Happy New Year, friends! I made us a gingerbread cake to celebrate.
(Jump to Recipe)
How is 2016 already over? I simultaneously feel like it was just yesterday we were ringing it in, yet also that it has been 100 years long. 2016 was a tough year around the world, at home in the United States, and for me personally. I began it as an unhappy associate at a large law firm in Chicago. While outwardly, it seemed like I had succeeded – I was doing well at a prestigious job, got along with my coworkers, had a wonderful and supportive husband, lived in a nice apartment in downtown Chicago – inwardly, I was miserable and slowly descending into a constant state of dissatisfaction and unhappiness.
Biglaw practice was intellectually challenging, to be certain – and also fast-paced and “exciting.” But it was also thankless, unfulfilling, and often toxic. I received emails 24 hours a day that required an immediate response. At 8 p.m. on a Friday, I could be assigned a project that would consume my entire weekend, and I was expected to cancel any personal plans that might be in conflict (including vacations). It wasn’t uncommon for me to be at work past 10 p.m. on weeknights. When I did finally come home, I would either get back on my computer to work remotely or pass out on the couch in front of the TV, barely having spoken to my husband Brian.
I lived with my phone by my side, and barely had time to eat most days, much less indulge my passion for baking and cooking. I felt myself slowly becoming one-dimensional; a worker drone that moved between bed and the office. Was I good at it? Yes. Was it lucrative? Yes. Did I enjoy it; was I excited to get up and go to work every day? Definitively, no.
I felt as though my life was passing me by without my participation. A weekend trip to visit friends turned into me frantically making phone calls and sending emails alone in the guest bedroom because a client decided Friday afternoon was the perfect time to ask a non-essential (but essential for me to answer immediately) question. Christmas at home with my family entailed me holed up in a makeshift office all day trying to close a deal while Brian and my mom put up decorations without me. My life wasn’t just passing me by; it was no longer mine.
Brian was understanding and supported me through the highs and lows unfalteringly, but there came a time when I realized that my relationship with him, and with my friends and family, was suffering. I decided I could not face another day doing something I didn’t enjoy when it so negatively affected my life – no matter how hard I’d worked to get there, no matter how prestigious it might be, no matter that I didn’t know how to chart a new course. I’ve always been a Type A, high-achieving sort, and the realization that I had “failed,” despite all of my hard work and dedication, rocked me to the core. I had enjoyed law school and liked the intellectual challenge of practicing, but the reality of working in a large law firm was crushing. It is the right place for some people; it was decidedly not the right place for me. My relationships, and my well-being, meant too much to me to give them up for a job.
So one day this past summer, I did something I thought I couldn’t do: I quit. With no job lined up, and no plan for the future besides resting, recuperating, and finding something I could be passionate about doing every day. Most of my co-workers reacted with shock; some with jealousy. But so many of them were supportive after the shock wore off that I felt as though my decision wasn’t as far off-base as I thought; that there were others in my boat, silent though they might be.
It’s been 6 months since my last day at the law firm, and I can’t yet say that I’ve found the answers I was looking for. What I have found, though, is a renewed passion for food and sharing it with others. I’ve found that spending the time to test and a develop a recipe is a challenge that I enjoy taking on. I’ve found that my mind is overflowing with new ideas for flavor pairings and combinations. I’ve found that even when I spend all day thinking about and working with food, I do not grow weary or frustrated by it, and I have the energy and desire to do more of it, rather than wanting to shut my brain down at the end of the day like I used to. Finally, I’ve found that my life is full of wonderful people who have been nothing but supportive of my unconventional life choice, and for that I couldn’t be more grateful.
I don’t know where my new path will take me in 2017, but I know that I will eat delicious things along the way, like this Gingerbread Bundt Cake. I am a huge gingerbread fan, and I always find it annoying that it’s only served around the holidays. Winter lasts for months longer than Christmas (especially in Chicago), and gingerbread is so comforting in these cold months. So, here’s my vote for us to defy tradition and continue eating gingerbread long after the holidays are over.
When I first saw the recipe for this cake on Smitten Kitchen’s delicious blog (the recipe originally comes from Gramercy Tavern in New York), I knew I had to make it. It’s a deep, dark gingerbread, sticky and almost toffee-like in flavor. The seemingly strange addition of stout beer adds a depth that most gingerbreads simply do not have. I warn you: this is not a gingerbread for the faint of heart, or those who waver in their liking. But if you really like gingerbread, you will absolutely adore this cake. I decided it needed a tangy cream cheese frosting as a counter to the intense sweetness of the molasses, so I added one, and I think it is an enhancement not to be missed.
Note that because it is so dark and sticky, this cake is a bit of a challenge to get out of the bundt pan intact. The way I’ve found to counter this is to grease the pan very generously and to cool the cake completely in the pan, rather than taking it out after only 10 minutes as most recipes recommend. Then, run a butter knife or spatula along the outer and inner edges of the cake to release, turn it over onto a plate and rap it several times with your fist until the cake releases. Ta-da!
What are your plans for this year? Whatever 2017 brings in your life, I hope it is happy, healthy, and full of delicious food. Thank you for being here!
Gingerbread Bundt Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 cup stout beer (oatmeal or Guinness)
- 1 cup molasses (ideally, not blackstrap, although I used it and the flavor did not suffer)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 tablespoon (yes, tbsp) ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 3 large eggs
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup canola oil
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 ounces cream cheese, cold
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup confectioner's (powdered) sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 4-5 tablespoons milk of choice
- Cinnamon, for dusting (optional)
For the Cake:
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Very generously butter a 12-cup bundt pan and set aside. Don't skip this - this is a very sticky cake.
- In a large saucepan, bring stout and molasses to a boil. Remove from heat, whisk in baking soda (note it will begin bubbling vigorously), then cool for a few minutes (to just above room temperature, so you don't cook the eggs when you mix it in later).
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and spices. In a separate large bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Whisk in canola oil, then cooled molasses mixture. Finally, add the flour mixture and stir together (or fold with a spatula) until just combined.
- Pour batter into the prepared bundt pan and tap it on the on counter a few times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake the cake until a toothpick comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached, about 50 minutes.
- Cool cake COMPLETELY in pan on a rack. Run a butter knife or spatula along the outer and inner edges of the cake, and turn out onto a plate.
For the Cream Cheese Frosting:
- In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, cream together the cream cheese and butter until fully combined and fluffy. Beat in sugar and salt until fully combined. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the frosting is still thick but pourable (it took about 5 tablespoons for me).
- Pour frosting evenly over the cake. Dust with cinnamon, if desired. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days; this cake gets better as it sits. Bring to room temperature before eating.