Tuesday, October 6, 2009


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
1 egg
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.


Jelica said...

Hi Bee, the combination of cinnamon, ginger and cloves is the definitive taste of autumn/winter for me as well. Just a few days ago I started making Indian chai with said spices, the taste is fabulous. Will have to try gingerbread, too!

Polly said...

I'm really tempted to try this recipee, it sounds delicions, I love cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

I've never tasted gingerbread before I moved to the UK, it's not very popular in central Europe but it's one of those things I absolutely love about this country. And especially when Autumn comes.

rayfamily said...

You capture perfectly how I feel about fall!

I'm going to try this recipe this weekend, can't wait!

Bee said...

Jelica - Do you make the chai yourself, or do you have a mix/teabags? It was such a cool, foggy day today: perfect for chai tea and gingerbread!

Polly - Oh, you must try it! Do you like cream cheese? It makes a great sandwich with cream cheese as the filling. I'm kind of surprised that gingerbread isn't eaten in central Europe because I associate it with Germany -- and I know that the Czechs have a lot of baking traditions, too. You should educate us on Polish food. Guest spot?

Rayfamily - Please let me know how it works for you. This is a very kid-friendly, low-tech recipe.

Jelica said...

Well, I am happy to report that I followed the recipe for gingerbread today (the call of all those spices was just too irresistible) and it was very tasty, though not as lovely looking as yours (possibly because I had neither molasses nor any kind of syrup, so I just used refined sugar).

As for the chai, I make it myself--I just boil some black tea with spices for about 5 minutes, then add a little bit of milk and honey, and voila!

Delwyn said...

Hi Bee

this one I have copied and ready to action...will let you know...I've just made some choc chip banana and walnut when they are gone I will try your Gingerbread...

Bee said...

Jelica - I am very curious to know how your gingerbread tasted without molasses or treacle. It seems like the treacle is the absolutely key ingredient for the stickiness, depth and texture -- as important as the ginger itself. Perhaps you have discovered a new recipe, though! Ginger sponge! (I'm always having to improvise because I don't have all of the ingredients.)

Delwyn - Those muffins sound great, too. Please let me know how your gingerbread turns out.

rayfamily said...

I tried it last night! It was wonderful! I put a little cream cheese on it, like you suggested for Polly, and the kids gobbled it up. I just enjoyed a piece with my morning coffee. Now off to wake up the kids....Thanks again!

Emily @ Treetops said...

Bee, I have just made it, and it was perfect, cooked in an hour as you said, and the smell in the kitchen for when the boys get home from school and the in-laws arrive is perfect!!

Anne said...

This is such a beautiful post. I love the way you talk about the change of seasons! I feel the same way. There's a change that we'll get some rain on Tuesday, and I intend to have a loaf of this delicious-looking gingerbread ready to go so that when I come home from work, I can fix myself a cup of tea, grab a slice (or two), and curl up with a cat and a good book.

julochka said...

i made this beautiful gingerbread today and now the house smells of pure autumn. there's something about that rich molasses and gingery smell that just completely typifies autumn, tho' if you'd asked me, i'd have said i found gingerbread (cookies at least) to be a christmas thing. it was the perfect thing on this day where the golden leaves are blowing down in earnest and you come in from the crisp air to a warm cup of tea and a thick slice of gingerbread. we ate it in its naked glory and i didn't even tell the others about the cream cheese thing. mmm.

we decided we'd make a loaf of it everytime someone's set to come and look at the house. it would surely be a selling point, wouldn't it?

Bee said...

Rayfamily - I'm so glad that you tried it! I don't know if it is because of the spices, but I find that a piece of gingerbread settles my stomach nicely in the morning.

Emily - So nice to see you here! I like being able to picture your beautiful kitchen perfumed with gingerbread.

Anne - That is a seductive sounding scene you set.

Julochka - American realtors often advise smells like cinnamon or home-baked bread. This is like the ideal combination of both, isn't it? I'm so glad you tried it.

The line about golden leaves blowing down in earnest is poetic.

Anne said...

Whoops! Just noticed my typo up there. Chance, not change. Anyway, we did get the rain (and how!) and the gingerbread was the perfect accompaniment. I made it Monday evening, when the wind was picking up in anticipation of the storm, and I loved filling the house with gingerbread smells when it was cool and blustery outside.

Unknown said...

I can practically taste this gingerbread right now as I sit at my desk! This will also be gracing our table this weekend (but not for long I suspect!)

Bee said...

Anne and Soozie - I'm just waiting for the next rainy day! This week I've been obsessed with apples.

TBM said...

I LOVE Brocket's book! Thank you for suggesting it to me last year.


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