One winter when my kids were small, I made gingerbread nearly every week. Come Thursday afternoon, I'd haul out the spices and Laurie Colwin's delightful book, Home Cooking, and whip up a batch. Although I'd never had gingerbread as a child, I had grown up with my mother's honey cake, with its mellow hints of orange and spice. Both treats are part of the same family of spiced and honeyed baked goods popular from Britain to Scandinavia to Germany.
This cake is partly based on Colwin's gingerbread, partly on my mother's orange-scented cake. I added crystallized ginger, and substituted an oatmeal stout for the liquids. The cake improves in flavor after a day, at which point it wants a rich and creamy finish. I recommend this tangy blend of cream cheese and crème fraîche. It's soft and flowy and contrasts nicely with the dark cake. Spread it on the entire cake or on individual portions, letting it billow gently over the edges.
Creamtea does a good job in preparing you that this is not a typical Parkin, nor is it a typical gingerbread. Her hybrid version yields a dense cake but not heavy cake. The substitution of Golden Syrup in place of black treacle or dark molasses produces a much lighter cake, both in color and in texture than that of the typical versions. She has just the right amount of spices (even the black pepper) without being overbearing. —Chef Lisa
one 9-inch cake
For the Cake
1 1/2 cups
6 to 12
half-grinds black pepper -- just a pinch
fine sea salt
(1 cube) butter
dark brown sugar
large eggs plus one yolk
Lyle's Golden Syrup
stout -- Oatmeal Stout by Samuel Smith works particularly well and gives you your daily intake of complex carbohydrates. Kidding.
Grated zest of one large orange (about 1 tablespoon)
crystallized ginger, the non-uniform type coated in granulated sugar, cut into small dice and tossed with a little flour to prevent sinking
For the frosting
8-ounce block of Neufchâtel cheese or cream cheese, softened
unsalted butter, softened
heaping tablespoons crème frâiche
Lyle's Golden Syrup
confectioners' sugar (more or less to suit taste), measured and then sifted
Preheat oven to 350º F and butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the pan with baking parchment -- else the crystallized ginger will bond with the pan like crazy glue. Butter and flour the parchment for good measure.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt. Whisk together and set aside.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the golden syrup. Stir in the orange zest.
Add the dry ingredients and the stout alternately in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour mixture, beating after each until just combined; do not over-beat or cake will be tough. Stir in diced ginger. Batter will be fairly liquid.
Scrape batter into prepared pan, smooth with a rubber scraper, and rotate back and forth briskly a few times to settle the batter in the pan. Place on rack in center of oven. Bake 20 to 35 minutes or just until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool cake on a rack 10 minutes, run a sharp knife around edge, and invert onto an oiled cake rack to cool completely. Remove parchment. Best made a day ahead.
Serve with a dollop of the following:
For the frosting
Combine the cream cheese, butter, and crème frâiche in a medium bowl and beat with electric mixer until combined. Beat in Golden Syrup, then confectioners' sugar by the tablespoon, tasting as you go. When it tastes right, it's done. You may need to chill the frosting in the fridge for an hour or so to firm it up; it will be pretty soft.
Frost the top of the cake generously. There will likely be enough left over for you to store in a monkey dish in the fridge and spoon out when no one is looking.
Put the kettle on, make a cup of coffee or two, and cut a couple of fat slices of cake, one for you, one for a friend.