Oh, the fond tastes of childhood for someone of my vintage: Angel’s Delight, Dream Topping, pop tarts - all washed down with a Slush Puppie or something fizzy from the Soda Stream Machine! Some things are best left in the past. Some of my favourite childhood treats came from Granny Gibbons’ kitchen – currant, treacle and ginger breads. I often get a gingerbread craving – but that spicy cake of old times is hard to come by. I think that in supermarkets you can still buy a very sweet, slippery version that comes in a foil wrapper. But it’s not what I have in mind. There are gingerbread men about. But proper ginger cakes have become elusive and now I’m intent on resurrecting them.
Ginger originated in China and made its way to these parts via the Silk Road and was regarded as a delicacy and a medicine. It’s a spice the Irish took to – and what’s not to like? Mixed with unctuous black treacle, butter and sugar, the scent of gingerbread baking is intoxicating.
It’s great straight out of the oven, even better the next day. There are so many recipes, most of them delicious. Gingerbread is a very forgiving thing. I’ve tried lots of variations but the recipe I’ve settled on, the one I nearly always make - and the one for which my visitors always request the recipe - is by the celebrated baker, Mary Berry. It is the very best.
Mary does not go gingerly with the ginger or the cinnamon and this is a cake with a bit more attitude than your usual gingerbread. I love the chemistry of the foaming warm milk and the bicarbonate of soda. Mary gives the option of using sugared stem ginger in her cake – I don’t, I just don’t like it but it’s a matter of personal taste. The Brunette sometimes buys a fancy cake tin with a lid, lines it with parchment, and bakes one of these ginger cakes in it as a present for a friend. On those days she always bakes a second one for us – not to, would be just too cruel.
Mary Berry’s Ginger Cake
What you need
- 250g softened butter (or margarine for the lactose-free)
- 250g dark muscovado sugar
- Half a 225g tin of black treacle
- 375g plain flour
- Five tsp of ground ginger;
- Two tsp ground cinnamon;
- Two eggs, beaten
- Three pieces stem ginger (crystallised/from a jar) - optional
- 300ml milk (unsweetened soya milk if lactose-free)
- Two tsp bicarbonate of soda
What you do next
This mix makes enough to fill two standard seven-inch Victoria sandwich tins or one 10 inch diameter tin. Grease and base line your tin(s) with baking paper. Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Gently heat the margarine, sugar and treacle together in a pan, stirring until smooth. Allow to cool a little. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour and ground spices. Pour in the treacle mix and stir thoroughly to combine. Mince the stem ginger finely and stir with the eggs into the mix. Warm the milk gently in a saucepan, stirring gently to avoid it burning the base of the pan. Add the bicarb of soda and let it foam a little. Stir into the gingerbread mixture until well blended. Pour into the prepared tin (s). Baking time: for 2 x 7 inch cakes is 25-30 mins (bake both together); for 1 x 10 inch cake bake for approximately one hour or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. This cake keeps really well in an airtight tin and actually improves over the first two to three days. Enjoy!
Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.