Monday, January 3, 2011

A cake for the new year

One of my Dad's favorite desserts was gingerbread with lemon sauce. I made it for him once or twice over the years, and of course he loved it, each time. I distinctly remember the first time looking for a recipe for a warm lemon sauce, which wasn't easy, but I did find one. I still have the handwritten recipe on a index card tucked away in my files somewhere, the paper decorated with drawings of tiny lemons.

So I decided fairly last-minute to make a gingerbread cake for New Year's Eve, supplemented with a rich lemon cream. I was proud of how it turned out. Afterwards, I tried to think of what my Dad would've said when he took a bite. I think he would've looked up at me and smiled with his eyes, then uttered a singular complement like "divine." Anyway, it was, my mom confirmed later, a particularly good ginger cake. And despite my history of making cakes that sink down in the center or don't rise enough, this one poofed quite nicely and didn't fall one bit (or overflow out of the pan, as I had gingerbread do once). After a dinner of steamed crab and caesar salad, it made for a tasty ending to our holiday meal.
I got the recipe from my newish cookbook, Ready for DessertIt caught my eye because it called for a copious amount of fresh ginger, which not all recipes have. Sometimes ginger cakes have two or even three kinds of ginger, including dried and crystallized, but this one just called fresh. Ginger root takes some work to prep, with all the peeling and chopping, but its zingy sharp bite is what elevates this rather humble dessert to greatness, I believe. Like I often say, it's worth the effort. It comes with a nice dose of heat from cinnamon, cloves, and black pepper, but without any bracing spiciness, and its pure, sweet warmth is showcased brilliantly without a drop of dairy. The molasses, the final key ingredient, rounds of the flavors of this moist, dark cake.

For the lemon 'cream,' I simply folded some lemon curd I had made previously into some whipped cream until the color resembled a pale yellow frosting (but with a much lighter texture than buttercream). What I recommend you do is this: you take a bite of cake, then add a small bit of cream on top, eat, and then proceed in a similar fashion until there are only fat little crumbs strewn on the plate. Then you take the tines of your fork and press them into the crumbs, polishing off your piece with much satisfaction. 

Apparently, this is David L's most renowned gateaux, and I can see why. This is a cake for the new year, and for my Dad.

Here's hoping that 2011 will bring healing and peace, and a lot more fresh ginger.

Fresh Ginger Cake
Adapted slightly from David Lebovitz

- 4-ounce piece fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (weigh on a scale)
- 1 cup mild-flavored molasses (such as Grandma's)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil (such as canola)
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 cup water
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature*

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan or springform pan with 2-inch sides and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, chop the ginger until very fine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the molasses, sugar and oil (this may take some time). In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cloves and pepper.

In a small saucepan, bring the water to a boil, then stir in the baking soda. Whisk the hot water into the molasses mixture, then add the chopped ginger. 

Gradually sift the flour mixture over the molasses mixture (in several additions), whisking to combine. Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly blended. 
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger, or when a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool completely.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake, and invert onto a plate. Peel off the parchment paper, then re-invert it onto a serving plate.

Serve with whipped cream-lightened lemon curd (a.k.a "lemon cream"). 

Makes one 9-inch cake, about 10 to 12 servings.

*If you forget to bring your eggs to room temperature, simply place them into a bowl of warm tap water for 5 minutes or so while you get together the rest of your ingredients.

Lemon Cream

- 1 cup prepared lemon curd (preferably homemade)
- 1 cup whipping cream

Whip cream in a large bowl until almost-stiff peaks form (be careful not to over-beat). Gently fold the lemon curd into the cream until incorporated. Serve with cake.