I don’t have a lot of memories of my grandmother. The 18 hour plane ride between her in South Africa and me in Massachusetts (plus the accompanying cost) meant that visits were few and far between. And most of my family memories aren’t of her but of all of us – aunts, uncles, cousins – together, simultaneously getting to know each other and act like we saw each other more than once every few years. The individual memories are all muddled.
When I do remember is my grandmother’s house; the one where my dad grew up. I remember his room full of old Asterix books. The back yard with a lemon tree just right for climbing. The big front yard with a swing wide enough to fit all six cousins before we became eight cousins. I cant’ remember if we had tea outside more than once , but at least one time we sat in chairs in the front yard and drank tea and ate ginger cake. Mostly I remember that cake.
It’s funny how food memories stick with you, or maybe they just stick with me. The yard and the tea and chairs are hazy, like an old movie with the camera too close and everything slightly out of focus. But the cake is clear. It smelled like spicy, from clove and ginger, but instead of dry and crumbly like a gingerbread man it was dark and soft. In my mind’s memory it tastes of molasses even though logically I know it was probably golden syrup. Logic also suggests that my grandmother bought it or at the least someone else baked it, but in my mind it’s her cake.
We ate it in winter, even though the winter felt more like early summer to a kid raised in New England. It is a winter cake after all, with all the Christmas-y spices. Like most popular winter “cakes,” it’s really a quick bread which makes is easier to throw together and also makes it the perfect kind of thing to make as a homemade gift. If you can part with it that is.
Adapted from Gourmet’s Gramercy Tavern recipe
Makes one 9 by 5 inch loaf
1 cup flour
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground clove
¼ freshly grated nutmeg
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup brown sugar, packed
½ cup granulated sugar
5 tbs melted butter
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup molasses
Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a loaf pan well – even with the buttering the cake will stick a little so don’t skimp. Then use a piece of parchment to make a sling that covers the bottom and the long sides of the pan and also extends past the edge so you can easily use it to lift out the finished cake.(Bonus: If you make the sling long enough you can simply wrap it around the baked and cooled cake, tie it with some string and, voila, instant gift wrap.)
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and powder, spices, and salt. Whisk it lightly to combine everything.
In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the brown and white sugars. Then add the melted butter, buttermilk, and molasses and whisk well to combine. Pour the liquids into the dry mix and whisk until combined (really get that stuff on the bottom, it can be stubborn). Then pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake it for 45 minutes to an hour or until the edges are deep brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. You know the drill, it’s a cake.
Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes and then run knife around the short sides (not lined with parchment) to loosen any spots where it stuck. Use the parchment sling to pull the cake out of the pan and then let it cool until room temperature, or at least wait until it’s just slightly warm before digging in. Serve the cake warm or room temperature on its own, with a little butter or marmelade (seriously, citrus and gingerbread, it’s good stuff), or go all out and top it with whipped cream and serve eggnog on the side. ‘Tis the season.