Snowball fight in the icebox: gingerbread icebox cake

Now I don’t really eat or make gingerbread men that often. Mostly because I was only raised with 50% of American traditions, being an immigrant, so gingerbread baking was not really something we did in our family. Highly ironic, given how much ginger we had at home, from fresh ginger root to powdered ginger to ginger tea crystals. However, I wanted to make something with gingerbread men, since I never really do, and that’s how this cake came about. What I love about icebox cake is that it’s layers and layers of cookies sandwiching cream. It’s basically like the Russian honey cake, and since I have experience making that, why not make a gingerbread-molasses cookie variation? That way, I can get 150% comfortable with making gingerbread, so I would be making 16 5-inch in diameter layers of it and on top of that, gingerbread men to boot.

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For my fillings, I did a cream cheese mousse, and a brown butter-apple compote. For the compote, I used apple and star apple, which is an African fruit similar in texture of a ripe persimmon. I figured it would be a cute nod to the holidays, since stars and the Christmas tree and what not. Also, fun fact, I have to make the gingerbread men free-form because literally no stores carried gingerbread men cutters, so I used aluminum foil to make my own. For the cookies, I did a spiced royal icing, using nutmeg and cinnamon just to make it not overtly sweet, since you’d already be eating layers of sugar as it is and you should not have to feel that way, nor should your teeth as you are eating said layers of sugar between the two fillings and cookies.

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For the gingerbread cookie dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour + 1 cup more for rolling
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup molasses
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ginger powder

Whip eggs, butter, sugar, molasses, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and ginger together until stiff. Fold in the flour. Divide the dough into 16 pieces. Dust generously with the flour, and dust the surface and rolling pin as well. Roll out dough into 1/16th inch rounds and cut out 5 inch circles, reserving the scraps. Bake at 350 degrees F for 7-10 minutes.

With the spare dough, roll out again to about 1/8th a inch and cut out at least 5 large (4-5 inch tall) gingerbread men, and then several small (at most, 1 inch tall) men as well. Bake the large for 8 minutes at 350 degrees F and the small for 6 minutes. Cool everything, rounds and cookies, down entire before assembly.

For the cream cheese mousse:
8 oz cream cheese
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 packets gelatin powder + 1/3 cup hot water
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
a pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream egg yolk, salt, vanilla, and cream cheese together. Whip heavy cream to stiff peaks. Melt gelatin into the hot water then combine with the other water and the sugar. Bring to a simmer in a pot. Once the mixture is reduced by about 1/2, pour into the cream cheese mixture and stir until combined. Pour through a sieve and refrigerate for 10 minutes to partially set. Fold through the whipped cream and keep at room temperature until it is time for assembly.

For the apple compote:
1 red delicious apple, peeled, cored, and finely diced
1 star apple, seeds removed
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of cloves
a pinch of salt

Brown the butter. Saute the diced apple and spices until soft then add in the star apple pulp. Continue stirring over heat until the pulp is tender and then puree. Chill down entirely before using.

For the royal icing:
1 egg white
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
a pinch of nutmeg
a pinch of cinnamon

Whip ingredients together until thick and glossy. Transfer to two piping bags; you’ll use one to ice the larger gingerbread men and the other for the smaller.

For assemble:
Reserve some of the cream cheese mixture to make 16 mini half domes with, using the silicone 1 inch half dome molds. Freeze that portion of the mousse solid. For the remainder, spread the cream cheese between each layer, with some apple puree in the center, alternating with rounds of cookie, center with the apple, then the mousse surrounding. Refrigerate overnight.

For the cookies, ice them however you’d like (I did faces, buttons, and snowballs, because the first mini cookie I did, my bag exploded, so it was either a snowball fight theme or…. other ideas which I would rather not disclose, but involving sticky white stuff), and then allow the royal icing to set at room temperature for at least an hour or in an 100 degree F oven for 30-40 minutes. Do not refrigerate the icing or else it will melt. Reserve the remaining icing, as you will be using that to glue the large gingerbread men to the parameter of the cake. Garnish the top with the 16 mousse balls, and then finish with the mini cookies, to make it resemble a snowball fight.

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