2018 marks the earliest that we’ve put up our Christmas decorations. For the past couple years, we’ve stayed in Chicago for Thanksgiving, however most years we travel back to Michigan both for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Every year I’m always wishing the season was longer and that I have more time to enjoy our festive home. Finally this year I said to myself… “Katrina, why don’t you just start decorating earlier then?”. As if that was the most life-changing question I could have every asked myself LOL. I thought to myself “DUH”, why is that even a question? The Thanksgiving decor still stays up and is just further enhanced by Christmas decor and all is swell.
Every year we have a tradition to purchase our real Christmas tree from the same local neighborhood greenhouse and garden store here in Chicago. Knowing that we’d be picking our tree out this past weekend, it inspired me to bake a festive cake complete with trees to celebrate the occasion! Picking out our Christmas tree is one of my favorite things and finding the perfect one each year excites me.
With that, my inspiration led me to a gingerbread cake with chocolate ganache filling and a caramel cream cheese buttercream frosting… and it. is. to. die. for. (insert drool emoji).
If you’d like to add 3D gingerbread cookie decor as I did (photos below), check out my quick and easy gingerbread recipe here. I recommend cutting the recipe in half or into thirds if you are only using the cookies for decor. Icing is optional! I went sans icing to have a more natural/rustic look to my cake.
Prep Time: 35 minutes // Cook Time: 25 minutes // Yield: ~8 Slices
Gingerbread Cake Ingredients (Recipe: Martha Stewart):
- 8 tbs unsalted butter at room temperature, plus 1 tbs to coat cake pans
- 2/3 cup light brown sugar
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 cup hot water
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/2 salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup unsulfured molasses
- 1 tbs fresh grated ginger
- 2 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten
Chocolate Ganache Filling Ingredients:
- 8oz bittersweet chocolate baking chips
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
Caramel Cream Cheese Buttercream Ingredients (Recipe: Adapted from Half Baked Harvest)
- 1 cup pure cane sugar
- 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- To begin, if you plan on adding gingerbread cookies to your decor, bake them first and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and prepare three 8 or 9 inch cake pans by coating them with butter.
- In a small bowl, add the hot water and baking soda together giving it a quick stir, then set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ground spices, salt and baking powder.
- Combine the 8 tbs of butter with the brown sugar in a stand mixer and begin to beat on high speed until light and fluffy. Then add the molasses, grated ginger and hot water/baking-soda mixture. Once combined, add the flour mixture in, followed by the eggs.
- Divide batter amongst the cake pans and bake for 25-35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on wire racks to cool.
- While the cakes are baking, begin your frosting by heating the sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the sugar is just about dissolved into a liquid, remove the pan from the heat and add in 4 tbs of butter, 1 at a time, stirring constantly. Once the butter is combined, slowly add in your heavy cream while stirring then place over heat to thicken the caramel for around 3-5 minutes while stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.*Helpful tip – the stirring is very important to prevent the sugar from burning which can happen very quickly when making homemade caramel.
- Using a mixer, combined the remaining tablespoons of butter with the cream cheese until they are well-combined, light and fluffy. Next add the powdered sugar and vanilla to the butter/cream cheese mixture. Last, slowly add 1/2 a cup of the room temperature caramel, mixing together until well-combined then set aside.
- For the chocolate ganache, create a double boiler over the stove by placing a heat-safe glass bowl overtop a saucepan filled up half way with water. Once water begins to boil, add the heavy cream and baking chips together, stirring as needed. After a few minutes the ingredients should be well mixed to create a silky smooth chocolate mixture.
- *Optional: I chose to use a smaller circle pan as a guide to trim each of my cakes so they aren’t as wide. If you’d like to do the same, do that before layering with the ganache. This was just a visual preference!
- When they cakes have cooled, place 1 layer on your cake stand or serving plate, then add a layer of ganache onto the top of the cake in the center, spreading it from the center out. Next, place the second layer of cake on top of that, placing a ganache layer on top of that tier. Lastly, place the last layer of your cake on top. There should be only 2 layers of chocolate ganache – on top of the first and second cake layers.
- To frost the cake, set aside a medium-sized bowl and place about 1/3 of the frosting inside it. Its best to crumb coat the cake first with a layer of frosting before you add any pretty, decorative frosting. This will prevent crumbs from peaking out. Frost the sides and top of the cake with this reserved frosting then place it into the fridge for 30 minutes or so to strengthen the frosting before decorating.
- Grab a piping bag and cut the tip of the bag off to form a small opening – about the size of a pee, then fill the bag full of frosting that was not used for the crumb coating. You’ll also want a small cake decorating spatula – a small butter knife or cheese spreading knife may work as well. Remove the cake from the fridge, then using your piping bag, pipe round dots in a line starting from the top of the cake down to the bottom. These dots can be the size of a pee, or a dime, or penny for reference. Once you have one straight line down the cake of these dots, you’ll take your spreading tool and lightly press it against the right (or left) half of the dot and spread the tool right (or left) in a straight line. Do this all the way down for each of the dots. Once the line is completed, started your next line and so on until the entire side of the cake is filled with this pattern. You can go either in the right or left direction, but be sure to stick with that same direction once you start. Once the side is complete, begin this dot technique on the top of the cake, creating a circle working out from the center (below photos will give you a good idea of how this should look).
- Once your cake is completely frosted, you can begin to finalize the decorations of your choice. I added some fresh Rosemary along the edges because they remind me of pine needles (I recommend removing the needles before serving as the flavor might not mix well when eaten together). Lastly, arrange your optional gingerbread pieces throughout the sides/top of the cake! You may serve right away or cover and place in the fridge. It may be served cool or at room temperature.
Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving and enjoyment as you begin your Holiday season traditions! I am super grateful to have the time and ability to share my Baking with Soul baking blog with you, and I’m thankful to my community who shows their support through “likes”, “shares”, “comments”, “follows”, etc. on each of my posts – thank you, thank you, thank you!
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