When I was a tot with masses of crazy, dark brown curls, a goofy smile thanks to my giant central incisors and diverse interests including all things My Little Pony and Lego, frosting did not exist. If you had consulted the Bero book, the baking book British home bakers have been turning to for nearly 50 years now, you’ll see no mention of the word. Fairy cakes with a glacé icing or the occasional and meagre amount of butter icing (or buttercream as it is more commonly called now) to fill or top a walnut and coffee sponge or chocolate sponge cake were as close as you would get. Sad times. Frosting is something I’ve come to know from American bakers in much more contemporaneous times, and it conjures up dream images of voluptuous, billowy creamy toppings as tempting as the cake itself to eat. I can find my joy at the bottom of a bowl of thick, cold, cream cheese frosting and believe wholeheartedly that Swiss and Italian meringue buttercreams are the most divine of all the buttercreams but sometimes, paring a recipe back to good old fashioned basics is what you need to understand the joy of cake, in and of itself.
Hungry Hubby likes a plain cake. A perfect Saturday afternoon treat for him is a slice of Madeira cake with a large mug of tea as he plays his computer games or dare I say it, watches the football (I’m ruining his coworkers image of him I am sure here!). Not that he’d refuse a frosted cupcake or slice of an extravagant layer cake but he appreciates the simple things and knows that a naked cake can still zing with favour and be a delight to eat. He pointed out that this lemon, ginger and blackberry crumble cake would be good with custard and he was not wrong! The lemon and berries are tart but juicy whereas the two sorts of ginger (ground and stem) give gentle, spicy warmth. So tea time treat or comforting pudding, this crumble cake will see you through many a occasion this weekend. The little black dress of the cake world!
The cake itself uses the basic formula of a Victoria sponge (or pound cake for that matter) which is equal weight eggs, butter, flour and sugar. In this case, that works out as 180g of each (a large egg is taken to be around 60g in weight). I used Demerara sugar to give a hint of caramel taste and also a beautiful golden hue to the batter along with the warming spice and sombre, sandy beige of the ground ginger. Lemon and ginger are well paired in both sweet and savoury dishes as they bring sour and heat to the party and as the cake has a layer of sweet, buttery crumble on top I added some whole gleaming jet and mauve blackberries to counter the sweetness. You get all the joy of a fruity crumble encased in soft, tender sponge cake.
As with all things spicy, I’ve built up a tolerance to them and have to add more and more to get the same hit. In this case, it’s the ginger – I love it and find when ground, it never gives quite the same level of heat as other forms so I use 2 tbsp. If you ever come to dinner, beware the levels of cracked black pepper and garlic I use as these too don’t give me the same high as they used to! Do feel free to be a little more reserved if you veer towards mild and creamy rather than hot and spicy things in general.
It may not have the flashy good looks and glamour of a 9 inch, three layer, filled and frosted celebration cake but it has the understated charm of a quaint English tea room. Go put the kettle on and dust off the good china. It’s time for tea.
- Zest of 2 small lemons
- Juice of one of the lemons
- 180 g demerara sugar
- 180 g soft butter
- 3 large eggs
- 180 g self-raising flour
- 1-2 tbsp ground ginger
- 2 nuggets of stem ginger chopped very finely
- 170 g blackberries
- 25 g cold butter
- 50 g self-raising flour
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a deep, round 20cm tin (8 inch).
Make the crumble topping first – rub the butter into the flour then stir in the gingers and sugar. Put in a shallow dish in the freezer to keep cold as you make the cake batter.
Beat the sugar, butter and lemon zest for the batter together until light and fluffy. The sugar won’t dissolve like caster sugar does but it should pale down and begin to dissolve.
Crack in the eggs, sift over the flour and ground ginger then gently beat to combine, pouring the lemon juice in as it beats. Stop as soon as it becomes a smooth batter.
Place half the mixture in the cake tin then scatter over the berries, spreading the remaining batter on top. Don’t worry – it looks a mean amount but it really does rise well with the eggs and raising agent in the flour.
Sprinkle over the crumble topping then bake for 40-45 minutes until it is well risen, the centre just springs back and a skewer comes out clean (as long as you avoid the berries). I like to place this cake on the lower of the two middle shelves in my oven – i.e. it sits about a third of the way up from the bottom. I prefer a lower, slower bake for the best rise and crumb texture.
Cool completely in the tin before removing and transferring to a serving plate.