Saturday, May 14, 2005

The cold wetness of Providence’s springtime drags on forever, frizzing my hair and endlessly muddying my shoes. But, I woke up the other morning to an apartment filled with light, a sign of the first non-rainy day in what feels like a year. Becca, my apartment mate, was out until that night and I had the place to myself. I could hear some twittering birds, a clanking garbage truck, a silence where the ambient rain-noise usually is.

I had one large paper to write looming over my head, the only thing left between me and graduation, as well as a thousand end-of-the-year obligations to take care of. So, obviously, I did what was most important. I baked.

I looked through our fridge and saw a knobbed root of fresh ginger, just begging to be used. I think ginger root is an artwork in itself: a beautifully undulating bulb of browns and golds, always interestingly different. It is one of my favorite flavors (up there with mustard and chile: all piercing and pungent) and I use copious amounts of it in my cooking (often to the chagrin of Becca, my excellent cooking partner.) I discovered my true love of ginger when traveling in China last summer. I fell in love with their pure ginger tea – simply slices of fresh ginger root in hot water with the added tang of honey – spicy and sweet; I could drink it by the gallon.

Ginger is often used as a background flavor, a mellowed-out spice to enhance the overall feeling of a dish. It can pack a mean punch with its cutting heat and doesn’t often get a chance to really shine on its own. And I’m sorry that it doesn’t - I love it so much I would practically gnaw on the raw roots for fun.

That morning my oddly bent little root stared at me imploringly with its bulbous head, begging for an opportunity to be the star ingredient. I indulged its desire (and mine) and baked a fresh ginger cake – a moist, sticky bread-like cake from a recipe I’ve been eyeing for a while. Duke Ellington serenaded me as I covered myself and my kitchen in flour. And an hour or so later, I pulled the cake out of the oven: golden brown and soft to the touch, piping a rich, molasses and butter scent through the apartment.

Adrienne came over (partly for cake, partly for gossip about the dastardly characters of our love lives) and watched as I made a lemon glaze, drizzling it gooely over the top of the warm cake. It spilled all over the table too, but I think that just enhanced the artistic effect. And we ate – its mild spiciness spreading deliciously down the throat. It was light and moist, tenderly melting in my mouth, perfectly paired with the hint of lemon in the sweet glaze.

The paper for my art history seminar is certainly no closer to being finished. But as far as procrastination goes, ginger cake and gossip is as good as it gets.

Fresh Ginger Cake
(inspired by and adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe in How to be a Domestic Goddess)

5 tbs. unsalted butter
1/4 c. plus 2 tbs. natural applesauce
1/2 c. plus 2 tbs. packed dark brown sugar
3/4 c. plus 1 tbs. light corn syrup
3/4 cup molasses
3 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
1 and a half tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. chopped crystallized ginger
1 c. plus 2 tbs. milk
2 large eggs, beaten to mix
1 tsp. baking soda, dissolved in 2 tbs. warm water
2 c. flour
baking pan, 12 x 8 x 2 inches, greased and lined with foil or parchment paper

lemon glaze:
lemon juice from one medium lemon
around a cup of confectioners' sugar, added until the consistency of your liking is reached
1 tbs. warm water

  • Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  • In a saucepan, melt the butter along with the applesauce, sugar, syrup, molasses, ginger, and cinnamon. Off the heat, add the milk, eggs, and baking soda in its water
  • Measure the flour out into a bowl, add crystallized ginger, and pour in the liquid ingredients, beating until very well mixed (it will be a very liquid batter). Pour it into the pan and bake for 30-45 minutes until risen and firm. Definitely don't overcook, it is delicious a little gooey.
  • And when it's almost cool, make the glaze: Whisk the lemon juice into the confectioners' sugar first, then gradually add the water. Drizzle over the cake and then dig in.

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