You little gem.
I want to start by explaining what a ginger gem is, because it seems that these little cakes might have originated in New Zealand - therefore quite a few of you won't have heard of them before.
Imagine if you will a super light & fluffy, mini ginger loaf. That is essentially what a ginger gem is. What makes them unique is the tin that they are traditionally baked in, called a ginger gem iron. Made from cast iron, the gem iron is heavier & sturdier than your average aluminium muffin tin. It must be pre-heated in the oven to 200 Celsius (392 Fahrenheit) before you spoon the mixture in. Whilst cast iron takes slightly longer to heat up than aluminium, it retains its heat for much longer.
I'm always interested in finding out the history & origins of a recipe, but for the humble ginger gem this information is as light as the texture of the gem itself. It does seem look as though the recipe originated in New Zealand & has been around for many years.
Cast iron ginger gem irons are hard to find these days. Your best bet is to look out for a second hand set. My gem irons were recently gifted to me by my Mum for my birthday. She enlisted the help of my Aunty to look online for a second hand set & luckily came across some on the website Trade Me, which is essentially the New Zealand equivalent of Ebay.
The flavour & texture of a ginger gem is a special thing. Not only do they have that lovely gingerbready flavour, but they also have a buttery after taste given that half teaspoonful's of butter are dropped into the hot gem irons before the mixture is spooned in. What results is two fold. The butter prevents the gems from sticking to the irons & it gets absorbed by the gems which makes for a delicious taste.
If you manage to get your hot little hands on a set of ginger gem irons, then the recipe I would recommend making is none other than the one from the iconic Edmunds Cookery Book. The trusty Edmunds Cookery Book was first printed in New Zealand in 1907, so you could say that it has become an essential ingredient in the history of baking in NZ.
50g butter (softened)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup milk
What to do
- Place gem irons in the centre rack of the oven & pre-heat to 200 C static or 180 C fan bake.
- Place 12 lots of 1/2 teaspoonful's of butter onto a tray or plate & set aside for later.
- Using a handheld or freestanding electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar & ginger together until light & fluffy. Add the egg & beat well. You want to get some air into the mixture at this point, so be sure to beat the egg in really well - scraping down the sides of the mixture so everything is well combined. Beat in the golden syrup.
- Sift flour from a height (to get more air through) into the creamed mixture & then stir by hand with a wooden spoon or spatula to combine.
- In a separate jug, dissolve the baking soda in the milk & pour into the mixture. Grab a hand whisk & whisk the mixture well to ensure your mixture is smooth & creamy.
- Grab your oven mitts & remove the gem irons from the oven. Grab your tray or plate of butter & drop one piece of butter into each gem slot. The butter will start sizzling away.
- Spoon the mixture into each slot, filling to within a couple of millimetres from the top. Return to the oven & bake for 10 minutes, or until the gems are well risen & beautifully golden brown.
NOTE: The Edmunds recipe states that it makes 12 gems, but my mixture went a lot further & I ended up with 16. Just keep any leftover mixture aside & as soon as your first batch come out of the oven, carefully remove them from the gem irons using a butter knife to assist. Pop the gem irons back in the oven to get them back up to 200 C & then repeat the process again.
Best enjoyed warm straight from the oven with a strong cuppa.