Fresh Ginger Cake From Sylvia Thompson

February  7, 2020
3 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 35 minutes
  • Serves at least 8
Author Notes

Sometimes baked goods in the spiced genre can taste a bit like a candle shop, or a stale corner of the pantry. No wonder they’re less popular than chocolate and fruit and custard desserts: They feel less alive. All spice cake needs is new blood: A big dose of fresh ginger will give you infinitely more brightness and fire than a dormant jar of the ground kind.

Cookbook author Sylvia Thompson’s is the simplest and best of the fresh ginger cakes I’ve tried. She calls for fresh ginger the size of an egg, grated medium fine. There’s no need to even peel it. Most of ginger’s unsavory fibrous bits, inside and out, break down under the grater and fade into the cake. She also kindly gives guidelines for baking in virtually any cake pan you want, and for serving warm or cool.

Reprinted with permission from Genius Recipes by Kristen Miglore, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Photographs copyright © 2015 by James Ransom. —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, plus a little softened for the pan
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) cool water
  • 1/2 cup (110g) firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) light molasses
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) dark corn syrup
  • 1 extra-large egg
  • Fresh ginger the size of an egg, grated medium-fine
  • 1 1/2 cups (190g) all-purpose flour, plus a little more for the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon quatre épices (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Sifted confectioners’ sugar or caramel sauce for the top
  • Quatre épices
  • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Choose any baking dish with a 6- to 8-cup (1.4L to 1.9L) capacity (Thompson uses an 8-inch/20cm square). Brush with butter and dust with flour.
  2. To make the quatre épices, stir together all spices. The spice blend will keep in an airtight container for 6 months.
  3. Melt the butter in the water either in a largish saucepan over medium heat or in a glass mixing bowl in the microwave. Do not let the water boil (and thus evaporate).
  4. To the butter and water, whisk in the brown sugar, molasses, and corn syrup, and then the egg. Whisk in the ginger, discarding any long strings the whisk brings up. Add the flour, baking soda, 1 teaspoon of the quatre épices, and salt. Whisk a minute or two until the lumps dissolve. Pour into the pan. Rap gently on the counter to knock out any air bubbles.
  5. Bake until a fine skewer thrust in the center comes out clean and the top, when tapped, springs back, about 35 minutes for a square (or ring or round), less for a shallower rectangle, more for a deeper loaf. Gently turn out onto a doily-lined dish to serve warm or onto a rack to serve cool. Finish with sifted confectioners’ sugar or serve with caramel sauce or chocolate frosting, as food writer Laurie Colwin did.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Christine Hardy Leaf
    Christine Hardy Leaf
  • durun99
  • Marianne
  • j
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

9 Reviews

Christine H. November 20, 2021
As a young bride in the 60s, I had one of Sylvia’s cookbooks. I have been making this cake since then, adding some additional spices along the way. Now with her addition of the white pepper it is even more genius. I love love love this cake.
Marianne June 28, 2020
This recipe. So, of all the memorable genius recipes I've tried, the jammy tomato sauce, the eggplant chocolate cake, the overnight oatmeal pancakes - this is hands down the stand out winner of most delicious. The cake is light, warm, perfectly sweet. The ginger brings warmth, the pepper a bit of heat. Buttering the pan caramelizes the edges of the cake. I've got to say, I will have to save this for special occasions, because it's not possible to stop with one piece. Wow, it's good.
j February 18, 2020
Can date syrup be used in place of the dark corn syrup?
LULULAND February 9, 2020
What can I use to replace dark corn syrup?
Maricee February 10, 2020
For 1 cup of dark corn syrup, you can use the following substitutions:
3/4 cup light corn syrup plus 1/4 molasses.
1 cup honey.
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water or other liquid used in the recipe.
LULULAND February 10, 2020
Thanks but I was trying to get away from GMO corn syrups. organic molasses is great, but I guess that's all there is to sub.
durun99 April 7, 2021
Try brown rice syrup:
Carron G. November 19, 2021
I use Steen’s cane syrup. It’s dark & adds excellent flavor. We call it Cajun karo!
cpc December 21, 2022
Lyle's Golden Syrup would work.