The cake I chose to make for my gingerbread project was the ultimate indulgence; layers of maple and ginger, topped with a salty, sweet caramel sauce and crunchy pecans. I had high expectations for this recipe that I found in the October 2010 Bon Appetit – but I think it needs some modifications. The cake was a bit dry so next time I would bake for only 25 minutes. Also the chopped crystallized ginger is a little lumpy in the cake, and I don’t think it’s really necessary. The Chinese spice powder had a bit of a strange taste, so I think the regular gingerbread spices (cinnamon, cloves, all spice, ginger) would work better.
The maple coated pecans cool very fast, so you need to separate them with forks as fast as possible. They also stuck to the aluminum foil so wax paper coated with a cooking spray would probably work better.
For the frosting, I managed to lose the whipping cream I bought, so I substituted with some eggnog and ice cream. I also used Cool Whip because I couldn’t find crème fraiche and I kept adding icing sugar until I had a decent consistency – so it was more of a glaze than a frosting, but a of couple minutes in the freezer and the cake was good to go. I had a bit of maple sugar from the local market, and just replaced the remaining amount with brown and white sugar.
Allow 4.5hrs to make (includes caramel sauce and cooling time)
¾ cup pecan halves, toasted
¼ cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
Coarse kosher salt
2 ½ cups all purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder or equal amounts cinnamon/ginger/allspice and 1/8 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (1 1/2 to 2 ounces) *not necessary
1 cup maple sugar or brown sugar
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
¾ cup hot water
2/3 cup mild-flavored (light) molasses or regular/organic
1 1/3 cups chilled crème fraîche or Cool Whip
1 1/3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
½ cup maple sugar or white sugar
6 tablespoons powdered sugar (or until consistency is right)
Salted Maple-Caramel Sauce
For maple-coated pecans:
Place large piece of foil or coated wax paper 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/paper. 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.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 ½ 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 ¾ 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 2 ½ cups each). Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 32 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks.
Combine crème fraîche, cream, and both sugars in large bowl. Using an 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
The sauce would also be wonderful with baked apples or drizzled over ice cream.
Makes about 1 cup
¼ cup ( ½ stick) unsalted butter
½ cup maple sugar
¾ 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.