The chill in the air that’s creeped in this past week is lifting me out of a funk that’s been weighing me down lately. Leo and I returned from our long-awaited trip to Ohio a few weeks ago. I had been looking forward to that trip for so long, and with good reason: the highlight of our stay was Part Two of our wedding reception, a party in the backyard of my parents’ brand-spankin’-new house. My friends and family from Ohio mingled with my friends from New York (not to mention my husband from London!). There were hundreds of cream-filled donuts, cookies shaped like hydrangeas, and a soft-serve ice cream machine. My little brothers and cousins played yard games and skipped stones in the creek, swinging from tree branches and wreaking light havoc. It was joyful and buzzy and summery—the kind of gorgeous day where you have to pause for a second and tell yourself to soak it all in, because it’s something you want to remember for a long, long time.
After such a high point, getting back into the swing of everyday life has been a challenge. A while ago, I subconsciously decided that by the time we returned from Ohio, I would have my job situation worked out, feel satisfied in my career, and be fully settled in this country. I know these things haven’t happened yet. I’ve been floundering even thinking about them lately, and a renewed sense of homesickness hasn’t made things any easier.
This is why I’m welcoming the change of season with even more enthusiasm than usual. The autumn-charged air is helping me shift gears and reminding me of the things I can do to feel better. Some are little things, like putting on a ridiculously chunky sweater or making a cup of tea. Others take more discipline: writing each day, moving my body even when it feels impossible.
One little thing that I’ve been doing for both comfort and a sense of accomplishment is baking. I’m not sure what it is that makes whisking together large quantities of butter and sugar so therapeutic, but the act of baking picks me up like nothing else.
So here’s a recipe for a cake that will crash your pity party, put on some Beyoncé, and dance on your table until you crack a smile. I saw the recipe for Marion Cunningham’s Fresh Ginger Muffins on Food52 the other day and knew that I needed them in my life, but my severe lack of a muffin tin or even a cake pan presented a problem. Luckily, I remembered the pie dish in our cupboard and proceeded to bake.
I made a few changes to Cunningham’s recipe besides cake-ifying it. I used one cup of whole wheat flour and one cup of all-purpose to add a hearty, nutty flavor. I also used one regular egg and one flax egg (one tablespoon flax meal + 2.5 tablespoons water) because it was what I had on hand. I melted the butter instead of creaming it with the sugar. Finally, and most gloriously, I made a lemony vanilla yogurt glaze that seeps into the cake and soaks it with sugary goodness.
This recipe proved highly adaptable, and it yields a delicious, moist cake with zingy bits of crystallized ginger. Bonus: the cake is even better the next day with a cup of tea for breakfast, or as an afternoon snack after a crisp, leaf-crunching stroll through the park. If baking this cake doesn’t make you feel better, eating it surely will.
- 1 2-oz. piece unpeeled ginger root
- 3/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 2 Tbsp. lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
- 2 eggs (alternatively, use flax or chia eggs)
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 cups flour (I used 1 cup all-purpose and 1 cup whole wheat)
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 Tbsp. plain Greek yogurt
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- Preheat the oven to 375° F / 190° C. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan. Set aside.
- Using a microplane, grate the unpeeled ginger into a saucepan. You should have about 1/4 cup of grated ginger. Add 1/4 cup sugar and cook over medium heat until the sugar is melted and syrupy. Do not overcook. Remove from the heat.
- In a bowl, combine the lemon zest and 3 tablespoons sugar. Mix until combined. Add the lemon mixture to the ginger mixture and stir until completely combined.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the melted butter and the remaining 1/2 cup sugar; mix well. Add the eggs and buttermilk and whisk until combined. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and mix again. Finally, add the ginger-lemon mixture and mix until combined.
- Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the powdered sugar, yogurt, lemon juice, vanilla extract, and salt. Whisk until a thin glaze forms.
- Once the cake has cooled completely, pour the glaze over the cake. Let the glaze set before serving.