Gingerbread Bundt Cake
No Reservations: On restaurants and the people, those wonderful gluttons for punishment, who decide to run them.
Lots of people have asked me, “Have you ever thought about opening your own restaurant?” To which I enthusiastically respond, “Why, yes! Yes, I have. For about two seconds.”
Even though catering is really like a having a restaurant on wheels (but I don’t even do much of that anymore to tell you the truth – too busy!), I have absolutely no desire to have a Chez Cheryl anytime soon. Or like ever. To me, it’s a romantic notion to run your own joint, but man, the soul-crushing reality is another thing. I’ve seen first-hand the effects of such a grueling and unpredictable business and there aren’t many who can pull it off without caving to some sort of addiction or without spiraling into a deep, dark depression. Like Lisa. Oh, Lisa. She was the manager of a Mexican restaurant I worked at in college called Papagayo. It was THE place to go for drinks. Probably because of their exceedingly popular 2-for-1 happy hour, which was never limited to an hour, by the way, and they set out a piping hot buffet of free food that poor, struggling grad students would Hoover up while they drank cheap beer and watered-down margaritas. Ah, the good ol’ days. Papagayo’s food was fantastic but the queso? [Swoon.] Forget the chips for dip, it was so tasty I could drink the stuff. Even asked – no begged – for the recipe for years but nothing doing. I can certainly see why. Something that good should be filed under “proprietary only.” But I digress.
Anyway, despite Lisa’s stoic German facade, there was never a single night I didn’t witness through the small crack in the half-shut door, her being crumpled over her tiny desk in her cramped little office right by the wait’s station, sobbing like a small child. I felt so bad for her. Always wondered why she didn’t quit – life’s too short to be that miserable on a daily basis. It was just too much pressure for her and sadly, it always showed on her pale, joyless face. Broke my heart for such a hard-working, lovely young woman.
It just takes a certain bent of a person to run a restaurant well (without losing your mind), and, in my lifetime, I have met only one who was equal to the task.
When I was sixteen, I worked as a waitress (yes – that word, like actress, was still in play back then) for that wonderful woman who had the most astonishing sense of serenity of anyone I have ever known. No matter what kind of impossible wrench or epic snafu that was thrown in the works at her restaurant on any given day, nothing rattled her. Only sweet words were uttered from her broadly smiling full lips. Her petite, womanly frame seemed to glide across the floor in her long, flowing skirt, illuminated by the bright golden glow of the blazing stone fireplace, as she graciously flitted from table-to-table with twinkling eyes, warm hugs and refills of water from her silver pitcher, for her enthralled guests. It was almost like watching great theater when Joyce “worked the room.” To me, she was the embodiment of class personified and heartily embraced the “kill them with kindness” motto whenever a customer was rude, hateful or completely out of line. I saw some real doozies in the dining room in my time there that would have even challenged Mother Teresa herself, but this woman never, ever lost her cool. I admired the hell out of her for that.
Every once in a while, I’ll think about my days at that lovely, cozy cabin in the woods and even after all these years later, every once in a while when my resolve is sorely tried and I remain unsure of my course, I ask myself, “What would Joyce do?”
And I know exactly what she’d say without any reservations.
“Stay calm and Merry On.”
If I did have a restaurant, this scrumptious cake would be on the menu. And, as much as I embrace the seasonality of certain tastes and flavors, this baby would be on it year round. It’s that good. The cake began its life a few years back as a muffin with a tangy lemony glaze, but after a brilliant suggestion by a pastry chef friend of mine to add stout beer to the mix, well, the recipe kind of evolved into a cake instead. And, The Taste Tester declared that the cake was too good to hide under any kind of sweet gravy, so I eliminated the glaze. There’s a lot going on in this moist and intensely-spiced cake – three hefty punches of ginger: fresh, ground and candied. If you’re looking for a mild, wimpy, dainty cake, this one ain’t it, folks.
- 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons ground ginger
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cup canola oil
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup Guinness extra-stout beer (measure from the liquid, not the foam)
- 1 cup molasses
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons candied ginger, finely minced
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. GENEROUSLY butter and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan; tapping the pan to remove excess flour; set aside (make sure EVERY nook and cranny of the interior surface is thoroughly coated or the cake will stick in places). In a bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and all the spices: ground ginger through black pepper. In a large bowl, add the sugars and oil. Using a hand-held electric mixer, mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition. Add in the beer and molasses and mix until smooth. Add in the flour mixture and mix until the batter is combined, with a few flour streaks remaining. Use a rubber spatula to fold any flour on the sides of the bowl in; fold in the fresh and candied ginger. Pour the batter in the prepared pan; rap it a few times on the counter and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until a toothpick or a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
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