Maple Gingerbread Cake with Salted Maple Caramel Sauce

This recipe has no backstory.  I saw it in Bon Apetit’s October issue and it had to be made.  Period.  And not in cupcake form.  Once I decided to make it in layer cake format, as per the recipe, I thought back on all the layer cakes I had made over the years…None.  I had never made a layer cake before this one!  Crazy, I know.

Anyhow, I knew I had to have this cake, and throw a party for it.  Which is exactly what I did.  Because cake is a reason to have a party – not the other way around.

And it was a big hit.  I did the unveiling, cut a few pieces, the lovely Shelby Moore snapped a few photos, we walked away, came back, and it was gone.  The cake, the cake sauce (which was what my friends were calling the caramel), the whole shebang and not a single crumb less.

If your family is not pie friendly, this would be a great alternative fall dessert.  It involves a decent amount of effort and planning so it is just as impressive, if not more so, than a pie.  Most of the steps can be done ahead of time.  The way I did it (because believe it or not I have a life outside of my kitchen…sort of) was to make the caramel sauce a week or less ahead, then the maple pecans a few days before, then the frosting a day or so before, then the day you make the cake that is all you have to do.  This helps with dishes too, if you’re dishwasher-less, like me.  Having said that, I also think the caramel sauce and the pecans are both worth making on their own and would make great gifts.  If you plan to make either as a gift, I recommend doubling the recipes to fill a pint mason jar.

Salted Maple Caramel Sauce
makes about 1 cup, takes about 15 minutes

Ingredients
1/4 c (1/2 stick) butter, preferably unsalted
1/2 c maple sugar – if you can’t find this at your grocery store, Whole Foods carries it, and so does Amazon
3/4 c heavy cream
1/8 tsp kosher salt
5 to 6 drops, or 1 tsp maple extract

Method

  • Melt butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add sugar and whisk until sugar melts and mixture is boiling, about 3 minutes.  If you think it’s taking your sugar longer than normal to melt, don’t freak out.  It just takes a while.
  • Gradually whisk in cream.  Really.  Gradually.
  • Whisk constantly while bringing mixture to a boil until it is thick enough to coat a spoon.
  • Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and maple extract.
  • Cool, cover and chill.

Maple-coated Pecans

Ingredients
3/4 c pecan halves, toasted
1/4 c pure grade B maple syrup
coarse salt

Method

  • Place a large piece of foil on a counter.
  • Combine nuts and syrup in a heavy skillet – do not use nonstick.
  • Over medium high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, tossing to coat.
  • Cook until syrup is dark amber, almost cooked away, and thickly coats nuts.  This will take about 3 minutes or so.
  • Scrape onto foil and separate nuts with a fork.
  • Sprinkle with salt and let cool one hour.
  • Store airtight at room temperature.

Frosting

Ingredients
1 1/3 c chilled creme fraiche
1 1/3 c chilled heavy cream
1/2 c maple sugar
6 tbsp powdered sugar

Method

  • Combine creme fraiche, cream, and sugars in a large bowl.  Beat with an electric mixer until thick and stiff.
  • Cover and store in fridge until cake is ready for assembly.

Cake

Ingredients
2 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder – if you don’t already have this in your pantry, buy some.  It’s a mixture of anise, Chinese cinnamon, cloves, fennel and sichuan pepper.  Every time you make a stir fry, fried rice, or other Asian-style dish, add a dash or two.
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp coarse salt
1/3 c finely chopped crystallized ginger
1 c maple sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 c hot water
2/3 c light molasses

Method

  • Preheat oven to 350.  Generously butter and flour 2 nine inch cake pans – these babies are sticky and non-stick spray won’t do the trick, trust me.
  • If you have a food processor, put the crystallized ginger in the bowl with some of the flour and spin until the ginger is finely ground.  If not, chop the ginger as finely as you can.
  • Combine the dry ingredients, including the ginger, in a large bowl and whisk together.
  • Using a mixer, beat the maple sugar and butter until light and fluffy.
  • Add one egg and beat to combine.  Add the second egg and beat to combine.
  • Combine molasses and hot water in a small bowl.
  • Starting and ending with the dry ingredients, add dry mixture  in 4 additions alternating with the molasses and water in 3 additions.  I.e. add a little flour and beat; add a little wet mixture and beat.  Repeat.  The largest addition of dry ingredients should be at the end to prevent over developing the gluten in the flour.
  • Divide batter between the 2 prepared pans, about 2 1/2 cups each.
  • Bake about 30-32 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Cool cakes in pans on racks.
  • Once cool, cut around pan sides to loosen cakes and turn them out onto the racks.

Assemble

  • If you made the caramel in advance, you will need to warm it up before assembly, making sure it is not so warm as to melt the frosting.
  • Place one cake layer on a platter or cake round.  Spread with 1 1/3 c frosting.
  • Drizzle 3 tbsp of caramel sauce over the frosting and top with second layer.
  • Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.  Press the pecans into the sides of the cake and drizzle the top with 3 tbsp of caramel sauce.
  • Cut cake into wedges and spoon extra sauce over each slice.

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