I’ve been busy this holiday season! Crafting, wrapping, gathering, and baking—I was determined to not let the epidemic of busyness keep me from having a proper holiday complete with a Christmas dinner featuring a gorgeous local leg of lamb from my butcher, Main Street Meats, here in Chattanooga. The lamb also starred in an interesting and surprisingly controversial photo shoot I did with friend & brilliant portrait photographer Chris Daniels…but that’s a story for another day! I’ve been calling it #lambgate2014. Anyhow, the truth is it would have been easy to not make the effort. Easy to shove the gifts into muslin bags (which I did with quite a few…albeit with a little sprig of cotton and a vintage photograph to act as a tag), easy to not bother with a tree, easy to buy a wreath from Whole Foods and call it a day. I’ve been working down to the wire to meet deadlines, and I even had to work today, Christmas Eve, but given my line of work that means that there’s a giant bowl of cola buttercream sitting on my counter. I am simultaneously pleased and displeased about this. I digress. I’m sure you’re all getting cozy and quiet here on Christmas Eve, so I just wanted to use this post as a virtual invitation into my home during the holidays. You can find the cake recipe as well as my wreath and wrapping tips after the jump.
I took my markedly neutral, grayscale approach to holiday decorating and table laying this season. The truth is, I’m not really a red person. I’m not really a warm color spectrum person period. Oranges and red can most especially peace out. I like yellow alright in the form of certain flowers. So I embraced my dull self and kept my grapevine wreaths muted with eucalyptus, seed pods, thistle, and balsam fir tree trimmings. I was going to post a DIY for the wreaths, but that seemed like over kill because they’re so simple. I got an armful of greens that spoke to me from my neighborhood florist Gil & Curt’s , then I took the stuff I liked and stuck it in the wreath in a mad, rambling fashion. The end. Play with it. Don’t be afraid of asymmetry and imperfection; those make for the most beautiful wreaths. And people, incidentally.
The same goes for wrapping. This year I opted for muslin as that’s pretty much all I’ve been wrapping anything with this year. I get it at the craft store for about $4 a yard. I use it as a makeshift tablecloth; I cut napkins out of it; use it for side towels in the kitchen. The best part about wrapping a gift in it is whomever you give it to can either use it wrap their next gift or keep it around the house to use as they please instead of throwing it away like we would paper. The same goes for the twine. I mean…when do you not need more twine? I jest. Sort of. I also try to give either handmade goods from small businesses & makers so I can support that community or consumables so that I’m not cluttering lives. I try to stay away from giving random stuff or aesthetic objects that might not be someone’s taste. I don’t want to give something they aren’t going to positively love. So I stick with things like fine teas, soaps & apothecary goodies, and handmade candles along with crystals & from scratch edibles like spice blends, cookies, salt blends, flavored sugars, and the like. I give everyone crystals. Because who couldn’t use a little more magic, healing, and glimmer in their life?
As for my holiday table, I kept it as simple as I always do. A linen tablecloth, handmade ceramics, vintage brass & wood flatware, and plenty of candles along with an amber glass vase brimming with eucalyptus. A sprig of eucalyptus on each plate to echo the centerpiece was the finishing touch. And to be honest, we moved the giant jar of splayed greens during dinner so we could see each other. It looks cool, but I don’t like to eat with something towering in the center. It’s obstructive and makes the meal less intimate. So I look at a big centerpiece like a throw pillow on a bed—they’re beautiful and inviting but you take them off when you get in bed. I’m cool with that. For dinner I served the aforementioned leg of lamb roasted in a paste of olive oil, anchovy paste, garlic, and fresh herbs. It was served with a kalamata olive, fig, toasted pecan, oregano, and mint tapenade. Alongside the lamb we had a roasted beet salad with citrus, chevre, and almonds; a winter green salad of endive, radicchio, apple, kumquat, and parsley in a honey-cider vinaigrette; and a butternut squash, apple, and mascarpone risotto with toasted hazelenuts, plenty of pecorino, and fresh sage. It was an epic feast, and we topped it off with the cake pictured here. It tastes just like gingerbread, and it’s dangerously addictive. I toyed with the idea of giving the frosting a flavor other than the whole creamy sugar thing, but honestly, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. And I didn’t want any flavors meddling with the beautiful cake. I wanted a frosting that would complement it, not compete with it. That said, if you felt like flavoring your frosting with fresh rosemary, I think that’d be really nice. This is a fine wintery recipe that’s just as good after the holidays as during.
Alright…now I’m going to go engage in my ever so twee Christmas Eve tradition of sitting by the fire and drinking cocoa. Just kidding. I did that last night. My Christmas Eve tradition is giving myself the one great pleasure that I deny myself pretty much 364 days out of the year….video games! Time for some Fable on Xbox. Merry Christmas! You all are the best, and I hope no matter what your situation in life is you find some joy tonight & tomorrow. Here are a bonkzillion photos. Much love. xx
- 3 cups (375 grams) all purpose flour
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
- pinch of cloves
- 2/3 cup sorghum syrup
- 2/3 cup (135 grams) dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 sticks (226 grams, one cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons of finely grated fresh ginger, packed
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (240 grams) buttermilk
- 16 oz of cream cheese, room temperature
- 8 oz mascarpone
- 2 sticks (226 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted (additional to taste if you like your frosting very sweet, I don't)
- Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and line your desired cake pans with parchment rounds.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, and clove. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the sorghum, sugars, and butter together until light and fluffy, about 8 minutes at medium speed. Scrape down the bowl halfway through to ensure even mixing. Add in the ginger and mix one minute more.
- With the mixer on low, add in the eggs one at a time, waiting until each is incorporated before adding the next. Add in the vanilla.
- With the mixer still on low add in the flour and buttermilk in three alternating additions of flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk. After the last addition let the mixer for about ten second and then turn it off and complete the mixing by hand with a spatula. The batter should be homogenous but be careful to not overmix and end up with a tough cake. Use a folding mixture and make sure to get the very bottom of the bowl.
- Divide the batter evenly among cake pans. This will yield enough batter for three 8" layers. If you'd like to make a cake the size of the one in the picture, increase the recipe by one half. Feel free to play with the sizes of your cake pans, just make sure that whatever pans you use, you only fill them half way up. To ensure even layers, measure the first pan you fill on a digital scale and match each subsequent pan of the same diameter to that measure.
- Bake cakes on the middle rack of the oven for about 25-30 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan about five minutes, and then turn them out onto cooling racks. Cool completely before frosting. If not frosting that day, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Layers can also be frozen and used later. Word on the street is if you wrap them very, very tightly in multiple layers and put them in freezer bags they can keep a couple of months. I haven't tried it, so I can't vouch. Thaw before using.
- While the cake bakes, make your frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, mascarpone, and cream cheese until very fluffy and thoroughly combined, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl at about the two minute mark. Beat in the sugar and vanilla extract until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved without a trace of grainy.
- Once the cakes are cool, frost them according to your heart's desire! I go naked because that's enough frosting for me and I love the textural, messy look of a naked cake. To each their own!