If pastry chef and baking expert extraordinaire David Lebovitz were to release a Greatest Hits collection, this Fresh Ginger Cake would no doubt make the cut. Come to think of it, he has and it did: the collection is a book called Ready for Dessert: My Best Recipes, and it is a must-own for every baking enthusiast.
I have been friends with David for a good eight years, and I have known about this amazing ginger cake of his for about as long — it is one of his most requested, most celebrated recipes — but for some reason that’s the time it took for me to actually try it myself.
What is it that drives us to make a certain recipe at a certain time? Has anyone ever studied that?
At any given moment, it feels like I have dozens of recipes floating in my brain with a “to try” tag on them — recipes I’ve read about online, or in books and magazines, or ideas I’ve collected during restaurant meals or chef events. Some pop back out in a matter of days, last-in-first-out style, but others linger around for months and often years, bobbing in and out of my consciousness until the urge strikes, presumably when the right alignment of appetite, mood, and ingredient availability is reached.
Is that something you’ve experienced also? Do you let chance and spontaneity rule your cooking and baking projects, or do you have a system?
I’m wondering because, really: all I did was waste eight years of my life depriving myself of this wondrous cake.
It is called Fresh Ginger Cake, which certainly gives you a hint on the main flavor, but in truth it could be called Fresh Ginger and Molasses Cake, as half of the sweetening power is handed over to this tar-like and notoriously tricky ingredient, which can easily execute a coup d’état on your cake if you’re heavy-handed, but helps build complex layers of flavor when used properly.
In fact, David calls for mild molasses, and because there aren’t a million different types of molasses available in France — you usually have a choice of, oh, about one — I was worried mine was too strong. So I took an executive decision and used half molasses, half unrefined cane syrup from Louisiana, the same one I use for gâteau sirop.
And the resulting cake was nothing short of perfect: not too sweet (I did reduce the sugar a little bit) with a hefty ginger kick that warms the back of your throat, and a remarkably fluffy and moist texture. It’s a cake that keeps well, too, so it’s a good one to make for a household of two (I’m not counting the baby, who nibbles on three crumbs): for the next week, sliver after sliver, we kept marvelling at how moist it remained.
I served it to my mother-in-law, who had come to babysit Milan while we went to the movies for the first time in forever — I haven’t been so excited about going to the cinema since age twelve — and although she needs no bait to come and watch her grandson, she was so enthusiastic about it I hope we can do this again — the cake and the movie — very soon.
PPS: We went to see The Place Beyond The Pines and L.O.V.E.D. it. Did you?
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- 120 grams (4 ounces) fresh ginger (get it from a place with a high turnover so it isn't woody and stringy)
- 175 grams (3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) sugar (I used blond unrefined cane sugar)
- 200 grams (3/4 cup) mild molasses (I worried my molasses weren't mild, so I used half molasses, half unrefined cane syrup; you could also substitute half rice syrup, agave syrup, etc.)
- 180 ml (3/4 cup) neutral-tasting oil (David recommends peanut; I used rapeseed)
- 325 grams (2 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour (I used the French T65)
- 2 teaspoons baking spice mix (I used quatre-épices, which is a mix of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper)
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 large eggs
- Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and grease a 25-cm (10-inch) springform pan. (Alternatively, David suggests using a 23-by-7-cm / 9-by-3-inch round cake pan lined with a circle of parchment paper.)
- Peel the ginger (you can use the tip of an upturned spoon to grate the skin easily) and grate it finely, ideally with a Microplane zester. Set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, molasses, and oil. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, spices, and salt. Set aside.
- In a small saucepan, bring 240 ml (1 cup) water to the boil. Stir in the baking soda (it will foam up) and whisk into the sugar mixture until thoroughly combined.
- Add in the ginger and the flour mixture. Whisk just until no trace of flour remains. Break in the eggs one by one, whisking well between each addition.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until a cake tester (such as a toothpick or skewer) inserted in the center comes out clean. If you find the top of the cake seems to be browning too quickly, cover loosely with a piece of foil.
- Let the cake cool for 30 minutes, then run a knife around to loosen and remove the cake from the pan to cool completely.