Before you ask, these little egg nog-cranberry present boxes are my modern, gluten-free interpretation of a Christmas cake. Christmas Cake, at least in Japanese culture, are soft spongecakes with cream and usually strawberries, just to capture this red and white aesthetic. I wanted to take the red and white aesthetic, along with some more traditionally festive ingredients, and create something that really invokes the holidays – a present box. When I was conceptualizing an idea for a Christmas cake, I struggled a lot at first with what kind of “festive” motif I wanted to go with. I thought about stockings, Christmas trees, reindeer, elves, candy canes even. But, with the exception of the Christmas tree, those were all kind of weird mediums to translate into a dessert for me. And with the Christmas tree, I feel like everyone has seen a dessert Christmas tree before. That and since I wanted the dessert to be red and white, a Christmas tree, which can be those colors, might not be as easily recognizable in just red and white hues. And that’s when I thought about present boxes. A brightly wrapped box with a bow on top of it. Super simple, very cute, and fairly easily to translate that visual into a dessert! And then came the flavor profiles.
When it came to festive ingredients, I admittedly struggled with that as well. Christmas for my family meant we occasionally put up a tree if we wanted to go through the trouble and effort, we would get presents, and that was really it. I would be lying if I said I had any childhood nostalgia or ties to Christmas ingredients. However, I do love egg nog. Back in college, I had it for the first time ever(yes, I know, that’s very sad), and I enjoyed every last sip of it. It literally just tasted like a creme anglaise to me. Just melted down. Decadent, rich, creamy, silky, and sweet. It is a perfect ingredient for pastry! Now with what to pair with it, I had a couple of stumbling blocks. At first, I wanted to use peppermint candies, and do this maltodextrin pink snow with it. But honestly, the thought of peppermint candies, which are sweet, and egg nog, which is sweet and heavy, just sounded like a really heavy combination, no matter what I did with the peppermint. So I shifted over from peppermint to cranberries. Which makes perfect sense, flavor pairing-wise! Cranberries are tart and sour, the perfect foil to egg nog. Kind of like Santa and Krampus! Cranberries are also naturally red, so I could incorporate a puree of them into a bright red glaze to enrobe my little present boxes!
Now for the components. The base of the dessert was an egg nog-infused chiffon cake. I replaced my egg yolks with straight up egg nog, and used mochiko in the cake batter to make it fully gluten-free. For me, mochi is something I eat during festive times, so the usage of it is really my homage to that, since my childhoods of celebrating Christmas and New Years was filled with eating tang yuan instead of figgy pudding and all of those kinds of things. Since egg nog is so rich in, well, for a lack of better words, fat and sugar, I figured that would be a good way to really hydrate the mochiko, which can bake off really dry without a lot of fat. I did sub out all of the sugar in both the mousse and the cake, since egg nog is so naturally sweet that the idea of adding more sugar, on top of there being a mirror glaze and a white modeling chocolate bow, sounded like a bad idea. The cranberry gelee sandwiched between the cake slices and the egg nog mousse adds a pleasant tartness to the dessert, while the mirror glaze, which is made with both cranberry and white chocolate, adds a gorgeous red sheen and a bit more cranberry flavor as well. Adorning the top of my little present boxes(just so they look like presents and not just shiny red boxes), is a little bow, made out of white modeling chocolate. These present boxes were a challenge to make from start to finish, but they are something I am proud of, just because of how cute they are, and how good they taste!
For the gluten-free eggnog cake:
4 egg whites
1/4 cup egg nog
3 tbsp canola oil
a pinch of salt
1/2 cup mochiko(glutinous rice flour)
1/2 tsp baking powder
In a bowl, whip egg whites to stiff peaks. In another bowl, mix egg nog with canola oil and salt. Sift into that the flour and baking powder, then fold into that the egg whites to form your batter. Pour the batter onto a lined sheet tray and spread into an even layer. Bake at 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. Cut out 16 2-inch squares.
For the cranberry gelee:
1/2 cup cranberry puree
2 tbsp lemon or citrus juice
a pinch of salt
2 tsp agar agar
Bring everything to a simmer. Once the agar is fully dissolved into the puree, pour the mixture into a shallow container and refrigerate until set. Cut into 8 pieces and keep cold.
For the eggnog mousse:
2 tsp gelatin powder + 2 tbsp cold water
2 tbsp water
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup egg nog
2/3 cups heavy cream
In a pot, melt down the gelatin with water and salt first. Take the mixture off heat and pour in half of the egg nog, stirring rapidly to combine. Pour through a sieve into a both containing the rest of the egg nog. In a separate bowl, whip cream to stiff peaks. Once the egg nog is at room temperature, fold the cream into it to form your mousse.
For initial assembly:
Brush each square of the cake with egg nog. Pipe 8 3-inch silicone cube molds 1/4 the way full with the egg nog mousse. Then press in the first square of cake. Then add in about 1 1/2 tbsp more mousse, then the gelee. Then 1 1/2 tbsp more mousse, then the cakes. Freeze these solid, at least 2 hours in the freezer, before attempting to unmold. Keep these cakes frozen for glazing as well.
For the cranberry mirror glaze:
2 1/2 tbsp gelatin powder + 1/4 cup cold water
1/4 cup cranberry puree
3 tbsp water
1 tsp beet powder
a pinch of salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
In a pot, heat up the gelatin and cranberry puree first. Thin out the mixture with some water, and then add in the other ingredients, stirring over low heat until everything is just melted together. Pass through a sieve. Reheat the glaze to about 90 degrees F before attempting to pour over the frozen mousses on an elevated surface, allowing any excess glaze to drip off the sides. I found myself collecting and reheating the excess glaze quite frequently in this process, since you want to generously glaze the exteriors of the cakes, just to get every side coated. Let the glaze set around the mousses for at least 5 minutes before attempting to transfer the cakes to another surface.
For the modeling chocolate:
1/2 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup light corn syrup
a pinch of salt
Over a double boiler, melt everything together until combined. Place into the refrigerator and allow the chocolate to firm up for about 20 minutes. Roll out the chocolate, and cut out bows, using 2-inch square cutters to cut out the bows and form the ribbons around them. I used roughly 1 1/2 2-inch square cut outs of the chocolate per bow. The first cut out, I crinkled into thirds, pamphlet style, like how one would make farfalle pasta. I would cut another 2-inch square in half to form two thinner rectangles, then cut each halfway in half as well(think the shape of pants), and trimmed the “pant legs” using a square cutter to resemble the ends of a ribbon. Then I rolled the bowl along the thicker, undivided end, to form my bows. I refrigerated them just to let them firm up before adding them on top of the present boxes.