If you've ever placed an order from our website, you have likely received a handwritten note on your packing slip. I love writing notes to my customers thanking them for their patronage and support over the years. As a customer places more orders not only do I start to feel like I know them, but I also like to share well wishes. Sometimes my sons will say, "so and so just placed an order", and if they're one of the regulars I usually know what they ordered, and how they plan on using it.
That is exactly what happened last winter. One of our regular customers, Gordon from Scottsbluff, NE, ordered his usual 1 lb. bag of maple sugar. I left a note asking him if he had a maple sugar recipe he might be interested in sharing that we could share here on the blog. It wasn't long after that, a package arrived with all the details on how to make a maple-gingerbread cake with a salted maple caramel sauce.
Gordon also enclosed a nice note with the details of how he found the recipe. He included an image of the cover from an October 2010 issue of Bon Appetit, where he found the original recipe. We tweaked a few things, but it mostly stays true to what Bon Appetit shared more than a decade ago.
This is a recipe with a lot of steps, but so well worth the extra effort. It's what I would call a "Holiday Dessert". A recipe you would save for a special dinner or holiday meal shared with family and friends. It didn't last long in my house!
This was by far the simplest part of the recipe. It was super easy to do and can be done a few days prior to actually putting the cake together. I will admit for my recipe I used hickory nuts rather than pecans. We have a shagbark hickory tree in the middle of one of our hay fields. My husband has been gathering them for decades and it's one of his favorite trees on the whole farm. In retirement, we've put him to work cracking the generous supply provided by this great tree. This was a local alternative we were able to harvest, but regular grocery store pecans as the recipe states would do just fine.
Going into this recipe I had my doubts about this part, as I thought it was going to be a sticky mess from one end of the kitchen to the other. Honestly, it was incredibly easy and I already have a few ideas on how else I can use maple-coated nuts.
Assembling the Cake Batter
To start, I preheated my oven to 350 degrees F and prepped the cake pans by coating them with butter and flour. Following this, I combined my dry ingredients (except for the maple sugar) and processed the chopped candied ginger to fully incorporate it.
An interesting ingredient in this cake is the Chinese five-spice powder. There doesn't seem to be much of a known origin story for five-spice powder, but this special blend hits all the notes... sweet, salty, savory, sour, and bitter. Combine this with candied ginger, and you have a winning combination. My husband loves candied ginger, so by chance when I decided to make this I had a source to pilfer from without making a special trip to the grocery store.
In a mixing bowl, add your maple sugar and butter, then mix to form a nice whipped butter, adding your eggs one at a time. This is an extremely satisfying job.
I have to admit that I changed a few things from the original recipe. As we're maple people, I used maple syrup instead of molasses and cut the water back from 3/4 cup to 2/3. When choosing the syrup, I had Amber Rich Taste on hand, but a darker more robust syrup would work well too. To finish, I mixed the wet and dry ingredients, alternating between the two until they were fully incorporated. Divide the mixture between your two cake pans and then bake for 30-32 minutes until your cake tester is clean.
Crème Fraiche Frosting
Can anything get any better than crème fraiche, heavy whipping cream, maple sugar, and powdered sugar all combined for a simply delicious frosting? Super easy to throw together once you gather your ingredients. I don't normally have crème fraiche on hand, so this did require a trip to the grocery store. Fortunately, Vermont Creamery produces this item and I'm glad to be able to get another local product.
Salty Maple Caramel Sauce
I'm going to include the original recipe below as it was written. However, I chose to leave the imitation maple extract out of my recipe. It makes me slightly ill to think about using imitation maple anything in a recipe cooked in my kitchen. I added the maple sugar and called it a day.
The caramel sauce made more than was needed for this recipe, so I used an extra drizzle on the slices when I served them. The sauce was equally good over some Ben & Jerry's vanilla ice cream, so it wasn't a bad thing to have more than needed. This step can also be completed prior to baking the cake so you're not so rushed.
Maple-Gingerbread Layer Cake with Salted Maple Caramel Sauce
To prepare the Maple-Coated Pecans
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
1/4 cup pure maple syrup, preferable Very Dark Strong Taste/Baking
Coarse kosher salt
1. Place a large piece of foil in your work area.
2. Combine nuts and maple syrup in a heavy skillet and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, while tossing to coat.
3. Cook until the syrup is almost cooked away and the nuts are thickly coated, tossing often. About 3 to 3 1/2 minutes.
4. Scrape the nuts onto the foil. Working quickly with 2 forks, separate the nuts so they don't stick. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
5. Cool for about an hour. The syrup should harden and be crisp.
6. Store airtight at room temperature. Can be made a day ahead.
The 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 tsp coarse kosher salt
5 to 6 drops of imitation maple extract (I skipped this)
1. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
2. Add the sugar and whisk until the sugar melts and the mixture is thick and boiling. About 2 to 3 minutes.
3. Gradually whisk in the cream and bring the sauce to a boil while continuing to whisk. The sauce should reduce to about 1 cup and is ready when the sauce coats a spoon.
4. Remove from heat and whisk in the salt and the imitation maple extract drops (if using).
5. Cool, cover, and chill in the fridge. Can be made 1 week ahead.
The Maple-Gingerbread Layer Cake
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger (1 1/2 to 2 ounces)
1 cup maple sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2/3 cup milk-flavored (light) molasses. *Can use light maple syrup*
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
2. Butter and flour two 9-inch diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch side walls.
3. Combine the first 5 ingredients in a food processor. Add the ginger pieces. Blend for about 1 minute until the ginger is finely chopped.
4. In a large mixing bowl, beat the maple sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. The batter may look curled.
5. In a small bowl stir 3/4 cup of hot water and molasses (I used maple syrup and 2/3 cup of water).
6. Beat with a mixer the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, alternating each until fully incorporated.
7. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 30 to 32 minutes. Cool pans on racks.
The Maple Frosting
1 1/3 cups chilled crème fraiche
1 1/3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup maple sugar
6 Tbsp powdered sugar
1. Combine crème fraiche, cream, and both sugars in a large bowl.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat until very thick and stiff.
3. Cut around pan sides and loosen the cake layers, return to rack.
4. Place 1 cake layer on a platter and spread with frosting. Top with the second layer and spread frosting over the top and sides.
5. Drizzle the top of the cake with 3 tablespoons of Maple Caramel Sauce.
6. Press pecans into the sides and top of the cake.
7. Cover with a cake dome and chill for at least 1 hour before cutting. Remove from fridge and let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.