Today has been marked on the calendar for about nine months now. I circled it last September and have been ticking off the months, and weeks, and then days until it finally arrived. It’s a big occasion because today is the day I graduate from law school! It took four years, because I went to class at night after Ryan got home from work, and it feels like both an eternity and an eyeblink since my first evening of Civil Procedure, my heart pounding with fear and excitement at the thought of being called on to brief the cases we’d read for class.
In all honesty, I don’t feel like I need a celebration because, for the most part, I really enjoyed it. There was that horrible semester at the beginning of my second year, though, that makes my head pound just thinking about it. Four months of staying at school until 1am every Friday night to finish sourcechecking for law review, then up at 5am to study before my daughter woke up. Ugh. I never want to relive that fall again. Other than that monstrosity, (and, OK, I’ll be honest, one or two boring classes), I loved it. Learning about the legal underpinnings of our society opened my eyes to understanding life, politics, history, and human behavior in a whole new way. Before I bore all of you too much, though, I’ll get on with the important part of this: The celebration food!
This called for a dessert to beat all desserts, and, after checking out from the library, and drooling over, Julie Richardson’s Vintage Cakes about thirty times, I knew it would be one of her recipes. (If the rather severe looking librarian from my branch is reading this, rest assured I did not actually drool on the book. Just next to it.) If you haven’t read Julie’s book yet, check it out. Even if you’re not going to make anything out of it. (Hopefully, I’m not the only person out there who periodically checks out recipe books with no intention of actually using them to cook something. To me, they’re like picture books for grownups.) Julie has definitely stolen my heart with this one. It’s full of gorgeous photographs of truly decadent delights, all introduced with fascinating stories about their origins. The first cake I made out of the book had a great little blurb about its history at the White House. Of all the cakes in the book, though, the Gingerbread Icebox Cake with Marscapone Mousse most intrigued me. Ginger cookies layered between mounds of fluffy mousse, placed in the fridge (icebox sounds so much nicer, doesn’t it?) overnight, and cut in tall slices of cookies and cream? Pass me a plate!
Truth be told, I didn’t make this cake for graduation itself. (This is a day I will take off of cooking and happily pay to eat the fruit of someone else’s labors.) Instead, I made it after I finished my last final–a ritual of extreme stress that I feel ecstatic I will never have to repeat. (Oh wait, except for The Bar, which will be about 100 times worse. Never mind.)
I also, as always, tweaked the recipe just a tad. I have a feeling this will annoy any of you who, unlike me, are real bakers and follow recipes to the “t.” However, if you’re a cheapskate, like me, then maybe you’ll find this useful. Instead of marscapone, I substituted 16 ounces cold cream cheese, 1/3 C cold sour cream, and 1/4 C cold heavy whipping cream. I beat these together in my mixer until light and fluffy, then went straight on with the directions for making the mousse. Also, I could not find blackstrap molasses in time, alas, so I used regular. It was still delicious, but next time, I will plan ahead and get the good stuff.
Truly, this was one of my favorite desserts yet. I ate a slice every night for several days, with a steaming cup of Pero. Pure bliss. Perhaps I will go back to school again, if it means justifying another one of these at the end of it.
And, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up to follow The Joyful Pantry! Right now, I’m holding a contest: if you sign up before midnight TONIGHT (May 25, 2013), you’ll be entered into a drawing for a $10 Amazon gift card. Look on the right-hand side of the home page for details.
Special Diets & Allergies: Well, let’s just skip over this for today, shall we? I’m pretty sure this is as far from health food as you can go and not very allergen friendly, but, if you’re allergic to soy or nuts, you can still make this one. Oh, and it’s vegetarian. Like there’s any dessert that isn’t…
Gingerbread Icebox Cake with Marscapone Mousse
From Vintage Cakes, by Julie Richardson
Makes 8 to 10 Servings
Julie mentions this important detail in her headnotes: “Note that this cake needs to rest overnight to allow the flavors to meld and the cookies to soften.”
4 3/4 C (23 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 T ground ginger
1 T ground cinnamon
1 t ground cloves
3/4 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t fine sea salt
3/4 C (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 C (5 2/3 ounces) firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 C (9 ounces) unsulfured blackstrap molasses
1 lb mascarpone, cold
1 1/2 C heavy cream, cold
1/3 C (2 1/3 ounces) sugar
2 T pure vanilla extract (Julie says you can also use 1/4 C brandy here)
To make the wafers, center an oven rack and preheat the oven to 350°F.
Sift together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl, then whisk the mixture by hand to ensure that the ingredients are well mixed.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until well combined. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl between additions. Blend in the molasses. Add the dry ingredients all at once and combine on low speed, scraping down the bowl as needed to create a unified dough.
Divide the dough in four quarters and shape each piece into a rough rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap each piece tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough until it is firm enough to roll out, about 2 hours.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough with a rolling pin to 1/8 inch thick or even a bit thinner (use a ruler; you can never go too thin, but you will need to reduce your baking time if you roll the dough thinner than 1/8 inch). Using a 21/2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out disks and place them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheet.
Gather up the scraps and reroll. If the dough gets too warm and hard to handle, pop it back in the refrigerator to firm up before continuing. You will need 70 wafers to assemble the cake. If you have extra dough, use it to cut some festive cookies to embellish the top of the cake, or chill it to make more gingerbread wafers later; the dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for 2 months.
Bake the wafers until golden around the edges and firm on top, 12 to 14 minutes. Let the wafers cool on their baking sheet until cool enough to handle, then remove them to a wire rack to cool completely.
Once the wafers are baked, make the mascarpone mousse. Place a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and its whisk attachment in the freezer for 5 minutes to chill. Blend the mascarpone, cream, and sugar in the cold bowl on low speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium high and whip just until the cream becomes thick and fluffy and holds a stiff peak (warning: overmixing will cause the contents to curdle.) Blend in the vanilla or brandy on low speed until just incorporated.
To assemble the cake, spread about 2 tablespoons of the cream on a flat serving plate. Arrange 6 wafers touching side by side in a circle plus 1 wafer in the middle. Spread a heaping 1/2 cup of mousse atop the wafers, almost covering them but leaving a smidge of room at the edge of the circle.
Repeat with another 7 wafers and more mousse, offsetting the wafers from the previous layer so they do not stack right on top of each other. Repeat until you have ten layers of wafers staggered with ten layers of mousse (not counting your initial dollop on the plate), topping the last layer of wafers with all the mousse that is left in the bowl.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Serve chilled, and if you made any decorative cookies, arrange them on the top.
This cake keeps for up to 3 days refrigerated in an airtight container.