By Lauren Chattman
I always feel a little guilty when I buy something at Provisions and then instead of making a smoothie or a wheat berry salad with it, I use it in an all-butter pound cake. No, I’m not talking about spirulina. I filled up a little paper bag with cubes of crystallized ginger the other day, skulking home like a criminal but knowing the candy would be just the thing to stir into my pumpkin cake.
It’s no surprise that crystallized ginger is sold at a natural foods store. Ginger root is something of a superfood, containing anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and general immunity-boosting compounds. But before you run out and buy a pound to eat in front of the TV, remember that, when candied, ginger has more sugar ounce for ounce than gummy bears. Better to use it sparingly, to give a spicy jolt to chocolate chip cookies, zucchini muffins, and oatmeal scones.
You can candy ginger at home by boiling it in sugar syrup and then tossing it with more sugar. But that process requires some time and a candy thermometer. Once I decided to buy crystallized ginger instead of making it myself, I certainly wasn’t going to knock myself out making my own pumpkin puree. Instead, I opened a can of Libby’s. This, I didn’t feel at all guilty about. I never tire of lecturing my friends on the virtues of canned pumpkin (which may explain why people avoid me in the baking aisle of the IGA). Making pumpkin puree from scratch is a pain—first you have to peel and seed your pumpkin, then cook it, then put it through a food mill or mash it in a blender and let it cool. Canned pumpkin puree requires 30 seconds of your time and exactly one piece of equipment — a can opener. While homemade pumpkin puree will vary in sweetness from batch to batch, canned pumpkin is reliably the same from can to can. It is also the nutritional equal of fresh pumpkin, containing the same amounts of vitamins A and B and beta carotene.
When it came time to make the batter, I opted for a real cake, not a quick bread. What is the difference? Different mixing methods result in cakes with vastly different textures. If you simply dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, stir, and bake, you will get a crumbly, dense product — fine for breakfast or brunch but a little bit messy for dessert. If you take the time to cream together your butter and sugar before adding first the remaining wet ingredients and then the dry, you’ll be whipping some air into the mixture, guaranteeing a light cake with a fine texture.
Please don’t skip the topping of Turbinado sugar and cinnamon. It gives the cake a delectably crunchy crust, which contrasts nicely with the tender cake.
Pumpkin Ginger Pound Cake
1 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
½ cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
2 tablespoons Turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the inside of an 8-x-4-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust it with flour.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ground ginger, and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
- Combine the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice as necessary.
- With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the pumpkin puree and vanilla. Stir in the milk.
- Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the crystallized ginger.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Combine the turbinado sugar and ground cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle over top of cake.
- Bake the cake until it is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 65 to 75 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, invert it onto a wire rack, and then turn it right side up on a rack to cool completely.