Dec 21, 2009

English Gingerbread Cake

People kept asking me why this was an English gingerbread cake: "What makes it English?" they kept wanting to know. I just answered, "It's a traditional English recipe," which actually gave no further information, but seemed to satisfy people. Other than Rose's description of how she was told that her new cookbook should contain a recipe for English gingerbread cake, I had no idea why it was English. But I found a blog, Wildschein, that cited to a description in Larousse Gastronomique:

“British gingerbread is a cake flavoured with ginger and treacle. The French equivalent (pain d’epice), whose name means literally ’spice bread’, is a cake with a basis of flour, honey and spices (it need not contain ginger) … Gingerbread was formerly regarded primarily as a fairground delicacy … Although it is mainly eaten at teatime or at festivals (particularly in Belgium and Germany), gingerbread also has some uses in cookery, for thickening sauces, ragouts, and carbonades, especially when beer is used in the recipe. Gingerbread (French or English varieties) can easily be made at home. The best results for pain d’epice are achieved with a strong-flavoured honey, such as buck-wheat or heather honey. Wheat flour is generally used (sometimes mixed with rye flour); flavourings can include orangeflower water, ginger, orange or lemon zest, star anise or cinnamon, or a mixture of spices. For both kinds, orange or apricot marmalade may also be added to the mixture. After baking, the top of the cake may be decorated with pieces of angelica, green walnuts, or candied orange peel.”

If you say to an American that it's a cake typically flavo(u)red with ginger and treacle, said American will probably not nod knowingly. If you say it's made with a mixture of spices and Lyle's Golden Syrup, that won't help much either, so you might as well just say that it's a traditional English recipe, and hope that keeps your inquisitor quiet. You need not add that it's frosted with whipped cream in the event that you mess up the top of the cake, although that's what happened to me.

Another Official Quick-and-Easy cake, there are really only 3 steps to this cake.

1. Melt the butter with the golden syrup (or light corn syrup, if you couldn't find Lyle's), brown sugar, and marmalade.

2. Mix the dry ingredients, which, oddly, I think, contain both cake flour and whole wheat flour. I guess this must be to give the cake the earthy taste of whole wheat flour without making it heavy.
3. Mix in the butter mixture, to which you've added milk and eggs, with the flour mixture. The flour mixture has only one teaspoon of ginger, so if you want a more pronounced ginger flavor, you'd have to add more ginger. I never mess with Rose's recipes, at least on the first go-round, because she works so hard to come up with perfectly balanced flavors.

I loved the way it looked when it came out of the oven. So golden and inviting-looking.
While it's cooling in the pan, you can make the simple lemon butter syrup: not surprisingly, this is made up of lemon, butter, and sugar, which cooks briefly on top of the stove.

While the cake is still in the pan, brush about half the syrup on top of the cake. Then, invert the cake on a wire rack that has been coated with non-stick spray. If you don't do this, you will leave the top layer of the cake on the wire rack.

Sad, because things had been going so smoothly up until now. I was planning to serve the cake in slices, with a dollop of whipped cream alongside; perhaps I'd sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on the dollop. This cake was for my political group, which has been very lazy since we don't have Bush and Cheney to kick around any more, and I knew they'd appreciate this cake because they all appreciate food. But the slices were not going to be gorgeous since the layer had been shorn of most of its shining glory.
So I decided to skip the dollop and frost the cake with whipped cream instead.

When I was getting the cream from the refrigerator, I noticed that I still had a few glaceed cherries left, and thought they'd look rather pretty on the cake. The whipped cream and cherry addition probably made the recipe no longer authentic, but, really, who was going to call me out if I made a claim for authenticity?
I loved this cake, which was very moist and robust. It had a hint of spice, but tasted more strongly of citrus, with the lemon glaze and orange marmalade in the batter. The whole wheat flour is a nice addition; although the cake tastes wheatier than most cakes, it doesn't have the leaden heaviness that usually makes me run away from any dessert made with whole wheat. I think a little British tot would find this cake very comforting, but an American child would probably be suspicious of everything except the whipped cream. (I didn't try serving it to children of either country; that's just a guess). I made it in a round cake pan because I think that wedges look prettier than squares, but that's just me. There's a variation called Halloween Gingerbread Squares, that calls for a homemade pumpkin template. You could probably use a fir tree template or a turkey template, as well, if you're into template making. I'm not, but I'd make this cake again, and will definitely keep it in my repertoire in case Charles and Camilla ever drop by for tea.

Merry Christmas!


Pat: "It's moist and smooth, with subtle flavors."
Linda: "There's depth to it. I really like the whipped cream too."
Karen: "I love the texture."
Sandra: "It's very good. I like the way the citrus runs into the other flavors."
Betty: "I like it the way it is, but I'd like it with a little more ginger, too."

- - - - -
P.S. You may have noticed that I've made a change in the cake rotation. I had a request for the chocolate apricot roll sometime in January, so I put it in as the cake following the pinecone cake. But then I realized that both of those cakes were jellyroll-type cakes that require rolling in a dish towel and unrolling and filling. I didn't think I could handle that two weeks in a row, so I substituted whipped cream cake. The chocolate-apricot cake will be in February. If you want to make it now, or if you've already made it, feel free to substitute it for the whipped cream cake. But I've heard great things about this very simple whipped cream cake.


Rebecca said...

looks delicious marie... mine is almost finished baking right now and the smell is divine... smells like it would be really good with that dollop of whipped cream... mmmm....

Nicola said...

Marie, your cake looks fantastic.

Onwards to the holiday pine cone!

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Wonderful Marie. I'm waiting for a special pan to be delivered, one that I ordered just for this week's cake selection - according to the UPS tracker, it's supposed to be here today. Hopefully the blizzard that blew through here over the weekend won't hamper it's arrival.


faithy said...

Merry Christmas Marie & Everyone!

I've been waiting for the whipped cream cake to be next and i'm glad it will be soon in Jan when i bake it. :)

I've just baked the cake and i like it too!

doughadear said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hector said...

Marie, love it when you say better not to try explaining what is lyle's syrup or claims of authenticity! Your cakes looks divine and the ingredients are just yummy to read about!

What orange mermelade brand did you use? I wonder if any would do.

Marie said...

I forgot to mention that it smells really, really good!

I predict that people will have many good stories about the pine cone cake--there are so very many ways that it could go wrong!

Can't wait to see your special pan--very intriguing.

I've been wanting to bake the whipped cream cake ever since I got this book, so I don't know why it took so long to get to it. Of course, there are a lot of others that I can't wait to taste too.

I used Bonne Maman, which I really like. Although I think that it's a good idea to use the best-quality ingredients, most people probably couldn't tell the difference between this cake made with excellent-quality orange marmalade and one made with some mediocre brand.

Saira said...

Thanks for changing the rotation Marie! I decided on not making the genoise for now. Good luck to all of you for next week's cake!

Melinda said...

Marie, you are such a nut! Why can't you live closer to me? We'd get on like a house on fire.
Your cake looks grand and really quite Englishy. Sterling work there, queenie!
I will make this cake when the snow goes away.

Jenn said...

Marie - you have indeed graduated to the Advanced Beginner level :). What a beautiful cake. I didn't make this cake this weekend. It sort of got vetoed on by a couple of Danish Braids. I'll pictures of them tonight or tomorrow on my blog.

doughadear said...

This looks like a really moist cake and I like that you decorated with whipped cream and glaceed cherries. It looks very festive.
I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

i loved reading all your comments--great writing and i feel like i'm getting to know each one of you better with each cake! so fun! since i've been baking nothing but cakes for the past several years (of course bread but that's a necessity right?!) i'm making pecan pie as our holiday treat. with lyles' syrup of course.

happy holidays and be sure to check my blog on thursday morning for a special xmas photo present.

NancyB said...

Whipped cream--why didn't I think of that! I just served mine upside down when I messed up the top. :)

evil cake lady said...

how nice that your political group is a little bit lazier now :)

again, thanks for all the background information about the cake. i find it all very fascinating! i enjoyed my gingerbread with whipped cream, too. something about all wheatiness of the cake paired really well with the sweet and creaminess.

do let us know if charles and camilla drop in for tea!!!

Hanaâ said...

Glaceed cherries??? I'm calling the English Gingerbread Cake police :o) The cake looks great and when you have whipped cream within reach, you never have a failed cake. I'm glad everybody liked it. So far, hubby and my friend both like it. I'm taking it to a work potluck tomorrow, so we'll see.

Thanks for choosing the whipped cream cake. My friend made it and it was absolutely fantastic. Can't wait to make it myself.

Vicki said...

"in case Charles and Camilla ever drop by for tea..."

Ha haa hahaha ha ha haha!!!!!

My heavens you make me laugh!

Rachelino said...

This gingerbread looks great! I need to step on it or I will fall out of rotation completely! I was going to bake the chocolate apricot roll, so I am a little bummed the rotation changed.
Anyway, sorry for my absence...

Mendy said...


Your cake looks great. Despite the face lift the texture looks amazing. Thank you for posting that picture it really shows how good your cake really turned out!

I am now on a quest to find the glycerin, shortening and (kosher) gelatin. Good luck on the pine-cone.

marie said...

I'm really looking forward to the whipped cream cake too, but I do feel bad about making the unilateral decision to remove the chocolate apricot roll.

I'm such an Anglophile--I've always had a dream of living in a cottage with a flower garden and learning to speak real British English. Now I can add baking English gingerbread cake to the list of things I'll do in my cottage.
My guess is you've never had the reciprocal dream of living in a lake cabin in Minnesota!

Nothing wrong with Danish braids. Aren't Denmark and England both part of the EU? Danish braids are practically the twins of English gingerbread. (But you should try the gingerbread sometime).

Ever since I got my first bottle of Lyle's, I've been thinking that it would be perfect in pecan pie. I hope you post some pictures of that pie!

Nancy B,
Well, I didn't mention that there was a little crack in the bottom of my cake, so the upside-down option didn't work for me. I needed a full-blown disguise.

Yes, it's very nice for my political group not to feel like we have to work eight hours a day. Of course, we've still got weird Michelle Bachman in Minnesota, so we can't disband.

I was afraid someone might call the English Gingerbread Police. Fortunately, the cake is gone, so the only evidence is the picture.

Well you never know.

Sorry about the chocolate apricot roll--feel free to make it that week and let the rest of us know what we missed!

Too bad I didn't think of claiming that I removed the top layer of the cake just to show the texture!
Good luck on your search for kosher gelatin--I have a feeling that's something you can't get in every part of the country. I can't wait to see how the various pinecone cakes turn out!

Hanaâ said...

The Gingerbread Cupcakes taste even better today than they did yesterday. The lemon flavor seems to have intensified. I love it. I still think I will add finely chopped candied ginger next time.

Btw, did anyone taste the syrup/butter/brown sugar mixture, after adding the milk, but right before adding the eggs? It's delicious. I think any cake would happily submit itself to a bath in that :o)

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

They're done. Happy-happy.

Hanaâ said...

I read through the Pine Cone recipe last night. I’m thinking it makes more sense to cut the ganache filling in half, add the almonds to one half only (and maybe use a little less almonds), that way when you spread the remaining ganache over the cake, you won’t have to worry about the almonds poking through the fondant. Just my 2 cents. Please don’t hate me, Rose :o)