Festive layers of whole grain chocolate gingerbread cake, vanilla cream cheese frosting, and a forest of fresh rosemary and chocolate gingerbread twigs.
Tiffany glass, men in top hats, piano music, Christmas caroling and gaslit street lamps.
The combination of these elements belong in a Dickens tale, but once a year, these elements combine in my modern life. Once a year, my family and I bundle in warm clothing, listen to a man in a top hat explain the nuances of Victorian parlors and peer through curved glass windows.
We walk the cold, closed streets, stopping at the historical mansions to sing the Christmas carol that will earn our entry. On any other day of the year, these actions might have us escorted off the premises, but one night in December, on the night of the Manchester [Pittsburgh] House Tour, it’s par for the very chilly course. Once home to more millionaires than you could count on one hand (millionaires in the true sense, not even factoring in inflation), the remaining preserved homes are awe/envy inspiring to say the least.
But before we tour the fancy, historic homes, we gather in my home. Though the building may not have ties to a great steel magnate (it did, however, house a Nickelodeon theater at one point!), it is a cozy place that feels like a reflection of me. It’s also a place I love to share with others, and those social calls call for a warm oven and snacks!
This year marked our second historical tour outing, which puts this activity squarely on the path of a growing tradition. All those cozy holiday vibes put me in the mood for She & Him on repeat and gingerbread. You know what’s better than gingerbread on a cozy, festive night? Chocolate gingerbread!
This layered Chocolate Gingerbread Cake with Chocolate Gingerbread “Twigs” is a fusion of this cake and these cookies from my archives, but it’s a true labor of holiday love. You could think of this cake as too involved, or you could think of this chocolate gingerbread cake as an excuse to spend a day in the kitchen, mull some wine, sip said wine, light the pine-scented candles and embrace the winter spirit.
All that chocolate gingerbread effort will be worth it when it’s finally time to adjourn to the festive living room and enjoy the growing tradition of sharing food with loved ones in front of the fire.
Here’s to merry gatherings in homes from all epochs.
Whole Grain Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake with Vanilla Frosting & Chocolate Gingerbread Twigs
Note: My original recipe called for 9-inch and a 6-inch spring-form cake pan layers. For this smaller and taller version, I used two 7-inch cake pans. I used the extra batter for cupcakes (which you can really justify as a breakfast muffins).
Whole Grain Chocolate Gingerbread Layer Cake
Gingerbread Spice Mixture
1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
1 Tablespoon freshly ground cardamom
2 teaspoons mace
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons allspice
For the Spice Mixture
Use a small whisk or fork to combine all the spices together in a jar.
2 1/2 cups organic sprouted spelt flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour)
1 cup pure cocoa powder
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
gingerbread spice mixture (see above)
4 organic/cage-free eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup organic light brown sugar
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 teaspoon organic orange zest
1 1/2 Tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
1 cup organic, unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1 cup organic heavy cream (room temperature)
1 1/4 cup organic whole milk (room temperature)
2 cups organic fresh cranberries
Chocolate Gingerbread Twigs (recipe below)
organic powdered sugar
For the Cake
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch and a 6-inch spring-form cake pan, and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and gingerbread spice.
In a large bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add in the molasses, orange zest and ginger, and mix until fully combined.
In a saucepan, melt the butter. Add in the cream and milk, and heat until just incorporated. Remove from heat.
In alternating additions, pour the dry ingredients and butter mixture into the egg mixture.
Fold in the fresh cranberries.
Split the batter evenly between the three cake pans.
Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool for at least 15 minutes before removing them from the pan. Use a serrated knife and a lazy Susan to cut each cake in half to form the 4 layers.
Whole Grain Chocolate Gingerbread Twigs
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Prep Time: 1 hour 10 minutes | Total Time: 3 hours 40 minutes | Yield: ~80 cookies
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3 cups organic sprouted spelt flour, plus more for rolling
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 stick organic, unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup packed organic, dark-brown sugar
1 large organic egg
1/3 cup unsulphured molasses
1 Tablespoon fresh ground ginger
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
Melt bittersweet chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth; remove from heat.
Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in a bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes.
Add egg, molasses and ginger, and beat until smooth.
Beat in bittersweet chocolate, then flour mixture, until combined.
Divide dough in half; form each half into a rectangle and wrap in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate until firm but still pliable, about 30 minutes.
Dough can be made 3 days ahead and stored in refrigerator, or frozen up to 1 month.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll out each piece of dough to a rectangle 1/8-inch thick, with 1 side roughly 12 inches long, on a lightly floured piece of parchment.
Transfer rectangles on parchment to baking sheets and refrigerate until firm, 30 minutes.
Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 1/4-to-1/2-inch-wide irregular strips, each about 12 inches long.
Separate strips on parchment-lined baking sheets and freeze until firm, about 30 minutes.
Bake until slightly darker around edges, about 12 minutes. Let twigs cool completely on baking sheets.
Melt white chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth.
Paint chocolate along length of each twig with a pastry brush to create a faux-bois look.
Refrigerate until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes. Twigs can be made 3 days ahead and stored in a cool place.
2 sticks organic, unsalted butter, at room temperature
16 oz Neufchâtel cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup organic heavy cream, chilled
1/2 cup organic powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon organic vanilla extract
Beat the butter and Neufchâtel cheese until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the heavy cream, then the powdered sugar and vanilla until fully incorporated and fluffy.
To Frost the Cake:
Add a dollop of frosting to your serving tray/stand. Add the bottom layer of cake. Spread a layer of frosting, top with a layer of cake and repeat. Frost the sides and top, then chill before frosting a final layer. To attach the “twigs,” add a small dollop of frosting to the back of the cookie, then press into place. Press sprigs of rosemary in between the twigs. Top with fresh cranberries, and sprinkle with powdered sugar.