As soon as the temperatures begin to drop, I seem to develop a bit of an addiction to my kitchen. I’m not sure whether it is the allure of the warmth of the oven, or the subconscious need to insulate myself with a few extra pounds before the cold snap sets in, but I seem to spend far more time there than I do in the summer. Summer food is beautifully effortless – you can just throw a few vegetables together, or lightly steam a piece of fish. Anything requiring even the slightest amount of effort is dismissed, meals can be eaten outside and the hot weather makes cold food, and raw food, enticing. In the winter, this is not so. When you arrive home from a cold commute with wet hair and feet and disrobe your multiple layers of clothing, you want comfort food: steaming bowls of stew and great hunks of freshly-baked bread with salted butter. Food you can eat snuggled in front of the television. Food that will warm you up from the inside out. In order to make this food, time-consuming preparation is required: slow cooking, baking and roasting. For six months, at least, the days of effortless cooking are over.
For anybody that enjoys cooking, however, this is not really much of a problem. In fact, a cold and rainy Sunday is a great excuse to bake up a loaf of bread: something that requires a lot of time, but not a great deal of effort. Having to ‘keep an eye on the slow cooker’ is a great excuse to spend the day in your pyjamas, catching up on everything you missed on iPlayer during the week. This time of year produces some wonderful food that is conducive to this kind of cooking: lots of game to bake into hearty pies, enormous squashes to roast in the oven, shellfish to make into wonderful stews and ripe autumnal fruits that lend themselves to all kinds of cakes, cobblers and crumbles. This was the inspiration behind the theme for tonight’s Band of Bakers event: the autumn harvest. To drag yourself out of the house on a cold, wet, late October evening definitely requires a little incentive. The idea of 30 or so bakes in the autumn harvest theme is definitely such an incentive – it’s like the pub in Southampton I will gladly walk a mile to (Londoners, don’t tsk, nobody walks in Southampton, it is the land of the car) because they have the best mulled cider for miles around. Judging by the previous standard of baking at these events, it is well worth leaving the couch for. For my own bake, I decided to make a spelt and ginger cake topped with figs.
Although you can get British figs at this time of year and they do, in fact, grow locally in London (I am told that the guys behind the street food stand Mike & Ollie source theirs from Brockley), the main majority of the figs you find in the supermarket will be imported. By October, we are generally coming towards the end of the fig season, and as they are a nightmare to store, it is definitely worth making the most of them while you can. The recipe for this cake is adapted from the famous Rhubarb and Ginger cake, introduced to me by Charlie at the very first Band of Bakers event in May 2012. The cake uses spelt flour which, although not gluten-free, is lower in gluten than wheat flour. The wholegrain variety also gives the cake quite a coarse and nutty texture. The cake also contains the one ingredient that always makes me weak at the knees – stem ginger. And quite a cracking amount of stem ginger, too. Five pieces chopped into the cake mixture, and then a generous slick of the syrup from the jar brushed on to the top of the cake when it comes out of the oven. The halved figs are pushed into the cake mixture and during baking they release their juice to mix with the ginger flavour and create an autumnal heaven.
Fig, Ginger and Spelt Cake
- 140g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 200g soft light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 5 pieces stem ginger in syrup, plus a few tbsp syrup from the jar
- 200g wholegrain spelt flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 12 medium figs, stalks cut off and halved lengthways
- Caster sugar, for dredging
Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4. Grease and line a 20cm square cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Once melted, stir in the brown sugar until fully combined and leave to cool for a few minutes. Stir in the eggs, ginger, flour and baking powder until you have a smooth batter. Scrape this into the prepared tin and level off.
Arrange the halved figs on the top of the cake – try to squeeze in as many as possible. Bake in the centre of the oven for around 45 minutes until the cake has risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, brush the top with a liberal amount of the ginger syrup from the stem ginger jar and dredge with caster sugar. Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes and then move to a cooling rack. Serve warm with ice cream as a dessert, or cooled as a cake.