By REBECCA LINDAMOOD
---- — I could have caused a car accident last week.
I saw leaves changing colors on the trees and got so excited I slammed my foot down on the brakes.
Mercifully, the only other travelers on the road at that moment were a pair of squirrels, so no harm was done. At that moment I realized that what I needed more than anything else in the universe was to bake. Immediately. After burning rubber to get home, I peeled in the front door, tossed purse and coat aside and nearly hyperventilated gathering baking implements and ingredients. We're talking about serious compulsion here. When the air turns crisp (which it had) and the leaves are touched with Crayola colors (which they were), baking is simply not optional.
No one in this household seems to mind too much when Mama is on a baking bender. Children with expectant faces sneak — alone — into the kitchen to say things like, "Mom. Would it be helpful to you if I licked that icing off the side of the bowl?" If I know what's good for me my answer to that is a resounding yes. You haven't known ill-tempered children until you've known ones whose hopes for illicit frosting booty has been thwarted.
Adults magically appear to offer help at the very instant you remove the mixer's beater to take it to the sink, then leave the room with batter in beards and on the fronts of shirts.
Dogs pant at the ready in the corner hoping against all hope that you'll drop a spoon or a bowl or a cookie.
Baking, flannel shirts and frosting thieves. This is the stuff of fall traditions.
Since it is now nearly officially fall, it is time to dust off some of our shelved-for-the-summer classics and give them some timely attention. New-fashioned gingerbread gets a sweet little boost with the addition of honey and is made over into adorable one-bite miniature size. Pumpkin cake gets transformed into succulent pumpkin cupcakes. Both get a punchy boost from the presence of freshly grated ginger root.
And both little cakes can be served plain or with the same topping; a silky, snow-white Classic Cream Cheese Frosting. This sweet, creamy frosting is like a little black dress for cakes. But it's not just a tasty cover-all. It freezes like a dream. You can frost the tiny Honey Gingerbread Bites and freeze them, uncovered, on a cookie sheet before transferring to a freezer bag. You can pop one of the little frozen beauties straight into your mouth — no thawing required. Midnight snacks will never be the same again.
Honey Gingerbread Bites
¾ c. light brown sugar
¾ c. molasses
½ c. honey
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
¼ c. vegetable oil
2 large eggs
2½ c. all-purpose flour
2 t. baking soda
1 t. ground ginger
1 T. finely grated fresh ginger root
1 t. cinnamon
½ t. freshly grated nutmeg (ground will do in a pinch)
½ t. salt
1 c. boiling water
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Lightly grease 72 mini-muffin cups (or about 24 standard sized muffin cups.) Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer fitted with a batter attachment (or in a mid-sized bowl with a hand-mixer) beat together the sugar, molasses, honey, melted butter, oil and eggs until smooth. Use a sturdy spoon to mix in the flour, soda, gingers, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Pour the water in carefully and stir with caution as the water is prone to splashing out of the bowl, scraping the sides as you go. When the batter is evenly smooth, divide between the muffin cups, using about 1 tablespoon for each one.
Bake the bites for 8-12 minutes, or until the center is puffed and set and a toothpick inserted in the center of the bite comes out clean.
Gently turn out of pans. If you wish to frost them, cool completely before doing so.
Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes
1½ c. white whole wheat flour
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
¾ t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
½ t. ground nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
1 T. finely grated fresh ginger root
1¾ c. packed light brown sugar
½ c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
½ c. oil
4 large eggs
1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line 24 muffin cups with papers and grease them generously. (You may need a couple extra depending on how lofty your batter gets.) Set aside.
In a mid-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and soda, salt and dry spices.
In the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand-mixer), beat together the brown sugar, butter and oil until thick and fluffy. Add the eggs in one at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Beat in the pumpkin and then stir in the dry ingredients. Mix gently until even. Divide the batter between the prepared muffin papers.
Bake 20-25 minutes or until the center is set and springs back from a gentle touch and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes rest in the pan for five minutes before turning out onto a cooling rack. If you wish to frost them, let them cool completely before doing so.
Classic Cream Cheese Frosting
6 T. room temperature unsalted butter
1 (8-oz.) package Neufchatel cheese (full-fat cream cheese can be used if preferred)
1 t. vanilla extract (I use one that has real vanilla bean flecks for best flavor)
4 c. powdered sugar, sifted
Pinch of salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large mixing bowl with a hand-mixer), beat together the butter, cream cheese, vanilla and salt until light colored and very fluffy. Add the sifted sugar a little at a time until fully incorporated. Turn the speed to high and beat well for 1-2 minutes. After frosting cupcakes or gingerbread bites, be sure to store them in the refrigerator lightly covered with plastic wrap.
*Tasty Tip: For added sparkle and a burst of gingery flavor, sprinkle finely chopped crystallized ginger over cupcakes frosted with Classic Cream Cheese Frosting.
Write to Rebecca at email@example.com.