Bake It if You Dare: Milk Bar's Cranberry-Gingerbread Cake
Dessert lovers around the world worship Christina Tosi, the James Beard Award–winning pastry mastermind behind Momofuku Milk Bar's Cereal Milk Ice Cream, Cake Truffles, and the much-ballyhooed Crack Pie, all of which creatively riff on nostaglic flavors from childhood. But it takes a special talent to execute her intricate, multi-step recipes.
If you're game for a baking challenge, we recommend taking a stab at this Cranberry-Gingerbread Cake, a limited-edition menu item that combines all of your favorite holiday flavors—gingerbread cake, cranberry sauce, pie crumbs, and cream cheese frosting—into one epic culinary creation (because Christmas isn't over until you say it is).
"It's like a gingerbread house meets cranberry pie," Tosi tells InStyle. "I wanted to create something inspired by ingredients that don't always take center stage in the month of December." See for yourself with the recipe below ... if you dare. Or, if you're pressed for time, it's available to purchase online through the first week of January at milkbarstore.com.
Cranberry-Gingerbread Layer Cake
Makes: 1 (6-inch) layer cake, 5 to 6 inches tall
Serves: 6 to 8
1 recipe gingerbread cake (recipe below)
¼ cup cranberry juice
1 recipe cranberry sauce (recipe below)
1 recipe pie dough frosting (recipe below)
1 recipe pie dough crumbs (recipe below)
1/2 recipe cream cheese frosting (recipe below)
1 (6-inch) cake ring
2 strips acetate, each 3 inches wide and 20 inches long
1. Put a piece of parchment or a Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top two cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake.
Layer 1 (The Bottom)
2. Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring.
3. Put the cake scraps together inside the ring and use the back of your hand to tamp the scraps together into a flat even layer.
4. Dunk a pastry brush in the cranberry juice and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half of the soak.
5. Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the cranberry sauce in an even layer over the cake.
6. Sprinkle one handful of the pie dough crumbs evenly over the frosting. use the back of your hand to anchor them in place.
7. Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the pie dough frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs.
Layer 2 (The Middle)
8. With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall – high enough to support the height of the finished cake. Set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1 (if 1 of your 2 cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top).
Layer 3 (The Top)
9. Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the cream cheese frosting. Give it volume and swirls, or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. garnish the frosting with the cranberry milk crumbs, or if you prefer garnish your cake with fresh cranberries.
10. Transfer the sheet pan to the freezer and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
11. At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, the cake can be refrigerated for up to 5 days).
12. Slice the cake into wedges and serve.
Makes: 1 quarter sheet pan of cake
1 stick butter, at room temperature
¾ cup + 1 tbsp light brown sugar, tightly packed
⅓ cup + 1 tbsp granulated sugar
4 tsp molasses
¾ cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 tbsp ginger
1 ½ tsp allspice
2 ¼ tsp kosher salt
1. Heat the oven to 350 °F.
2. Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and molasses and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more.
3. On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. Don’t rush the process. you’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for that liquid. There should be no streaks of fat or liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
4. On very low speed, add the flour, baking powder, salt, ginger, and allspice. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
5. Grease a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a Silpat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan.
6. Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. at 30 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests.
7. Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
Makes: About ⅓ cup
⅔ cup fresh cranberries
3 tbsp sugar
1 ½ tbsp water
¼ tsp kosher salt
1. Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The berries will begin to soften and pop, their juices will coat the bottom of the saucepan.
2. If, after 5 minutes the berries have not softened continue cooking for up to 2 minutes more until all berries have burst. The mixture will be very fluid but the sauce will thicken as it cools.
3. Let the mixture cool for ten minutes, then scrape the contents into a blender and blend on medium speed until the mixture is broken up. The sauce will be chunky but should be spreadable.
Pie Dough Crumbs (for inside the cake)
Makes: About 1 ⅓ cups
¾ cup flour
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 stick butter, cold, cut into cubes
2 ¼ tsp cold water
1. Heat the oven to 350 °F.
2. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until well mixed.
3. Add the butter and water and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.
4. Spread the clusters on a parchment or Silpat-lined sheet pan. bake for 25 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should be golden brown and still slightly moist to the touch at that point; they will dry and harden as they cool.
5. Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Stored in an airtight container, the crumbs will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
6. Before assembling the cake, reserve a ¼ cup of pie dough crumbs for decorating the top of the cake.
Pie Dough Sand (for Pie Dough Frosting, recipe below)
Makes: About 1 cup
½ cup milk powder
¼ cup flour
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp butter, melted
1. Heat the oven to 325°F.
2. Combine the milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar, cinnamon and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until well mixed.
3. Add the melted butter and paddle on low speed until the butter coats all the dry ingredients. The mixture will be like a coarse sand.
4. Spread the sand in an even layer on a parchment-or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 5 minutes, then take out of the oven and toss the sand, the edges will be a bit darker. Toss to combine these darker bits with the lighter sand so that the sand will cook evenly. Bake the sand for another 5 minutes. The sand will be golden brown.
5. Let the sand cool completely before using in the frosting. Stored in an airtight container, the sand will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.
Pie Dough Frosting
Makes: About 1 ⅓ cup
6 tbsp butter
3 tbsp confectioners' sugar
1 ½ tsp light brown sugar
½ tsp salt
½ tsp cinnamon
1 recipe pie dough sand (recipe above)
1 tbsp + 1 tsp heavy cream
1. Combine the butter, confectioners’ sugar and light brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and lighter in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.
2. Add the salt and cinnamon and paddle until combined.
3. On low speed add all of the pie dough sand from the recipe above and the heavy cream. After 1 minute, crank the speed up to medium-high and let her rip for another 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If the mixture is not a uniform, very pale, barely tan color, give the bowl another scrape-down and another minute of high speed paddling.
4. Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes: About ½ cup
1 ½ oz cream cheese
3 tbsp butter
½ cup confectioners' sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
⅛ tsp salt
1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow. Scrape down the sides of a bowl with a spatula.
2. On low speed, add the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla extract and salt. After 1 minute, crank the speed up to medium-high and paddle for another 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides on the bowl. If the mixture is not uniform, smooth or a pale white color, paddle for another minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Use the frosting immediately, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.