My blog feed has gone crazy with Halloween recipes, an explosion of ghoulish cupcakes, caramel apples, pumpkin pies and spooky cookies. Even here in China shops and bars are stringing up garlands of orange and black paper pumpkins.
Halloween, however, has never been a huge event for me. It’s not that I’m against the notion, its just that growing up in a little village, in the time when trick or treating was still a strange thing that only happened in American films, celebrations didn’t go far beyond carving the yearly pumpkins. I remember a halloween party we hosted one year. There are some fairly embarrassing pictures of as all us gawky, gangly 8 and 9 year olds, dressed as witches and ghosts, turning each other into toilet paper mummies, and tucking into an elaborate witches cauldron cake made by my Mum with lots of time, love, and nutritionally dubious amounts of black food dye.
My favourite autumnal festival, however, is one from closer to home. Bonfire night is one of my cosy scarf wearing, welly booted, mittened fingers highlights of the year.
It wasn’t always that way. Early bonfire nights would see me sat inside sobbing at the horrible loud bangs, no doubt ruining the whole evening for my poor parents. I’m pleased to say time is a healer and I’m now, thankfully, well past those fears. I love the thought of gripping fizzing sparklers in gloved hands, of the roar and crack of bonfires, damp logs hissing in the flames, and the anticipation of fireworks with their colourful explosions lighting the skies. Last year I was back home in my little village for the night. In typical village style everyone, grandparents, children and dogs included, gathered on the village green. We tucked into local butchers sausages, and sipped mulled wine out of polystyrene cups to ward against the cold. The big event, the fireworks let off from across the road in the school field, set off the customary appreciative chorus of oohs, and aaaaahs.
This Chocolate Gingerbread is perfect for baking before the big night, and having stashed away in a tin for when everyone walks back through the door, rosy cheeked from the chill of the November night.
Rip off coats, pop the kettle on, and tuck into a generous sticky slice with a cup of tea, or even better, a steaming mug of mulled wine or cider.
The spices and the treacle make it wonderfully warming. The chocolate cuts through the bitterness of the treacle, and the ginger beer icing is perfectly sticky and gooey. It has a very satisfying amount of squidge, contrasting perfectly with the bite of dark chocolate chips. The recipe is from Nigella Lawson, I’ve halved the recipe down, and this still provides 12 generous squares of rich, sticky gingerbread.
The gingerbread is one that benefits from making a couple of days in advance allowing the spiced flavours to really develop. Its beautifully moist and sticky, and only gets better with a few days in the tin.
Which ever celebration you’re looking forward to over the coming weeks, enjoy!
(adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast)
for the cake
70g dark muscavado sugar
1 tablespoon caster sugar
100g golden syrup
100g black treacle
generous pinch ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 tablespoon warm water
140g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
80g dark chocolate chips, or dark chocolate cut into chunks
for the icing
15g unsalted butter
1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder
30ml ginger ale
125g icing sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 170C/ 340F.
Using a large sheet of grease proof paper, line a 25 x 18cm x 5cm deep rectangular, or a 20 x 20cm x 5cm deep square baking tin
In a large pan, heat together the butter, sugars, golden syrup, treacle, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and ground ginger. Stir as it heats. Once everything is melted together, take off the heat and leave to cool slightly.
In a small cup, mix the bicarbonate of soda with the warm water.
In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together your milk and egg.
Pour the egg mix, and the bicarbonate in its water into the melted butter and sugar. Beat together.
Add in the flour and cocoa powder, beat to combine.
Finally, stir through the chocolate chips.
Pour into your prepared tin.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the top is firm and set, but the bottom of the cake is still a little bit wet.
Cool completely in the tin.
Next, make the icing.
Heat the butter, cocoa powder and ginger ale together in a pan until the butter is melted.
Add in the sifted icing sugar and beat until the icing is smooth and even.
Leave to cool for about 3 or 4 minutes, or until the icing starts to set a little. Pour over the cake, using a spatula or palette knife to help persuade it to evenly cover the top.
Let the icing set, then cut into generous squares.
Store in an airtight tin.