Winter spice cake with seasonal citrus, curd and ginger syrup
Here’s a cake that belongs to the winter kitchen. After the holidays have subsided, there is still a yearning for something well spiced and here is that cake, a variant of the French pain d’epices, based on a recipe by Sebastian Rouxel, formerly the pastry chef at Bouchon Bakery. Here, in my rendition, in addition to molasses, the cake uses some dark corn syrup and a generous amperage of cinnamon, cloves and powdered ginger. Though usually quite low in fat, this version amps up its unctuousness through a combination of melted butter and canola oil. Plan ahead and try not to be impatient as this cake seems to get better after a few days of room temperature storage. I like to pair it with pithless and membrane-free supremes of seasonal citrus; the list of possiblities here is long. Moving from white or pink pummelo (pomelo) and Oro blanco grapefruit to tangerines, and then from Cara Cara oranges, kishu tangerines, clementines, mandarins to blood oranges; you name it, each is a perfect partner to the cake and may be used in any combination that your farmers’ market or local grocery store is featuring. Drizzled with a ginger syrup made by cooking peeled fresh gingerroot in a simple syrup (made by boiling equal weights of sugar and water), the cake and its accompaniments, including fruit and an optional dollop of citrus curd, spells winter to me. And when served with a steaming cup of well-brewed black tea (or your favorite Earl Grey variety), it is the perfect any-time-of-day pick-me-up.
For the cake:
1-1/2 c. all purpose flour
3/4 t. baking soda
3 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. blackstrap molasses
1/4 c. dark corn syrup
3 T. canola oil
3 T. melted unsalted butter
1 large egg
3/4 c. boiling water
1 T. grated orange peel
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Using pan spray, coat a loaf pan measuring 8-1/2 x 4-1?2 x 2-3/4. Line with parchment and spray again. Set aside.
Sift flour, baking soda, spices and salt and set aside.
Using a whisk, mix brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup, oil and butter in a bowl until well blended, scraping the bowl well. Add the dries in three additions, gently scraping the bowl with a spatula after each addition. Add the egg and then mix until smooth. Add the water and then the grated orange peel, mixing just until blended. Don’t overmix. Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for approximately 1 hour.
Note: This cake keeps well and in fact gets better after a couple of days. Keep it well wrapped in a cool place until ready to use.
While the cake is baking, prepare the supremes of seasonal citrus, the ginger syrup and lemon curd as follows:
For the supremes of fruit:
Choose whatever combination of fresh citrus fruit that you can find at your local farmers’ market or grocery, enough to yield about 2 cups of prepared fruit.
Using a sharp small serrated knife, remove the peel and pith first by placing the whole fruit on a cutting service. Slice a thin layer from both the top and bottom of the each fruit so that the whole fruit will stand well on your cutting surface. Cut into the skin and white under pith to expose the fruit, positioning the knife always parallel to the curved contour of the fruit from top to bottom. Continue to peel the fruit in this way until all of the peel and pith have been removed. Now remove each segment of the fruit by cutting between the whitish membranes that hold the sections in place. You should now have clean supremes of fruit ready to use in the dessert. Set aside, covered, in the refrigerator while you prepare the ginger syrup as follows:
For the ginger syrup:
1 c. granulated sugar
Scant cup of water
1 3-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and then cut into 1/4 inch thick coins
In as medium sized heavy saucepan, bring the sugar and water to the boil. Add the ginger and then reduce the heat so that the liquid is simmering. Cook for about 20 minutes at low heat and then remove from the heat. Allow to stand until cool. You can either store the mixture as is or remove the ginger pieces, discard them and reserve the liquid, refrigerated, until ready to use. Pour half of the syrup over the prepared citrus supremes and keep covered, refrigerated, until ready to assemble the dessert. Reserve the remaining syrup to brush or pour over the cake just before serving the dessert. (If you don’t use all of the syrup, the remainder will keep for about 1 week in the refrigerator. )
Now prepare the citrus curd as follows.
For the citrus curd:
Juice of 1 small lemon (about 1/4 c.)
Juice of 1 orange, large tangerine or small grapefruit, to equal to about 1/2 c. (Drink any extra. ).
1/2 c. granulated sugar
3 whole large eggs
4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into roughly 1″ pieces
Place the citrus juice, sugar and eggs into a heatproof stainless steel bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk the mixture constantly until it thickens, about the consistency of a thin mayonnaise. Remove from the heat and whisk in the butter, piece by piece, until absorbed. Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve into a bowl, set over ice water. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, and then transfer the mixture to a container with a tight fitting lid. Refrigerator until ready to serve.
Assemble the dessert as follows:
Cut the cake into 1/2″ thick slices and then cut each slice diagonally into two triangular pieces. Brush lightly with the reserved ginger syrup.
Spoon some of the lemon curd onto each plate. Position the cake slices over the curd. Scatter the citrus supremes over the cake. Serve immediately.