The thing about seasons is that they renew, continually, our appetite for life.
No matter how much I long for summer, by the end of August its pleasures begin to pall. Instead, I look forward to wet leaves, wood smoke, pumpkins, hot chocolate and the nights drawing in. I want to wear sweaters and coats; to splash in puddles; to walk through forests. I want to curl up in an armchair with my blanket, a book, a cup of tea and a thick slice of gingerbread.
As the years start spinning by more rapidly, I notice how much I look forward to seasonal rituals – especially when it comes to eating. I don’t know when gingerbread became one of my “fall” foods, but as soon as the mornings turn cold and foggy, I start craving its dense sticky texture and spicy sweetness.
I have tried a dozen gingerbread recipes through the years, but have never been satisfied that I have found the perfect, quest-over recipe. I may be close this year. So far, we are on the fourth loaf and we still haven’t tired of it. We can polish off half a loaf before it even cools down entirely. (My children love gingerbread as much as I do.) The first time I made this gingerbread my youngest daughter asked me to wake her up early the next day. When I asked her why, she replied, “So I can eat the last bit of gingerbread for breakfast.”
This recipe comes from one of my best cookbook finds of last year’s Christmas season: Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer. Author Jane Brocket set herself the delicious task of researching the food in beloved children’s books, and the results are completely charming. Although the book is definitely skewed toward the British tradition, I don’t think you need to have grown up on Enid Blyton stories in order to appreciate it. If we can feel nostalgia for what we didn’t actually experience – is there a special word for that? – then this cookbook would prove the case.
The recipe for Aunt Fanny’s Treacly, Sticky Ginger Cake comes from the Tea-Time chapter. After romping or exploring all day, children return to the cozy and civilizing influence of home and hearth. They bring in their red cheeks, cold hands and ravenous appetites and are soothed by the warmth of fire and food.
Really and truly, don’t we all need a bit of that in the autumn?
(with a few modified measurements and lots of my parenthetical asides for the American cook)
225 g plain flour (or 1 ¾ cup)
1 teaspoon mixed spice (not generally available in the U.S.; you can use a combination of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to make up the teaspoon)
3 teaspoons ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
10 ounces milk
3 ounces unsalted butter
3 ounces black treacle (substitute molasses)
3 ounces golden syrup (substitute Karo syrup)
4 ounces caster sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F.
2. Sift the flour, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl.
3. Measure out the milk in a jug and mix in the egg.
4. Melt the butter, treacle, golden syrup and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Mix thoroughly.
5. Using a wooden spoon, mix the sugar/butter mixture into the flour mixture. Then, incorporate the milk and egg. Beat together until all the ingredients are well-incorporated – but don’t worry about a few lumps!
6. Butter and flour a medium loaf tin – or line with parchment. Pour the mixture into the tin.
7. Bake until the cake feels firm to the touch. The recipe calls for 1 ½ hours, but it only took an hour in my oven. I would advise you to check it after an hour. Because of its long cooking time, this cake is prone to scorching on the top – so don’t have it too close to the oven’s heating element.
8. After it cools for a few minutes, run a knife along the sides, and remove the loaf from its tin. TRY to let the cake cook on a wire rack before you start eating it.