Gingerbread is such a classic teatime treat – and I’m a huge fan of classics! – it’s just that I don’t usually feel very inspired when I hear the word ‘gingerbread’. I think of a treacle-dark cake, rich, sticky and aromatic with ginger – sounds yum, no? – but the main thing that springs to mind is….a brick slab!
It probably goes back to the large, family bakes of my childhood, where the cake-of-the-week was kept wrapped in foil in a tin and slowly chiseled away at during the week until it was all gone. There wouldn’t be another cake until this cake had been eaten, and it used to lurk in the tin in all its brickiness, standing between me and… any other baked treat. The chances were high that it would eventually be replaced with something equally heavy and fruity – but that new cake’s attraction would be, initially at any rate, mostly due to the fact that it wasn’t the gingerbread.
The image of heaviness and brick-like shape has lurked in my culinary memory ever since – which is a shame because what it SHOULD bring to mind is crisp winter nights, spiciness and fireworks, treacle-richness and bonfires. So I thought I should try and rehabilitate it, and bring it up to date. Ironically, I achieved this by referring to a recipe over 165 years old, from Miss Eliza Acton.
Heroines of Cooking: Elizabeth ‘Eliza’ Acton (1799 – 1859)
Originally a poet, Eliza Acton is considered by many to be the first to write a cookery book as we would recognise it today. Her Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) was the first to separate a list of ingredients from the methodology, and was aimed specifically at small households. Additionally, the author’s observations on potential problems and recommendations for subtle variations were included, illustrating Eliza’s personal experience with the recipes, unlike many of her contemporaries and cookery authors that were to follow. It was an immediate success and remained in print for almost 60 years. She was to write only one other book The English Bread Book (1857), in which her strong views against the adulteration and processing of food would still be being echoed by Doris Grant almost a century later.
After several experimental baking batches, here is Eliza’s recipe for Coconut Gingerbread Cakes, scaled down to a manageable quantity. Baked in a mini muffin tin, the recipe makes approximately 24 bite -sized cakes with all the dark richness of traditional gingerbread, with the added coconut giving both a lighter texture and more complex flavour. Fresh coconut is a little time consuming to prepare, but very much worth the effort.
Coconut Gingerbread Cakes – Makes 24
75g plain flour
75g ground rice
2 tsp ground ginger
grated rind of 1 lemon
40g dark brown soft sugar
80g fresh grated coconut
- Mix flour, ground rice, ginger and lemon rind in a bowl and set aside.
- Put the treacle, sugar and butter into a saucepan and heat gently until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved. Remove from the heat.
- Add the dry ingredients to the warm treacle mixture and stir to combined. Stir in the coconut and then set mixture aside to cool.
- Heat oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
- Divide cooled mixture into 20g pieces, roll into a ball and drop into greased mini-muffin cups.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
- Keeps very well in an airtight box/tin.
Cost: £1.37 (August 2011)
This recipe was inspired by a song written and first recorded by Harry Nilsson on his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson.
I first heard it as the background music in a small bistro I used to waitress in, in my home town. NOT in 1971 I hasten to add – it was a good decade later – which…is still thirty years ago, so *ahem* moving quickly on….
It has a rather catchy/irritating chorus refrain…
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both together,
Put the lime in the coconut, then you feel better,
Put the lime in the coconut, drink them both up,
Put the lime in the coconut, and call me in the moooooorning…..
…which has a habit of creeping into your brain and before you know it, you’re singing along. When I moved away to college, I ended up buying the album, as the song reminded me of fun times.
So it seemed an ideal combination for something else that’s fun – cupcakes! The opportunity arose a couple of months ago to come up with a couple of cupcake recipes and I remembered this song when pondering flavour combinations. The rest, as they say, is history: Soft and fluffy coconut sponge filled with a zingy lime curd. Confession: the swirl of Italian meringue on the top is merely an excuse for me to break out my Christmas present blowtorch and play with fire. “Say helloooo to mah leetle friend!” </scarface>
OK, so my blowtorch only stands 10cm high, but you get the idea.
This recipe has three components: the cake, the curd and the meringue. Of these three, only the meringue might be a little on the tricky side, but I’m going to share some helpful hints and tips I’ve picked up, to ease things along the path of success.
Coconut Cupcakes – makes 12
200g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
50g unsweetened dessicated coconut
80g soft margarine
180g caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
150ml plain yoghurt.
12 hole muffin/cupcake tin
12 cupcake paper cases
- Heat oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan
- Sieve flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a bowl and set aside.
- Put coconut into a dry frying pan and stir over medium heat until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
- Cream margarine and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing thoroughly in-between. Add vanilla.
- Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and stir well. Add half the yoghurt. Stir well.
- Repeat with another 1/3 of the flour and the remainder of the yoghurt.
- Add the last portion of flour and, when thoroughly combined, stir in the toasted coconut.
- Line a 12 cup cupcake tin with paper cases and spoon in the filling.
- Bake for 15 minutes then turn the pan and bake for another 3-5 minutes, until evenly browned and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.
- Remove cakes from the pan and cool on a rack.
- Melt butter in a saucepan.
- Add remaining ingredients and stir over low heat until thickened.
- Set aside to cool.
plain tip nozzle
- In a standing mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk egg whites until foamy.
- Add cream of tartar and lemon juice and continue whisking on medium-high speed until soft peaks form.
- With the whisk running, slowly add the 40g of caster sugar in a steady stream.
- When the egg whites reach stiff peaks, stop the whisk until the syrup is ready.
- In a heavy saucepan, gently heat the 200g of caster sugar and water, swirling the pan until the sugar is dissolved. NB Don’t stir, or the sugar will crystallise and you will have to start again.
- Turn the heat to high and cook the syrup until the soft ball stage on a sugar thermometer (115°C).
- Remove the pan from the heat and wait until the syrup has stopped bubbling. If you’re not confident about pouring boiling syrup from a hot pan one-handed, pour the syrup into a plastic jug.
- Switch the whisk to medium speed and slowly pour the cooked sugar into the stiffly beaten whites. NB This is the tricky part. If you are pouring the syrup straight from the pan, be sure your oven gloves are thick enough so that your hand is fully protected. Pour the sugar syrup in a steady stream so that it hits the side of the bowl just above the point where the beaters meet the side of the bowl. This will achieve 2 things: the syrup will cool and this will help avoid cooking and/or curdling the egg-whites and the beaters won’t get covered in sticky syrup.
- Once all the syrup has been added, continue beating the egg-whites until the outside of the bowl feels cool. This will take between 10 and 15 minutes.
To assemble the cupcakes:
- With a sharp knife, cut a cone out of the top of the cupcakes and fill the hole with lime curd.
Call dibs and scoff the leftover pieces of cake, claiming (om-nom-nom) cook’s priviledgesDiscard the cones of cake.
- Spoon the meringue into a piping bag with a plain nozzle (or just snip the end of the bag if you are using disposable piping bag).
- Pipe a swirl of meringue over the top of the cupcake, making sure to completely cover the lime curd. Finish with a nice pointy tip.
- Using a blowtorch, lightly toast the outside of the meringue until the sugar caramelises.
Cost: Cupcakes = £1.45, Curd = £2.28, Meringue = £1.00, £0.40 per completed cupcake (July 2011)