Christmas is in touching distance, finally. After the longest year that there ever was, we are so very close to it ending and, if we’re really lucky, at least one good night in the pub, a chocolate orange you refuse to share, and some family civilities beforehand. But first, the horrors of Christmas shopping loom large.
When I was little, the ultimate treat was to go to the John Lewis cafe in Newcastle to break up the Christmas shopping with my mum. I always, always had the same thing: a slice of lemon drizzle loaf cake. It was perfect: firm enough for little fingers to hold at its base, but moist, almost soggy at the top from the sweetsour zing of lemon juice. I can taste it now.
Today, the thought of Christmas shopping anywhere other than online is viscerally terrifying, so I can’t say for sure whether or not John Lewis still makes this cake, but I quietly suspect that it wouldn’t be quite the same as a harried, anxious nearly-30 year old as it was as a wide-eyed six year old.
This is my grown up version, eaten in the comfort of my own home, whilst my last minute Christmas gift panics take place online rather than on floor four of a department store. Not just a lemon cake, but a hot toddy cake, adding whisky and ginger into the mix, and replacing some of the sugar with runny honey.
This cake masters the fine art of making a hot toddy that doesn’t taste like you’ve poured whisky into a supermarket-own-brand lemsip: everything just in the right proportions. It’s smart and zappy, the lemon breaking through the dark honey and muscovado base, with the ginger and cinnamon mimicking the kick that a hot toddy should give. Tiny jewels of sweet ginger are laced throughout the cake. The glaze sinks down, saturating the first half inch of cake. The whisky would be lost baked into the sponge itself, but it holds its own in the drizzle.
Because of the high sugar and honey content in this cake, it will darken more than a lemon drizzle ordinarily would, going as dark as gingerbread: as long as your oven’s at the right temperature, and you cover the tin early on, it won’t burn.
It goes like this:
Hot Toddy Cake
Makes: 1 loaf cake (at least six fat slices)
Takes: 1 hour 15 minutes
Bakes: 1 hour
115 dark brown muscovado sugar
200g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 balls stem ginger and some of its syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 170 °C, and line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper. I do this by using two long strips of paper that overhang the sides, which make it easier to pull the cake out when it’s cooked.
2. Gently melt the butter with the dark brown muscovado sugar and honey; don’t allow to boil. When the sugar has melted, remove from the heat, stir very briefly (it won’t all combine, so don’t worry), and set to one side. Zest the lemon into the cooling mixture.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and spices in a large bowl. Chop the stem ginger as finely as you can.
4. When the liquid ingredients have cooled down a little, beat the two eggs in gently one at a time. Mix the chopped ginger through this mixture and add it to the dry ingredients, folding until combined.
5. Bake for 1 hour, making sure to cover the cake with tin foil from around 25 minutes. The cake is ready when the top of the cake springs back when pressed gently with a finger, or when a cocktail stick inserted to the centre comes out clean of crumbs.
6. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, you can make the glaze. Juice the lemon into a small pan, and add two tablespoons of honey, and a tablespoon of syrup from the stem ginger. Heat gently, and remove from the heat as soon as it begins to bubble. Stir in the whisky and, whilst still hot, pierce holes all over the cake (I use a cake tester for this), and pour over the syrup, pausing to let it soak in.
7. Ta Dah!
Icing on the cake
Apart from the literal hot toddy glaze, this cake is great with any and all online shopping, pauses between online shopping, self-congratulations for successful online shopping, and as a distraction from unsuccessful online shopping. Thanks to its drizzle, it will last a good 3 to 4 days after baking, so is perfect for unexpected Christmas visitors.
And you could always serve it alongside an actual hot toddy: unoriginal, but totally delicious.