You know that dark stickiness that’s the key to a perfect ginger cake? And you know all of those recipes that tell you that the best way to achieve this is to make a cake, wrap it, and ignore it for anywhere up to a week? In effect, to neither have your cake nor eat it, as if that were a fun way to spend the best part of a soggy December week – of which there have been many, lately, certainly at least four, although it feels like perhaps eleven.
Well, luckily for everyone who is as incapable of ignoring a perfectly good cake as I am, this is not the only route to a cake as dark and sticky as midnight in a swamp. What, that doesn’t sell it to you? Let me try again: this cake starts off sticky. It’s all of the good things about winter, the ones that you look forward to but then forget you like once you’re drying your socks over the arm of your desk chair for the second time in a week, waiting for your hair to un-freeze.
The secret is (cover your ears, healthy people) treacle. Lots and lots of treacle. A whole cupful, in fact, and as soon as I have referred back to the original recipes I can tell you how many grams that is, in case you are standing there already with your ginger and treacle in one hand and your mixing bowl in the other, willing me to type faster.
It’s not just the treacle, though, that makes this cake so special – instead of the usual one or two teaspoons of ginger that go into your average recipe, there are two whole tablespoons, along with a whole host of other warm, wintry spices that don’t compete with the ginger for attention, but serve to round out the flavour perfectly.
Just to help this recipe appeal to the boys (as if it didn’t already – come on, admit it), there’s also half a pint of stout in there, which of course means you will have to drink the rest of the bottle. The original recipes call for Guinness, but Bath Ales, the brewery that runs my favourite pub, makes a gorgeous chocolatey stout called Dark Side less than 10 miles away from my kitchen, and I was powerless to resist. I think their Festivity would work equally well if you could get hold of it.
I will warn you, however, that the recipe uses a lot of pans. I managed to cut out one bowl, only to have to add in an electric whisk to the selection: it seems that resistance is futile. Do not despair, though. The recipe is originally for either a bundt tin, several thousand cupcakes (OK, that may be a small exaggeration) or a large layer cake, so if your household is anything like mine, where 50% of the inhabitants can go whole days without a slice of cake, the obvious answer is to divide the mixture equally between two loaf tins and freeze one cake. Et voila: you have instantly halved your per-cake washing up! Or, do what I did, and pick your favourite people, feed them cupcakes, and eat a whole cake yourself. It keeps like a dream – and, as there’s no butter in the cake, it’s practically a health food, right?
I had been eyeing up the Guinness and Gingerbread cake from Tea with Bea ever since a colleague brought me in the book to dribble on, so when I happened upon Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread over at Smitten Kitchen I was torn immediately between the two. Luckily, the basic ratios of egg:flour:sugar were very similar, so combining the two wasn’t particularly taxing. The recipe below is the best of both worlds – heavily spiced, not too sweet, and not requiring 3 teaspoons of leavening agent for 2 cups of flour, or mini gingerbread sprinkles (for which I am far too lazy).
Makes 2 loaf cakes.
250ml (1 cup) Dark Side (or Guinness)
250g (not-quite 1 cup) molasses, or a 2:1 mixture of black treacle and golden syrup
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
280g/2 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp ground ginger (or 1 tbsp each of ground and grated fresh ginger)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1⁄4 tsp ground allspice
1⁄4 tsp ground nutmeg
1⁄4 tsp ground cardamom
1⁄4 tsp ground cloves
100 g (1⁄2 cup) caster sugar
100 g (1⁄2 cup) dark brown soft sugar
200 ml (3⁄4 cup) oil, I used groundnut
Preheat the oven to 170˚C (fan 150˚C).
Put the stout and treacle in a tall saucepan – don’t be tempted to use a small one! – and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, stir in the bicarbonate of soda, and be glad you listened to my saucepan-related advice. Let stand until room temperature, or until you are confident the mixture is cooler than egg-cooking-temperature. If you’re in a rush, standing the pan in a sink of cold water helps.
Combine the eggs with the caster and brown sugar, and then gradually add the oil. If you have an electric whisk, you may want to use this here to save on washing up, as you’ll most likely be needing it later. Add the stout and treacle mix and stir to combine.
Put the flour, baking powder and spices into a sieve and sift into the wet ingredients. This is where your whisk will come in handy, unless you’re one of those (mad) people who makes meringue by hand: mix until combined and lump-free. Don’t worry, the batter is meant to be very sloppy.
Ladle your mix into your receptacle of choice, and bake until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. For cupcakes, my oven took around 40 minutes, and the cake was around an hour and a quarter.