The problem with shopping for ingredients on the way home from work is that I often forget what I have in the cupboard. The better-safe-than-sorry approach has led me to duplicate a number of items, sometimes even more than once, taking up precious cupboard and fridge space. I know I should be more organised and check before going shopping, but who can honestly say that they have time to do all of the things they should do? Anyway, such was the case with stem ginger when I bought an unnecessary extra jar for last week’s fig, ginger and spelt cake and yesterday I ended up making a gingerbread cake just to clear some room in the fridge before the Ocado order arrived. I hope you aren’t rolling your eyes at the prospect of yet another cake recipe – this was never actually meant to become a cake blog but it’s all I seem to write about these days.
I had actually intended to make a batch of Jack o’ Lantern sugar cookies for my colleagues both in an attempt to get into the spirit of Hallowe’en and to get some use out of the pumpkin-shaped cookie cutter I impulse bought in Waitrose last week, before it was relegated to the back of the cupboard for a year. My plan was scuppered upon discovering that shopping for orange food colouring the night before Hallowe’en is the real Nightmare Before Christmas – completely sold out everywhere. The suggestions on Twitter to combine red and yellow would have been an inspired idea had everybody else not thought of that too and bought up all of those colours. Left on the shelves was nothing but a few solitary bottles of pink, purple and almond flavouring; not very useful to anybody. My Jack o’ Lanterns will have to wait until next year.
In contrast, ginger cake is something that can be enjoyed all year round. It is both universally loved and, thanks to the McVities Jamaica Ginger Cake we all enjoyed as children, tinged with nostalgia. As is probably the case with many people, this particular variety was the only ginger cake I had tried until well into adulthood and it is still a treat I find hard to resist when I walk past one on a supermarket shelf. Every family had their own way of eating it: a friend of mine spreads butter on a slice, whereas in our house we used to pour over hot custard and eat it from a bowl. As I began to try other ginger cakes, I found myself disappointed as many of them had a real ‘cake’ texture, which just didn’t seem quite right. I made a few of my own and had the same problem, until somebody suggested that I was looking in the wrong place and should try ‘ginger bread’ recipes instead. This is not bread in the traditional yeasted form, nor is it the hard kind that you make into people-shaped biscuits – it is, in fact, a cake recipe that gives a different texture of cake. The difference is similar to that between banana cake and banana bread – something I have never really been able to explain so won’t dwell on. Needless to say that a ginger cake recipe gives you a proper cake flavoured with ginger, and a ginger bread recipe gives you a beautifully moist and sticky texture, akin to the McVities kind we all know and love.
Although the texture of the original recipe is perfect, I have tweaked the ingredients over the years to try and get the right flavour. Being a spice fiend, I find the flavour of some ginger products disappointing. I like my ginger to be potent, but not so that it overwhelms the other flavours. I have found that the best combination is ground ginger and stem ginger – ground ginger gives the much-needed heat and stem ginger a little sweetness. I also like to brush a layer of the syrup from the stem ginger jar over the top of the warm cake – it adds a level of concentrated ginger flavour and helps to create a nice sticky top. The cake mix is versatile and, subject to the adjustment of cooking times, can be used to make any kind of cake. In the recipe below, I have added preparation and cooking times for four different options: a loaf cake, a round cake, a layer cake and cupcakes, and a range of icings that work well with each of the options. Of course, it is always worth experimenting, but in my experience the most complimentary flavours are lemon and chocolate. Of course, you could just make the cake plain and pour over a load of hot custard. Just sayin’.
- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp mixed spice
- 115g butter, at room temperature, cut into cubes
- 125g black treacle
- 125g golden syrup
- 115g dark soft brown sugar
- 250ml buttermilk
- 100g stem ginger
Preheat the oven to 170ºc / 340ºf / gas 4. To make the loaf cake: grease a 1kg loaf tin and line with greaseproof paper. To make the round cake: grease a 8cm round cake tin and line with greaseproof paper. To make the layer cake: grease two 9cm sandwich tins and baseline with greaseproof paper. To make the cupcakes: line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
Using a food processor, pulse together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and cubed butter until it forms the texture of breadcrumbs. Transfer to a large bowl.
In a large saucepan over a medium heat, heat together the treacle, golden syrup and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Beat in the buttermilk and increase the heat slightly. Bring to boiling point and quickly remove from the heat – try not to boil the mixture.
While the treacle mixture is cooling slightly, grate the stem ginger pieces into the flour using a microplane grater. Stir into the mixture.
Pour the treacle mixture over the dry ingredients and stir until fully combined. Use a silicone spatula to ensure that no flour is sticking to the bottom of the bowl. Crack the egg into the batter and mix to combine.
Scrape the batter into your prepared tin or cases and bake in the middle shelf of the oven. For the loaf cake: bake for around 45-50 minutes. For the round cake: bake for around 55-60 minutes. For the layer cake: bake for around 25-30 minutes. For the cupcakes: bake for around 20-25 minutes. The cake will not rise enormously and will probably have a flat, rather than a peaked top. When the cake is baked, a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should come out clean.
Below are some toppings that work well with this cake. The addition of a little sharp lemon water icing cuts through the richness of the loaf cake and round cake – it is best drizzled across the top. A little lemon buttercream spread sandwiched between two sandwich cakes can make a very pretty layer cake, and a white chocolate cream cheese frosting makes a very decadent topping for a simple ginger cupcake.
Lemon Water Icing
- 50g icing sugar, sifted
- 1-2 tbsp lemon juice
Slowly pour the lemon juice into the sifted icing sugar, constantly stirring, until a smooth icing is formed. It should be the right consistency to be easily drizzled across a cake – not too firm and not too watery.
- 250g icing sugar, sifted
- 60g unsalted butter, softened
- 30ml lemon juice
- 2 tbsp whole milk
In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, with a whisk attachment, beat together the icing sugar, butter and lemon juice until smooth. Gradually beat in the milk until fully combined.
This recipe makes enough buttercream to spread between two cakes. If you wish to cover the cake as well or use to pipe on to cupcakes, double the quantities.
White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
- 50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
- 225g cream cheese, softened
- 100g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 500g icing sugar
In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, with a whisk attachment, beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Mix in the cooled white chocolate and vanilla extract and mix until combined. With the motor on a low speed, add the icing sugar a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing until all of the icing sugar has been used up and the frosting is light and fluffy.