All expats miss something – or many somethings – about their homeland.
If they claim not to, they prevaricate. Certain things are so deeply embedded in the formation of one’s character, tastes and preferences that their absence can become disproportionate. Perhaps I’m over-dramatising, but…. I don’t miss much, myself, but those things I do miss are tied to remembered happiness and pleasure. It was necessary to leave behind some particular pleasures, but there are always niggles. Who knew, 50 years ago, how memorable a particular kind of cake was going to be to this nearly 60-year-old living so happily in her adopted sunny land?
I’m talking about the King of Sunday tea-times, more gorgeous and satisfying than any fruit cake, delicate Victoria sponge or buttery upside-down cake. McVitie’s Jamaica Ginger Cake. Gingery, sticky, chewy, and that m-word that everyone hates. It was always a disaster when it was finished, but there was still the bliss of the paper-scraping, when you could ease up from the paper case all those super-sticky bits that had been left behind, and which were somehow the ultimate delight, the bonus of this cake.
You can’t buy them in Australia. Oh, that’s not strictly true… you can get them at British Food specialty shops, online, or from Amazon in Australia. But they’re stale and nasty. They’ve sat in containers for weeks, in warehouses for more weeks, and in the hands of Australia Post or couriers for still longer. They are a travesty.
So ultimately, the only solution was to make my own. Over the years, there have been lots of trials and errors, perfectly pleasant gingerbreads and nice-ish cakes, but none that fit the bill, that rang the bell of memory. Until now.
See that shiny, sticky crust on top? And mine is bigger, too!
Yesterday, I hit the jackpot. I’m giving the recipe below. Writing this post is proving to be a good way to prevent myself cutting a third thick slice… for now.
Jamaica Ginger Cake
300ml/10floz whole milk
120g/4oz packed soft dark brown sugar
120g/4oz treacle or molasses
120g/4oz golden syrup*
230g/8oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
2 tblsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
120g/4oz salted butter
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F and grease and line a large, heavy loaf tin with baking paper.
Measure the milk in a glass measuring jug, add the sugar and warm in the microwave for about a minute. Stir until the sugar is dissolved, and set aside to cool.
Melt the treacle, butter and golden syrup in another pan together over a low heat until runny but not hot.
Sift together the flour, bicarb, ginger, cinnamon and allspice
Pour first the milk and then the syrup mixtures into the flour and beat hard with a whisk until smooth – a wooden spoon will not get rid of all the lumps. The consistency should be of pancake batter. Add a little more milk if necessary.
Pour into the loaf tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Cool completely in the tin.
Once cooled, turn out and wrap with paper and foil. Leave the cake wrapped for at least 1 day before you tear into it. This is what makes the top deliciously sticky. Do not be tempted to unwrap earlier, or the top will be normal and boring, although still perfectly delicious.
*Golden syrup is not the same as corn syrup. It is thicker, darker and has strong caramel overtones. You could substitute with dark corn syrup, but the flavour is not the same. There are recipes on the internet for a pretty good home made version using nothing more fancy than water, sugar and lemon juice.
You can obviously make substitutions if you want to, but this recipe is designed to mimic as closely as possible the cake of my childhood. It’d probably be really nice with chopped crystallised ginger in it, or maybe dark chocolate chips. I’m not going there, I don’t want to 🙂
This recipe is egg free. You could probably also make it dairy free by subbing unsweetened almond milk and dairy-free margarine, although flavour will be affected. I’m not sure how it’d go gluten free; it’s already pretty dense, so I’d recommend against using too much almond meal. Try a quality gluten-free brand (like White Wings Gluten Free in Australia, or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour in the US). Disclosure: I don’t get paid anything for mentioning these two, I just want your recipe to turn out well.
Now, excuse me. I have a date with a cake…