I was munching (and munching and munching) on a giant bag of homegrown celery when I started daydreaming of turning it into a cake. My green-thumbed friend had been so generous to share his harvest, and these stalks were beautifully fragrant, green and crisp. I knew the celery’s herbal notes and high water content would be welcome in a cake batter, and I imagined fresh ginger could offer a complementary warmth and earthiness.
I decided to grate the celery against the grain, creating small, wet pieces without long strands of fiber. I did the same with the ginger root (also notoriously fibrous), which was surprisingly easy — it didn’t even need to be peeled. My food processor’s grater attachment was a lifesaver, and the batter I created was quite forgiving: all the little strands and fibers bake softly into a pleasant, tender crumb. The whisper of grassy flavor and burst of spice pair wondrously with vanilla and brown sugar, and the format is delightfully casual and serves a crowd (who — in my experience — can’t get enough of this cake).
Ginger celery cake
1 pound fresh celery stalks, leaves and hard stubs removed
5 ounces fresh ginger root, unpeeled
2 cups brown sugar, preferably dark
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons powdered dried ginger (optional)
Rinse and dry the celery stalks and ginger. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 x 13” cake pan and line the inner bottom with parchment (see note). Set prepared pan aside. Using a food processor fitted with a grater attachment, grate the celery crosswise (against the grain of the strands) in batches. It’s easiest to place as many stalks as you can fit vertically in the feed tube, then press down firmly with the pusher while processing.
Repeat with any stalks that have turned sideways or otherwise not grated well, then use kitchen shears to mince any lingering large tangles or long strands of celery fiber. Place all grated celery and its water in a glass bowl or measuring cup; you should have a little over two cups. Set aside.
Grate the fresh ginger in the food processor, re-grating or mincing any very large pieces, and retrieving any stubborn ginger fibers from the back of the grater disc. Set aside. In a separate large bowl, beat the brown sugar and oil. Add the eggs, beating in one at a time, followed by the vanilla. Sift the remaining dry ingredients over the oil mixture. Stir into a thick, smooth, caramel colored batter.
Quickly assess the amount of water in your grated celery. If the container is filled much more than halfway with water, strain a bit of the water out. You do want a good amount of liquid — water about halfway up the bowl is perfect — whereas, if celery is completely submerged in water, the cake can come out soggy.
Transfer all grated celery with remaining water into batter, followed by the grated ginger. Fold celery and ginger into the batter until evenly dispersed, using a rubber spatula and scraping bottom of bowl. Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Place in preheated oven on center rack. Bake 35-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out batter-free.
Let cake cool completely in pan, covering snugly with foil once cool. Store at room temperature until ready to serve. When ready to serve, loosen sides with a butter knife and invert pan onto platter or cutting board, unless serving from pan (see notes). Remove pan and parchment. If desired, dust with powdered sugar or frost using recipe that follows.
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces butter, softened
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
1 pinch salt (omit if using salted butter)
Beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until well-blended. Sift the powdered sugar and salt over the mixture. Stir gently to begin to incorporate dry ingredients, then beat well until smooth and fluffy, preferably with a whisk attachment. Slather evenly over room-temperature cake. Decorate with celery leaves if desired. Slice and enjoy. Cover and refrigerate any leftover frosted cake.
• If you want to serve this cake straight from the pan, bake it in a safe-to-cut 9×13” cake pan such as glass, greasing and flouring the pan instead of using parchment.
• Ginger is the leading flavor in this cake; feel free to reduce the amount if you prefer less or want to taste the celery more.