Ginger, caramel and chocolate

    The holidays are a time to splurge, and holiday desserts are no exception. We treat ourselves and our loved ones to the fullest and warmest flavors without hesitating on behalf of our waistlines. Sharp spices like ginger and clove are routinely paired with lush, full creams and custards, and the fruit that can last through winter’s duration is treated to a dose of rich caramel and molasses.

    This is the time of year when bakers turn to their cupboards and pantries for inspiration. Chocolate, nuts and the complexity of layers of spices replace the fresh, clean, simple flavors of summer. Apples, pears and dried fruit often star opposite the cupboard staples of ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon.

    Try these easy dessert recipes to savor the bounty of winter. They are easy, requiring a few bowls and just hands or spoons to mix without affecting the final result. Do check your collection of pans for compatible sizes and shapes. The cheesecake does need a springform pan, which is easy to get at a thrift store, and is always a good investment for even an infrequent baker.

    Don’t make the mistake of saving these recipes for Christmas proper. These are perfect for entertaining and require inexpensive ingredients, so make them more than once in this dreary time of year.



    Prepare this recipe in advance, as it freezes beautifully. The flavors also benefit from a day of mellowing–just be sure to wrap airtight as soon as cool. Serve with whipped cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.


2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground ginger

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger

Zest of one orange, minced

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 cup molasses

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup melted unsalted butter–1 stick


    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift first five ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine remaining ingredients, adding butter last and whisking to combine. Add dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Prepare pan, buttering and dusting with sugar. A nine-inch square pan or large loaf pan works well, as will a muffin tin. Pour into pan, leaving at least one inch for batter to rise. Bake for 20 minutes and check–cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, and baking time will vary with the size of the pan. Be cautious not to overbake.


Caramel apple upside-down cake


Gorgeous for entertaining, this cake makes a grand entrance. Be cautious when inverting the pan–the caramel can be gooey! Serve with ice cream.


3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

2 Granny Smith apples (pears would be delicious, too), peeled, cored and sliced into thin crescents

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/3 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup buttermilk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put butter and brown sugar together in a medium bowl and break with a wooden spoon and continue until in pea-sized crumbles. Grease a nine-inch cake pan and distribute mixture evenly on bottom of pan. Put apple slices on top in a pretty pattern.

Sift flour, salt and baking powder together into a bowl. In another, larger bowl, mix together butter and brown sugar for a few minutes until smooth and creamy-looking. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until just combined. Add half the dry ingredients, mix lightly, add half the buttermilk, mix lightly and follow with remaining dry ingredients and buttermilk. Do not overmix. Scoop onto apples in cake pan and smooth top. Bake about 40 minutes, checking with a toothpick in the center: when it comes out clean, the cake is done. Allow to cool. Run a knife around rim of pan and invert carefully while still slightly warm. Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream and a dusting of cinnamon.


Super-creamy ginger cheesecake with a chocolate layer


For this recipe, you will need a springform pan and a casserole dish large enough to fit the pan inside to form a water bath. The cheesecake will not crack in the middle if prepared this way. If you do not have the larger dish, don’t despair, follow the instructions just the same. It will still taste delicious!


For crust:

1 cup gingersnap crumbs–grind in a food processor or put in a plastic bag and crush

3 tablespoons brown sugar

3 tablespoons butter, melted


For chocolate ganache:

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup chocolate chips


For cheesecake filling:

1 1/2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 eggs, room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/3 cup candied ginger, minced fine

1 cup plain yogurt


    Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Prepare an eight- or nine-inch springform pan, greasing well with butter and a dusting of sugar. Combine crumbs, butter and brown sugar in a bowl and press into bottom of pan, coming up sides about 3/4 of an inch.

    Put cream in a small saucepan and heat to just simmering. Turn off heat and add chocolate, whisking until smooth. Pour chocolate ganache on top of crumbs, forming an even layer. Wrap the bottom of pan with a large sheet of heavy-duty foil if baking in a water bath and put into fridge so chocolate will harden slightly.

    In a large bowl, mix cream cheese with sugar until smooth and sugar has dissolved, a few minutes. Add flour and lemon juice, then vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Mix eggs in until just incorporated. Fold in yogurt and ginger with a spatula and pour into pan. Put pan into casserole dish and add warm water to halfway up the sides of the cake. Carefully put into oven and bake 30 minutes. Turn temperature up to 350 and bake another 10 minutes. Check cake–it will be done when it wobbles like Jello when shaken lightly. Turn off oven and leave door open so cake can cool slowly. This is the time when a crack might occur due to rapid changes in temperature. Leave for an hour or so and then transfer to fridge.


    Cheesecake needs at least six hours to chill completely and set, so better to do this recipe a day in advance. Run a knife around the edge of the pan before removing ring.