Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Maple Gingerbread Layer Cake with Salted Maple Caramel Sauce

We had a very non-traditional Thanksgiving this year.  It was just hubs and I and the 'rents in Florida.  First of all, the temps were in the mid-80's and that alone would have been enough to not be motivated for some huge heavy traditional spread, but in truth, we're all just not huge turkey fans.  So we opted to forego the entire scene.  We ended up having leftover ham sandwiches for lunch and then a few appetizers for dinner.  No pumpkin pie. No pecan pie.  No mashed potatoes.  Just ham sandwiches and a delicious crostini appetizer (which I'll tell you about in a later post!).

However......we did have cake!  A damn delicious cake, if I do say so myself.  I saw this recipe in the daily Epicurious post on my Yahoo news page and it just sounded too good to not try.  Now, I don't make many cakes.  I don't know why, really.  I just don't.  And because I don't, I'm a horrible cake icer (is that a word?).  My cakes will never be pretty, as is the case with this one, but it certainly didn't lack flavor.

My dad was pretty unimpressed with this after his first bite, but by the end of his third piece (in a row) he had changed his mind.  The icing on this is a maple-sugar whipped cream and it's really light, but paired with the salted maple caramel sauce drizzled over the top, it's a perfect combination.  Throw in the maple-coated pecans and wowza!  And I just realized I didn't even mention the cake itself.  It's got a ton of flavor from the candied ginger and the five-spice powder.

There are a lot of components to this cake, but individually they're all really simple and come together quickly.  You could even make the caramel sauce and maple pecans in advance.

Here's the recipe:

Maple-Gingerbread Layer cake with Salted-Maple Caramel Sauce
Bon Appetit, October, 2010


Maple-coated pecans:
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
Coarse kosher salt

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder (This is available almost everywhere now.  I found mine in Publix)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (1 1/2 to 2 ounces)
1 cup maple sugar (Mom didn't have any of this in her pantry, so I substituted 1/2 regular sugar and 1/2 brown sugar and added about a tablespoon of maple syrup to the batter)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
3/4 cup hot water
2/3 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses

1 1/3 cups chilled crème fraîche
1 1/3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup maple sugar
6 tablespoons powdered sugar

Ingredient info: Chinese five-spice powder—a spice blend that usually contains ground fennel seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon, star anise, and cloves—is available in the spice section of most supermarkets. Crème fraîche is sold at most supermarkets and at specialty foods stores.


For maple-coated pecans:
Place large piece of foil on work surface. Combine nuts and maple syrup in heavy medium skillet (do not use nonstick) over medium-high heat and bring to boil, tossing to coat. Cook until syrup is dark amber and almost cooked away and thickly coats nuts, tossing often, 3 to 3 1/2 minutes. Scrape nuts onto foil. Working quickly with 2 forks, separate nuts. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Cool until coating is crisp and hard, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Pecans can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

For cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Combine first 4 ingredients in processor; add ginger. Blend until ginger is finely ground, about 1 minute. Using mixer, beat maple sugar and butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in eggs 1 at a time (batter may look curdled). Stir 3/4 cup hot water and molasses in small bowl. Beat dry ingredients into butter mixture in 4 additions alternately with molasses mixture in 3 additions.

Divide batter between prepared pans (about 21/2 cups each). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks.

For frosting:
Combine crème fraîche, cream, and both sugars in large bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until very thick and stiff.

Cut around pan sides to loosen cake layers; turn out onto racks. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 1 1/3 cups frosting. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons caramel sauce. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining frosting smoothly over top and sides of cake.

Drizzle top of cake with 3 tablespoons sauce. Cover with cake dome; chill at least 1 hour.

DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead; keep chilled. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before continuing.

Cut pecans into pieces or leave whole. Press pecans into frosting on sides of cake. Cut cake into wedges. Spoon sauce over.

Salted Maple-Caramel Sauce
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup maple sugar
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/8 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
5 to 6 drops imitation maple extract

Melt butter in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add sugar. Whisk until sugar melts and mixture is thick and boiling, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in cream. Bring sauce to boil, whisking often. Boil until sauce thickens enough to coat spoon and is reduced to 1 cup, whisking often, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in coarse salt and extract. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 week ahead. Cool, cover, and chill.

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