maple syrup

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream

Why hello there! It’s so nice to see you again!

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

First, I want to say that I hope you all had a perfectly wonderful (and delicious) Thanksgiving day. I know I did!

Second, I want to let you know that the pressure and the stress of making and testing and photographing and posting eight Thanksgiving recipes and making two actual Thanksgiving dinners (not to mention working at a kitchenware store leading up to the biggest food holiday in the US of A) was just too much for me. I promise that it was all worth it, but it actually killed me. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’ve passed away.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Despite my untimely demise, there’s no rest for the weary, and here I am again posting from the great unknown.

The holidays are fast approaching so I know that I need to get my blogging butt in gear and get baking! Being that I’m recently deceased though, I wanted to try to do something sort of easy(ish). Easy doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t also be really fun and impressive and totally delicious though!

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Thing is,
I don’t really do “easy”.

A while back I saw Martha (yes, THE Martha) on TV promoting her new entertaining cookbook and she made an icebox cake with thin, crisp homemade chocolate chip cookies. I’d never had an icebox cake, but her version sounded amazing and actually pretty simple (especially for Martha).

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

A traditional icebox cake is make with thin, store bought crisp wafer cookies sandwiched and stacked together with whipped cream. You do a layer of cookies, a layer of cream, a layer of cookies, a layer of cream, and so on and so forth until you suddenly have a round, cake shaped stack.

It doesn’t seem like this should work, but it does. You’d think that the cream would separate and wilt and the cookies would turn to mush and the whole thing would just fall apart and be weird and gross. But that’s not what happens. Magic happens.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

The crisp cookies soften as they absorb some of the liquid from the cream and so, rather than separating and wilting, the whipped cream actually thickens even more as the cookies soften up. When left for several hours (or overnight) the whole thing sort of takes on one perfect smooth, sliceable texture, just like a rich silky cake.

Like I said.
Magic.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

I decided that if it was good enough for Martha, it was good enough for me.

Rather than Martha’s chocolate chips, or the traditional chocolate wafer cookies, I wanted to do something a little more “holiday-y”. To me, growing up with German grandparents, the holidays were always filled with molasses and spice. Gingerbread and gingersnaps and the like. You know.

So I thought that a gingersnap icebox cake was just the ticket to kick off the holiday baking season. Like I said before though, I don’t really do “easy”. I know I set out to do an easy dessert, but once I got inspired and excited I decided that it would be more fun to make my own gingersnaps rather than using store bought. This is totally unnecessary, but I’m a weirdo so I totally enjoyed the process. If you do want to make your own though, I’d suggest using a little extra ginger in the cookies. The spice is mellowed out a bit by the cream so a little extra will kick it back up to where you’d expect a gingersnap to be.

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

To add a little extra depth and richness to the standard whipped cream I added mascarpone and a touch of maple syrup. A splash of bourbon was a nice touch too but could easily be left out if you’re serving this to the under 21 crowd.

The ginger and molasses in the gingersnaps pairs perfectly with the sweet mascarpone maple whipped cream. The combination is like a rich velvety gingerbread flavored mousse. A sprinkle of chopped crystalized ginger adds a nice touch of extra spice and lets your guests know that rather than simple chocolate, this cake is made with sugar and spice and everything nice.

This cake is seriously amazing. Like, totally unbelievable. Russell has been raving about it ever since the last bite disappeared and keeps saying how he wasn’t expecting something so simple to taste so delicious. But, again, this cake is made of magic. You might even say that it’s special powers were strong enough to bring me back to life!

gingersnap icebox cake with maple mascarpone cream | Brooklyn Homemaker

Gingersnap Icebox Cake with Maple Mascarpone Cream

Maple Mascarpone Cream Icing:
2 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup real maple syrup
2 tablespoons bourbon or rum (optional)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
8 oz mascarpone at room temperature
pinch of salt

At least 63 gingersnaps, for nine layers of seven cookies each
(I made my own using a double batch of smitten kitchen‘s recipe)
A tablespoon or two of finely chopped crystalized ginger, optional

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream until it begins to thicken and form soft peaks. In a separate bowl, stir together the mascarpone, sugar, maple syrup, bourbon, vanilla, & salt until smooth and well combined. Transfer mascarpone mixture to bowl with thickened cream and beat on low speed until almost smooth, 30 to 60 seconds. Scrape down the sides and fold to incorporate. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the mixture is thick and holds firm peaks, another 30 to 60 seconds. Do NOT overbeat or the icing will become grainy.

On an 8″ cake board, cake stand, or serving plate, arrange a layer of cookies into tight a circle. You’ll want one cookie in the center with a ring of cookies surrounding it with as little space between them as possible. With the size of the cookies I used I could fit 7 cookies per layer. Place about 3/4 to a cup of icing over the first layer of cookies and smooth it out with a small offset icing spatula. Spread the icing almost to the outer edge of the cookies, leaving just a small edge of cookies showing. Arrange another layer of cookies, alternating the layers so they appear staggered above one another. Repeat another layer of icing and then another layer of cookies, again and again until you have as many layers as you desire or until you run out of icing or cookies. Finish the top of the cake with a final layer of icing. My cake was 9 layers tall.

If you have a cookie or two left over, crumble it over the top and sprinkle with crystalized ginger if desired.

Transfer cake to refrigerator for a minimum of 6 hours (or overnight) before serving. 

maple walnut pie

Growing his own food has always been very important to my grandfather and it shows.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

His entire house in surrounded by food. Edible things are everywhere, and as a child, I took it completely for granted.

Now that I’m an adult I realize the value of having access to home grown produce, and pay a hefty premium at New York’s green markets to buy food that someone else grew for me. As a kid though, the stuff was literally growing up out of the ground and falling from the trees. Even today grandpa has more than he and my grandmother could even imagine eating, and give it away for free to anyone who stops by for a visit.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

When I was young though, I didn’t even like most of what Grandpa grew. Other than strawberries and grapes, much of what came out of his garden was completely wasted on me. I wasn’t very fond of apples, I thought pears were grainy and disgusting, and I wouldn’t even eat tomato sauce on pasta, let alone eat a fresh tomato from the garden. I hated squash, asparagus, peppers, you name it. As fondly as I remember my childhood, I can’t help but look back on those days with a bit of remorse for the things I could have eaten but didn’t.

Now that I do like most of these foods, I live too far away to take much advantage of the bounty of Grandpa’s garden. I don’t get to take home any of the bags of asparagus and bright juicy berries in the spring, peaches and zucchini and summer squash in the summer, tidy rows of tomatoes ripening on the window sills later in the year, or mountains of butternut squash and branches weighed down by apples and pears in the fall.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

The whole coulda, shoulda, woulda, but didn’t thing doesn’t end with the fruits and veggies either. Grandpa also has plenty of nut trees growing on his land too. Big spiky chestnuts litter the yard behind his garage, and he’s locked in a constant battle with squirrels over the English walnuts towering over the gravel driveway across from the house.

 

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

Walnuts though, took me even longer to learn to appreciate. I didn’t like nuts as a kid (suprised?) but even after I started eating tomatoes and squash and asparagus, I still hated walnuts. In most baking recipes that called for them, I usually left them out entirely or occasionally might substitute pecans in their place.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

While pecans are sweet and subtle, walnuts are bitter and bold in a way that I only learned to love a year or two ago. I think it was my love of dark chocolate that finally taught my palate to appreciate the earthy bitterness of walnuts in baking.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

Look at me now, only a few short years later, substituting walnuts for pecans instead of the other way around. I absolutely love pecan pie, especially at Thanksgiving, but I thought adding walnuts might be a fun twist. Pecan pie is sweet and crunchy and buttery and wonderful in every possible way, but I sometimes find it can be a little one note with all that corn syrup and sweet nuts.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker

This maple walnut pie is basically a Yankee version of the traditional Thanksgiving pecan pie. Rather than just subbing walnuts for pecans, I also swapped the corn syrup for maple syrup and brown sugar. The pie retains every bit of it’s sweet buttery goodness, with crunchy nuts and a crispy flaky crust, but instead of one-note sweetness it has incredible depth. The earthy bitter walnuts are perfectly balanced by the rich sweetness of the caramel-y maple syrup and deep molasses-y brown sugar. Even people who might not love the bitter crunch of walnuts will likely love this pie. I’m reluctant to say that I’ve improved upon the pecan pie that many hold so dear, but this year when I had my fakesgiving dinner this was definitely the fastest pie to disappear.

Just sayin’.

maple walnut pie | Brooklyn Homemaker.

Maple Walnut Pie

1 single pie crust * see note
2 1/2 cups shelled walnuts
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (light will work fine too)
1 cup REAL maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons bourbon
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out pie crust and gently transfer to a 9 to 9.5″ pie dish. Trim and crimp the edges and freeze the crust for at least 15 or 20 minutes. Fit the crust with a large square of parchment paper and fill the dish with pie weights, dried beans, or even pennies. Bake the crust at 425 for about 15 minutes or until the crust is set and the edges are beginning to brown. This is called blind baking the pie shell. For more info, the Kitchn has a great tutorial. Let cool.

Turn the oven down to 350.
Arrange walnuts in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Toast the nuts until fragrant and oily looking, about 8 to 10 minutes. Be careful they don’t burn or they can become very bitter. Let cool and crush 2 cups of the nuts, keeping 1/2 cup whole if desired.

Turn the oven back up to 375.
Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add brown sugar and stir until completely dissolved. Add maple syrup and salt, stir, and let cool for at least 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl lightly beat eggs and add vanilla, bourbon, and nutmeg. Mix in butter mixture and the 2 cups of crushed walnuts. Stir until well combined, and pour into baked pie shell. If desired, top with reserved whole walnuts in a circular pattern.
Bake for 45 minutes or until well set and puffed in the center. Cool on a wire rack. Cool completely before serving.

*note:
You can use any recipe you like, or even a store bought crust, but I think all butter crusts have the best flavor. I used my favorite crust recipe, but it makes two single crusts so you can freeze one, make another pie, or use the other for your pumpkin pie.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle

Christmas is officially (almost) upon us, and I frankly couldn’t be more stressed.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m going to take a second here to be totally honest with you. I hope you can handle it.

Number one, I work in retail.
The “most wonderful time of the year” also translates to the most hectic and agonizing time of the year to anyone who works in the service industry. Something about buying gifts to spread all that holiday happiness and joy really brings out the worst in people.

Beyond that, I’ve always been a little bit stressed by the holidays. The pressure to buy gifts for dozens of people gives me serious anxiety. Trying to make sure all the gifts fit the recipients in a truly thoughtful way, and that nothing should appear cheap or hasty, is just too much for me. Oddly enough, I also don’t really enjoy receiving gifts. I guess that’s kind of weird, but I don’t really need anything and something about giving people lists feel really disingenuous and unnatural to me. I’m also very particular and picky and often feel like I would rather just buy things for myself.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’m sure a lot of you are thinking I’m an awful scrooge and just a terrible human being in general, but I promise you that I’m not! It’s not that I hate the holidays, it’s just that there are a few aspects of this season that really rub me the wrong way. If Christmas was more about spending time and less about spending money, I’d like it so much more. As much as I resent the conspicuous consumption, I promise that there are actually are tons of aspects of Christmas that I really love!

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

Any reason to spend real quality time with friends and family is great in my book, and I honestly really love the whole ritual of getting a tree and decorating the house and hanging stockings and all that. I also love all the food and sweets. Obviously.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

This time of year my grandmother would always have trays and trays of cookies and candies and snacks out for grazing, and one thing I could never resist was the peanut brittle. There’s just something about that caramel-y nutty crunchy salty sweet thing that really does it for me. It may not be true for most people, but peanut brittle (or any nut brittle for that matter) will always make me think of Christmas.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

I’d never made my own brittle before so I thought it would be fun to try something new this holiday season. Homemade gifts, and food gifts especially, have always felt so much more honest and heartfelt and true to me than any things you can buy in a store. After a test batch for myself, I decided that I liked my brittle so much that I would make a few extra batches to give out as a Christmas treats to our favorite businesses in the area where I work.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

The Williamsburg neighborhood (where Whisk is based) is growing into a major shopping district, but it’s historically been a small underdog neighborhood and the main shopping area is made up mostly of small independent shops. A lot of the shops and restaurants work really closely together, and this time of year we often exchange little treats and food gifts to help everyone through this hectic season.

The brittle was a huge hit, and it was really nice to get out of the store for a bit and see the smiles on everyone’s faces when I dropped off their cute little paper boxes wrapped up with bakers twine.

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

This recipe is a really interesting twist on traditional peanut brittle. The toasted walnuts have a special kind of earthy bitterness that complements the sweetness of the candy really beautifully. Real maple syrup is a natural pairing with walnuts, and the addition of just a touch of molasses gives just a bit more depth and adds a rich caramel-iness. Adding a sprinkle of crunchy minerally fleur de sel or maldon sea salt elevates the whole experience with an adult elegance. This stuff is perfect.

It’s actually not difficult to make either, though you will need a candy thermometer since the addition of molasses makes it difficult to tell by color which stage the cooked sugar has reached. You’ll also want to use a much bigger pot than you think, because the sugar boils and bubbles up a lot!

Happy Holidays y’all!

salted maple and molasses walnut brittle | Brooklyn Homemaker

Salted Maple and Molasses Walnut Brittle

  • Servings: about 2 pounds of brittle
  • Print
adapted from Food & Wine

2 cups sugar
1/3 cup (real) maple syrup
3 tablespoons unsulphered molasses
1/2 cup water
1 stick unsalted butter
1/3 cup light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
12 ounces chopped walnuts
2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of Fleur de sel or crushed Maldon sea salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Spread walnuts out in an even layer and toast for about 10 minutes or until they smell like heaven. Don’t leave them in too long or they could burn and become very bitter.

Combine sugar, water, butter, maple syrup, molasses, and corn syrup in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the caramel is thick with tight bubbles and registers 300° on a candy thermometer, about 10 or 15 minutes. Since the syrup and molasses give the mixture a dark color, it’s hard to tell if it’s reached the hard crack stage from color. I’d highly recommend the use of a candy thermometer.

Remove from the heat and carefully stir in the baking soda and cinnamon. Be careful, the mixture will bubble up. Stir in the walnuts, then immediately scrape the brittle onto a large rimmed buttered baking sheet. Using the back of a silicone spatula or spoon (oil it lightly if it sticks), spread the brittle into a thin, even layer. Work fast. Letting the candy cool too much before spreading can affect the texture. Immediately sprinkle with salt. Let cool completely, about 30 minutes. Break the brittle into large shards.