Gingerbread cake is one of those definitive holiday dishes to me that oozes warmth and festivity. It’s spiced and dense, rich with the dark sugars of molasses, yet balanced by lemon zest. With a dollop of airy, freshly whipped cream adorning the top and its viscous sheen, a good gingerbread cake simply cannot be beat. Yet I make them all too rarely! This year, I endeavored to change that.
I love the simplicity and elegance of the cake — they say its origins date back as far as Ancient Greece, which is a tried-and-true recipe if I’ve ever heard of one. Of course, each iteration changes it, from light and fluffy to thick and dense, to flattened out crunchy cookies decorated to look like characters out of the song, “Little Boxes”.So, this year, to balance out the inherent classic nature of the dish, I decided to put a bit of a spin on it, using winter’s darling of the fresh and seasonal world: the pomegranate. I’d originally bought a pomegranate to make a baby kale, pomegranate, feta, and walnut salad, but when plating my gingerbread cake for photos, I was struck by a chord of genius. How amazing would those juicy little bites be, ruby pockets of tart flavor, pillowed by fresh whipped cream, the princess pea on the bed of rich, spiced gingerbread?! Not only did they add the perfect visual element, an elegant addition to a comforting holiday dish, but they added the perfect balance of bright tartness, paired with the necessary citrus infused in the cake itself.
Make sure you don’t overbake this cake, or you’ll end up with a dry texture. Other than that, it’s incredibly simple to make, yet perfectly sophisticated. Perfect for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, holiday parties and the office, weekend breakfast (or, let’s be honest, a mid-morning over-my-desk snack on a Wednesday). Fresh whipped cream will hold well in the fridge for a couple to a few days, so make the whole batch when you make the cake and store it in an airtight container to cut down on serving time on your second and third go-round with this classic holiday cake.
A tip on separating the seeds of a pomegranate without mess – slice off the crown (top) of the pomegranate then cut into sections. Submerge sections in a bowl of water and simply roll out the seeds with your fingers. Drain the bowl of seeds into a strainer and voilà! Lastly.. did you know the pomegranate “seeds” are not seeds at all? They’re called arils, and they’re actually juice sacs. Weird, amIright?
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves (or an additional 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon, if you don't have ground cloves)
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- Zest of 1 lemon (avoid the white pith)
- 1/2 cup unsulphured molasses (spray measuring cup with cooking spray before pouring in molasses to help it come out easily)
- 1 cup milk
- 1 pint whipping cream, whipped until peaks form using an electric beater or stand mixer
- 1 pomegranate, seeds of (see note in blog text)
- powdered sugar, optional
- Preheat oven to 350º F and place rack in middle of oven. Butter and flour a 9" round or square cake pan with 2" sides.
- In medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, ground cinnamon, ginger, and cloves.
- In bowl of electric stand mixer (or medium bowl with handheld electric beaters), cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes on medium speed. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition. Add lemon zest and molasses and beat to combine. Scrape down sides of the bowl as needed. Add half the dry ingredients, the milk, then the remaining half of the dry ingredients. Beat just until incorporated.
- Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with offset spatula. Bake for 35 - 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Start testing at 35 minutes. *DO NOT OVERBAKE!* Remove from oven and let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before removing cake from pan. Let cool completely.
- To serve, sprinkle a bit of powdered sugar through a wire sieve over the top of the cake. Spoon a dollop of fresh whipped cream on the individual piece and garnish with several pomegranate seeds.
- To remove seeds from pomegranate without mess: slice off the crown (top) of the pomegranate then cut into sections. Submerge sections in a bowl of water and simply roll out the seeds with your fingers. Drain the bowl of seeds into a strainer. Dry before garnishing cake.