I hope you’ll indulge me in a little story before I get to the recipe, its a story of how the recipe came to be and why it means so much more to me than any other. I often talk about the way a recipe can help remind you of a time or a place and can connect you to people you haven’t seen in a long time. It’s why I think food is more than the sum of its simple parts. I make this recipe a lot, more than any other and each and every time I open the tin of golden syrup, every time I smell the cake coming out of the oven, I am taken back to when I am still a toddler, just 3 years old. I’m in my Uncles house, in my Nanna’s room and my twin brother and I are sat on the bed, eating grapes with my Nanna. This memory probably isn’t real, just a fabrication built from stories I have heard my entire life but to me, it is as clear as any picture. This recipe was my Nannas, Jenny’s Gingerbread, and even though I never got to know her properly I have a connection with her through this cake.
Whilst my memories of her are few, I have in their place a lifetime of stories my family like to tell every time we are together. My mum seems to be the family keeper of stories and she loves nothing more that telling us stories of her life when she was younger, about her twin bothers when they were little, so many stories about her aunts and uncles and of course lots of stories about her mum, my Nanna. Because she passed away when I was very young, those stories have always allowed me to feel close to her and to feel a bond that might not exist otherwise. As a baker and someone whose life is remembered through a series of dishes the handwritten recipes she left behind are precious. She was the baker in our family and as the mother to three children she had a lot of mouths to feed. The story goes that every week this gingerbread would be baked and it would slowly be eaten as the week went by, with another ready to take its place as the week came to a close.
It’s a cake that all her children and grandchildren associate closely with her, so much so that during a discussion about what makes a good nanna, a good grandmother, the only rule was this cake should make frequent appearances. This thought was taken further when it became part of my sisters pregnancy announcement. When the time came to tell our mum that she was going to become a grandmother for the first time, she didn’t simply tell her, she gave her a tin of this gingerbread and told her she’d be needing this soon. It may have taken my mum a minute or two to understand what she meant but that obviously joyous occasion has managed to put even more importance onto this recipe for us as a family.
For me personally it is a connection to my wonderful mum and to a Nanna I didn’t really get to know, and I think of it as a way honouring her memory. Every time I make it I hope she would have been proud that I have taken her recipe and put it in the hands of people all over the world and that she would be happy that they enjoy it as much as we do.
A quick note about the recipe, this a slightly tweaked version from the one that was originally printed in my book The Boy Who Bakes, I have adapted it for a bundt pan, obviously something my Nanna never did but something that looks as special as this cake is to me.
My Nanna’s Gingerbread
340g plain flour
3 heaped tsp ground ginger
1 heaped tsp mixed spice (if making in the US pumpkin pie spice mix will work)
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 large pinch cayenne pepper (I tend to go with about 1/2 tsp)
170g unsalted butter, diced
115g caster sugar
2 tbsp fine cut orange marmalade
340g golden syrup
2 tbsp chopped stem ginger
2 large eggs
210ml whole milk
Lemon Glaze (optional)
Juice of 1 lemon
150g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) and prepare a 10-cup capacity bundt pan by spraying with a light layer of oil (I prefer spray oils for this as its much more effective) making sure to coat all the nooks and crannies. Bundt pans are very detailed and if the pan isn’t prepared properly the cake may stick. Dust the inside of the pan with flour, again making sure to coat the whole thing. Turn the pan upside down and tap out any excess flour so that it is a thin coating.
Place all the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk together to combine. Place the butter, sugar, marmalade, golden syrup and stem ginger into a saucepan and cook over medium heat until everything has melted together and you have a smooth mixture. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before mixing in the milk, followed by the eggs. When combining the wet and dry ingredients do this for as short a time as possible, you’re not aiming for a completely smooth batter, the odd lump is fine. If you whisk the batter too much it can become a little tough, so ere on the side of caution. Pour the finished batter into the prepared bundt pan and place the pan onto a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven for about 45-50 minutes or until the cake springs back to a light touch or a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
When the cake comes out of the oven set the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning the bundt out onto the rack to cool. With bundt cakes I find the 10 minutes to be the sweet spot, if you try to turn the cake out any earlier it might break, as the structure of cakes aren’t fully set fresh from the oven. If you try to turn it out much later the sugars in the cake make the outside of the cake a little sticker mean the cake may stubbornly stick to the pan.
The next stage is totally optional and not something my family do when making this recipe, the cake is delicious as it is. If however you want to a little more you can add this simple lemon glaze. The recipe is a simple icing sugar glaze but by heating the lemon juice and icing sugar together, just until the mixture starts to bubble, when brushed on the cake it forms a thin fondant like glaze that crackles as its cut and creates a nice added level of texture as well as flavour. Brush the glaze onto the cake whilst still warm from the oven and once fully coated pop the cake back into the oven for a couple minutes. This will make the glaze set and turn slightly translucent.
As with all gingerbread cakes this bundt will be even better if you can resist cutting into it for a couple days, the flavours improve and the cake becomes a little sticker (this is more pronounced without the glaze) so hold back from trying it if you can. I wont blame you if the smell out of the oven is too much to resist though.