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Let me explain. Well before there were American colonists, there was a spiced honey cake—or gingerbread—known throughout Europe, but its dense dough needed to be rolled and cut, yielding crisp shapes after baking. When the recipe was brought to America, expensive West Indian sugar (which was mostly shipped to England) was swapped out for molasses, the cheaper byproduct of sugar refining.
Related: How To Bake With 12 Healthy Sugar Substitutes
But an equally significant recipe change was the addition of leavener—what we now know as baking soda and baking powder. As the logging industry ravaged the northern states, cleared forests were burned, resulting in powdery potash. When mixed with an acid, such as molasses, potash produced carbon dioxide, which helped the dough to rise into a soft cake. The downside was its bitter flavor, so those clever settlers upped the spice quotient in the recipe, producing a truly American dessert: the gingerbread cake.
So how to make this treat even more American? By making it in the crock pot, of course.
Making things in the slow cooker automatically makes me feel at ease. Nobody expects fussy perfection from a slow cooker dessert. What I love about the slow cooker is how it’s a short-cut to family friendly foods that don’t take a lot of effort to put together. (If you don’t already own a slow cooker, here are the best slow cookers for sale online.)
Related: This Crustless Slow Cooker Pumpkin Pie Is The Easiest Pie You'll Make All Fall
And this gingerbread cake is no exception. The mixing of it is straightforward; its spices traditional. To amp up the ginger flavor, it uses three kinds: ground, freshly grated, and crystallized (which you may omit, if desired). The crumb is not light and airy, but substantial and deep. The long moist cook time gives the crock pot ginger cake a burnished, chewy crust that’s way more satisfying to eat than a brittle gingerbread man, needing nothing more than the merest wisp of whipped cream to make a lovely autumn dessert.
It’s easy to make homemade whipped cream if you have a mason jar—here’s how!
Slow Cooker Gingerbread Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons finely chopped crystallized ginger (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup molasses (not blackstrap)
½ cup very hot water
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1. Crumple a large piece of parchment paper to make it very pliable, then un-crumple it. Press it into a slow cooker, leaving excess on the sides so you can lift out the cake later, and spray with nonaerosol cooking spray.
2. Whisk together the flour, crystallized ginger (if using), baking soda, cinnamon, ground ginger, baking powder, cloves, and salt.
3. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or in a bowl with a hand mixer) on medium speed, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the molasses and hot water, stirring until the molasses loosens. With the mixer running on medium-low, pour the mixture into the bowl and mix to distribute. Add the fresh ginger. The mixture will appear separated.
5. With the mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture, in three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary, until all the flour is incorporated.
6. Transfer the batter to the parchment-lined slow cooker. Cover with a clean kitchen towel (to catch drips from condensation under the lid), put the lid on, and cook until a pick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs, 2 hours on high or 3 ½ to 4 hours on low. Turn off the slow cooker and keep the lid on for 30 minutes more. Use the parchment paper to remove the cake from the slow cooker and gently peel off. Serve warm or cold with cream or ice-cream.