I.love.fall. Waning sunshine captured by shimmering, colored trees. Cool mornings when your breath is transformed into vanishing clouds that float away in front of your face. Crisp, clear air, sharp with brightness. A shifting carpet of leaves, shaping and reshaping itself in the breeze, crunching beneath your feet. Fall...my favorite season here in the Midwest. And when I think of fall, my mind invariable wanders towards all things spice. Spices help warm the soul and body, and awaken the senses. One of my favorite spices, or ingredients, is ginger. I am crazy about the deep, warm and fruity bite of this delicious rhizome, and often cook and bake with it, especially this time of year. Ginger has so many wonderful health benefits, which increases my affection for it even more (if that could be possible). This gingerbread cake is layered throughout with a kaleidoscope of spices, made deep, dark and dense by the addition of molasses and brown sugar. Gingerbread, another one of my favorite fall things.
The original inspiration for this cake came from a wonderful cookbook, Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce. I borrowed heavily from the gingerbread cake recipe, adding just a few minor tweaks. Since the cookbook features all whole grain recipes, I didn't feel as compelled to complete my usual
Luv'n Spoonfuls 'nip and tuck'. I was, however, able to reduce the saturated fat by half, without any sacrifices in crumb. The texture of this cake is tender and incredibly moist. The yogurt, applesauce and olive oil get to take the credit for that. The molasses has trace vitamins and minerals, including iron, and its taste is like no other. This recipe is actually quite healthy (with very little saturated fat and not much sugar), which you would never guess when tasting. It is just full-on spicy, dense, complex and oh-so-satisfying. Another great stealthy healthy recipe!
Anise and orange go so well together I think, so I took the liberty of adding some orange extract and zest to the original recipe, which helps lighten and brighten the strong notes of the spices. The dried fruit that I added is also infused and softened with orange juice, which adds another subtle layer of citrus flavor, and helps keep the dried fruit from pulling moisture from the cake batter. The raisins and dates become little, shiny 'jewels' in the batter, and provide an interesting texture and flavor component. Dried figs and plums would also work nicely, as would diced apples or pears...any fruit that can hold its own with the elaborate array of spices.
I adore ginger in all of its forms, but am especially fond of fresh. The fragrance of fresh ginger catches my attention every time I use it...a little aroma 'kiss' on the cheek. This recipe uses ginger three ways, both fresh and dried in the batter, and again in the syrup. The spices can be adjusted to your personal tastes. I decreased the black pepper from the original recipe and added some coriander and dried ginger. Feel free to use your own favorite blend or mix of spices. Although I did not to use any whipped cream or mascarpone cream on the side (for a change), I think a small dollop of cream spiked with Grand Marnier and/or orange zest would be divine. The ginger syrup, however, is a lighter way to 'dress' this special cake. The recipe for the syrup can be easily doubled so that there is extra for pancakes, waffles, tea, or any other number of delicious uses.
The ginger syrup was another addition that I made to the original recipe. The cake is delicious both with and without. Fruit and flavored syrups are a great way to add another layer of flavor without adding too many calories or any fat. It is an extra step, but one that is not particularly involved. The results in flavor complexity are well worth the little bit of extra peeling, slicing and boiling required, and it adds such a lovely sheen to the cake.
Pistachios were used as a final topping for the cake, but they could be omitted entirely, or any other nut could be used. I love their intense green color and distinctive flavor. Did you know that pistachios are actually a seed and not a true nut? So glad to learn something new even though I've been baking with them (and snacking on them) for years! Whether a seed or nut, they are definitely good-for-you delicious. They contain heart-healthy fat and are full of anti-oxidants...another example of Mother Nature providing us something beautiful, healthy and tasty.
1 ounce (2 tbs or 1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup low-fat yogurt
3/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses (treacle or honey may be substituted)
2 tbs grated fresh ginger
1 tsp orange extract
grated zest of one orange
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground aniseed
1 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground ginger
Dried Fruit Mixture:
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup chopped dates
juice of one orange
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup chopped pistachios for garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a large bundt pan or approximately 9-inch diameter pan (you could also make muffins).
Place the raisins, dates and juice from the orange in a small bowl (make sure to zest the orange first, for use in the wet ingredients). Microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and microwave for another 30 seconds. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl blend the melted butter and the remaining wet ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beater to make sure everything is well mixed.
Sift all of the dry mix ingredients, including the spices, over a large piece of wax paper. With the mixer on low, gently lift the wax paper, making a tube, and slowly pour the dry sifted ingredients into the wet mixture, and continue to mix until just blended. The batter is fairly thick. Drain the dried fruit, discarding the orange juice. Stir in the drained raisins and dates. Spoon the batter evenly into the pan. Bake approximately 35 to 40 minutes, turning the pan around halfway through baking, until a wooden skewer comes out clean. My bundt pan took exactly 38 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack, and let cool completely in the pan. Place a large serving plate over the bottom of the pan and flip the pan over onto the plate, shaking and tapping gently as needed to coax the cake out of the pan.
While the cake is baking, place the ginger syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a very gentle boil. Simmer gently for approximately 30 minutes, or until reduced by half. Remove the ginger slices. Spoon all but approximately 2 tbs of the syrup over the cooled cake. Sprinkle the nuts on top of the cake (if using), and spoon the remaining glaze over the top of the nuts. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, mascarpone cream or dessert bling of choice if desired.