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.