As far as cities go, Rome has a lot going for her. She's got the food thing down, for one -- the land of bucatini all'amatriciana, supplì, and gelato does not disappoint -- and if you like history, well, you're positively surrounded by it (it's called the Eternal City, after all). If its culture and art you're after, Rome has that covered too, boasting a wealth of museums and galleries and theaters, concerts, operas, and ballets. And don't even get me started on how beautiful it is -- though I've traveled around quite a bit by now I can honestly say that I've not yet stumbled upon a place more stunning than this city. Yes, yes, Italy's capital excels at many things.
Except for Christmas. Rome is not very good at Christmas.
It does try its best, though (I'll give it a solid A for effort!) While there is indeed a Christmas tree in St. Peter's Square and a few strings of lights on some of the main streets, decorations are pretty scarce. There is a Christmas market here and there, but most are disappointing (I'm looking at you, Piazza Navona Christmas Market). The temperatures here are fairly warm, so much so that my my Fall jacket doubles as my Winter jacket with the addition of a scarf. Snow is extremely rare. Indeed, it is easy to forget that my favorite holiday (or, to quote the song: The Most Wonderful Time of The Year!) is just around the corner when you live in Rome.
But never fear! There are some simple things that you can do to feel a little more Christmas-y if you're living here, or even if you're just struggling to get into the holiday spirit. Though I've recently discovered that a trip to Bolzano is an excellent way to do this, I'm guessing that would be pretty short notice for most of you, and so will skip to my second, equally effective recommendation: bake a gingerbread cake. Gingerbread, if you haven't heard, is basically Christmas whisked together with molasses and ginger, poured into a pan, and baked in an oven. Its my number one favorite food in December, and I take it very, very seriously.
Visions of gingerbread dancing in my head, I contemplated making gingerbread waffles, gingerbread cinnamon rolls, or gingerbread french toast before deciding to keep things simple with this Gingerbread Cake, perfect for Christmas brunch, breakfast, tea or dessert. But oh no my friends, I'm not just sharing this because its versatile -- this also just so happens to be one of my favorite cakes I've ever baked. It is dark and dense thanks to a good dose of molasses, deeply spicy and gingery -- on the gingerbread scale from 1-10 it is an 11 -- its spiciness dialed up further with a little help from its friends cloves, cinnamon, and allspice. And I didn't stop there, no way -- I opted to dress this cake up with spoonfuls of juicy, caramel-y pears spiced with a touch of cozy cloves, because Christmas only comes once a year, after all. The result -- a slice of gingery magic paired with a dollop of cold freshly whipped cream and warm, caramelized pears -- is heavenly, a divine combination of textures, flavors, and temperatures that makes your whole house smell like Christmas. I grinned from ear-to-ear on the first bite (I love when this happens) and was happy to see my taste testers scrape their plates to get every last crumb and drop of sauce in silence (Silent Night indeed!) Bottom line: if you bake only one more thing in 2016, make sure it is this cake.
A couple of notes: If you don't have a tube pan, you can also bake this cake in a 10-12 cup bundt pan. You could also probably bake it in a loaf pan -- I haven't tried this out, but I'd guess you could make two or so loaf cakes with this amount of batter. Don't use blackstrap molasses in this recipe -- the flavor is too strong. This cake, like this one and this one before it, tastes even better the day after it is made, so feel free to make it a day or two in advance. For the pears: if you don't have Bosc pears, I have also used Abate pears with good results -- you might just have to cook them a bit longer as the flesh tends to be a bit firmer than the Bosc pear. If you want, you could substitute cinnamon or ginger for the cloves. Finally, don't leave out the dusting of powdered sugar over the top of the cake -- it makes the cake look extra festive and winter-y, as if there was a little powdered sugar snow flurry over the top of the gingerbread.
Looking for more Christmas-y sweets? I have this Homemade Hot Chocolate mix, this Gingerbread, and this Pistachio, Chocolate, and Cranberry Fudge or this Peppermint Chocolate Tart. Looking for some Christmas cookie or bar recipes? I've got these Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroons, these Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, this Shortbread, these Chocolate Chip Cookies, these Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Bars, or these Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies and these Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats, no to mention last week's Brownies Cookies. Are your teeth aching from all the sugar in the last 3 posts? Stay tuned for something savory next week.
GINGERBREAD CAKE WITH CARAMELIZED PEARS
Ingredients for the cake:
2 1/2 cups (325 grams) flour
2 1/2 teaspoons ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup (12 tablespoons, 168 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (255 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (140 grams) molasses
1 cup (240 grams) water
Ingredients for the glaze:
4 Bosc pears, peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 cup (42 grams) light brown sugar
4 tablespoons (56 grams) butter
1/4 teaspoon cloves
Powdered sugar, for serving
Unsweetened whipped cream, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 10- to 12-cup bundt pan or tube pan. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the molasses.
Add the flour mixture to the molasses batter in three additions alternately with the water, starting and ending with the flour. Whisk just until smooth.
Now that the cake is done, time to caramelize those pears. In a medium sauce pan over low heat, melt together the butter and sugar, stirring occasionally. Add the pear and cloves and cook until the butter and sugar have turned syrupy and caramel-y and the pears have released their juices, about 10 minutes. Serve the cake with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and some pears on the side. Enjoy.
Cake recipe from King Arthur Flour; pear recipe adapted from www.chowhound.com.