Gingerbread Cake with Mascarpone, Lemon Curd and Cranberries

The turkey is gone, visitors left,  and with just couple more inches around the waist to remind us we once again overdid it on Thanksgiving, we swayed over to the Christmas season. I love this time of year. The preparations, the anticipation, all of it. It can be stressful, that’s for sure – trying not to forget anything or anybody, manage to do all that’s needed in time, and not to (or at least want to) kill somebody in the process!

In trying times like this I strongly believe in baking aromatherapy. I adore the scents of the season: vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg always shroud the entire house and are able to miraculously make one happy and content. For me, baking is the ultimate stress reliever – all that mixing and stirring can be really therapeutic, and I truly think licking chocolate off the beaters and eating raw cookie dough can ward off any kind of sadness. I also believe in the power of baked goods, made with fresh ingredients, real butter, and a whole lot of love. All that being said, I’m really not too fond of making Christmas cookies. There, I said it – really a sacrilegious thing to say for a food blogger, I guess… but it’s the truth. I’m not the most patient soul in the world, and while I have nothing against eating cookies mind you, making them is whole another story. Yes, they’re cute, and they’re wonderfully portable and shareable, but I find all that rolling and cutting out shapes… annoying? Too much trouble? I’m not sure. I just like to be efficient, I think. In the time it takes me to arrange fifty cookies on the sheets and get them in and out of the oven, I can make a soup, a loaf of bread to go with it, and maybe even some simple cake to sweeten up the dinner. So whenever possible, I try to wriggle out of making cookies, and choose to bake something – anything! – else.

But for Christmas, cookies are somewhat of a requirement, and being the responsible mother that I am, I stand at the counter cutting out cookie after cookie year after year, secretly grinding my teeth. Traditions are important, and so even though I’d really like to just run, run, as fast as I can so that gingerbread man making wouldn’t catch me, in the end my responsible motherly side always prevails and my kitchen production line spews out plethora of festive holiday sweets. This year though, I dug up a recipe for a gingerbread cake that sounded like a dream come true – sweet and moist, interlaced with lemon curd, homemade cranberry preserves, and covered in light and airy mascarpone crème. I immediately resolved to make it, secretly hoping it would turn out to be my winning ticket for not having to bake cookies this holiday season… or at the very least the gingerbread ones. This cake is chock full of cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, thus provides all the olfactory pleasures we’ve come to associate with Christmas, but without all that rolling and cutting. And the two kinds of fruit filling and mascarpone frosting take it to another level entirely – the fusion of tart and sweet, and crumbly and creamy offers an unexpected and most delicious harmony of contrasts. This aromatic rum soaked baby is really worth a try!

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Gingerbread Cake with Mascarpone, Lemon Curd, and Cranberries

Cake:
  • 390 g (13.75 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch black pepper
  • pinch coriander
  • 170 g (6 oz.) unsalted butter, softened
  • 125 g (4.5 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 150 g (a little over 5 oz.) molasses
  • 180 g (6.3 oz.) buttermilk
Cranberry preserves:
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 180 g (6.3 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • 125 ml (½ cup) apple cider
Lemon curd:
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 50 g (1.75 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 50 ml (1.7 oz.) fresh lemon juice (approximately 1.5 lemons)
  • 38 g (1.4 oz.) unsalted butter
  • fresh lemon zest from 2 organic lemons

 

Mascarpone frosting:
  • 400 g (14 oz.) mascarpone cheese
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 100 ml (3.4 oz.) heavy whipping cream
Sugared cranberries:
  • 250 ml (1 cup) cider
  • 190 g (6.7 oz.) granulated sugar
  • 125 g (4.5 oz.) fresh cranberries
  • granulated sugar to roll macerated fruit in

+ 12 tablespoons spiced rum (or mixture of rum extract and water) to moisten the cake layers

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Method:
  1. Start by making sugared cranberries the night before: In a small saucepan, combine cider and sugar. Cook until sugar dissolves. Let the mixture cool completely. Add in the cranberries, cover, and let them macerate in the syrup overnight. The next day, finish making sugared cranberries and proceed with making the cake.
  2. Sugared cranberries: Line a big baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Remove cranberries from the syrup into a colander. Dry off the excess liquid with paper towels; you want the cranberries to be moist, but not dripping wet. Pour some granulated sugar into a small bowl. Place 4 – 5 cranberries into the bowl and shake the bowl gently to cover them in sugar. Place the sugared cranberries onto the lined baking sheet so that they don’t touch each other and continue making the rest of the cranberries the same way. Don’t rush the process and resist the temptation of dumping too many/all the cranberries into the sugar at once – the sugar will clump up and you’ll need to start over. Let the cranberries dry out on the baking sheet while you make the cake and fillings.
  3. To make the cake, line a 20 cm (8 inch) round springform pan with parchment paper. Lightly butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (176 °C).
  4. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and spices; set aside. In a separate bowl, whip butter with sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl. One by one, add in eggs, mixing well after each addition. Pour in molasses and mix. Lastly, add in the buttermilk alternating with flour mixture. Mix just until combined; do not overmix. Pour the batter into prepared springform pan and smooth out the top. Bake the cake in the preheated oven for about 45 min. – 1 hour, until the cake springs back when lightly touched and the cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the springform pan for about 30 minutes and then release the springform mechanism, remove the cake onto a cooling rack and let it cool completely.
  5. While the cake is cooling, make lemon curd and cranberry preserve filling. (Both can be made in advance and kept in the refrigerator). For the lemon curd, combine egg yolks, lemon zest, lemon juice, and sugar in a small saucepan. Place the saucepan into a bigger pan filled with water, creating a water bath, and set the saucepans over a medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of the spoon, about 5 – 7 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Let cool completely before proceeding. Cover and refrigerate if not using right away.
  6. For the cranberry preserves, combine cranberries, cider, sugar, zest, and vanilla in a saucepan, and cook, stirring, for about 20 – 30 minutes, until the compote thickens to a jam consistency. Set aside and let cool; cover and refrigerate if not using right away.
  7. Mascarpone frosting: Whip mascarpone cheese with sugar until well combined. In a separate bowl, whip heavy cream until firm peaks form. Carefully fold the whipped cream into mascarpone. Set aside.
  8. Assembling the cake: With a serrated knife, level the cake top and cut the cake into four layers. Place the first cake layer onto a plate and sprinkle it generously with 3 tablespoons of rum or rum extract combined with water. Spread the first layer with half of the cranberry preserves.
  9. Place second cake layer on top of the cranberries, douse it again with 3 tablespoons of rum/rum extract and water, and spread it with cooled lemon curd.
  10. Cover the lemon curd with third cake layer, sprinkle it with rum or rum extract mixture and spread it with remaining cranberry preserves. Cover with last cake layer and douse it with rum/rum extract mixture again.
  11. Frost the top and sides of the cake with mascarpone frosting, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before cutting and serving. Right before serving, decorate the cake with sugared cranberries.

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Orange Cranberry Tartlets

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I’m slowly getting in the mood. I cleaned out the big freezer yesterday to make room for the turkeys. Yes, the plural was intentional. I’ll be buying at least four, maybe more, depending on how many I’m able to cram in there. At this house, turkey is a perfect food for at least two reasons: 1. It’s meat, and my three cavemen won’t survive without meat. To them, life without meat is just not worth living. 2. It’s a lot of meat, so even if I’ll be birdsitting for four hours at first, basting the sucker around the clock, after those four hours are up, I won’t have to cook for at least three days. Which doesn’t mean I won’t set foot in the kitchen, of course, it just means that I’ll have a lot more time for baking what I want. Turkey in this house translates to bliss all around.

Another thing that can’t be missing at our holiday table are cranberries. I can do without the sweet potatoes and green beans, but I absolutely adore anything cranberry – from the special sweet and tart relish to accompany the bird, through cranberry breads, muffins (and martini!), to deep red cranberry color in my closet which works wonders for my complexion! But I digress; back to the kitchen, shall we?

I made these little tartlets around Thanksgiving last year, and I’ll be making them again next week. The base is Italian pasta frolla, a type of sweet and buttery shortbread dough, and the filling is just lots and lots cooked down cranberries with sugar and spices. I made the pasta frolla with regular gluten flour as well as gluten-free flour mix, and the recipe worked either way. The dough does need to be chilled before baking, but if you make the pasta frolla and the filling the night before, the recipe really comes together in a snap.

A great little holiday dessert – a perfect balance of sweet and tart, just the right size so you won’t need to share and won’t need to feel guilty for indulging either, not to mention a dessert that’s beautiful to look at. Just think about all the vitamin C lurking in the cranberries, and dig in!

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Orange Cranberry Tartlets

 Pasta Frolla:
  • 1 3/4 cup (235 g, 8 1/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
  • 90 g (3 oz.) powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons, 113 g, 4 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
Orange Cranberry Filling:
  • 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • juice and zest from 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
+ 1 egg, whisked with 1 tablespoon water/milk – for egg wash
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Method:
  1. Make the pasta frolla (shortbread dough): Place all the dry ingredients into the bowl of your food processor; pulse to combine. Add in the cold cubed butter and pulse couple of times, until the flour mixture resembles peas. Lastly add the lemon zest and the egg/egg yolk, and pulse until the dough forms a ball. Wrap the dough and chill it for at least two hours, preferably overnight.
  2. Make the Orange Cranberry filling: Combine all the filling ingredients in a small saucepan; and cook over low heat, stirring, until the cranberries burst open and the mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. (You are essentially making a quick jam.) Let the cranberry filling cool, cover, and refrigerate until needed. The filling can be made up to 2 days in advance.
  3. Assembling the tartlets: Lightly butter eight tartlet pans with removable bottom. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pasta frolla, and cut out circles a bit bigger than your tartlet pans. Ease the circles of dough into the pans and prick the bottom of the dough with a fork. Fill the tartlets with cold cranberry mixture and decorate the top with scraps of remaining dough.
  4. Chill the tartlets while you preheat the oven to 375 °F (190 °C). When the oven reaches the desired temp, place the tartlets on a big shallow baking pan, give them a coat of egg wash and bake for about 15 – 20 minutes until golden.

(makes about eight 4-inch tartlets)

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

Do you tend to see things in black and white? Are you all-or-nothing kind of a person? I know I am. I come from a family of high achievers, where anything but perfection was frowned upon. It taught me to focus and work hard, but also made it hard for me to just let go and relax. Having high expectations of yourself is fine. However, if those same expectations keep you from trying new things, and essentially keep you from having fun in life, that’s another story. There are so many things I wouldn’t even touch in the past, because, well, if I couldn’t be the best, then what’s the point in trying? So many perfectly good cakes ended up in the trash, just because they weren’t pretty enough! For years now, I’ve been trying to overcome these patterns, and intentionally look for all the (fifty) shades between black and white. I like to refer to myself as a recovering perfectionist/aspiring good-enoughist these days. Good-enoughist is most likely not even a word, and as a linguist it pains me to see it typed, but I’m going to leave it, because it expresses so well the struggle we recovering perfectionists go through 🙂

Cheesecake has always been my stumbling block in baking. I love everything about cheesecake – it’s quick to whip up, can be (even has to be!) made ahead, and most of all, it tastes wonderful – so rich, creamy, and decadent. The thing is, I’ve rarely been able to make it without cracking. I’ve tried countless recipes and many different baking methods, I even consulted pastry chefs, but more often than not, the little stinker still cracks up on me. If not during baking, then while it cools.

I know cranberries in a cheesecake are a little strange this time of year. It’s something to be served around Thanksgiving! But when I stumbled upon this recipe, it was a love at first sight, and there was no way I’d be able to wait seven more months to make it. I was just thankful I still had a bag of cranberries from the last Fall in the freezer 🙂 I really like how the tartness of cranberries balances out the sweet taste of chocolate, but if you want to make the cheesecake a little more season-appropriate, I’m sure raspberries or cherries in place of cranberries would be just as delicious!

So today I proudly present to you my beautifully cracked masterpiece. I had fun with the swirl pattern, and can’t wait to play with it more in the future. The consistency is excellent, and the taste is just right and not too sweet. And the crack? I like to think it adds a little character and says the cake is definitely homemade. Maybe I’ll learn to bake perfect cheesecakes when I grow up. And maybe not. Perfection is overrated anyway. Let’s just play with flavors and textures, create wonderful smells in the kitchen, lick our fingers and have fun doing so!

White chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

White Chocolate Cranberry Cheesecake

adapted from http://bethcakes.com

Crust:
  • 1½ cups graham cracker crumbs (I used gluten-free version)
  • ½  cups pecans, chopped
  • ½ unsalted butter, melted
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
Filling:
  • 2 packages (8 oz., 226 g each) full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 6 oz. (226 g) vanilla yogurt (or sour cream)
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 2 eggs + 2 extra egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I used gluten-free flour, and since GF flours tend to be lighter, I used a little more)
Cranberry swirl:
  • 2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup water (+ more for pureeing)

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Method:
  1. To make the crust: Mix all the ingredients in your food processor, and press the mixture into a standard springform pan with removable bottom.
  2. Prebake at 350 °F (175 °C) for about 10 minutes and let cool completely.
  3. For the cranberry swirl layer, cook all the ingredients over a medium heat for about 10 – 15 minutes, until the cranberries burst open and the mixture thickens. Let cool slightly, and then process the mixture in a blender/food processor until smooth (I needed to add a little water). The cranberry puree should be somewhat thick, but still pourable. Set aside.
  4. For the chocolate – cheese layer: Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Put small pan with water on the lower rack in the oven. Mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth. Add the yogurt and melted chocolate, combine. One by one add the eggs and the egg yolks. Lastly, add the flour and mix until combined.
  5. Pour the chocolate – cream cheese filling into a cooled crust. Tap the springform pan couple of times on the counter to release the air bubbles. Place the springform pan on a big baking sheet. Swirl the cranberry mixture into the chocolate – cream cheese layer. Bake for about 45 minutes until still a little wobbly. Turn the oven off, open the door slightly, and let the cheesecake sit in the oven for an hour. Remove the cheesecake from the oven, let cool, and refrigerate.

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