This spicy and boozy cake was inspired by my recent trip to London. I love exploring culture through cuisine, and foreign grocery stores are always a pit-stop for me. I came across this pear, ginger, and white chocolate cake in Waitrose, and was intrigued by the flavor combination.
The cake is described as a “dark sticky ginger cake made with black treacle and stem ginger, filled and topped with British pear jam and white chocolate ganache with notes of caramel.” The original cake was cloyingly sweet due to the white chocolate caramel ganache, but I loved the autumnal harmony of the pear, ginger, and molasses.
I don’t see pear jam very often, and I loved how mossy and velvety it felt on the tongue. The stem ginger, which is basically ginger soaked in a sugar syrup, studded the cake and greeted my molars like spicier and more succulent versions of raisins. And the treacly stickiness of the cake felt so warm and cozy and perfect for the cold weather.
After examining the ingredients list closely, I came up with an action plan to put my own spin on this cake. While the Waitrose version used stem ginger, I used a David Lebovitz recipe that relied on fresh ginger – I wanted a less sweet effect. After reading the comments, I also halved the sugar and oil from the original recipe. The cake is spicy and flavorful, but definitely a little dry with less oil.
I didn’t find an affordable pear jam in my local grocery stores (Whole Foods had one for $10) so I decided to make my own. The jam involved dicing up less-than-ripe pears and letting it sit in sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice overnight, then heating it up while simultaneously mashing it to get a jam. I probably should’ve cut the pieces smaller, but I didn’t mind the toothsomeness.
While I found many recipes for caramelized white chocolate frosting, I decided to keep it simple and made a two-ingredient frosting from Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramel Sauce and unsalted butter. For me, the sweet, smooth and creamy frosting is what ties the whole cake together. I hadn’t planned to brush the cake with rum, but it seemed like a good idea and I did not regret it. The bite from the fresh ginger mellows after a day or two, as does the alcohol from the rum, and this is a cake that improves with time.
Pear, Ginger and Rum Cake with Salted Caramel Frosting
Peel, core and dice pears. (Be sure to chop the pears relatively small, as they’ll remain close to that size in the finished jam.)
Toss the pears in lemon juice and sugar, cover and refrigerate for overnight (12 to 24 hours). This step is important, and at an absolute minimum, they need 4 hours, preferably more.
Place pear mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a boil on high. The mixture will foam, so be sure your pan is big enough to handle foaming to avoid overflows.
Stir the mixture occasionally, watching for overflows, and cook for about 10-15 minutes. If pear pieces are too large, crush slightly with a potato masher (optional).
Cook until the pear jam reaches gel stage at 220 F, using an instant-read thermometer or testing a small amount on a plate placed in the freezer.
Set aside the pear jam in the fridge for later use.
To make the cake:
Position rack in center of oven. Heat to 350 degrees. Line a 8.5 by 4.5 inch loaf pan with parchment paper.
Mix together the molasses, sugar and oil. In another bowl, sift together flour, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper.
In a small saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water to a boil. Stir in baking soda, then mix hot water into molasses mixture. Stir in ginger.
Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into batter. Add egg, and continue mixing until everything is thoroughly combined. Pour the batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 minutes, until top of cake springs back lightly when pressed or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. If the top of cake browns too quickly before cake is done, drape a piece of foil over it and continue baking.
Cool cake for at least 30 minutes. Run a knife around edge of cake to loosen it from pan. Invert cake onto a cooling rack, and peel off parchment paper.
To make the frosting:
Start with room temperature butter. For this, remove butter out of the fridge for about 3 hours.
Add the butter to the mixer bowl and whip for about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides several times throughout. Then add salted caramel sauce until just mixed.
To assemble the cake:
Slice cake into three layers. Brush each layer with rum, if desired.
Spread pear jam onto two of the layers.
Assemble cake into a three-layered stack.
I recommend freezing the cake for about 30 minutes for easier frosting. Spread salted caramel frosting all over the cake.
I saw these gingerbread cookies when I was at Ottolenghi’s in London. What struck me about the cookies was how soft they felt beneath the packaging, but alas, I never ended up purchasing them in favor of other treats. Luckily for me, the recipe was easy enough to find online and therefore recreate at home. I learned that it was originally a Tartine recipe that Ottolenghi found super compelling and had to include in his book, Sweet.
I didn’t have a cookie stamp, so I made my own with salt dough, which is essentially flour, salt, and water formed into a clay and baked at a low temperature to form a mold. I used the end of a funnel to form this holey honeycomb pattern.
How soft the cookies were really depends on the thickness of the dough, how long it was in the oven, and whether the cookies were cut from the first roll-out or reconstituted dough scraps, which tends to have incorporated extra flour sprinkled on the bench to prevent sticking.
The cookie was warmingly spiced with black pepper, cloves, ginger, and cinnamon, and not too sweet. I loved the rum glaze; it added a touch more spice and just a bit more complexity. I actually forgot to add butter to the glaze, but I didn’t find that the cookie suffered from it at all. I also loved how the glaze cracks with each bite.
Soft Gingerbread Cookies with Rum Butter Glaze from Ottolenghi
6 tbsp (85 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 packed cup plus 2 tbsp (90 g) dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (100 g) blackstrap molasses (I used regular molasses)
1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tbsp (235 g) all-purpose flour, plus extra for pressing
1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder (I used regular cocoa powder)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Place the butter, sugar and molasses in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on medium speed until smooth and incorporated. Add the egg yolk and continue to beat until fully combined.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, salt and pepper into a bowl. Turn the speed of the mixer to low, and add the dry ingredients to the butter and molasses. Once the mix comes together, tip the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently. Roll out the dough so that it is about 1/4 inch/ 0.5 cm thick. If the dough is very soft, you will need to chill it.
Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Dip the cookie stamps in a small bowl of flour, shake off any excess and then press them firmly into the dough, one at a time, to create a deep imprint. How far you need to press to get an imprint will depend on your stamp; the patterns on some are more deeply cut than others. Bear in mind that the cookies rise a little when cooked, so any soft imprints will disappear. Using a round cookie cutter that is slightly larger than the pattern, cut out the pieces of imprinted gingerbread. Transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets, spaced about 3/4 inch/2 cm apart. Reroll the dough and continue to stamp and cut cookies until all the dough is used up.
Bake for 9–10 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until firm to the touch. They will continue to firm up as they cool, so don’t be tempted to bake them for any longer.
To make the rum butter glaze while the gingerbreads are in the oven, as the glaze needs to be brushed onto the cookies while they are still warm, sift the confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon into a small bowl. Add the melted butter, rum (or lemon juice) and water and mix with a spoon until smooth. The glaze will thicken slightly if it sits around, so stir through a little more warm water if you need to—it should be the consistency of runny honey.
Remove the cookies from the oven, leave them to cool for 5 minutes, then brush or dab the glaze all over with a pastry brush. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
I’ve been on a sourdough bread kick lately, and I’m finally confident enough about some of my creations to share them on here – namely this multigrain sunflower seed bread. This bread contains a rye levain, rye flour, cracked wheat (i.e. whole wheat berries I blitzed in a blender for a little bit), malted wheat flakes, and whole wheat flour. It is a recipe from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread.
This bread has a really complex flavor and texture profile that I adore. All of the different grains and the sourdough starter come together to create something slightly tangy, but also a little earthy, a little nutty. The sunflower seeds add crunch, and the bread has a crisp crust with a more yielding interior. I love to eat the slices plain, but also lightly toasted.
Having made several recipes from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou’s How to Make Bread, I can finally feel comfortable with this book, and all of its quirks and nuances. The ingredients for each recipe create perfectly harmonious flavors, but the instructions are way off. I never pay attention to the rising times and bake times anymore. I rely on look and feel (and several failed loaves) to figure out rising times, and as for bake times, I have my trusty Thermopop to let me know when a loaf is done. (This King Arthur Flour blog post has been most instructive for appropriate temperatures based on bread type; the kind of crusty/dense sourdough breads I prefer tend to skew hotter, around 210F.)
Multigrain Sunflower Seed Bread
Makes 1 medium (500g) loaf
6×4 inch loaf pan, greased
10g blackstrap or dark molasses
155g warm water
100g chopped/cracked rye berries (I used wheat berries)
140g dark rye flour
30g whole wheat flour
10g malted wheat flakes (substitute with whole wheat flour if you don’t have this)
100g sunflower seeds (I used roasted and unsalted)
3g active dry yeast
80g warm water
60g rye sourdough starter (100% hydration)
In one bowl, mix molasses, 155g water, and chopped/cracked rye berries until molasses dissolve. Let soak until soft – overnight if necessary.
In another bowl, mix flours, salt, seeds. This is your dry mixture.
In a larger mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in 80g water, and stir in sourdough starter. This is your wet mixture.
Add soaked berries to your wet mixture, and mix. Now add dry mixture and stir well.
Cover the bowl with cling wrap or a towel. Complete first rise, or your bulk fermentation, roughly 5-8 hours. The dough should have bubbles under the surface and would have expanded by about 30%.
Spoon mixture into the prepared loaf pan, and use a plastic scraper or tablespoon dipped in water to smooth the surface of the dough.
Cover the loaf pan loosely with greased cling wrap, and let rise until dough reaches slightly over the top of loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 475F with a roasting pan in the bottom. When ready to bake, pour a cup of water into the roasting pan. Put loaf pan in and immediately reduce temperature to 450F.
Bread will take about 45 minutes, or when inner temperature reads close to 205F-210F.