Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Recipe ( and Book) to Treasure

"The cake has become perhaps the most valued in my repertory," wrote Sylvia Thompson about her Fresh Ginger Cake in one of my most treasured cookbooks: "Feasts and Friends."
"It's easy and foolproof and can be handed round in not much more than three-quarters of an hour after I've thought to make it," she continues. "Once I even got the cake into the oven *during* a party."

I've never understood why Sylvia Thompson's food-writing isn't as well-known and revered as Laurie Colwin's. Both display the same wit, warmth and wisdom -- in fact, they were dear friends. Thompson's book is subtitled "Recipes from a Lifetime" -- a lifetime of a passionate cook whose father wrote for the Marx Brothers, whose mother was a movie star and revered hostess, and whose godmother was MFK Fisher.
I could babble on and on about Thompson, but I want to get this terrific recipe posted. Consider this just Part One of my musings on a brilliant and delightful food writer.

Fresh Ginger Cake
1 stick butter, plus a little softened for the mold
1/2 cup water, cool
1/2 cup (firmly packed) light brown sugar
1/4 cup light molasses
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
1 extra large egg
Fresh ginger the size of an egg, grated medium-fine
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more for the pan
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Sifted confectioner's sugar for the top
(Thompson calls for a teaspoon of quatre epices, but I omit it)

Heat oven to 350-degrees F.
Choose any mold with a 6- to 8-cup capacity. (Thompson uses an 8-inch square; I use a 6-cup ring mold) Brush with butter and dust with flour.
Melt the butter in the water in a largish saucepan over medium heat. Don't let the water boil.
To the butter/water, whisk in the brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup and then the egg. Whisk in the ginger, discarding any long strings the whisk brings up. Add the flour, baking soda, quatre epices if you're using it, and salt. Whisk a minute or two until lumps dissolve. Pour into the pan. Rap gently on the counter to knock out any air bubbles.
Bake until a skewer thrust in the center comes out clean and the top, when tapped, springs back--Thompson suggests about 35 minutes, but my ring mold version is usually done in 30. Gently turn out onto a dish to serve warm or onto a rack to cool Finish with sifted confectioner's sugar.

[At high altitude, use 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and bake at 375-degrees. A double recipe, according to Thompson, may be "handsomely baked" in a 10-inch square pan at 375-degrees for 35-40 minutes.]

"I serve [it] warm or at room temperature with only a drift of confectioner's sugar and a flower on top," Thompson writes, "but there are times when a plop of whipped cream and just a few slivers of candied ginger are lovely. Past that, toppings such as ice cream or fruit sauces seem to me to distract from the cake's fineness."

In my experience, the cake is best when served within a few hours of baking. After that, it's still extremely tasty, but the consistency becomes more like gingerbread than a delicate cake. I usually serve it, as Thompson suggests, accompanied only by softly whipped cream -- unless I have some very ripe Comice pears on hand, which I will slice and heap into the center of the ring-shaped cake. I hope she wouldn't consider that a fruit sauce distracting "from the cake's fineness."


Katie Zeller said...

I love ginger cake - and have never made it with fresh ginger (duh!)
Interesting book - I'm adding it to my evegrowing wish list...

Eric said...

Looks awesome Casey -- can't wait to try it!

Marjorie said...

i realize i sound like an idiot but i never knew what size pan a 6-cup mold translated to, and i don't have a 6-cup mold, so i avoided any recipe that called for one. now i know! thanks!

and ginger anything, mmmm. on my first date with jonathan we shared fresh gingerbread with pears at the late lamented fez, behind time cafe. yum.

Unknown said...

Casey...first I wanted to say thanks for your comment on my new blog far it's been a great creative outlet.

Second...this sounds fabulous...and it has two of my favorite ingredients—ginger and molasses. Can't wait to try. Thanks for sharing.

Parisbreakfasts said...

I bet the house smells incredible when this is baking.
The trouble is to get it to the baking stage, if the dough is anything like Gingerbread man dough, this could present problems..
I will look into Sylvia's writing..

Casey said...

Have no fear: it's *much* closer to pancake batter than to gingerbread man dough.

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