Hello! It’s the end of the year and I guess I’m feeling reflective, so pardon the long, long post! If you just want to read about drunken gummy bears on cake skip below the rest of the photos!
It’s been a bit more than a minute since my last post. I’m realizing as I write this that I dropped a cake here, took a months-long hiatus, and came back with another cake. But it’s fine! Because the seasons have changed and my mood has apparently gone from summery, festive sprinkles and fresh fruit to wintery, boozy delinquent gummy bears.
So why the break? Unlike my last hiatus, I didn’t plan it, but then I made the last cake and it took forever to motivate myself to post about it. And once I did, I just didn’t feel the urge to come back to this space. I didn’t want to take any photos or write up any recipes, and aside from a random small batch of cookies or indulging a brownie craving, I didn’t bake at all for a few months. Who even am I?
Part of that was logistical. I went to Australia again for work and then treated myself to a mini vacation (I will have to post about it because it was unreally beautiful). After almost three weeks of eating every meal out, I came home and only wanted to cook myself salad.
The other part was just mental. I was uninspired and unmotivated, and I simply needed a break. Unchecked, I have a tendency to turn this site into another full time job, and I was starting to feel like I had no time to spend with friends or just myself. Stress is so often self-induced, and I was inducing like crazy.
So, since I’m trying to remove the guilt of letting myself have a break from my 100% self-imposed schedule, I took one!
I erased my editorial calendar. I went to the beach! I went to Waco and celebrated Thanksgiving with friends and ate tacos and brisket and beer. I tried not to panic at not adding fresh content to the site, or not contributing a single recipe to the already over-filled pumpkin/turkey/stuffing ecosystem online. Absolutely no one missed anything, and I got to binge dumb holiday movies on Netflix and go outside on the weekends.
It. Was. Fantastic.
And then, well, I had to decide what to do. Out of habit, I just kept adding ideas to my list of recipes I want to post here, so I obviously hadn’t given up on the idea of the blog. But also, after years of saving spare cash here and there, I finally saved up enough to buy a real lens for the real camera I have stashed in my closet, one that could take my photos from “meh” to “just ok”! I did research, I compared prices, and I came very close to purchasing a lens. And then I paused. Which made me think.
There is a special kind of decision paralysis that comes from fear. And I think that’s what it is. I have fear that I’ll just accidentally walk away from this forever. The truth is it takes a lot of time and energy to product something that pays me $0. Fortunately, I’m not trying to rely on this blog for money, but my time is valuable too. And yet, there is a part of me that doesn’t want all this time and effort to be for nothing. Will creating this only for myself be enough? Will my crappy photos continue giving me feelings of failure? So, I worry that one day I will decide that it’s no longer worth it. And then I’m really going to wish I’d spent that camera money on something else.
I don’t know the answer yet, but I’ll keep posting as I want, with my crappy camera for now. So below, enjoy some “meh” photos of a very not “meh” cake!
This cake came from the idea of a traditional holiday fruitcake.
Let me explain.
You know the fruitcake that gets sold with the really gross looking, fluorescent bits of cherry and whatever other stuff that is super seasonally appropriate with bits of green and yellow and red? Yeah, no one wants to eat that. But what people do like to eat, that have a similar color scheme, are gummy bears.
You see where I went with this.
Unfortunately, gummy bears cannot be baked into a cake, since they are like 100% sugar and gelatin, and so have a tendency to melt. But they can be soaked in spiced rum and scattered between two layers of gingerbread cake in a pillowy drift of cream cheese frosting.
Again, you see where I went with this.
This cake is weird. I know it’s weird, you know it’s weird. I almost didn’t bring it to my friend Christiana’s house after telling her I would arrive with dessert, because I looked at the final product and I was momentarily afraid I wouldn’t have friends anymore if I showed up with this cake. But I found my nerve and I’m so glad I did. The cake was a hit!
The orange-scented frosting pairs wonderfully with the dense gingerbread cake, and the boozy gummy bears in the middle, while a bit strong and sharp on their own, meld into the cake so well they almost disappear (Seriously, we couldn’t find them! Either there was a gummy bear thief or they all got pushed into the half of the cake that wasn’t cut. But the little bits we got were fantastic). The gummy bear soaking liquid then gets mixed into a glaze and dabbed onto the cake layers before frosting, for even more rummy goodness. It’s a boozy cake, and it definitely looks a bit drunk, but you can moderate the booze as you like or leave it out entirely. Either way, I’d give the gummy bears a try!
You do not have to decorate your cake with a dystopian scene of drunk gummy bears playing spin the bottle by the fire and sneaking off into the woods to plummet to their deaths, however. I just have a dark sense of humor sometimes and I entertained myself immensely creating my little dark tableau.
Drunky Bears Gingerbread Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from Faith Durand. I subbed in date syrup for half of the molasses, which lends a more caramel, less bitter flavor than the blackstrap molasses originally called for, and I added orange zest to the frosting, which adds a floral, citrusy note to the tangy cream cheese.
For the cake:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter (12 tbs), cut into a few large chunks
3/4 cup blackstrap molasses (or use regular molasses)
3/4 cup date syrup
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
3 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, beaten lightly to break up yolks
1 1/2 cups whole milk
For the frosting:
16 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 orange
For the boozy gummy bears & rum glaze (very optional):
1/2 cup gummy bears (I like Haribo)
spiced rum (or another booze of your choice)
In a small bowl, add the gummy bears and then enough rum to fully cover the gummies. Transfer to the refrigerator to soak, at least 5 hours but more if you want. The longer they soak the mushier they will get, and the boozier too.
Make the cake. Heat oven to 350 degrees and butter two 8-inch cake pans (see notes). In a pot over medium heat, add the butter, molasses and date syrup, and the sugars. Whisk everything together until smooth and the sugars have dissolved. It should not look grainy and the butter should be completely melted. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together the salt, flour, spices, baking soda, and cocoa. Add the vanilla, eggs, and milk to the cooled molasses mixture (it helps to add the milk first to make sure you won’t be scrambling your eggs!) and whisk to combine. Pour the liquid into the dry mixture and whisk until completely combined and smooth. The batter will start to bubble a bit as the baking soda reacts, so work quickly so you can save that action for the oven.
Divide the batter between prepared cake pans, reserving some for a little mini cake or cupcakes, or discard, (or bake it all in the 8-inch pans, just allow for longer baking times). Bake for 35-40 minutes (test for doneness at 35) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 30 minutes in the pans and then run a knife around the edges of the cakes and invert to cool completely on a wire rack.
While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Using a mixer, whip the cream cheese until smooth and fluffy on high speed for several minutes, then scrape into another bowl and set aside.
In a pot over medium heat, add the flour, sugar, salt and milk and whisk until smooth. Keep whisking as you bring the mixture to a simmer. It will thicken up once it reaches a simmer, and keep it bubbling for another minute, then pour into the mixer bowl. Beat the mixture on high speed for 10 minutes, until cool and lightened up a bit.
While the mixer is running on medium speed, slowly beat in the cream cheese until everything is smooth and combined. Add the vanilla and orange zest and beat until smooth. Transfer to the fridge to chill and firm up a bit. When ready to use, beat it with the mixer again or give it a few vigorous turns with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
Assemble the cake: when layers are cool, level them if needed. Drain the gummy bears and reserve the soaking liquid. To the liquid, add enough powdered sugar to create a thin glaze, then apply as liberally as you want to the leveled cake layers. If you want it super boozy skip this step and just add the rum. It’s the holidays!
On top of one of the glaze layers, spread half of the frosting. It will seem like a lot but the cake demands it. Scatter your boozy gummy bears on top of the frosting. I chopped them up a little to help with this, but you can leave them whole too. Top with the second layer, and spread the remaining cream cheese frosting on top.
Decorate if you wish with more gummy bears or other candy. Follow those gingerbread house vibes!
The original recipe calls for using two 9-inch cake pans, but 9-inch is huge, and I only have 8-inch pans anyway. I originally tried to reduce the recipe to yield less batter for the 8-inch rounds, but that resulted in wonky measurements, so I left the original amounts called for in the recipe and just baked off a little mini cake with leftover batter. Based on the thickness of the cake layers, I probably could have just halved the recipe and baked two thinner layers in the 8-inch pans, so there are options. Just make sure you adjust oven times if you are baking thinner or thicker layers. I’d start checking around 25-30 minutes for doneness with thin layers and be prepared to bake longer than 40 minutes for thicker layers.