This cake, I realized as I was making it on Sunday, carries on my tradition of making plain cakes, those delicious though not decadent and, sad to say, not particularly attractive cakes. (Plain cake number one on this blog was this Lemon Cornmeal Cake and plain cake number two was the Blueberry Buttermilk Cake.) Plain they may be, but I think of them as plain in a stalwart, upstanding kind of way. Just because they are plain does not mean they are not delicious.
This ginger cake is actually very similar to the Fresh Ginger Muffins that Molly posted about on Orangette a few months ago. The process is exactly the same--the cake has a bit more sugar than the muffins and is supposed to have cake flour in it, but otherwise, the ingredients are the same as well. And the process is also interesting in that Cunningham uses ginger in a way I've never used it before. You take chunks of ginger, skin and all, and whirl them around in a food processor or mini chopper until they are chopped to bits. Then, you add a bit of sugar and heat it on the stove until the sugar melts, leaving you with a sticky, lovely smelling mess, to which you add lemon zest. This is what gives the cake its lovely gingery-lemony flavor.
The wonderful thing that I realized is how excellent this cake--delicious enough on its own-- would be as a base for other things. Cunningham suggests serving it with sliced mango and whipped cream. (Yum.) I made it specifically to go with the Rhubarb Curd (Double Yum.) But I can also imagine a ginger-lemon blueberry cake, to name one. (Minus the ginger, this recipe is already quite similar to the blueberry buttermilk cake linked above.) Despite the plainness of this cake, it's moist and light and very flavorful. I can already see it becoming a regular in my repertoire! Meanwhile, it might be the slightest bit more photogenic if the rhubarb curd wasn't exactly the same color, but you can't have everything!
(adapted from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book)
Makes two 8" cakes
1/4 cup ginger, unpeeled, cut into large chunks
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons lemon zest with a little white pith (I used the zest from 2 1/2 lemons.)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter the cake pans.
Cut the unpeeled ginger root into large chunks. Put the ginger into a food processor and process until it is in tiny pieces; alternatively, mince by hand. Put the ginger and ¼ cup sugar in a small skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is warm (this takes only a minute or two). Set aside to cool. Zest the lemon and add it to the cooled ginger mixture. (Cunningham says to do this in a food processor; if you have a Microplane-type grater, there's no need.)
Put the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or, a mixing bowl, if you plan to use handheld beaters or mix by hand). Beat the butter for a second or two; slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, and beat well. Stir in the buttermilk, and beat until blended. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, and beat just until smooth. Add the ginger-lemon mixture and mix well.
Spoon the batter into the buttered cake pans. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool the pans for 5 minutes, then turn out onto racks until completely cooled.