As I finished up at work on Friday, I suddenly, as I looked out into the showery evening, got a yearning for gingerbread. No fancy stuff, I just wanted a damp and aromatically spicy loaf, the sort of teabread that would go perfectly with a cup of tea on a weather-swept Saturday. When I was younger, this kind of longing would be easily satisfied with a squashed loaf in a packet that said “Jamaica Gingerbread” but now, with a well-stocked baking cupboard, spur-of-the-moment cooking decisions aren’t too much of a problem.
During my slow month-by-month perusal of Nigel Slater’s The Kitchen Diaries (I’m reading it in real time) I had come across a reference to an afternoon’s baking involving a Double Ginger Cake. A quick search of the Observer website threw up the recipe but it wasn’t quite the one that I was looking for. What I wanted was a cake involving the darkness of treacle or molasses rather than the lighter flavoured golden syrup that Nigel used. Plus he used stem ginger in syrup and, well stocked as I am, I don’t have any of that on hand. But the recipe below that – David Herbert’s Ginger Cake – was something that hit the spot. I jiggled around with the amount of golden syrup that he used in the recipe, adding some sturdy blackstrap molasses instead. Rather than mixed spice, I added my own mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and freshly ground peppercorns and, as I had picked up a packet of lovely sugar-encrusted crystallised ginger chunks last weekend while in Nenagh’s Country Choice, a small handful were chopped up and added to the cake batter to add a little texture.
This is a cake which takes more time in the oven than it does to put together and perfect for Friday night when I didn’t have much time to devote to it. With one eye on the clock, I landed the Gingerbread into the oven while getting ready for a gig at Whelans of Wexford Street – Joey Burns of Calexico was playing. I took a break from applying eye-shadow to ladle the ginger syrup over the cake and resisted the temptation to break into the loaf as I headed out the door. At 2am that night it tasted good, but not as great as it did on Saturday afternoon with a steaming hot cup of tea. I love it when a plan comes together.
Butter – 60g
Golden syrup – 75g
Blackstrap molasses or black treacle – 50g
Plain flour – 100g
Self-raising flour – 25g
Bicarbonate of soda – 1 teaspoon
Ground ginger – 1 heaped teaspoon
Ground cinnamon – ½ teaspoon
Freshly grated nutmeg – ¼ teaspoon
Freshly ground black pepper – ¼ teaspoon
Caster sugar – 100g
A pinch of salt
Milk – 125ml
Egg – 1, beaten
Crystallised ginger – 50g, finely chopped
Sugar – 125g
Water – 125ml
Fresh ginger – 1 tablespoon, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Grease a 23 x 12cm loaf tin, lining the base with baking paper. Melt the butter, golden syrup and molasses in a small saucepan over a low heat. Set aside.
Sift the flours, the soda and the spices into a mixing bowl. Stir in the sugar and salt, then add the milk and egg and mix until smooth. Gradually add the melted-butter mixture, stirring until well incorporated, then fold in the chopped crystallised ginger. The mixture will be very runny.
Pour it into the loaf tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until risen and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean. Allow the cake to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool.
Place all the syrup ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Prick the hot cake all over with a skewer, spoon the syrup over and leave to cool.
Adapted from Nigel Salter’s adaptation of David Herbert’s Ginger Cake.