Grandma’s Heavenly Heart Cake

Homemade heartshaped gingerbread cake with berries overhead by bake this cake

Everyone should have a Mother’s Gingerbread Cake recipe on hand, don’t you think?  And there are a lot of them out there. I know because we’ve tried nearly every one we can lay a hand on, starting from recipes created in the 1700’s. Some of them are dense and dark and very spicy, especially the historic cakes. Some of the old-fashioned “receipts” for gingerbread “cake” are really gingerbread cookie recipes – so they are rolled quite flat and become hard (the way a good gingerbread cookie should be, though that’s not what we think of as cake these days). And then some gingerbreads are super soft, almost like English steamed pudding.

Grandma's Gingerbread Heart Cake Recipe Filled with Cream and Berries by bakethiscake

This one, however, just can’t seem to be beat in my book. And it just happens to be an adaptation of my own mother’s grandmother’s gingerbread cake recipe. I may be partial in this regard but it seems perfectly light and lovely and moist and bright with that heavenly ginger flavor and a hint of orange.

Soft little gingerbread cakes hot from the oven in heart-shaped vintage pans by bake this cake

Cake Intention:  My mother told us that this cake was made for courting. It was a special intention cake in that grand tradition of a “courting cake” in the days when every girl worth her salt had tucked in her bonnet a special sweet cake recipe to serve when her best gent came a’ calling. You might remember our post on Mrs. Abraham Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Cake. Cake historians believe that famous white almond cake (or a version of it) hailing from about the year 1828 was one of Mary Todd’s special courting cakes for her man, Abe. It would have impressed any caller. This one will too.

Gingerbread Hearts Cake gingerbread cake recipe by bake this cake

Tinkering With a Super Special Ingredient: We modified this soft gingerbread cake recipe with a little baking powder (which was not available to great-grandma when she first started out baking this cake). We tossed in a gaggle of fresh-grated ginger (to go with the powdered ginger), added an option for a dash of coconut flour and we also subbed out the water in the recipe with a super fun ingredient. We used pure maple water tapped straight down the spigot from American maple trees. You won’t taste a maple flavor in this cake (that I can detect, at least). Maybe that’s because pure maple water hasn’t been boiled down to caramelize the sugar content. It has the consistency and pretty much the taste of fresh water. It does have some sodium and a few grams of sugar per cup. But it seems to ratchet up the moist factor in this cake and I think it makes the cake a little lighter too. So I love the idea of hooking up great-grandmother’s special courting cake with something so interesting for a natural cake boost.

Maple Water for cake baking by bake this cake

Heavenly Hearts: This gingerbread cake smells heavenly in the kitchen when it first arrives hot from the oven but it is equally delightful when it’s cold. And when it’s baked in cute little heart-shaped pans…well, bring on those sweetheart callers, baby, ’cause we’re going vintage darling all the way!

Vintage aluminum heart pans for cake baking by bake this cake

Homemade Cake Accessories: AND when you lay your little slice of Grandma’s Heavenly Heart Cake on a party plate drizzled with homemade raspberry jelly (easy recipe coming in our next post) along with a dollop of homemade crème fraîche using a simple “countertop recipe” (or with lightly sweetened whipped cream or honey-sweetened sour cream) and some fresh raspberries, I think you’ll have a rather spectacular courting cake on your hands.

Homemade Gingerbread on a silver fork with raspberry and creme fraiche by bake this cake

Okay! Enough talk of this little vintage wonder.  Let’s bake this cake!

Tools needed for Grandma’s Heavenly Heart Cake:
Small or large heart-shaped pans (or use a square brownie pan or 2 round layer cake pans)
2 large bowls (one for dry ingredients, one for the main batter)
Whisk and spatula
Electric mixer
Measuring cups and spoons

Ingredients for Grandma’s Heart Cake:
1/3 cup unsalted butter, lightly melted
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup corn syrup
¾ cup golden brown sugar, medium packed, free of lumps
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (optional)
2/3 cup pure maple water (or plain water)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
1 large egg, fork beaten
1-1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (or use regular all-purpose flour)
1-3/4 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground dried orange peel (substitute ½ teaspoon very finely zested fresh orange peel)
2 Tablespoons coconut flour (optional)

Close up of Grandma's Heavenly Hearts Cake Gingerbread by bake this cake

1. Prepare the pans with care:

Spray pans with cooking spray or generously smear with butter and dust with flour. Better yet, cut to size and shape and layer the bottom of the pan(s) with parchment or wax paper, then spray with cooking spray or butter smear.
Tip: This type of molasses and brown sugar cake is quite sticky on the bottom when baked and will very likely stick to the bottom of any pan if care is not taken.
Double Tip: For perfect release of this cake, be sure not to let your cakes cool too long after baking but remove them carefully after a 10 minute cool-down.

Homemade Ginger bread Cake Heart overhead with embroidered towel and apron by bake this cake

2. Whisk the wet ingredients:

In a large (main batter) mixing bowl, whisk together:
1/3 cup unsalted butter, lightly melted
1/3 cup dark molasses
1/3 cup corn syrup
¾ cup golden brown sugar, medium packed, free of lumps
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated ginger (optional)
2/3 cup pure maple water (or plain water)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, fine quality
1 large egg, fork beaten

Mixing wet ingredients for soft gingerbread cake by bake this cake

3. Whisk the dry ingredients:

In a large bowl, whisk together:
1-1/2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (or use regular all-purpose flour)
1-3/4 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground dried orange peel (substitute ½ teaspoon very finely zested fresh orange peel)
2 Tablespoons coconut flour (optional)

Whisking dry ingredients for Grandma's gingerbread cake by bake this cake

4. Beat the batter:

Using an electric mixer, add the dry mixture in portions to the wet ingredients and beat on low-speed until just incorporated, then beat on high-speed for about 1 minute. The final batter will be thick,  smooth and glossy and will look like a caramel milkshake.

Grandma's Gingerbread Cake Batter for Heavenly Hearts Courting Cake by bake this cake

5. Fill and bake:

Fill 8 small heart-shaped pans and 1 larger heart-shaped pan 2/3 full of batter.

Gingerbread batter in vintage heart pans on a baking tray by bake this cake

You may also use an 8” x 2” deep heart pan or an 8” or 9” square brownie pan or other pan(s), filling batter no more than 2/3 full with batter.
Tip: When filling small pans or cupcake molds, I like to use a small 1 Tablespoon-sized ice cream scooper. These little heart pans call for 2 scoops of batter (or 2 Tablespoons) to arrive at about a 2/3 full pan.

Pouring batter with ice cream scooper into vintage heart pans by bake this cake

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes for smaller pans, up to about 30 minutes for larger pans. Internal temperature should be about 200 degrees or when a toothpick test shows clean.
Cool for 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.
When cool, dust lightly with powdered sugar.

Mini Heart shaped gingerbread cakes hot from the oven by bakethiscake

This cake is divine sliced in half lengthwise and filled in the center between layers with lightly sweetened whipped cream. Just beat 1 cup of heavy whipping cream with 1 or 2 Tablespoons of sifted powdered sugar for about 1 minute until soft peaks form.

Homemade Mini Gingerbread Cake with Whipped Cream Filling by bake this cake

My favorite way to serve this cake is on a plate drizzled with raspberry jam (diluted with a little water), fresh raspberries on the side and a dollop of homemade crème fraîche. The crème fraîche is easy to make (see Chef John’s simple homemade crème fraîche video instructions) with a little pre-planning.  Just stir 1-1/2 Tablespoons of cultured buttermilk into 1 cup of heavy whipping cream covered in a glass container that is covered with paper and set out on the counter overnight, then stored in the fridge overnight. Here’s a photo of the heavy whipping cream and buttermilk covered with a coffee filter fastened with a rubber band, waiting to become a fabulous crème fraîche.

Homemade cream fraiche made fresh on the countertop with buttermilk by bake this cake

If you’re time crunched: I hope you find the time to try this recipe, even if you don’t go whole hog wild with the fancy cream and berry fixin’s.  Remember, you can forget the maple water, using water instead, nix the fresh ginger and coconut flour options too. Serve it plain and simple in all its vintage glory and fill your home with the heavenly aroma of brown sugar, molasses and ginger. It will warm your heart in that cozy comfort way — plain and simple or all frilled up.

Homemade gingerbread cake recipe cutaway with berries and cream by bake this cake

Thank you so much for your wonderful comments on the blog posts. I so appreciate your letting me know how your cakes are turning out and I’m so inspired by your special vintage cake baking adventures.

Leslie

Leslie Macchiarella

You may also enjoy reading:

Mary Todd Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Pound Cake (bakethiscake.com)

Homemade Country Bread Recipe in Photos (bakethisbread.com)

Betty’s Banana Layer Cake with Fresh Banana Frosting (bakethiscake.com)

Lizzie’s Homemade Maraschino Cherries Cake  (bakethiscake.com)

Downtown LA at night photo by Leslie Macchiarella

Bottega Louie Macaron's Downtown LA photo by Leslie Macchiarella

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3 thoughts on “Grandma’s Heavenly Heart Cake

  1. Being a chocolate person I was extremely surprised (and pleased) to find that this turned out to be one of my most favorite desserts I’ve tried in long, long time! Thank you!

  2. Yum! This cake looks so good. I love gingerbread so I know that I will be making this soon. Thanks for sharing.
    Happy Valentine’s Day!
    Diane M.

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