Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas special #11: Ginger cake

My Nikon has finally stopped working altogether, so this is the best I could do with my old Canon

I really did genuinely once believe that pregnant women were just making a bloody fuss about nothing. And then I staggered into the seventh month of my own pregnancy and realised that: IT'S THE WORST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

This is what I did yesterday:

- Wake up to feeling the baby press its hands and feet - clearly simply for sport - into some really weird corners of my insides

- Stagger off to the loo. Pause in front of the mirror to do some silent screaming/hand-clawing down cheeks. Then make happy lunatic face with head on one side.

- Spend 30 minutes trying to find some clothes that still fit. Realise I have put pants on inside out. Cannot face the bending involved turning them right way around. Drive to Waitrose. Walk round Waitrose incredibly slowly, rolling from side to side like overweight, post-menopausal bag lady, from one painful swollen foot to the other, buying most of the shop. Wonder if my pale blue Nike Air Maxes are so unfashionable that they might soon become fashionable again.

- Start to leave Waitrose carpark but receive important phonecall from next-eldest sister and so park diagonally across three spaces near entrace to take call.

Her: "In answer to your question, you can get maternity pads from Boots."
Me: "Thanks"
Her: "How are you?"
Her: "Mmmm. Yes. Don't worry it'll be over soon. I'm weirdly envious. Having a baby is amazing."
Me: "Whatever. I'm like a cat. I can't really fathom what's going to happen."
Her: "It'll be fine. Having a baby is fine. Although, Edward woke up at 1am this morning and screamed until six. Patrick's got the runs. He's doing poos all up the back of his nappy."
Me: "Fucking hell."

- Talk like that for a while. Get home. Put shopping away. Wave goodbye to husband, who is going out for lunch with a minor member of the royal family.

- Lie on the sofa. Consider vomiting. Reject idea. Make ginger cake. Lie back on sofa. Fall asleep to recorded episodes of Gossip Girl. Wake up at 5pm as husband comes back, stinking of booze and Agent Provocateur. Greet him coldly. Swerve attempted hugs. Feel partially mollified by excellent gossip he has brought home, like a cat dragging in a sparrow.

- Make dinner. Go to first NCT class. Lie about my thoughts on pain relief during labour. Leave NCT class, swearing never to go to another one. Make exasperated lunatic face by sucking in cheeks and dilating nostrils and eyes.

- Get home. Pick huge fight with husband prompted by tasteless joke made in NCT class, find myself standing at one end of the kitchen, hurling cocktail sticks at him, which he fields. Drink large glass of red wine and eat leftover cold dinner and a slice of ginger cake. Feel bilious. Go to bed. Have neurotic dreams about being given 0/10 for an essay for the NCT class and then telling the teacher to go and fuck herself, but then getting stuck in the door because too fat.

At least the ginger cake turned out really well. A reader alerted me to the niceness of this as a home-made thing. It's a cross between Jamaican Ginger Cake and Golden Syrup Cake (that come in those foil packets, know the ones I mean?) only lighter and more velvety.

This qualifies as a Christmas Special post because it's a seasonal alternative to fruit cake, which not everyone is that crazy about. And when I say everyone, I mean ME.

It's also a doddle - the only fiddly bit is getting the golden syrup and treacle out of the tins without glueing yourself to the kitchen floor.

[NB a reader (below) has alerted me to the trick of submerging the tins in warm water for a moment or two to loosen up before spooning out.]

Anyway, here we go:

Stem ginger cake with lemon icing

This will fit a cake tin roughly 22cm across and 7cm deep.

225g self-raising flour
1tsp bicarb soda
1 TBSP ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground mixed spice
115g butter, cubed
115g dark muscovado sugar (or dark soft brown sugar, or light brown sugar, doesn't matter really)
115g black treacle - US readers can sub molasses
115g golden syprup - US readers can sub corn syrup
250ml whole milk
85g preserved stem ginger, sold in Waitrose in a jar, labelled as Chinese stem ginger. Find it near the jams and marmalades.
1 egg

1 Preheat oven: fan 160C, normal 180C

2 Assemble flour, bicarb soda, and spices. Either sift or put in bowl and give a swizzle with a whisk.

3 Cut butter into dry ingredients and rub into flour. Yawn. Quite boring.

[NB a reader has suggested that you can melt the butter along with everything in Instruction 4 and you get the same result without tedious rubbing-in]

4 Heat sugars, syrups and milk together in a pan gently until all melted. Don't worry too much if you over-scoop and get a bit too much of either syrup or treacle into the pan because you can't get it out again and so there's no point in fretting.

5 Chop the preserved ginger as finely as you can be arsed to and add to flour. Pour warm sugars over flour. Mix with wooden spoon and then crack in egg and continue to mix thoroughly. Mixture will lighten in colour just perceptibly.

6 Pour into tin (greased and lined if you're feeling holy) and bake for 50 mins.

For the icing

50g icing sugar
finely-chopped zest and juice of one lemon

1 Add lemon juice to icing sploosh by sploosh until you have a just-runny icing that is still opaque. Add zest. Drizzle or spread on cake. I used one of my new clear squeezy bottles, which was brilliant fun - a shiny beacon of joy in my otherwise shitty life - except bit of zest occasionally blocked up the nozzle.

I just want to be thin again. Thin and drunk.


  1. Won't even dare comment anything to do with pregnancy. Far too scared.

    But, if you want to save some time and hassle with the ginger cake, just melt the butter with the treacle, syrup and sugar and then mix it to the dry ingredients.

    Doesn't make any difference to the outcome and saves messing around rubbing it in.

  2. Thank you Henry for that most helpful comment.

  3. This looks yum. Also, a possibly helpful tip - if you put the (closed) tins of golden syrup/treacle into a bowl of hot water for about a minute, it loosens it all up and the stuff pours out in an unsticky fashion.
    From 4 months pregnant here, the rest of this post absolutely terrified me.

  4. You're hilarious, I love you. I love ginger
    cake too, great post.

    Message for Giles- buy flowers today, and give
    Esther a lovely massage... Pull your
    socks up!


  5. My husband went to the first NCT class, against my better judgement. Of course he hated it, didn't bother to disguise his contempt for the hippy dippy slightly bonkers teacher, and refused to come again. The first time, it was easy: he's got a late meeting. After a few times, she got sarcastic: I SUPPOSE he's in a meeting again, etc. Should I have just told her that he couldn't bear to spend another minute listening to her? (This was 25 years ago, but mercifully has not been troubling me in all the intervening years.)

    All will be well.

  6. Cake looks awesome, and I also hate Christmas cake. On the positive side of pregnancy - there's only 2 months left and think of all the champagne people will give you once you've given birth!

  7. You, my dear, are hilarious! I'm sorry life is tough right now, but you have a gift for conveying it in words!

  8. A tip that I saw on Kirsty & Phil's Christmas last week was to wipe a spoon with vegetable oil on kitchen paper before using treacle or golden syrup and the syrup just glides straight off the spoon! I always end up with syrup all in my hair whenever I cook with it.

    I made a Mary Berry Ginger Tray bake on my blog

    Merry Christmas and good luck with the pregnancy!xx

  9. one tip that may help... in a few months time you can think about rolling yourself around in a warm bath of vodka...

  10. Bril recipes and writing - you are a treasure and need to launch yourself on the wider world. Shove Giles out the way and become a reality TV star. He can look after baby and become your manager.

  11. Love your pregnancy narrative, love the ginger cake.. not so hot on the fact that your husband gets to indulge in the depths of current culinary fads without his preggers wifey! A top tip for the treacle/golden syrup conundrum (also works with honey) dip your teaspoon into oil, spoon out your syrup into required mixing bowl, and it'll slip right off, the best tip in my book. It's like that sudden realisation when you first use a spatula to clean a mixing bowl. Definitely a moment of enlightenment. xxxx

  12. Gosh Esther, I love how black and white you are - no sugar coating here! Are we going to be lucky enough to get a glimpse into what child birth is really like once you've had the baby?

  13. You're truly ace! The fact that you're still feeling human enough to cook (and walk round Waitrose)is good enough for me. At 7 months pregnant, I was so meh about cooking that I just lived on carbs and cheese, with milkshakes at every given opportunity. God knows how many baked potatoes I ate in the last couple of months. Poor boyfriend...

    We did NCT. Out of 7, only 2 of us managed a happy-clappy, non-intervention birth. The rest have been guilt-tripped like mad for daring to put the safety of their babies (and themselves) first. Grr.

    Your honesty is to be applauded. Have a big hug (but not a pat on the bump, as that freaks me out).


  14. Yeah being patted on the bump is NOT a nice feeling. Stroking is just about okay.

    I will duly hug myself xxxx

  15. The cake looks yummy! What shape tin did you use - round or rectangular?

  16. I used a square one but any old tin will do x

  17. Just a quick note to say that I baked this at the weekend and it is flippin' AY-MAY-ZING! Even if I do say so myself (bugger British modesty, although I suppose I only baked it, not like I invented it or anything. Still.).

    Stumbled upon your blog a couple of months ago and really enjoy it. Good luck for the next couple of weeks...and may I request a distinct lack of detail when it comes to writing about the birth...;)

  18. Detail?! You'll be lucky if I even refer to having given birth.

  19. Ha! Thank god for that. Cos the stork brings babies, right? Well, maybe you can give he/she a brief mention when they're old enough to help in the kitchen and stuff.

  20. Reading through some old Christmas posts and this one is hilarious!! Love it!