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Wake up with light breakfast gingerbread

| Sunday, Feb. 8, 2009

If chocolate-chip muffins can be considered breakfast, I figure anything goes. So why not adapt a gingerbread recipe (adding a few extra nutritious ingredients, such as wheat bran and walnuts) to be acceptable for breakfast as well•

This is what I came up with, and it really hits the spot -- especially when washed down with fresh-squeezed orange juice or a cappuccino. You also can carry a chunk of this with you to work.

Fresh and crystallized ginger, with touches of orange and spice, create complex layers of flavor that will wake you up gently without hitting you over the head. Unwrap the butter ahead of time, and place it directly in the mixing bowl to soften.

Light Breakfast Gingerbread with Cranberries, Bran and Walnuts

• Vegetable cooking spray, to grease pan

• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

• 1/4 cup grated fresh gingerroot

• 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

• 2 tablespoons molasses

• 1 large egg

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

• 1 teaspoon baking powder

• 1/4 teaspoon baking soda

• 1/2 teaspoon salt

• 1 teaspoon cinnamon

• 1/2 teaspoon allspice

• 1/2 cup unprocessed wheat bran

• 2 teaspoons grated orange zest

• 1/3 cup minced crystallized ginger

• 1/2 cup dried cranberries

• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

• 1 1/4 cups buttermilk

• Yogurt or creme fraiche, optional

Heat the oven to 350 degrees (325 degrees for a glass pan). Lightly coat an 8-inch square pan with vegetable cooking spray.

In a medium-large bowl and using an electric mixer, beat the butter for several minutes at high speed. Add the fresh gingerroot, sugar and molasses and beat for several minutes longer. Add the egg and vanilla, and continue beating for 2 to 3 more minutes.

In a second bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, bran and orange zest, slowly mixing them together with a whisk.

Add the crystallized ginger, rubbing it in with your fingers to separate the pieces. (You also can cut the ginger pieces smaller with scissors. It's easier to do this when they are coated with the flour.) Stir in the cranberries and walnuts.

Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture in three installments, alternating with the buttermilk (dry, wet, dry, wet, dry). After each addition, mix from the bottom of the bowl -- just enough to blend -- with a spoon or a rubber spatula. Don't overmix.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and spread it into place. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted all the way into the center comes out clean. Cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Serve at any temperature, plain or with yogurt or creme fraiche.

Makes one 8-inch square cake (about 8 servings).

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