Saturday, February 19, 2011


by Sheila Connolly
Apparently my grandmother is much on my mind these days.  I’ve told you about her aversion to cooking, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t interested in food.  In fact, she worked with it professionally.

My grandmother led an interesting life:  she was orphaned young, lived with adoptive parents who divorced, and then she moved to New York City by 1920.  She married well, to the spoiled only child of a rich widowed mother.  After his mother died, my grandfather (who died at 44 of a heart attack) decided he really, really wanted to be a dairy farmer, so bought himself a farm in Maine.  He was not a good dairy farmer, although I’m told he enjoyed it, but my grandmother did not, so during WWII she took herself off to New York and got a war-time job. 

She was lucky enough to work her way into a professional position with Lipton Tea.  One of her responsibilities was to assemble a collection of antique tea-related paraphernalia--primarily English 18th-century silver--to promote the Lipton brand.  She handled the publicity, which included getting to know some of the then-greats in the food business such as Craig Claiborne and Dione Lucas (the first female graduate of Le Cordon Bleu), culminating in a grand tour of European capitals, thanks to Unilever, Lipton’s parent company.  (She also arranged a dinner for the Queen of England in New York, but that’s another story.)  Then she retired.

Somehow I inherited a series of large color positives of promotional shots she had made of items from the Lipton Collection.  I also inherited various pieces from the collection—not the silver, long since dispersed, but the china accessories, which explains why I have 69 teacups, many with matching dessert plates, and 14 tea pots.  Anyone want to have a rather large tea party?

While she never made this cake (she didn’t bake), she was very fond of candied ginger, so this is an homage of sorts.


This is a flavorful and delightfully rich cake. The two gingers give it a distinctive flavor, and sprinkling the pan with coarse sugar provides an interesting crunch.

The recipe calls for a twelve-cup tube pan, but it can easily be cut in half--use a six-cup pan and watch your baking time so that the cake doesn't become too dry.

Add caption
softened butter (to grease pan)
1/2 cup raw sugar (also called turbinado sugar)

2 1/4 cups flour
4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped crystallized ginger (you may chop this as fine as you like, depending on how much you like crystallized ginger)


Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Generously butter the inside of a 12-cup tube pan (you can use a bundt pan).  Sprinkle raw sugar over the butter, coating the pan completely.

Whisk together the flour, ground ginger, baking powder and salt in medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer or a stand mixer, beat the butter in a large bowl until smooth.  Gradually add the sugar, and beat at medium-high speed until blended--about two minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the extra egg yolk and the vanilla.

Add the flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with the sour cream, beating on low speed until just blended after each.  Mix in the chopped crystallized ginger.
Spread the batter in the prepared pan, being careful not to dislodge the raw sugar.

Bake the cake until the top is light brown and a tester conmes out with just a few crumbs--about 55 minutes (less if you're making a half-recipe).  Transfer to a rack and cool in the pan for 15 minutes.

Invert the pan and tap the edge carefully on a work surface until the cake loosens.  Place cake on rack and cool completely.

Slice and serve!  This cake doesn’t need any embellishment.  It also keeps well and travels well.


  1. Sheila, you have such interesting stories. I would have loved to have known your grandmother. How wonderful that you have the photos and tea set pieces to remember her by. Thanks for sharing a recipe of a cake she might have enjoyed!

  2. Sheila - This is such a lovely tribute to your grandmother. Thank you for sharing her accomplishments with us along with a recipe that looks perfect for enjoying with (Lipton!) tea. I can't help but think how proud she'd be today, not only for this post from her granddaughter, but also for your brand new Agatha Nomination. Sending virtual champagne bubbles your way!

    Have a delicious weekend,
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  3. Sheila, what a lovely story about your grandmother. And your tribute to her is so honorable! I love ginger, so this goes on my to-bake list.

    And I'm with Cleo, your grandmother would be thrilled for you and your nomination. Cheers!


  4. WOW... What a story. Do you have background info on the china your G-mom collected... If so, i would sure enjoy a series... maybe a small paragraph at the end of your "normal" posts with a different photo and story of where the piece came from. I just love the history of all this.

    And I am dense... what is crystallized ginger and where/what department is it in at the store... Is it in teh spice section, the fresh veggies section, the ethnic foods section, in the candy aisle next to the tic tacs???? This is a new phrase to me


  5. What a great story about your grandmother! I love the photos too. The cake is obviously a keeper.

    Thanks for this delightful post, Sheila.


  6. Your grandmother sounds like she was a fascinating, feisty person! Wonderful story about her.

    I'm passing the recipe onto a friend who loves ginger.

  7. Your grandmother led a very interesting life. Thanks for sharing a part of her with us.

  8. What a nice way to remember your grandmother, Sheila! Wish I could have heard her impressions of the dinner for the Queen that she arranged! I love the ginger cake recipe---thanks for passing it along. :)

  9. Congratulations for your nomination Sheila.
    I like reading about your grand-mother.
    And thanks for this recipe, I love ginger.