Many thoughts ran through my head while I was constructing this Five Spice Gingerbread Cake. “Why am I doing this to myself?” was the loudest and most insistent among them. This whole over-the-top exercise began when I got the “fun” idea of doing a gingerbread diorama on a cake. And once that idea took root in my brain, I knew I was in trouble. I don’t make gingerbread – I’ve never even attempted a prepackaged house kit before this. And my experience with royal icing is…scant. But I’m stubborn, so I persevered and I am so glad I did.
I would never suggest you do what I did. There’s no need to erect a small harbor-side down on a delicious cake. So I won’t be included any of my handmade, unscientific gingerbread patterns. And I won’t be including a gingerbread recipe or a royal icing recipe. I am just not experienced enough with either to write my own. I used Sweetopia’s royal icing recipe and Madelein Kitchen’s gingerbread recipe. Both worked exceptionally well in my inexperienced hands. But I would suggest at least halving both recipes as they make enough cookies and icing to feed a small sugar-obsessed army.
What I will be including in this post is the recipe for the Five Spice Gingerbread Cake, the Chestnut Pastry Cream, and the Nutmeg Cream Cheese Frosting. If you want to make your own gingerbread town, go for it. Just remember royal icing takes at least six hours to dry – that little tidbit really screwed me up, so fair warning.
Okay, so this is basically my level of homesickness. I’ve started channeling it into cakes, which I’m sure is nowhere near normal. The tiny town atop this cake is loosely inspired by Peggy’s Cove in my home province of Nova Scotia. I say “loosely” inspired because I lack the dexterity in the medium of gingerbread to render it at all faithfully. But the spirit is there, I guess?
But enough about the gingerbread that almost killed me, let’s talk cake. This cake is just like any other gingerbread cake but with a tiny savory element – five-spice powder. Five-spice powder is a spice blend commonly used in Asian cuisines. It is comprised of fennel, star anise, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and cloves. Some blends also contain salt, so make sure you check the ingredient list before adding it to the batter willy nilly. You can still use five-spice powder blends with salt but I would knock the salt you add to the cake back by a 1/4 teaspoon, if that is the case.
The chestnut cream is my basic pastry cream that I love so dear with the addition of ground chestnuts. Please make sure you buy the roasted, peeled chestnuts, not the nuts with their shells. They can be a real pain to peel and they are a tough nut to crack – so to speak. You have to cook them a long time to get them to their tell tale buttery texture. If you buy them peeled and roasted, all you have to do is toss them into a food processor and give them a blitz. Don’t worry about having a gritty texture to your pastry cream, the chestnuts almost dissolve into the finished cream.
And finally, we have the cream cheese frosting, which is pretty much like any other cream cheese frosting but with the addition of nutmeg. Of course, tread likely with your nutmeg – it is a powerful spice. If you’re keen to have your cream cheese frosting look like mine, you will have to add a splash of liquid white icing color. I use Wilton‘s White-White icing color.
Once your cake is filled, stacked, and frosted, the world is your oyster. You can decorate this bad boy anyway you wish. You definitely don’t have to drag gingerbread into this. This cake could just be a snow-white vision. The only thing I hope you do is make this cake. It really is a festive show-stopper and tasty to boot.
So that’s everything there is to know about this Five Spice Gingerbread Cake with Chestnut Cream. This is my final Christmas 2020 post. I hope you’ve enjoyed the peek into my menu making process. Hope you all have wonderful and safe holidays.
Five Spice Gingerbread Cake with Chestnut Cream
- 3 6" cake pans
- 50g (1.7 oz) peeled, roasted chestnuts
- 1 cup milk I used 2%
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 ½ tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter cold, cut into cubes
Five Spice Gingerbread Cake
- 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp salt
- 2 tsp five-spice powder**
- 1½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- 3 eggs
- ¾ cup plain yogurt
- ½ cup fancy molasses
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp orange zest
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 226g (8oz) brick cream cheese softened
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened
- 4 cups confectioner's sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- 4-5 drops White icing color optional
For the Cream
- Place the chestnuts in a large food processor. Blitz until finely ground. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Pour the milk, sugar, and salt into a small saucepan. Add the chestnuts and place over medium-low heat. Bring the mixture up to the temperature of hot tea but do not allow it to come to a boil.
- While the milk mixture is heating up, place the egg yolks in a bowl, and add the cornstarch. Whisk to combine. Whisking constantly, add a ladleful of the hot milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs. Add the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and cook until the mixture thickens and bubbles break the surface.
- Take the pastry cream off of the heat and immediately add the butter. Whisk until the butter melts and is fully incorporated. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl, cover, and chill for 3 hours or overnight.
For the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line 3 6" cake pans with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a large bowl whisk to combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
- Place the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time followed by the yogurt, molasses, vanilla, and orange zest. Add the flour mixture in thirds, waiting for each addition to be fully incorporated before adding more.
- Pour the cake batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Transfer the cakes to the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick can be inserted in the center of the cake and removed cleanly.
- Let the cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes before inverting them onto a cooling rack. Let cool for 1 hour at room temperature. Then wrap the cakes and chill for at least an hour before filling and frosting.
For the Frosting
- Place the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Scraping the bowl down frequently, beat the butter and cream cheese until uniform and no lumps remain.
- Sift the confectioner's sugar into a large bowl. Discard and lumps. Remove the paddle attachment and replace it with a whisk. Add half of the sugar mixture and whisk on low until incorporated. Add the remaining half and repeat.
- Finally, add the salt, nutmeg, and coloring if using, and beat until fully integrated. Cover the frosting and keep at room temperature until ready to use.
- Cut the domes off of each chilled layer of cake. Spread a little frosting in the center of a cake board and place the first layer on top. Cover the layer with chestnut cream and place the second layer on top and repeat.
- Once the third layer is in place, cover the cake with a thin layer of the cream cheese frosting to create a crumb coat. Chill the cake for 30 minutes.
- Frost the cake evenly with the remaining frosting and refrigerate until ready to serve. Take the cake out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving to take the chill off of the cake.