Derrick is hosting this month's Sugar High Friday with a theme I can get really excited about - treacle! Ok, technically the theme is molasses, but we don't call it that in Australia. In Australia we have treacle. Just the name conjures up images of Enid Blyton style picnics with treacle tart and treacle pudding and in Harry Potter they snack on treacle toffee. All of those things went through my mind and I wanted to make them all, but I narrowed my selection down to a cake, as I seem to have lots of cake-bringing-along occasions.
I think treacle is a very adult oriented taste; it's dark, smoky and bitter. Not the type of flavours that tend to attract kiddie palates. Even treacle tart, I noticed, actually uses Golden Syrup rather than treacle (although, thinking about it, Golden Syrup would be just 'light treacle' wouldn't it?). My mother always kept treacle in the house when I was young to make her favourite marinade for chicken skewers on the BBQ - treacle, soy sauce, fresh ginger, chilli, and that was the only way I ever ate it.
However, I've noticed in the past few month I have been getting a bit excited about treacle. My caramel slice used treacle rather than Golden Syrup for extra bitterness to cut through sweetness, and the Spicy Chocolate Gingerbread has been THE BEST cake I've ever made (I'm serious!). I was so tempted to recreate that recipe for this event, but instead I'll just point you to it. I really encourage you to try that one.
Anyway, I spent some time searching for cake recipes using treacle that weren't plain gingerbread; I wanted to set a challenge to myself. I found what I thought would be the perfect recipe from the ABC in Brisbane for a Pear, Treacle and Spice Cake that I bookmarked and decided to try. It sounded wonderful. BUT! Then I was reading through Deb's site and found a recipe for a Guinness Stout ginger cake that was full of treacle too! I've wanted to make a Guinness cake for a loooong time, and here was one calling to me. What to do? What to do?
I decided to combine elements of both recipes; basically just adding a layer of sliced, ripe pears from the first recipe to the second, and I think it worked wonderfully. It's Autumn down here and this cake just tastes of falling leaves and crisp sunny mornings.
I actually didn't use Guinness Stout as I wanted to introduce a slightly Australian element to the cake. I used Coopers Stout, which I prefer to Guinness; being slightly sweeter and smoother. Coopers beer is what discriminating beer drinkers order in pubs here. It's made in Adelaide by a family owned company, and is the closest thing to a boutique or microbrewery-tasting beer you can find on tap (if you're lucky to find a pub with it on tap rather than bog standard Carlton Draught or Victoria Bitter. No - you will NOT find pubs in Australia selling Fosters! We don't drink it.) My uncle just told me that Coopers won some Best Beer In The World competition a few years ago, but he didn't have any more details.
The pear flavour livens up a cake that could be just a bit too heavy and dark tasting on its own, and gives it a lovely complementary flavour. I'm really pleased with it. It's really sticky and moist too, which suits me fine as I hate dry cakes. The taste of the spices really comes through; I love the fresh ginger. I acutally didn't realise until too late that I didn't have any ground cardamom so I had to bring out the mortar and pestle and crush some cardamom pods....but didn't think that crushed cardamom pods would actually have a MUCH stronger flavour than dried cardamom. Ooops.The taste isn't too overwhelming until you crunch down on a not-so-finely ground piece of cardamom, and that's suddenly all you can taste. I don't recommend going this route unless you're very tenacious and vicious in your pestling!!
A few observations:
1: Warm treacle and stout mixed together tastes awesome - better than you'd expect!
2: The raw batter for this cake tastes INCREDIBLE. Seriously, I WAS EATING IT BY THE SOUP SPOON! I nearly chose not to bake it but keep it in the fridge to eat like a pudding - treacle, ginger, stout...how can you go wrong?
3: I think a zingy lemon icing would also do well drizzled over the top of the cake. I'm thinking of doing that when I serve it rather than bringing along a bowl of whipped cream.
Read on for the recipe:
Coopers Stout and Treacle Spice Cake with Pears
Adapted from the Epicurious website and the ABC Brisbane...
..." I use a panoply of spices, including cardamom, nutmeg, and a lot of fresh ginger, to give the cake a racy, intriguing flavor. The most unusual thing about this recipe is that stout is substituted for the water or coffee used in most gingerbread recipes. I find it adds a lot of richness and underscores the spices. Since it is made with oil, this cake will stay moist for several days. Dress it up or simply enjoy it on its own, with coffee, tea, or a beer!"
2 ripe pears - peeled, quartered and cored
1 cup Guinness stout (or Coopers if you can find it)
1 cup molasses or treacle
1/2 tablespoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 tablespoon grated, peeled fresh gingerroot
Preheat the oven to 175C (350°F). Butter a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment, and grease the parchment. Alternatively, butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan. Line the tin with the sliced pears. Don't be too worred about placement, as I found they just began to float to the top when adding the batter. They should end up scattered through the cake.
In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the stout and molasses and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and add the baking soda. Allow to sit until the foam dissipates. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the eggs and both sugars. Whisk in the oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom. Combine the stout mixture with the egg mixture, then whisk this liquid into the flour mixture, half at a time. Add the fresh ginger and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 1 hour, or until the top springs back when gently pressed. Do not open the oven until the gingerbread is almost done, or the center may fall slightly. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes 8 servings.