A Show-Stopping Dessert with A Spicy Taste of Winter

Gingerbread cake that's mmm, mmm good.

This is one of the desserts that award-winning San Francisco Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti says she makes most often.

It’s easy to understand why.

It’s a classic gingerbread cake with an air of elegance and sophistication because of its accouterments — a compote of warm, tender apples, and a rich, creamy sabayon with the added complex kick of Calvados (apple brandy).

Luchetti says she used to slice the cake and build little gingerbread houses out of them. Now, she takes the simpler approach and just cuts the cake into squares. “Tastes just as good,” she says with a smile.

“Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon” is from Luchetti’s lastest book, “Classic Stars Desserts” (Chronicle Books).

The dark, moist cake looks almost like it’s made of chocolate because of the molasses in the batter. Warm spices including ground ginger, cinnamon, and cloves give it a comforting taste of winter.

The cider sabayon is made by whisking egg yolks, sugar, apple juice and Calvados in a double-boiler until thick and smooth. Then, whipped cream is gently folded into the cooled sabayon for even more luxuriousness. I could happily eat this by the spoonful all on its own. But that would be wrong, wouldn’t it?

You can make the cake, warm apples (I used a mix of Galas and Granny Smiths), and sabayon a day ahead of time. Just reheat the apples before serving.

I made this dessert for my in-laws’ Christmas gathering. Even my husband’s 20-something nephews went wild for it.

The recipe says it serves 6, but that would mean some seriously large slabs of cake. I found that it makes more like 8 servings, even for me, who can’t get enough of this knockout dessert.

Gingerbread with Warm Apples and Cider Sabayon

(serves 6-8)

For gingerbread:

Butter for the pan

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup molasses

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground ginger

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Pinch of ground cloves

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup brown sugar

1 large egg

For warm apples:

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter

7 firm, juicy apples (about 7 pounds), peeled, halved, cored, and sliced 3/16-inch thick

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons apple juice or Calvados

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pinch of kosher salt

Cider Sabayon (recipe follows)

To make gingerbread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in molasses and baking soda. Set aside to cool to lukewarm. Sift together flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and baking powder onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add salt and set aside.

Combine butter and sugar in bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and beat until incorporated. Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the cooled molasses mixture in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients, and mixing well after each addition. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. (I have a gas oven, so my cake finished baking after 45 minutes). Let cool to room temperature.

To prepare apples: In a large saute pan, combine butter, apples, sugar, apple juice, lemon juice, and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until apples are soft but still retain their shape, about 10 minutes.

Cut gingerbread into pieces. Top with warm apples and warm sabayon.

Note: Gingerbread may be made a day in advance. Wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. The apples may be cooked 2 days in advance, covered and refrigerated. Reheat before serving.

Cider Sabayon

(makes about 1 1/2 cups)

4 large egg yolks

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Small pinch of kosher salt

5 tablespoons apple juice (see Note)

1 tablespoon Calvados

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl one-third full with ice. Add cold water to cover ice.

In a stainless-steel bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and salt until blended. Whisk in apple juice and Calvados.

Place bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure bottom of bowl does not touch the water. Cook, whisking constantly, until it is thick and there are no air bubbles, 3 to 4 minutes. The mixture should mound slightly when dropped from the whisk.

Remove bowl from pan and place it in the ice bath. Let cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally.

Whisk cream until soft peaks form. Using a spatula, fold cream into cooled sabayon just until combined.

Cover and refrigerate until serving.

Note: You can also substitute 6 tablespoons sparkling apple cider for the 5 tablespoons apple juice plus 1 tablespoon Calvados.

The sabayon may be made a day ahead and kept refrigerated.

Recipes by Pastry Chef Emily LuchettiÂ

Reminder: Be sure to read my “Take Five Q&A” with Emily Luchetti by clicking here.

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