There is something about this time of year which is, for me at least, synonymous with gingerbread. It is unquestionably a deeply seasonal cake – it would seem almost morally wrong to eat it in the height of summer – and one which brings back fond memories of my childhood, when my mum would make it every year for Bonfire Night. There is something about the warm, fragrant depth of gingerbread that is a perfect companion to the orange hues of autumn, and with it the rustle of fallen leaves and sweet scent of wood smoke.
As recipes go, gingerbread is a particularly rewarding bake; not only is it enchantingly easy (you won’t need any electric whisk here; just a wooden spoon and a swift arm), but it will make your kitchen smell like heaven. Unlike most cakes, it actually improves with time – if you can bear it, once cooled, leave the cake in a storage tin for 24 hours before tucking in, as it really is better the day after.
This gingerbread is lovely in thick slices spread with butter alongside a strong cup of tea, but is also equally delicious served warm as a pudding, with vanilla ice cream and poached pears (or, if you’re lucky enough to find them, quinces). I also don’t see any reason why you couldn’t ice this with a simple lemon juice icing, and perhaps decorate with more crystallised ginger. It is much easier to measure out the treacle and golden syrup if you’ve left the tins in a warm place for an hour or so; alternatively, place the tins in a saucepan of just-boiled water for a few minutes to warm through.
I made the gingerbread gluten free without any trouble at all using Doves Farm gluten free plain flour, along with ½ teaspoon of xanthum gum, which improves the crumb structure to give the mouth-feel of a normal cake.
175g plain flour
1 ½ tbsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp milk
75g black treacle
75g golden syrup
75g dark brown soft sugar
75g unsalted butter or margarine, at room temperature
1 large egg, lightly beaten and at room temperature
100g crystallized ginger, chopped into 1cm cubes and tossed in 2 tsp plain flour
1 classic 2lb loaf tin, greased and base-lined with greaseproof paper
Pre-heat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3.
Place the flour (and xanthum gum, if using) and spices in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
In another small bowl, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the milk and set aside.
Now measure the black treacle, golden syrup, sugar, butter and water into a medium saucepan. Put the saucepan on a medium heat and gently stir until thoroughly melted and blended – stay with it and don’t let it come anywhere near the boil.
Next, add the syrup mixture to the flour and spices, beating vigorously with a wooden spoon – and when the mixture is smooth, beat in the egg a little at a time, followed by the bicarbonate of soda and milk. Fold in the crystallized ginger pieces.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 1¼–1½ hours until it’s well-risen and firm to the touch. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before turning out.
Based on a recipe by Delia Smith.