I bake the cakes for everyone’s birthday in my home, including my own. For my birthday this year, I chose to deviate from the standard panel of cakes and made Cook’s Illustrated Gingerbread Layer Cake (subscription required). It has a strong spice flavor that’s well balanced. The recipe augments the usual ginger and cinnamon with white and cayenne peppers, and both fresh and powdered ginger contribute to the flavor profile. Cocoa powder and coffee and a hint of chocolate, which pairs well with the warm spices.
One of the most unusual aspects is the use of a cooked flour (or “ermine”) frosting. This is apparently the original frosting paired with red velvet cake, but it is rarely seen in modern recipes. I had tried Stella Parks’ version before and was unimpressed, but this recipe really worked. The frosting was smooth without being too buttery, and had just the right amount of sweetness. The recipe consists of a cooked roux of flour, milk, and sugar that forms a thick paste, which is then cooled to room temperature before being added to beaten butter. Breaking down the ingredients, I’m not sure why Parks’ didn’t impress me – the ratio of ingredients is fairly similar. The only notable difference is that Parks makes the cooked paste out of only flour and milk, adding the sugar later. Regardless, I anticipate using this frosting with more cakes in the future.
I deviated slightly from the original recipe, which calls for making 4 thin layers with 8 inch pans. I enjoy frosting only in moderation, so I cut the frosting recipe by 1/3 and made 2 thicker 8-inch layers. I used cake strips to avoid doming, but it was unnecessary with this recipe – in fact, the cake was slightly sunken in the center, so these should be avoided. The texture was great – moist without being greasy, and fluffier than expected. It can also be made in advance – I though it tasted even better the second day. The original recipe calls for chilling the finished cake for 30 minutes after icing, but I found this unnecessary. I chilled the layers in the freezer for an hour or so prior frosting, so applying the frosting to the chilled cakes may have helped to set it. With 2/3 of the frosting, I had just enough frosting to thinly coat the cake with some writing on top – the full recipe would have allowed for a thicker application as well as more decorations. The ermine frosting was easy to pipe, so I imagine decorations would be a breeze.