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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Spring Pavlova with Mascarpone and Cream Filling

Winter blues are over; the spring has sprung! The beautiful sunny weather we’ve been waiting for so long is finally here, and what it has brought with itself? Allergies, of course! Mother Nature sure is a teaser: I swear the very moment you start to feel good inside seeing all the flowering beauty around, here comes the first sneeze, and pretty soon you’re doing twenty minutes long sneezing marathons back to back. Your nose is this lovely shade of purple, all you can do is to squint at the world through your narrow bloodshot eyes, and just trying to breathe sucks up all your energy. You can’t sleep, because you’re all stuffed up, and when you leave the house in the morning, suddenly the Niagara falls start gushing from your nostrils. Yup, classic case of spring for many of us.

It just so happens that my birthday falls into the spring season, and this year I was very appropriately gifted a thing that looks just like one of the million want-to-be funny mugs, but it’s actually much more than that. Mr. Red nose egg separator! I run across its picture in some culinary catalogue many moons ago and couldn’t stop giggling. The boys tell me that the older I get the more teenage moments I have, and this was without a doubt one of them. Yes, it’s gross, when you think about it… but it’s also funny, at least it was to me! I then promptly forgot about it, but Mr. Photographer didn’t, and a couple days before my birthday a small box arrived at my doorstep 🙂

And what was inside proved to be really useful this weekend. I’ve never made Pavlova, the egg-white based dessert named after the Russian dancer… but it seems a great thing to have in a gluten-free baking repertoire, so I’ve decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did: The outside baked up nice and crisp, while the inside literally melts in your mouth. The top of the cake sank in a little as it cooled, which proved to be very useful when I went to fill it up. The filling is just mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, and some sugar whipped up together with a healthy dose of Bacardi rum (if you have to walk around with red nose thanks to your allergies anyway, you may just as well enjoy some rum… 🙂

Happy spring everyone! Let’s hope the pollen counts will go down some so we can enjoy the sun!

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Spring Pavlova with Mascarpone and Cream Filling

(adapted from http://www.bonvivani.sk)

Cake:
  • 6 egg whites, room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 300 g (10.5 oz.) powdered sugar
  • 40 g (1.5 oz.) cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Filling:
  • 225 g (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
  • 6 tablespoons white sugar
  • 50 ml (1.5 oz.) Bacardi rum
  • 400 ml (13.5 oz.) heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

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Method:
  1. To make the Pavlova, trace the bottom round of a 8 inch (22 cm) springform pan on a sheet of parchment paper. Turn the paper over as not to get the markings on your cake. Place the paper onto a baking sheet and butter it lightly (I used a cooking spray.) Preheat the oven to 300 °F (150 °C).
  2. Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar into the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment. With the mixer on a medium speed, start whipping the mixture. After a couple of minutes start very slowly adding the powdered sugar. Turn the speed up and continue whipping until the mixture is very thick.
  3. With a spatula, gently fold in the cornstarch, vanilla, and lemon juice.
  4. Mound the egg white mixture in the center of your pre-traced circle. Carefully spread it to the edges, while also pulling the mixture up to give it height. (I used the outer ring from the springform pan to help me here – I placed it onto the paper and slowly removed it when I had a nice high circle of egg white mixture made. The cake will fall a little and also spread some, so you want to get it as high as possible.)
  5. Bake the cake for about 1 hour, then turn the temp down to 200 °F (100 °C) and bake for additional 30 minutes. (If the cake is getting dark, cover it with tin foil.) After the 30 minutes turn the oven off and let the cake cool in the oven for about 1 hour.
  6. (The cake can be made the night before and kept at room temp.)
  7. To make the filling, whip the mascarpone, sugar, and rum until light. Separately, whip the cream with the vanilla until firm peaks form. With a spatula, fold the cream into the mascarpone filling and combine.
  8. Assembling the cake: Place the cake onto a serving plate. Carefully spread the filling on top, decorate with fresh fruit and chocolate if desired, and serve.

Tiramisù cake

There are two things that fascinate me: the culinary world and the world of words. Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to play with words and write my own little stories. I didn’t need much to be happy – just a sheet of paper and a pencil was enough. Later I ditched the pencil and picked up an old typewriter that I dragged with me everywhere. I remember always having black smudges from touching the ribbon with my fingers, and dreaming of becoming a journalist. Fast forward a couple of years,  I was at a university studying Italian and planning to be a translator. Funny how life often takes us on journeys we’d never imagine for ourselves. You fall in love, and before you know it, you just landed on another continent, and can forget about Italian, because, well, nobody speaks it here, so you better pick up the language of these people if you want to survive, and do it fast.

I still have a soft spot for Italy and love anything Italian (well, anything but Italian driving style, really 🙂 I adore those small towns with narrow streets, countryside with vineyards ready for harvest, charming cafes at every corner, the wine, pasta, and gelato. I visit whenever I get the chance, and in the meantime, I often try to create  little Italy in my kitchen. The word tiramisù means “pick me up”, and that’s exactly what this popular dessert does for me. The combination of coffee dipped ladyfingers, creamy mascarpone filling, and generous dusting of cocoa is rich and decadent. There are countless variations of tiramisù, each one of them delicious. My version includes two-layer sponge cake, which I feel can stand up to the soak in espresso better than ladyfingers would. The ladyfingers pressed in a ring around the cake play more of a decorative role, and tied up with a ribbon make the cake look very festive.

A great treat for a birthday celebration, family gathering, or anytime you could use a little pick-me-up in your life.

Tiramisu cely

Tiramisù cake

(adapted from Dorrie Greenspan’s Baking: From my home to yours)

Cake layers:
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup cream (or buttermilk)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F. Butter/flour two 9-inch cake pans, and line them with parchment paper.
  2. In a small bowl, mix dry ingredients together. Set aside.
  3. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the egg mixture, mixing just until combined.
  5. Lastly, mix in the cream (the batter will be quite thick). Divide the batter between prepared pans, smooth out the top, and bake for 30 minutes, until the cake springs back to the touch and the toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Invert the cakes onto cooling racks and let cool completely.
Espresso extract:
  • 2 tablespoons instant coffee
  • 2 tablespoons hot water

In a small bowl, mix coffee and water together and set aside.

Espresso syrup:
  • ½ cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoons Kahlúa (coffee liqueur)

In a small saucepan, boil water and sugar together. Turn off; stir in 1 tablespoon Kahlua and 1 tablespoon espresso extract. Set aside.

Frosting:
  • 226 g (8 oz.) mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons Kahlúa
Stabilized whipped cream:
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
  • 4 teaspoons water

+ unsweetened cocoa powder, about 30 ladyfinger cookies, shaved chocolate and chocolate covered coffee beans for decoration

  1. In a bowl, gently mix all the ingredients for the frosting until creamy. Set aside.
  2. Mix 1 teaspoon gelatin with 4 teaspoons water; let stand for 10 minutes, until the gelatin absorbs all the water. Then heat the gelatin mixture over a pot of hot water, until the gelatin dissolves (be careful not to boil it). Let the gelatin syrup cool till lukewarm.
  3. In the meantime, whip the cream with sugar until very soft peaks form. Still mixing, carefully pour in the cooled gelatin syrup, and whip until stiff peaks form.
  4. Gently fold whipped cream into the frosting.
To assemble the cake:
  1. Level the cakes with a cake leveler/serrated knife if needed.
  2. Place one cake on a plate and using a pastry brush, soak it with 1/3 of the espresso syrup. Spread the cake with 1/3 of the mascarpone-cream filling.
  3. Soak the other cake layer with another 1/3 of the espresso syrup, and place it soaked side down on a filling; gently press down. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/3 of  the espresso syrup. Finish frosting the top and the sides of the cake.
  4. Dust the top liberally with cocoa. Press the ladyfingers all around the cake. Decorate with chocolate shavings if desired.
  5. Chill the cake until serving. Can be made the night before, to give the flavors time to meld.

Tiramisu slice