The list of places I have not visited is long. Way too long. It keeps me up at night, how long this list is. And tragically, Jamaica is right there, on the list. I’m not too proud to admit that until very recently (embarrassingly recently) I had no idea that English is the principle language of Jamaica. That was a wake-up call about specifically this island nation, but more generally the rest of the world. Every now and then your ignorance just comes and slaps you in the face, doesn’t it? It’s refreshing but also whatever the feeling of shaking my head and thinking ‘oh sarah, sarah, sarah’ is.
So, I set out to broaden my horizons a little this year. I have set myself a wide-ranging reading list, and I’m really enjoying it so far. I also challenged myself to delve a little deeper into food cultures I might not be incredibly familiar with. Let me just say, I am aware that this Jamican Ginger Cake doesn’t exactly plumb the depths of the beautiful, varied, sumptuous cuisine of Jamaica. But also, until recently, I didn’t know it was an English speaking country, so you know, baby steps.
The history of Jamaica is brutal and tragic. The indigenous people of Jamaica were wiped out by Spanish invaders, and then the Spanish were evicted by the British who brought with them a huge African slave population. The island was valuable as an important port in the spice trade, which obviously had a humongous influence on the food of Jamaica, and it ran on an economy of slave labour and slave trade.
Allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and chilli – these are the flavours which dominate and define Jamaican food, some of them native and some of them imported. I feel like I could write a whole thesis on these spices; which were native to the area, which were imported, which grew, which didn’t, and how the oppressed people of the area incorporated and adapted them into their cooking to create the cuisine we know today as Jamaican.
Jamaican ginger is prized; said to be some of the highest quality in the world. I couldn’t get real Jamaican ginger here in Brisbane. But the ginger produced in the coastal area of Buderim, which is just up the coast from where I live, is a worthy substitute I hope. This Jamaican Ginger Cake is my attempt to create something with the sweet, spicy, fragrant and complex character which is the hallmark of Jamaican cooking. This cake, as Laurie Colwin would say, ‘has taste and aftertaste’. It is strong and subtle, damp and rich, and it’s delicious with coffee.
It also keeps really well for up to a week wrapped in foil. For the full Caribbean hit I served this with fried pineapple and a quick rum caramel sauce. I cooked slices of fresh pineapple (peeled and cored) in a little butter in a hot pan, then removed them, and added a few spoonfuls of brown sugar, a generous slosh of rum, and a swig of cream. Served with vanilla ice cream? Amazing.
- 1 stick (115g) butter, plus extra to grease
- ½ cup (110g) brown sugar
- ⅓ cup (115g) golden syrup
- ⅓ cup (115g) black treacle
- 2 tbsp finely grated fresh ginger
- 1 cup (250ml) milk
- 2 tbsp rum
- 1½ cups (225g) plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp bicarb soda (baking soda)
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- pinch of salt
- 1 egg
- Grease and line a 25x11x7cm loaf tin (or any 7 cup capacity cake tin).
- Place the sugar, golden syrup, treacle, ginger and milk into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat, add the butter and stir until it's melted. Set aside to cool completely.
- While the mixture is cooling, preheat the oven to 170C/350F.
- Stir all the remaining ingredients into the cooled wet mixture with a whisk, until there are no lumps. Scrape the mixture into the tin, and bake for 45-55mins or until springing back when touched lightly. You are better off overcooking, than undercooking this cake, as it is very damp.
- Cool in the tin for about 10 minutes, and then turn out on to a rack and cool completely.
- Serve spread plain, or spread with butter, or with sauteed pineapple and a quick rum caramel in a sundae.
Wow this cake looks so perfectly moist and decadent! I love the summer-y feels in the midst of the cold januaries. And hey, don’t be too hard on yourself. It is wonderful you are educating yourself on other countries and exploring their cuisines!
For the complete experience, make the sundae version and eat it while you watch Marley, the documentary of Bob Marley’s life on Netflix. I’ve been dreaming of Jamaica ever since watching it. Positive vibrations!
It’s great to set higher goals and I also love learning more than just the face value of an authentic recipe. This looks great and I also love that it’s kind of a sneaky way to get away with eating gingerbread all through the summer!
Yum. I’ love the flavour mix .
And you just taught me something about Jamacia!
This looks so great!!! Yum. Pinned!
Firstly, my To Explore list keeps me awake at night sometimes too Sarah. This year the fiance and I are exploring Adelaide and going shark diving, next year our honeymoon is going to take us to Japan (I am more excited about that than the wedding to be honest). I’d love to hear about your ambitious reading list too! I’m trying to incorporate some more international authors, and translated books this year to broaden my horizons.
And, nothing pairs better with a good book than a big slice of damp cake, Even better when that cake has been turned into a boozy sundae. I love this idea, and all the spices you’ve used just make my heart sing! I can’t wait to make this in my own kitchen!
That cake looks amazing! I never knew Jamaica was such a ginger hotspot so to speak. This recipe looks like a worthy homage to their flavorful cuisine :)
Love the post sarah! i have a huge list of countries i’d love to visit swirling around in my head as well… you’ve inspired me to actually write them down and rank them by cuisine :) Jamaica would be high on the list, as I love anything made with ginger!
Wow! I’ve just tried some of the ginger cake I baked earlier. It’s delicious! Next time I will put more fresh ginger in though. Also I couldn’t use rum as we don’t have any so used bourbon instead….it seemed to work just as well!
This looks so so amazing and I must make it immediately, but please: is black treacle the same as molasses in the US? And is there a substitute or way to make golden syrup? Thank you!!
Hi Isabella – I’m stoked you’re trying this – it’s a definite favourite of mine (obviously, that’s why I wrote about it!). So, yes, black treacle is the same as US molasses so that’s no worries. And as for the golden syrup, it’s pretty unique, but if you can’t get hold of it, I would use a 50/50 mix of light corn syrup and honey to replace. Cheers! Sarah