Review: Gingerbread: Timeless Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Desserts, Ice Cream, and Candy, by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn

Do I actually need to do more to review this book than tell you the title?  Because really, what could be more gorgeously hunger-inspiring than an entire book of gingerbread recipes – cakes, loaves, biscuits, pancakes, caramels, icecreams, and anything else sweet and gingery that you could possibly imagine.

At this time of year, a book like this is particularly dangerous.  The days are getting shorter, the nights are colder, and baking something is such a lovely way to heat the house.  Add to that the warming and comforting properties of sweet spices, and gingerbread becomes utterly irresistible.  In fact, the more I look at this book, the more I want to go straight home and make ginger cake (the upside-down pear and gingerbread cake looks particularly delicious and I have some nice beurre bosc pears just waiting for a home), and ginger biscuits (maybe the gingerbread butter drops with lemon glaze?), or maybe the sticky ginger pudding.  Or maybe all three.  Yum.

I’ve made a few of the recipes in this book.  Fewer than I would have expected to make, actually, largely because about the fifth thing I made was the recipe for spiced caramels from Burgundy, which I loved so much that I made them about three times and then spent the next four months experimenting with confectionery of all kinds (trust me, there will be posts about confectionery.  Many, many posts about confectionery).  And I can really recommend those caramels – gorgeously smooth, chewy toffees spiced with ginger, cinnamon and cloves, that improve on sitting for a few days.  Also, you can make them and then wrap them in strips of gold cellophane and they look like real caramels you bought from a shop!  This is very exciting, at least to me.

I can also highly recommend the ginger blondies and the ginger pancakes, though I, personally, would not have served them with the spiced apple butter – there’s such a thing, it appears, as too much ginger, even for me.  At least at breakfast time.  But the apple butter and the pancakes are excellent separately.  Yes, I’ll definitely be doing more baking from this book in the very near future.

In terms of useability, the recipes are good, and they work well.  There are a good number of simple recipes that I could make after work on a tired day and not screw up, and a large number of very inviting puddings (mostly riffing on traditional English or American puddings, with a gingery twist) that are not too complex.  However McGlinn is a pastry chef, and this shows in the off-hand complexity of some of her icings and fillings – there are recipes for crème Anglaise, Italian buttercream, and candied orange peel, just breezily there as though you might make them every day.  While these are far from impossible, I can tell you now that in my experience, they are none of them things that turn out perfectly on your first try.  There are also a whole lot of gingerbread house designs, which I must absolutely try this year, and a couple of celebration cakes suitable for weddings.

One thing I particularly like about this book is the mix of quite novel recipes (five-spice gingersnaps, Burgundian bread and butter pudding with pain d’épice and quince) with traditional and even old-fashioned ones – McGlinn includes her grandmother’s gingerbread cake, and a recipe from Eliza Leslie’s 1828 cookbook Seventy-Five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats.  The only thing it doesn’t have is a recipe that remotely resembles the gingerbread I grew up with – my Oma’s recipe, which produced a flattish cake, full of spices, sultanas and mixed peel.

It’s worth noting that to an Australian palate, these recipes are a little on the sweet side (as is common in US cookbooks).  This is less of an issue than it might be, because the spices balance the sugar quite well, but I’m still finding that one can reduce the sugar in the cakes and biscuits by about third and find most things entirely sweet enough.  It does, I imagine, go without saying that you shouldn’t mess with the sugar levels in the confectionery recipes, and I’d also be wary of fiddling too much with the ice-creams – the sugar affects the way ice-cream freezes (low sugar often means a grainier and harder ice-cream), and temperature affects how we taste sweetness (we taste sugar less when it is at a lower temperature, which is why melted ice-cream is so sweet).

I’d also note that while the recipes in this book are, of course, vegetarian – I don’t think there is any gelatine used here – they would need a fair bit of modifying to make them vegan.  I’d probably go with bananas as an egg substitute for most of these – the flavour would match nicely with the spices.  And if I figure out a way to make the Burgundy caramels (a veritable feast of dairy ingredients) vegan, you’ll be the first to know.  If you were aiming for gluten free, you’d probably do quite well with your preferred gluten-free flour – most of the cake and biscuit recipes are robust enough in flavour to cope well with even with strongly flavoured flours like quinoa and buckwheat.

But really, what you most need to know about this book is that every time I pick it up it makes me want to bake something.  The more cynical among you may well say that breathing makes me want to bake something, which is probably true, but this book definitely makes the baking urge more immediate.  You can almost smell the recipes coming off the page (I don’t recommend trying this in a bookshop, however), and, drat it all, I am going to end up making gingerbread cake after choir tonight, aren’t I?  I can almost taste it already…

You can buy Gingerbread: Timeless Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Desserts, Ice Cream, and Candy from The Book Depository (that 10% discount for using the code MAY11 at checkout still applies until June 5) or from Amazon .

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6 comments for “Review: Gingerbread: Timeless Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Desserts, Ice Cream, and Candy, by Jennifer Lindner McGlinn

  1. lensaddiction
    June 2, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    Oh god, not another irresistable cookbook review!

    • June 2, 2011 at 5:58 pm

      It’s part of my evil charm.

      You cannot imagine just how many cookbooks I own…

  2. June 4, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    I love gingerbread so I am sure I would love this cookbook – just wrote up about a gingerbread pudding with plums that we loved recently. Though I accidentally increased the sugar but I figure that is not so bad with coconut sugar. Mostly I need to decrease it especially in American recipes.

    • June 5, 2011 at 8:45 am

      It’s a gorgeous, gorgeous cookbook. I made the upside-down pear and gingerbread cake last night for a choir birthday today, and it was all I could do not to dive straight in…

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