Fresh Ginger Cake with Honey Whipped Cream & Candied Kumquats

This showstopping Fresh Ginger Cake is gently adapted from David Lebovitz's Ready For Dessert and Samin Nosrat's Salt Fat Acid Heat. The addition of honey whipped cream and candied kumquats was inspired by two restaurants that I visit regularly - Milo & Olive and Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. The former toasts vanilla pound cake in a wood-fire oven until the edges are crispy and then tops it with the honey whipped cream. One of these days I'll make that entire dessert.

The whipped cream compliments the fresh ginger's spice while the candied kumquats bring some welcome brightness. I also incorporated 30% whole grain flour into the ginger cake for added depth. The incredibly light texture belies the rich molasses-spiked notes. I eat it in the morning, as a snack with coffee, and for dessert. A small piece satisfies any time of the day.

While the picture above is a slice of joy, my Fresh Ginger Cake had a rough start in life. I miscalculated the recipe measurements the first time, broke a glass right next to the finished (perfect-looking) cake the second, but third time's a charm and here we are. It is outstanding.

Around the Dinner Table

I never considered what type of molasses was in my pantry until the Ready for Dessert recipe called for "mild-flavored molasses". This prompted me to take a quick spin with The Google. To boil things down (pun intended):

Molasses is made by extracting the juice from sugar cane or sugar beets then reducing it.

  • Light molasses has been reduced once - this is the sweetest.
  • Medium or Dark has been reduced twice - generally what you find in the store.
  • Blackstrap has been reduced three times - this is the most bitter, least sweet, and has the least moisture.

From Serious Eats to Cook's Illustrated, the consensus seems to be that blackstrap molasses should not be used unless it is specifically called for in a recipe. The lower moisture content and strong almost bitter notes can negatively impact the texture and flavor of a baked item. I opened my pantry to discover that I've been using...blackstrap.

It was in this moment - standing in front of my open pantry - that a light bulb (unrelated to the ginger cake) flipped on. I suddenly realized why my molasses spice cookies went off the rails a few years ago.

One season, I distinctly recall buying molasses with a yellow label rather than blue since that's what the grocery store had. I did not however notice that I was switching from mild/dark to blackstrap. Where was my brain vacationing in that moment? Inquiring minds would like to know. From that point forward, the spice cookies struggled to develop the right cracks and texture despite my best efforts to adjust and tweak things. It never occurred to me that the molasses could be an issue and I eventually stopped making a seasonal favorite altogether. David Lebovitz will never know how much I appreciated him because my spice cookies are coming back.

The moral of this story is that every ingredient deserves consideration no matter how humble or ordinary it may seem. Also, don't use blackstrap molasses in this cake or spice cookies.

Original vs. Adapted

Keep It (Relatively) Spicy

The ginger quantity in this recipe results in a pronounced ginger flavor which balances out nicely with the honey whipped cream and candied kumquats. While I find the ginger plenty spicy, Salt Fat Acid Heat actually calls for 1/2-ounce more than I use.

Whole Grain

I beat this drum often. When making a new recipe, I usually substitute at least 20% whole grain when the flour is 100% all-purpose. I use 30% Chiddam Blanc de Mars or Rouge de Bordeaux whole grain for this ginger cake and it rounds out the flavor beautifully. Spelt could be another option.

Never be shy about getting your grain on when baking. The nutrition is nice, sure, but the depth is what you're after. It's also an opportunity to support a local or small miller such as Grist & Toll, Tehachapi Grain Project (available at Los Angeles Farmers Markets), and Camas Country Mill.

Size

David Lebovitz's recipe makes one tall cake and Samin Nosrat's makes two shorter cakes that can be stacked. I split the difference and went with one shorter cake. A small slice hits the spot.

Salt

The recipe in Ready for Dessert does not include salt. Since salt is an important flavor element in baked goods, I went with Salt Fat Acid Heat's quantity and like the results.

Recipe Tips

Overmixing

As with most quickbreads and cakes, don't go crazy with the mixing. Whisk until things come together but stop once you arrive at that destination. The resulting crumb will be very light.

Is It Done Yet?

Measuring internal temperature is my north star with muffins, cakes, and quickbreads. From Tartine's Pumpkin Tea Cake to Fresh Ginger Cake, relying on my digital thermometer never fails me. I still touch the cake, assess visual cues, and make a note of smell, but internal temperature is my baking wingwoman.

Farmers | Artisans

I make an effort to source my food from California artisans with a special focus on the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Below is a list of the folks who contributed to this dish.

Tools

  • Scale - I weigh everything (especially when baking) and my OXO scale is the workhorse of the kitchen. My current scale that I purchased many years ago has a black pull-out display. The updated model is all stainless steel but seems to be the same otherwise.
  • Mk4 Thermapen Digital Thermometer - I have three Thermapen digital thermometers that are distributed between my home, the Airstream, and my mother-in-law's house. They're fast, easy to clean, and the probe makes a perfect cake tester.
  • 9-inch Springform Pan - All of my springform pans are made by Kaiser. Some are tinplated(?) with a waffle bottom and the others are the nonstick charcoal color, the latter recommended by Cook's Illustrated. This wasn't a conscious choice, it's just what the stores had and/or I adopted them from someone over the years. I've had good experiences with all of them - no leaks or other issues. I can't find the tin versions online so the charcoal is linked. Nordic's springform is also on CI's recommended list.
  • Cuisinart 3-cup Mini Processor - I have had this processor for so long that I ended up replacing the blade because the plastic cracked. On the Airstream, I went with Cuisinart's slightly larger 4-cup Mini Processor since it's the only processor on the coach and I wanted a little more capacity. Both the 3-cup and 4-cup are great for a quick batch of salsa or smaller jobs like the ginger/sugar mixture in this Fresh Ginger Cake.
  • All-Clad Fine Mesh Strainer - Mesh strainers serve as flour sifters, rice rinsers, and roasted eggplant drainers.
  • Plunger Measuring Cup - These measuring cups are great for sticky substances.
  • Balloon Whisk - The 8.7-inch and 10.6-inch hang in my kitchen.

Ingredients (Adapted from Ready for Dessert and Salt Fat Acid Heat)

Cake

  • 45 grams (1 1/2 ounces) peeled and roughly chopped fresh ginger (measured after prep) Note: Ginger can be knobbly so start with about 70 grams (2 1/2 ounces) unpeeled.
  • 110 grams (3 3/4 ounces) neutral oil such as almond
  • 160 grams (5 1/2 ounces) mild-flavored molasses - see Around the Dinner Table above for extended molasses thoughts Note: Measure the molasses after you measure the oil and it will slide right out.
  • 95 grams (3 1/4 ounces) organic cane sugar
  • 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces) whole grain flour Note: See flour selections above under Recipe Tips.
  • 125 grams (4 1/2 ounces) organic Central Milling Beehive or unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 115 grams (4 ounces) water
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond kosher salt
  • 1 large egg, room temperature

Toppings

  • Candied Kumquats
  • Whipped Cream Note: Makes enough for 2 to 4 slices depending on how excited you get about whipped cream.
    • 3 ounces (85 grams) heavy whipping cream
    • 1 packed teaspoon (5 grams) dark brown sugar
    • 1 teaspoon (7 grams) Wildflower honey or similar mild flavor
    • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla
    • pinch Diamond kosher salt

Instructions

Cake

  • Mise en Place - assemble all of the ingredients and/or bring them up to temperature as needed.
  • Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside. Butter the pan and then line the bottom with parchment that is cut to fit, set aside. Note: I never trust that springform pans won't leak even though that hasn't ever happened, hence the foil and baking sheet.
  • Move the baking rack to the middle position and preheat your oven to 350°F.
  • Set a mesh strainer (sifter) on a bowl and then place that on your scale. Measure your flour directly in the strainer then remove the bowl from the scale. To the flour add the salt, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and baking soda. Sift everything into the bowl, dumping any bran flakes or salt that are left behind back into the bowl. Whisk everything to combine then set aside.
  • Combine the sugar and ginger in a mini food prep and puree until the texture is like wet sand. There should not be any large chunks left.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ginger/sugar mixture, molasses, and oil, then whisk until combined. The oil resists incorporating at first so just keep at it until things come together.

If the oven isn't ready yet, pause here until it is.

  • Heat the 115 grams (4 ounces) of water to about 200°F using a pot or the microwave. Add the hot water to the molasses mixture in a steady stream, whisking as you go. Continue whisking until combined and the sugar is mostly dissolved.
  • Add the flour to the molasses mixture in two additions, stopping as soon as the flour is wet and barely incorporated. (The lumps will work out when you add the egg.) Add the egg and whisk until combined. Note: Per the Recipe Tips above, don't overmix.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared springform pan and then give the pan a few good taps on the counter to kick out any air bubbles. The batter will be very loose.
  • Set a timer for 40 minutes and another for 25 minutes.

As Samin discusses in Salt Fat Acid Heat, it’s important to rely on your senses when working with heat. When do you start to smell the cake? What does the cake look like at various points in the cooking process? Then, when the cake turns out just perfectly, you will have committed all of those sensory cues to memory for the next time.

  • At 25 minutes, gently rotate the pan 180°F. The edges will be set but the center is still wobbly. The ginger will also start to kick in and make your kitchen smell wonderful.
  • At 40 minutes I measure the center and edge with my digital thermometer. I want the center to be 208 to 210°F and the cake will spring back when gently pressed.
  • Once finished, set the pan on a cooling rack and run a paring knife around the edge to ensure the sides of the cake aren't sticking. You should feel almost no resistance. Remove the outer ring of the springform pan and then leave the cake to cool.
  • Once the cake is cool or close to it, nudge a paring knife between the parchment and pan bottom and then gently slide it all the way around. Slide the cake off the pan bottom and remove/discard the parchment. Note: The cake may seem unusually moist on the bottom when you peel away the parchment. That happens to me each time but the crumb always turns out perfectly.
  • Wait until completely cool before slicing.

Serve

  • Candied Kumquats
  • Whipped Cream
  • Add the cream to a bowl and place it in the freezer for a handful of minutes while you grab the other ingredients - this will chill everything down. Note: I always chill my bowl and cream out of habit. The Google suggests it adds structural stability which sounds logical enough to be believed.
  • Add the sugar, honey, salt, and vanilla and then whip to desired consistency.

Storage

  • I freeze any cake that I don't plan to eat within a day.
  • For next-day enjoyment, the cake can be stored on a piece of parchment paper in an airtight container at room temperature. Place a paper towel in the container (but not on the cake) to absorb excess moisture.

Monthly Roundup

  • Subscribe at the bottom of this page for the Chic Eats monthly roundup. It includes new and updated recipes along with a grab bag of content that was interesting enough to share around the dinner table.

Related Posts