The Gift of Friendship in the Shape of a Cake

As I do every year in the days leading up to Christmas, I’ve been craving this Triple Ginger Cake from the inimitable Mary Fishback of Hawthorne’s venerable Bread & Ink Cafe. She was also the creator of the Waffle Window and the pastry genius behind the quirky Rimsky-Korsakoffee House. Like her, it’s deeply flavorful, brilliantly intriguing and stunningly gorgeous. She shared the recipe some twenty-plus years ago and I’ve treasured it ever since.

Bread and Ink Cafe, a landmark on Souttheast Hawthorne Boulevard for 40 years.

A delightfully funny story she told me about this cake was that when it was originally featured on the menu at the café, it was described as Prune Gingerbread and sat forlornly in the kitchen waiting for someone, anyone to order it. Alas, almost no one did.

Realizing that perhaps the inclusion of prunes as an ingredient in the name might be off-putting to customers, Mary astutely changed it to Triple Ginger Cake for the combination of fresh, ground and crystallized forms of the root that went into it.

From then on, whenever it appeared on the menu, this richly warming dessert flew out of the kitchen, remaining a classic for years afterward.

Triple Ginger Cake

Adapted from Chez Panisse and Gourmet magazine by Mary Fishback

1 c. pitted, dried prunes
1/2 c. cognac, armagnac or brandy
1 Tbsp. fresh ginger root, grated finely
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. cayenne
3/4 tsp. salt
1 c. butter, softened
1 1/2 c. light brown sugar
1 c. unsulfured molasses
1/2 c. espresso or strong coffee
4 whole eggs, beaten lightly
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. crystallized ginger, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter a 10-inch springform pan or bundt cake pan, then dust with cocoa powder, knocking out excess.

In a small saucepan cook prunes, liquor and grated gingerroot over moderately high heat, stirring frequently, until almost all liquid is evaporated. Remove pan from heat.

In a mixing bowl sift flour, baking soda, spices and salt; whisk to combine. In a stand mixer, cream butter and brown sugar on high speed until fluffy. Reduce speed and add molasses; combine well. Add espresso, flour mixture, eggs and vanilla until batter is just combined. Reserve 3 tablespoons of chopped ginger, then turn batter into large mixing bowl and stir in remainder of chopped ginger and prune mixture.

Turn batter into prepared pan and, if using springform pan, sprinkle top with reserved ginger. If using bundt pan, sprinkle bottom of bundt pan with reserved ginger, then pour in batter or sprinkle the cake with chopped ginger after baking (as in top photo). Bake 1 hour and 10-20 minutes, or until skewer tests clean.

Mary recommends serving it with creme fraiche and sliced kumquats; or baked lemon creams; or ice cream and caramelized pears or apples. I find it perfectly satisfying all by itself, perhaps with a steaming cup of coffee or ice-cold glass of milk.

New Pan, Fave Recipe: Hippie Carrot Cake Rides Again

It was the mid-70s and carrot cake was all the rage. Dense, dark, full of healthful whole wheat and carrots, it used brown sugar instead of C&H and was the opposite of our mothers' fluffy, preservative-laden Betty Crocker mix cakes.

Carrot wedding cake? Mon dieu!

Made in college friends' apartments in their sketchy ovens, we barely waited for it to cool enough before we dove in. This cake would surely fuel the overthrow of the dominant paradigm.

Vive la révolution! (I was taking French at the time…)

When Dave and I requested carrot cake as our wedding cake of choice, my mother, not to mention the bakery, was aghast. How can we stack it in tiers without having it crumble or topple over, they asked, suggesting instead a nice chocolate or banana cake if we really needed something "different."

But we wouldn't budge, and as a consequence of our insistence—or was it payback—they made a cake decorated to look like a lady's summer straw hat, wide brim, low crown, pale yellow, a frosting ribbon trailing over the side…you get the picture.

Carrot cake perfection.

But it was delicious, and while our guests were a bit puzzled, it hardly spoiled the day—after all, it was August and a summer straw would have been fitting. Any cases of the vapours were assuaged by the rebels' microbrew, Henry Weinhard's beer (a lager and their groundbreaking Dark Lager), since no Bud, Blitz, Schlitz or Miller would be allowed to darken our day. (I seem to remember my mother added a few bottles of champagne to make the relatives happy.)

So when Santa gifted me with a new bundt pan to take the place of the hideously inappropriate-for-the-purpose silicon version that almost immediately got slimy and cruddy and wouldn't clean properly, a carrot cake seemed like the obvious choice for its first dance.

Dave ground the flour from his stash of Camas Country Mill's Hard White Wheat (obtained from Adrian Hale's PDX Whole Grain Bakers), and the winter-sweetened carrots grown by Josh Volk for the Cully Neighborhood Farm's CSA made it a perfect marriage.

Welcome back, mon vieux!

Hippie Carrot Cake

2 c. whole wheat flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 c. brown sugar
1 c. oil
4 eggs
3 c. grated carrots
Nuts, raisins, currants, etc. (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Sift whole wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg into a large mixing bowl. Add brown sugar and combine thoroughly. Add oil and stir in, then add one egg at a time, beating it in before adding the next one. When it is completely combined, add carrots and any additional ingredients you choose—I added 1 c. of chopped walnuts—and combine.

Pour into a greased and floured bundt pan—a 9" by 12" baking pan or Pyrex dish works, too—and bake for 35-45 min, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If using a bundt pan, allow to cool for 20 minutes on a cooling rack. Place your serving plate of choice on top, turn the plate and bundt pan upside down and remove the bundt pan. (Mine is a non-stick version, so this is easier.) If it doesn't plop out, give it a gentle bounce and it should come loose.

Watch one of the classic series of Henry Weinhard's ads by the incomparable Hal Riney.