With less than a month until Christmas, now it’s the time to bake all kinds of sweet and spicy treats. Gingerbread? Yes! Speculoos? Yes! Pain d’Epice? Yes! Darkest of dark Christmas fruit cake? Yes! Plum pudding set aflame with brandy? Yes, yes, yes! Granted, some treats are more suitable for the big day and sneaking a bite any earlier seems like cheating. Anticipation is a key ingredient after all. To settle a weekday craving for something sweet and spicy, a girl needs to have simple everyday recipes too. Thankfully my new copy of Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet took care of that.
I’ve been a fan of Lepard’s How To Bake column in The Guardian. Every Saturday I look forward to begin my morning with a big mug of tea and his weekly recipe. Short & Sweet is a collection of years worth of his recipes and sage baking advices. The book has an obvious British slant from ingredients, choice of recipes, to tone of voice. Being anglophile that I am, that just makes the book more endearing. What I love most though is the creativity. Case in point, Ginger Root Cake from the cake chapter (online version available at The Globe & Mail).
You may think I meant gingerroot, not ginger root. There’s no mistake. The name actually refers to this gingery cake that can be made with a variety of root vegetable ranging from swede (rutabaga), turnip, or parsnip. Pairing the vegetal sweetness into cakes is nothing new but what really caught my attention was the subtle taste imparted by the different choice of roots. Lepard mentioned in the recipe that rutabaga makes the cake sweeter, turnip peppery, and parsnip almost hazelnutty. Now that I didn’t know!
I made mine with turnip because the peppery taste appeals most to me to play up the ginger and black treacle of this cake. Chopping up the glacee ginger was a challenge in self-control. Each cube of translucent ginger was dripping with spicy sweetness. I just wanted to pop them into my mouth like candies! I made the lemon glaze with a touch of the ginger syrup for another dose of gingery goodness in addition to the ground ginger in the cake itself. That warm spicy taste just screams Christmas to me!
One thing to note about this cake is that it is partly leavened by whipped egg white. That is why the cake has the signature sunken look in the centre. I think it adds to the rustic charm. The cake is very moist from the grated turnip so it keeps very well.
The ginger root cake is only the beginning of this holiday baking season. I think of it as prelude to traditional Christmas fruitcake and puddings. What kind of food gets you into the holiday mood?
edit Feb 25, 2013: I made this cake again for the February edition of Well Preserved’s HomeEc monthly get-together. The theme was Got Roots? and obviously this ginger turnip cake was totally appropriate. It was a great evening of meeting fellow home cooks and preserving enthusiasts over drinks and bites. If you’re in Toronto or Columbus, OH, I highly recommend that you come out to the event at least once!