“Not far away from here lies a poor woman with a little new-born baby. Six children are huddled into one bed to keep from freezing, for they have no fire. There is nothing to eat over there; and the oldest boy came to tell me they were suffering hunger and cold. My girls, will you give them your breakfast as a Christmas present?”
They were all unusually hungry, having waited nearly an hour, and for a minute no one spoke: only a minute, for Jo explained impetuously, — ‘I’m so glad you came before we began!’ ‘May I go and help carry the things to the poor little children?’ asked Beth, eagerly.‘I shall take the cream and the muffins,’ added Amy, heroically giving up the articles she most liked most.”
~ from Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
It’s hard to imagine a more touching description of generosity and kindness than this Christmas morning scene at the March house. The girls’ willingness to share the things they were SO looking forward to enjoying themselves causes me to flinch just a bit. I wonder, could I offer up my breakfast with the grace and compassion this family showed? Do I even notice the people around me who are in need the way Marmee does in this story? The idea of giving something I consider mine to another human who needs it more than I do requires a kind of contentment that seems out of place in the 21st Century. The original meaning of the word “content” from the 1400’s is “held or contained within limits.” It’s one thing to try to be content (usually grudgingly) within limits that are imposed upon me by my circumstances, inside a frame that I have no control over. It’s another thing to willingly place a constraint upon myself and learn to find peace there. Perhaps this is what the Psalmist meant when he wrote in Psalm 16:5-6, “The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
Pursuing a happiness which consists in being satisfied within my limitations is surely something that requires cultivation, because it doesn’t come naturally to us. I think Marmee wanted her girls to grow into this virtue, even at the cost of a long-awaited breakfast. The story doesn’t give us all the details about the breakfast that the girls packed into their baskets to take to the hungry Hummel family. But it does mention muffins and cream, and since the girls made the muffins themselves, I can imagine them baking up a quick recipe like the one below. Who can resist the delicious, spiced aroma of gingerbread, fresh from the oven? I love grated fresh ginger in this recipe for a spicy warmth that is delightful anytime, but especially at Christmas. There is something magical about a cake made with hot milk; the method is so easy and results in a tender, moist cake that is perfect for enjoying warm on Christmas morning with a cup of tea or cocoa. If you stir together this gingerbread, it will make enough for you to enjoy with your family, and still have some to share with a friend.
Christmas Gingerbread Cake
1/2 cup sugar (or you can use Baking Sugar Alternative from King Arthur Baking)
1/2 cup butter
1 large egg, beaten
1 cup molasses (I like unsulphured molasses for old-fashioned flavor)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger root (fresh ginger tastes wonderful, but if you don’t have it, you can use 1 teaspoon of ground ginger instead)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup very hot milk (any kind will do fine ~ oat milk is my favorite non-dairy substitute)
Optional toppings: powdered sugar, whipped cream, whipped coconut cream, caramel sauce, or chocolate sauce
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 X 13” pan lightly with cooking spray. My favorite non-stick cooking spray contains coconut oil. You can also just simply smear a bit of solid coconut oil in your pan. If you are making muffins, slip muffin papers into two 12-cup muffin pans and lightly spray inside the papers.
- In a large mixing bowl cream together the sugar and butter until smooth and fluffy.
- Add the egg and molasses and mix well.
- In a separate bowl, mix the dry ingredients together: flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Add the finely grated ginger root or ground ginger to the dry ingredients.
- Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir to combine.
- To this mixture, slowly pour in the hot milk and stir until smooth. This will make a THIN batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- This cake is lovely served warm. Cut the 9 X 13” cake into squares, and serve the squares (or muffins) on plates with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. Add a dollop of whipped cream or any of the other optional toppings.
Gluten-free and/or dairy-free gingerbread:
It’s easy to make this recipe gluten-free by substituting gluten-free baking flour for the all-purpose flour. It will still rise nicely if the flour contains xanthan gum as one of the ingredients.
If you want to make this dairy-free, just switch out the butter for a plant-based butter, and the milk for an equal amount of dairy-free milk of your choice. Choose whipped coconut cream to dollop on top before serving.
The featured image is courtesy of Steve Moon and used with his kind permission for Cultivating.
Terri Moon is a musician and a lover of Jesus. She delights in all kinds of good, true, and beautiful things that point to Him. As a classically trained violinist, she has performed and taught students of all ages for over 40 years. She serves on the leadership team of the Anselm Society, and is still pursuing her lifelong passion of the intersection of music, worship, and spiritual formation. Terri’s dream is to bring to life the beauty of the Church’s heritage in the arts. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Steve and their dog, Chesterton.