has been playing Mark Kozelek and Sufjan Stevens's holiday records, so it was definitely time for gingerbread.  I pair it with lemon frosting to brighten up the dark, spicy cake. I rarely bake with others around, and I rarely bake at night, but it was fun to make this one with Sareen, Kylie, and Doug hanging out, talking about music. Full disclosure: I was a bit tipsy when I made and decorated it. Getting into that holiday spirit!

Lemon Buttercream
300 g butter
430 g powdered sugar
zest of two lemons
1/4 t vanilla extract

Put all of these ingredients in the food processor and let it go for just about a minute or two, until you've got fluffy buttercream. Depending upon when you're going to decorate your cake, you can put it in the fridge still in the food processor just to stay firm until you're ready, or dump it into a container to store. If it's in there for a few hours, it'll need time to come to room temperature to be usable.

Gingerbread Cake 
one 6-inch cake or 12 cupcakes

300 g flour
1/4 t kosher salt
3/4 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder 
3 t gingerbread spice mix 
(ratio: 2 t ginger, 1 t cinnamon, ½ t nutmeg, ¼ t cloves)
3 T cornstarch or arrowroot
60 g coconut milk
155 g almond milk
150 g blackstrap molasses
150 g dark brown sugar
168 g coconut oil, melted
3/4 t vanilla extract

1. Heat the oven to 350 and line your pans. If baking cake, rub the pan with coconut oil and place a parchment round on the bottom.

2. Melt the coconut oil in the microwave or over a double boiler. Set aside.

3. Make the gingerbread spice mix, measure it into the bowl you're using for dry ingredients, and then measure in the rest of them. Whisk, whisk, whisk till there are no clumps and you can see the spice mix is distributed throughout.

4. Measure all of your wet ingredients into another bowl and whisk until it's all well combined. Pour the dry ingredients in. It'll become a very thick batter—that's what you want!

5. If baking cakes, place the pans on your scale and scoop 450 g of batter into each. If baking cupcakes, go for a third of a cup per. The cakes will need to bake for about 35 minutes; rotating midway through is always a good idea. The cupcakes should take about 20. Always test with a toothpick and your good sense, though!

6. Decorate! I went with a naked cake for kicks, then used my new 1M tip to do a little center swirl. I then sprinkled on some white sanding sugar, which is my favorite for this cake—snow, ice, winter, etc.