Sticky Pineapple Gingerbread

February 26, 2009

gingerbread

Gingerbread has to be one of my top ten tea-time favourites, particularly good for wintry days or during summer rain, when you need that glow of heat coupled with the kick of sugar.

It’s a comfort food, yes, but a strongly flavoured and sophisticated one. As a child I never really liked ginger in baking – it was too strange and not straightforwardly sweet enough. The ginger biscuits I was given then were a Polish variety, made by my grandmother and served as a traditional Christmas treat. They weren’t biscuits or cookies as we find them in supermarket packets: these were spongy in the middle and covered with white icing.

I can’t say I ever liked them. They were light, but yet not quite light enough for cake. They were called biscuits, but had no crunch. And where, I wondered, was the chocolate?

Perhaps that experience is why I now consider ginger in baking, to be adult food. It’s sensual. It’s aromatic and bold. It fills the kitchen with strong scents and tastes peppery and almost luridly spicy. The sweetness too, is punchy but unusual. It’s a layered effect, a symphony of sweetness if you like, built up by using not just treacle, but sometimes honey or golden syrup as well and then dark muscovado sugar on top of that.

And beware; this recipe is called ‘sticky’ for a reason, so no nonsense about eating this daintily, please. Napkins, or good old finger licking, will definitely be called for.

Sticky Pineapple Gingerbread
450g plain flour
1 tbs ground ginger
1 tbs baking powder
1 level tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 level tsp salt
200g dark muscovado sugar
175g butter
300g black treacle
1″ fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (discard the leftover pulp)
300ml milk
1 egg
3 pieces stem ginger, finely chopped, plus about 3tbs syrup
432g can pineapple chunks, drained
6tbs icing sugar

Set the oven to 160C/325F/Gas 3. Grease a 23cm baking tin.

Sift together the baking powder, flour, ginger, bicarbonate of soda and salt.

Melt the butter and sugar with the treacle in a large pan over a low heat. Leave to cool and then beat in the egg and milk, and stir in half the chopped stem ginger.  Add the grated fresh ginger. Fold the mixture in with the dry ingredients.

Pour the cake batter into the greased baking tin and scatter the pineapple pieces and the rest of the stem ginger over the top. Bake for about 1.5 hours. The cake should be well risen and a skewer or fork inserted in the middle should come out clean.

Leave for about half an hour in the tin and then turn out the cake and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

Finally, you need to ice the cake. Mix the icing sugar with the rest of the stem ginger syrup to make a soft gooey paste. Drizzle over the cake – zigzags look fantastic.

The cake will keep well in a cake tin and the flavours will even improve over several days.

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So I finally got round to it, to them, to making those ginger biscuits as I promised, oh, ages ago. And what a chore it was, at first.

Not just one, or two, but three shop assistants in my local supermarket didn’t have a clue what treacle was or where it lived in the store. One sent me to Sweets where there were screaming 4 year-olds. Another said it was in Foreign Foods. Another just shrugged and carried on stacking shelves.

But I had to find it. Without treacle there would be no biscuits, no dark exotic tang, mineral-rich, straight from the Caribbean.

It was by pure happenstance that I stumbled on it underneath Cake Decorations where an immensely tall and thin woman – an academic judging by her glasses and woollen skirt – was moving slowly from one leg to the other and humming to herself. Maybe she was dancing, in a bookish, otherworldly way. I never realised Cake Decorations were that exciting. Maybe I need to get out more.

So I grabbed the red tin with the gold lion crest, Lyle’s Black Treacle, whisked through checkout and onto the Tube, which was packed. I made the mistake of listening to Leona Lewis bleeding away, which always makes me want to weep copiously, and then tried to cheer myself up with Prince ‘Strollin”. Luckily that worked. I was clickin’ my fingers, in that annoying way ipod listeners do, by the time I got in. Dumped the shopping, turned on the oven and began to heat the butter.

At which point everything changed. The warm scent of melting butter is like nothing on earth. The treacle and then the golden syrup behaved very badly and had to scooped off the spoon with my finger, which then had to be licked. And the dark 70% cocoa chocolate melted everywhere and somehow ended up all around my mouth. The smell of baking, essence of home, chocolate, ginger and molasses, filled the kitchen.

Now I know that every food writer tells you how they ‘ate the whole batch’. How they were going to save a few for their spouse but couldn’t resist them. All I can say is No Way. These are far too rich, too snappy at the edges and gooey in the middle, for that.

I had 4. OK, maybe 6. Or 7. Who’s counting? More to the point, there are still plenty left for a last minute snack before bed. And – who knows? – maybe even for breakfast.

ginger-biscuits-030

Ginger and Dark Chocolate Biscuits
75g butter
75g dark brown sugar
150g golden syrup
2tbs black treacle
300g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
50g stem ginger, finely chopped
50g dark chocolate

Set the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.

Over a low heat gently melt the butter, treacle, sugar and golden syrup. When the final golden knob of butter has dissolved, turn off the heat and sift in all the  dry ingredients. Stir well into a moist dough.

Add the chopped stem ginger and with a sharp knife flake in the dark chocolate. It will end up in lumps of all sizes. No matter. Lick your fingers, ‘cos they’ll need it.

I had to make the biscuits in 2 lots. For each batch, lightly butter a couple of oven trays and lay out little balls of the dough, each about a teaspoonful. Make sure they are well spaced apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes.

Let the biscuits cool slightly in the trays before you lift them gently out with a spatula. They will still be very moist, but crisp up rapidly as they cool.

A tip: don’t overdo the bicarbonate. I put in a teaspoonful the first time I made these, and that was overpowering.

And another tip: for really gingery biscuits, grate in a about an inch – or more – of fresh ginger. (Use the fine side of the grater. You’ll be left holding a wodge of pulp, which you’ll need to chuck.)