Orange-Iced Gingerbread (March 2, 2008)
There was a time in Ireland not so long ago when the arrival of a guest meant the imminent production of the Tea Trolley. Besides the teapot and cups, the trolley would also be loaded down with a basic assortment of home baking. Plain soda bread and fruit sodas ("tea breads") would be there, as well as layer cake -- usually known in Ireland as "sandwich" -- and other confections such as scones, pancakes, jelly rolls, and so forth. The assortment would be varied according to the cook's preferences and skills. If you weren't much good as a baker, you might buy something in from the local bakery (assuming your village or town was lucky enough to have one) or ask a friend or neighbor to help you out.
These days the tea trolley is fading into the background as one of the less convenient aspects of traditional Ireland, like thatch: something that sounds like a nice idea in theory and looks pleasant at a distance, but is now usually thought to be too much trouble to bother with. In particular, the modern Ireland in which both parents in a family are likely to be employed outside the home and time is at a premium has not been kind to home baking in general and the tea-trolley tradition specifically. These days, the feeling would be that if you want nice cakes or goodies to offer a guest, the supermarket has a very wide array to choose from, whether it has a separate in-store bakery or not. And even tiny village stores normally get a delivery from one of the major bakery chains two or three times a week.
Interestingly, though, assuming that the home cook feels like impressing a guest by doing a little baking from scratch, there is one option that tends not to be as available for the Irish cook as it is to those in other modern baking cultures. Ireland is very, very short on cake mixes and so forth. A surprising number of the cake mixes on the supermarket shelves are imports, US brands like Betty Crocker (now manufactured under license in the UK and elsewhere across Europe) or Continental ones like Dr. Oetker. The local flour manufacturers such as Odlums offer only a few most basic mixes for things like soda bread, seed cake / madeira cake, and so forth. It's as if there's a local prejudice against having home baking be anything but "the real thing". This may be why Irish cookbooks tend to have such large cake / baking sections.
Gingerbread would have been a perennial adornment of the tea trolley over the last century or so when the Irish housewife was doing the baking. It didn't call for exotic ingredients, children liked it, it was fast and easy to make, and gingerbread hot out of the oven has a cachet that not even baker's gingerbread could match. This recipe, adapted from one in a locally published Irish cookbook of the 50's, adds a little something extra: an icing based on the juice of bitter Seville oranges. It is dark, rich, moist, hot with ginger, and endlessly better than the gingerbread cake / cupcake mixes available in the North American market.
Click on "read more" for the recipe.
For the gingerbread:
- 8 oz / 225g flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder (WARNING: Irish teaspoons are almost always rounded, not leveled)
- 3 teaspoons ground ginger
- 4 oz / 100g butter
- 3 oz / 75g golden syrup (use light corn syrup if you can't get golden)
- 3 oz / 75g molasses / treacle
- 2 oz / 50g soft brown sugar
- 2 eggs, well beaten
- 150ml milk
For the icing:
- 8 oz / 225 g confectioners' / icing sugar
- Juice of at least two bitter Seville oranges (use the juice of one large Navel orange if you can't get Sevilles: but they are far superior, so try to get them)
Sift the flour into a bowl with the baking powder and ginger. In a microwave-proof bowl, melt the butter, sugar, molasses and golden syrup together in the microwave (micro on high for about thirty seconds: let rest a few minutes: repeat).
Blend the melted butter / molasses / syrup mixture into the flour / ginger / baking powder mixture. Add the beaten eggs and milk: stir very well.
Preheat the oven to 160C / 215F (ten to fifteen degrees lower if you have a fan oven). Butter a nonstick cake pan / tin. Pour in the gingerbread batter. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours or until firm. Remove and cool completely. When absolutely cool, remove from the pan in one piece (if at all possible) and cut into squares.
To make the icing: Sift the confectioner's / icing sugar into a mixing bowl. Stir in the orange juice: if the icing is too thick, add warm water drop by drop until the consistency is right. Spread the icing over each piece of gingerbread: allow the icing to set a little before serving.