With a long walk on Friday and a trip to Compton Verney yesterday, I had two picnics to cater for this week, so my thoughts turned to cake. Picnics are one of my favourite things – I still have a vivid memory of an idyllic picnic many summers ago in a field full of buttercups by a stream, with my brothers and some family friends. My favourite alfresco meals include something other than sandwiches (good though these can be): yesterday we had boxes of lightly dressed lentil salad, a bag of lettuce washed and kept fresh in a little cooler bag, crisp radishes, hard-boiled (but only just – 8 minutes) eggs and a couple of pink satin slices of prosciutto, cheese, apples – and of course ginger cake!
Ginger cake (or gingerbread) is a traditional picnic staple: it keeps well – indeed improves with keeping for a day or two – travels well and is delicious eaten with an apple and some crumbly Lancashire or Cheshire cheese in the fresh air with an appetite sharpened by walking. Mind you, it is equally welcome with a mug of tea by the fire on a cold winter’s day.
I spent an enjoyable half-hour reading ginger cake recipes – from Constance Spry’s Belvoir Ginger Cake and everyday gingerbread (‘suitable for nursery tea’) to Delia Smith’s more genteel stem ginger cake. In the end I went back to Nigel Slater’s Double Ginger Cake from his first Kitchen Diaries, albeit with some alterations: I replaced some of the golden syrup with treacle to give that distinctive gingerbread taste and used spelt flour and baking powder as I didn’t have any self-raising flour. The method is easy, as it doesn’t require creaming the butter and sugar, and I particularly like his inclusion of stem ginger in syrup, which some traditional recipes omit. The result was entirely satisfactory – the three of us on our walk managed to polish off a large chunk without any trouble, and I was very happy to eat it again with Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire and an apple at the end of yesterday’s picnic.
This recipe makes a large cake, which filled a 21 cm square by 5 cm high baking tin. Nigel Slater says the recipe is enough for eight, but I cut it into 20 generous square pieces, so even if some people can manage two I reckon it feeds 10-12 comfortably.
250g spelt flour
3 tsps baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsps ground ginger
half tsp ground cinnamon
a pinch of salt
120g golden syrup
2 tbsps of the ginger syrup
3 large lumps of stem ginger
2 heaped tbsps sultanas
125g muscovado sugar
240 ml milk
Line the tin with baking parchment and put the oven on to warm at 180ºC/Gas 4. Start by sifting the flour and other dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl, making sure they are well combined. Measure the two syrups, treacle and butter into a small pan and warm over a low heat. Dice the ginger and add it too, followed by the sultanas and sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring it until all is incorporated, then take off the heat.
Measure out the milk in a measuring jug, then break in the eggs and beat gently to mix together. Pour the contents of the saucepan into the flour and stir with a large silicone spatula. Add the milk and eggs and stir the sloppy mixture until you can’t see any flour.
Pour the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 35 minutes , when a wooden skewer poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Put the tin on a rack and leave to cool. If you can resist trying some straight away, wrap in clean greaseproof, waxed paper or foil and leave it to improve for a day or two – or just wrap the whole tin and take it to your picnic.
May the sun shine on all your picnics!