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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Apple Cheese Galette

Of all of the seasons I love Summer the most, but Fall is a close second. They say Autumn is the year’s last smile… before life comes full circle and everything begins anew in the Spring. We’re in the middle of gorgeous fall around here and I love all about it: The colorful leaves and warm drinks, not to mention soft sweaters and tall boots. Thankfully,  they haven’t gotten the memo that they should’ve started pouring down by now and not stop for the next five months up there yet (shhh, please don’t tell them… just a little while more!) The mornings might be crisp, but later in the day it still warms up enough so that we can enjoy all the beauty around.

Fall fills me with nostalgia, and as usual, I deal with it by firing up the oven and filling the air with all the wonderful aromas this time of year has to offer. Today it’s apples, scented with gingerbread and cinnamon. I paired them with sweet cheese, and created a simple but very flavorful galette. Not much to write about it: galette is a free-form crusty cake with various sweet or savory fillings, and to me, it’s a very laid back type of dessert that can be tailored to whatever fruit you have on hand. I chose apples because they’re such a typical fall treat for us to enjoy, but I imagine pears or plums would work just as well; the key is to vary the amount of sugar and cornstarch depending on the fruit used. The dough is simply folded over the filling, creating a wonderfully crispy crust, while allowing the fruit to shine in all its beauty. Galette is also much easier and quicker to make than its somewhat temperamental and high maintenance relative pie – thus giving you more time to  curl up by the fire with a book, or go for a walk on one of the last sunny afternoons, and still come home to a great dessert.

Put on a thick scarf and go play in the crisp leaves, and then drive out the chill from your fingers and cheeks with a warm galette. Who says you can’t have it all? With just a little planning you absolutely can!

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Apple Cheese Galette

(inspired by Nejlepší recepty 3/2015)

Pastry Dough:
  • 250 g (9 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 180 g (6 oz.) cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • pinch salt
  • 80 g (3 oz.) powdered sugar
Filling:
  • 80 g (3 oz.) ground gingerbread cookies
  • 1 egg, separated
  • 250 g (9 oz.) soft white cheese, cream cheese, or quark
  • 100 g (3.5 oz.) sour cream
  • 6 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons vanilla “cook and serve” pudding powder
  • ½ teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 2 – 3 apples, peeled, cored, and cut into rings
  • 2 tablespoons piquant jam (raspberry, cranberry)
  • 2 tablespoons spiced rum
  • pinch cinnamon
Gingerbread Streusel:
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 80 g (3 oz.) ground gingerbread cookies
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

+ 1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

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Method:
  1. First, make the dough: Place flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, and cold cubed butter into the bowl of your food processor; pulse until the mixture resembles peas. Add in the egg and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap the dough and chill it for at least an hour before proceeding.
  2. Meanwhile, cook the apple rings in water with 2 tablespoons sugar for about 5 minutes until soft. Drain the apples and let them cool.
  3. Prepare the cheese filling: Place cheese, 4 tablespoons sugar, egg yolk, vanilla pudding powder, and lemon zest into the bowl of your food processor fitted with an s-blade. Mix to combine. Whip the egg white until firm peaks form, and mix in carefully with a spatula into the cheese mixture to lighten it.
  4. Make the Streusel Topping: Combine all the ingredients with your fingers; chill until needed.
  5. Remove the cold pastry dough from the fridge; roll it out on a lightly floured work surface into a circle about 3 cm (a little over an inch) bigger than a 23 cm (9 inch) round springform pan. Line the springform pan with parchment paper, and butter and flour the sides. Preheat the oven to 350 °F  (180 °C).
  6. Fit the pastry into the pan, pressing the overhang up the sides for now. Sprinkle the bottom of the pastry with 80 g (3 oz.) ground gingerbread crumbs and cover them completely with the cheese filling. Arrange the cooled apple slices onto the cheese.
  7. Mix jam, rum, and cinnamon. With a teaspoon, place a tiny bit of the jam mixture into the apple slices, and sprinkle the entire galette with the gingerbread streusel topping. Gently fold the overhang pastry over the fruit, pleating as you go along. Brush the edges with the egg wash.
  8. Bake the galette for about 40 – 45 minutes until golden brown. If the edges brown too quickly, cover them with aluminum foil. Cool the galette for at least 30 minutes on a wire rack. Serve warm or at a room temperature.