Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting

November through January is always a hectic time of year in our household with a ton of birthdays, a seasonal food business (my husband’s peppermint bark), a retail shop and family in town but it is also a special time that deserves to be celebrated. I have a large file of recipes I’ve pulled from magazines for referring to and cooking in the future. For my daughter’s birthday we combed through those clippings together and landed upon a recipe that looked amazing, but that I had only tore out half of. The recipe was for a gingerbread layer cake with eggnog cream cheese frosting. I looked online for the rest of the instructions to no avail, so we winged, and combined two other similar recipes.

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, so the first thing I am going to say is that this recipe is very sweet. My husband and daughter though thought the cake in its entirety was awesome. I think both parts separately would be amazing if you like things slightly less sweet like me: the gingerbread cake without any frosting, or the eggnog cream cheese frosting on another baked good. That said, this is a really good cake and very pretty served with sugared cranberries on top.

Gingerbread Layer Cake with Eggnog Cream Cheese Frosting
 
Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125 grams raw (Demerara) sugar (1/2 cup)
  • 1 cup stout
  • 1 cup molasses
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 340 grams all-purpose flour (2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 210 grams dark brown sugar, lightly packed (1 cup)
  • 200 grams granulated sugar (1 cup)
  • ¾ cup safflower oil
  • 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
  • ½ stick salted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3.4 teaspoon rum extract
  • 1 tablespoon dark, aged or spiced rum
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 (16 ounce) package powdered sugar
  • frozen cranberries
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a Bundt pan well with the softened butter. Coat the entire pan with raw sugar so that it sticks to the butter. Turn the pan over to dump out any excess sugar.
  2. Add the stout and molasses to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Carefully whisk in the baking soda and let cool to room temperature. Be careful as the stout mixture will bubble up.
  3. Sift together the flour, ground spices, pepper and salt. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix the fresh ginger, eggs, vanilla extract, dark brown sugar, and granulated sugar on medium speed for five minutes.
  5. Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the oil. Mix for another 5 minutes. Slowly add the stout mixture and mix for another 5 minutes.
  6. Carefully add the dry ingredients in two parts, mixing well in between each addition.
  7. Pour the batter into 4 prepared cake pans. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 15 minutes and then flip pans upside down to release while still warm. Let cool completely.
  8. For the frosting, beat the softened cream cheese and cutter together until smooth in an electric mixer.
  9. Next beat together the rum, nutmeg, vanilla and rum extracts.
  10. On low, add powdered sugar, until smooth.
  11. Frost the cakes when they are completely cool, then stack.
  12. Take frozen cranberries, rinse them in water, then roll them in granulated sugar. Add to the top of the cake.

Food Photography by me, Michelle Smith. Recipe inspired by ones from NY Times & Epicurious.

 

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Holiday Gifts & Misc Shop Updates at Gather

Gather Business Cards

It only took a year, but I finally got business cards for Gather, and I’m really loving them! I created the dogwood pattern specifically for using at Gather in branding, and I have it in various spots throughout the shop, including wallpaper. The dogwood is the state flower of both North Carolina where I’ve lived now for almost thirteen years, and also of Virginia where I grew up. I’ve used dogwoods in logo designs for other companies (I was a graphic/web designer for ten years) and throughout my own various business incarnations too: in my first product designs and in the logo of indieNC, the blog and shop I ran prior to my business evolving to where it is now. And I planted a dogwood tree when my daughter was born in our backyard to celebrate the occasion. The tree and its flower are special to me and I like that it is infuses my various endeavors with symbolism and heart.

Copper Patina Belt Buckles, Made in North Carolina, at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

I really love these copper belt buckles that just came into Gather this week. They are made by a lady who lives a few streets down from Gather. She is a lifelong fine arts crafter, having attended dozens of classes at the John C. Cambell Folk School. I hope to one day be able to attend a week-long retreat there or at Penland. Both spots are dedicated to teaching fine art & homesteading skills in rural mountain settings and have rich histories.

Shiny Gold Illustrated Mugs, Pretzel and Grumpy Cat, at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

These mugs are super cute. Who can resist shiny gold pretzels and a grumpy cat with a shiny gold bow tie? I mean come on. These are filled with drinks from Gather’s in-house coffee shop. I brought the coffee shop in-house early last year and it is another element that I manage and run at Gather alongside the gift shop, classes, and coworking. The skills I gained in my teens from working retail, waitressing and schleping coffee are paying off! It’s fun to concoct new recipes too.

Gift Shop Shelf Merchandising at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

It’s so satisfying to see something you’ve been planning for a very long time come to fruition. I had been planning a second area of merchandise for the shop but have limited space at Gather to work with and a very scrappy bootstrapped budget. I imagined a wall of shelves that looked like built-ins in my head. I was confident they would look good but you never really know when the idea lives solely in your head. My husband and I got around to putting them up a month or two ago and they are rapidly filling with great gift products – including my favorite thing of all: books!

Made in North Carolina Gifts at Gather in Cary, North Carolina: Flour Sack Tea Towel, Ceramic Herb Garden Markers, Bath Salts

With the expanded inventory I am adding in more maker made products from outside the region, but still about 95% of the goods are from North Carolina designers – and most of those goods come from the Triangle. I am very passionate about maker entrepreneurs, especially ones here in North Carolina and helping them find more channels for success. I find that here in the Triangle especially, the desire to become an entrepreneur and the amount of new business owners is at an all time high.

I am fascinated by the seemingly sudden public awareness of both business ownership and the maker movement, when it has been something that has been steadily chugging along and gaining momentum for quite a while, and something that I have been advocating for, for a decade now. That said, I still think that there is an over abundance of focus on young, male, tech-centric start-ups seeking venture capital funding and I get a little tired of hearing that story broadcasted loudly. My hope is that Gather draws attention to other, equally impactful, business owners who have a different style of both work and way of working, and different needs to reach their own business milestones and resources to get there that aren’t readily available. So far, I think Gather is filling a much needed niche and it’s a gratifying (if not challenging) endeavor for me too.

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Party at Gather, Small Business Saturday

Gather Cary North Carolina

In honor of Small Business Saturday we are hosting a party at Gather featuring 10+ local men makers, a food truck, and free beer + more fun surprises this Saturday November 29th from 5-10pm!

We’ll have a heated tent in the parking lot filled with local men makers selling everything from peppermint bark to cutting boards and hand-stitched leather goods. Plus everything in the Gather shop will be 20% off. The food truck Chirba Chirba Dumplings will be here, plus a build your own Old Fashioned’s Station, a DIY Smore’s Station, free gift wrap and a local tin type photographer will on hand as well taking portraits. Help us spread the word, and see you there!

Gather is located at 111 West Chatham Street in Downtown Cary, NC 27511

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Skillet Roasted Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds Recipe

Skillet Roasted Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

Carving pumpkins at Halloween is fun, but I especially love cleaning out the goopy innards and turning them into this delicious treat. I don’t particularly have a sweet tooth (I’m more of a salty snacker) but these skillet roasted pumpkin seeds are that perfect combination of sweet and spicy that is especially hard to resist.

While my husband and daughter were deciding on the looks of their jack-o-lanterns (my daughter decided to go with “evil Grandpa”), I took a short break to make these. This is a very easy recipe to whip up, with the most labor intensive part being retrieving the seeds themselves. ;)

Skillet Roasted Sweet & Spicy Pumpkin Seeds Recipe
 
Ingredients
  • 1 cup unsalted pumpkinseed kernels
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chipotle chile powder
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Dash of ground red pepper
Instructions
  1. Place 1 cup pumpkinseeds in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook for 4 minutes or until toasted, stirring constantly (seeds will pop slightly).
  2. Combine canola oil and remaining ingredients in a large bowl; add seeds, tossing to coat. Arrange seeds in a single layer on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Cool 10 minutes.
  3. Stick in oven at 350, for 10 minutes if seeds aren't to the crunchiness of your liking.

iphone image by me, Recipe via Cooking Light

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Spicy Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Recipe, Tom Kha Gai

Spicy Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Recipe

I’m a big fan of soups in the fall and winter. My husband not as much, but I think they are growing on him, especially, with soups as good as this one that is the perfect combination of sweet and spicy. I tend to be hyper focused during the day when I’m working and usually want something quick and easy for lunch. Soup is great because even after reheating it doesn’t lose its essence like a lot of other leftovers tend to do. This soup, a Thai staple, is also great when you are sick because the spiciness of the chili helps clear your sinuses.

Spicy Thai Chicken Coconut Soup Recipe, Tom Kha Gai
 
Ingredients
  • 1 can (14 oz.) coconut milk
  • 1 can (14 oz.) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 6 quarter-size slices fresh ginger
  • 1 stalk fresh lemongrass, cut in 1-in. pieces
  • 1 pound boned, skinned chicken breast or thighs, cut into 1-in. chunks $
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Thai chili paste
  • ¼ cup fresh basil leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh cilantro
Instructions
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine coconut milk, broth, ginger, and lemongrass and bring to boil over high heat. Add chicken, mushrooms, lime juice, fish sauce, sugar, and chili paste. Reduce heat and simmer until chicken is firm and opaque, 5 to 10 minutes. Discard lemongrass. Garnish servings with basil and cilantro.

iphone photo by me, Recipe via Sunset

 

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Photo Styling Work for Southern Season, Brunch

Here are some photos from one of a number of food & prop styling jobs I worked on for Southern Season this past Spring/Summer. This shoot had a brunch theme.

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

 

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

Food Photography by Lissa Gotwals, Food & Prop Styling by Michelle Smith

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Cedar Creek Gallery, Creedmoor, North Carolina

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

This past summer my friend Amanda and I were out for a drive on a business errand. On the way back, a little under an hour from being back home, I noticed a sign on the highway for a spot I had seen a picture of and had saved as something to check out at a later date. I’m a sucker for a long rambling drive into parts unknown and happening upon new and notable things along the way.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

So I asked Amanda, the driver, if she would take a slight detour from our errand and check out this unknown spot with me. It turned out to be a great discovery and with the right person – I love it when that happens! Both of us are absolutely smitten with gardens and plants and outdoor spaces and just being in them without much of an agenda. We are both the same type of introverted, slightly loner, creatives who soak up spaces that pique the imaginations of our inner world. And anything that is slightly overgrown, feels unspoiled and a little like a secret garden that we just happened upon, is even better.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

This is what it felt like when we found Cedar Creek Gallery in Creedmoor, North Carolina. The grounds were landscaped but slightly wild, obviously planted with intention years ago but left slightly neglected for a while and allowed to grow out naturally in a beautiful way. Small wooden barns covered in ivy and lush green leaves, wild and native flowers, and bulbs intermixed with a picnic table, small sculptures and even a porch swing.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

When I was in high school I would go on treks by myself a lot. There was a nearby graveyard that I would walk through often. It wasn’t spooky, but it was quiet and isolated and scenic and I could be alone with my thoughts. Near to the graveyard was a large tree in a great big field, just far enough from civilization that I could again, escape into my head, and on separate occasions I would go here too to ponder and just be. The grounds of Cedar Creek Gallery feel like the kind of place I could spend hours like that if I lived closer. The slightly hippie vibe of the space appeals to me as well. I think that too comes from growing up in the valley of a nearby mountain where barefooted, musical, and artistic people were plenty.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

While I was distinctly more taken with the grounds on this first trip, the actual gallery features a large number of fine art crafts and pottery and is worth a look. Dotted on the grounds are kilns and ovens, pottery and glass making studios that are occupied by working artists.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

Near the parking lot is a plant nursery with rows of plants in flats for purchase. This weekend they host their annual pottery and glass festival with pottery, wood turning and fiber dying demonstrations. For me though, being there with no one around except my friend, quietly discovering alongside each other, it was perfect.

Cedar Creek Gallery, North Carolina - Photo by Michelle Smith

iphone images by me, Michelle Smith

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Gather, One Year Anniversary, Party

It’s been a big year with so much forward propelling movement that I’ve hardly had time to pause, let alone blog. That said, I’ve learned a lot, built a lot, and connected with countless fabulous individuals through Gather, my gift shop/coffee shop/coworking hybrid space in downtown Cary, North Carolina. The pop-up retail space at Gather expanded into a full-time shop,the majority of which is filled with gift products and goods made by North Carolina makers, but also including great products from other regions too. The pop-up coffee portion also morphed into a full-time facet of the shop as well that I brought in-house. Gather now has over thirteen coworkers, the majority of which are women, who utilize the space as a communal office away from home, and the space has curated and hosted dozens of classes in the past year to over 100 attendees. In addition, the space and back patio garden has been rented out for a number of baby showers, parties and other gatherings.

It’s a lot to manage and daily I am contemplating the benefits versus the risks, especially since I foresee at least a few more years of having to hustle hard. I am quite passionate about the space and what it means to the community and entrepreneurs like myself, but it is challenging work and not for the faint of heart.

Gather, Cary, NC

This Friday, August 29th from 5pm-9pm, I am hosting a one year anniversary to celebrate the space. There will be free beer and wine from my soon to be downtown Cary neighbors, Pharmacy Bottle and Beverage, free chair massages by two of our private studio coworkers who have a massage practice in one of our private studios, BBQ by the food truck The Humble Pig, and 20% off everything in the shop. If you are local to the Triangle, North Carolina area I hope you can attend!

Gather is located at 111 West Chatham Street, downtown Cary, NC 27511. And if you can’t make it to the party Gather is open every Tues. 10am-6pm, Wed-Fri. 10am-3pm, Sat. 9am-6pm & Sun. 1pm-5pm. You can also follow along on Instagram or Facebook as those pages get updated daily with Gather news. Hope to see you there!

 

 

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Food Photography & Photo Styling Work

Some photos I styled from a photo shoot a few months ago for Southern Season. What a joy it is to work on these projects.

Prop Styling by Michelle Smith, Photography by Lissa Gotwals Prop Styling by Michelle Smith, Photography by Lissa Gotwals Food Styling by Michelle Smith, Photo by Lissa Gotwals

Photo Styling by me, Michelle Smith, Photography by Lissa Gotwals

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How to Make A Succulent Wreath Class at Gather in Downtown Cary, this Saturday

I’m really excited about this upcoming class at Gather on Saturday. It finally feels like Spring here in North Carolina and I am definitely in gardening mode. In the class on Saturday you will make and take home this DIY Succulent Wreath full of over 30 different succulents. Not only do these plants look gorgeous but they are super easy to maintain. This wreath just needs to be spritzed with water twice a week to stay looking so green and lovely.

DIY Succulent Wreath Class at Gather in Cary, North Carolina

I think this would be really fun to take this class with your Mom or give her the finished piece for her gift. Space is limited. Register and see the list of other upcoming food, craft, gardening and business classes at Gather here. Hope you can join me!

PS – tonight I am teaching a class on product photography. There are a few spots available for that too. You can sign up for that class here.

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Recipe: Homemade Pizza with brussels sprouts, mushrooms & fontina

Fontina and Brussels Sprouts Pizza Recipe

Brussels sprouts have become my new food obsession. I was a little late to the party, just not having been exposed to them, I guess. About a year ago, I had them as a side at a BBQ restaurant, and from that point on I was a convert. They taste a little meaty and have a unique flavor that you’ll probably either like or not. I could eat vegetables all day, fruit on the other hand is a chore for me.

Yesterday, because of sleet, my husband and daughter were home a little earlier than usual so they whipped up this pizza. It was great, one of the best homemade pizzas we’ve ever made.

Recipe: Homemade Pizza with brussels sprouts, mushrooms & fontina
 
Ingredients
  • Crust
  • 4½ cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • tbsp honey
  • 1¾ cups water
  • Pizza toppings
  • frozen garlic cube (or 1 clove of garlic smashed)
  • olive oil
  • ½ cup grated fontina cheese
  • ½ cup sliced fresh mozzarella
  • handful of brussels sprouts
  • handful of mushrooms
Instructions
  1. Mix the dry ingredients in a mixer.
  2. Add the oil and water and honey.
  3. Knead for at least five minutes.
  4. Remove from mixer, divide into 4 equal sized balls of dough.
  5. Cover with saran wrap
  6. Refrigerate until about 1½ hours before you plan to make pizzas.
  7. Let sit at room temperature for 1½ hours.
  8. Roll out, spread olive oil and crushed garlic on top.
  9. Top with cheeses.
  10. Top with vegetables.
  11. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 475 on a pre-heated pizza stone.

(iphone) Food Photography & Styling by me, Michelle Smith. I’m available for freelance, hire me for your next project. Contact me here.

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