scent of the holiday — caramelized apple gingerbread

November and half of December have been an unfashionably warm on the East coast, so it’s taken some effort to summon the holiday spirit. Yes, we had a few cold days here and there, but that’s just not enough for this New Yorker. The guys selling Christmas trees on the street corners are normally bundled up and shivering next to their electric heaters. This year, they’ve worn little more than t-shirts on many days.

I was wondering if I would ever wear a coat this December. Since Annual Cookie Swap, also a day of mild weather, I realized what I needed to evoke the holiday spirit was a certain taste and scent. Weather was less important. When I lived in California, Christmas was still Christmas.

After a day or two of blustery wind and cold nights, winter came back for a return engagement. The scent and taste that got me that day was gingerbread. One bite and I was sledding with Santa. This variation of gingerbread, with added dried fruits and caramelized apple topping, gives a refreshing contrast to the classic scent of molasses and earthy spices. Maybe you can add this to your holiday tradition.

Caramelized Apple Gingerbread


Apple Topping
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup (6 ounces) packed light brown sugar
  • 2 apples (such as Granny Smith or Jonathan), peeled, halved, cored, and sliced thin
  • 2-1/4 cups (11-1/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon Dutch-process cocoa powder
  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces/1/2 stick) unsalted butter , melted, cooled to room temperature
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup unsulphured molasses
  • 3/4 cup (5-1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 3 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 1 cup buttermilk or whole milk
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup of chopped dried cherries
  • 1/2 chopped crystalized ginger


Apple Topping

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease sides of 9 by 9-inch baking pan. Pour melted butter into pan; spread brown sugar evenly over pan bottom. Arrange apple slices, overlapping slightly upon brown sugar mixture. Set aside


1. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, and cocoa in medium bowl. Set aside

2. Beat butter, oil, molasses, and sugar in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in egg and fresh ginger until incorporated. Gradually add buttermilk until combined.

3. Add dry ingredients to liquid; beat on medium speed until batter barely combines with a few white streaks of flour. Using a rubber spatula, add dried fruits and ginger until evenly distributed. Pour batter over apple slices.

4. Bake until top springs back when lightly touched, and edges have pulled away from the pan sides, 45 to 55 minutes. Set pan on wire cake rack and let cool for 5 minutes, invert onto serving plate, and let cool for another 30 minutes. Cut into squares, and serve.

recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated