It must be the “Waste not, want not” mantra instilled in me by my grandmother that makes me relish when I am able to turn a cooking mishap into a tasty dish. Last week I over-baked the German gingerbread and ended up with cookies that were still tasty but rock-hard. Nothing that a good old trifle could not soften, I thought, and into a trifle with pears they went.
Making real German gingerbread is a lengthy process, even today. One of the standard German cookbooks, the Bayerisches Kochbuch, after more than 70 years now in its 56th edition, tells you to let the dough rest for two to four weeks so the flavors blend.
Depending on the ingredients, and the region, German gingerbread is called Pfefferkuchen, Honigkuchen, Lebkuchen or Gewürzkuchen. Many recipes use a 9-spice gingerbread mix called Neunerlei that you can easily mix yourself. The other two key ingredients in traditional German gingerbread are potash and hartshorn salt, aka baker’s ammonia or ammonium carbonate. Both are leavening agents but unlike baking powder and baking soda, they make the dough spread horizontally instead of rising it. Nowadays many recipes use baking powder or baking soda, which I did.
By the way, gingerbread cookies can be softened by storing them in an airtight tin can with a few slices of apple. It would not occur to me to cut up a perfectly edible apple for that purpose so I used apple peels and cores from making applesauce. It worked perfectly. Waste not, want not, right?
I make this trifle every year and modify it with whatever leftover gingerbread I have on hand. You can use any plain good-quality gingerbread. This trifle is also a great way of using up gingerbread from a gingerbread house (after removing the icing).
In addition to gingerbread, the layers of the trifle are poached pears, homemade German Eierlikör (spiked egg nog), vanilla custard, and a topping of whipped cream.
2 to 3 large ripe pears
1 tablespoon raw sugar
3 cups (180g) crumbled gingerbread
1 batch homemade vanilla pudding (find my recipe here)
German egg liqueur (find my recipe here)
2/3 cup (160ml) heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla sugar (find my recipe here)
Unsweetened cocoa and cinnamon for dusting
Gingerbread cookies for the decoration (optional)
- Peel, core and dice the pears. Place them in a small saucepan with ¼ cup (60 ml) water and the raw sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the pears are very soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. You should have about 1.5 cups pears plus the syrup.
- In a decorative glass serving bowl with a flat bottom, place 1/3 of the gingerbread crumbles. Drizzle with all of the pear syrup and generously spoon egg liqueur over it. Add half of the pears, then spread half of the vanilla custard on top. Repeat this and end with an additional layer of the remaining gingerbread crumbles. You can also use up all the gingerbread in only two layers and then end with a layer of vanilla custard.
- Whip the cream with vanilla sugar until it stands in stiff peaks. Spread this over the top with a cake spatula, making sure not to disturb the crumb layer. If ending with a layer of vanilla custard fill the cream into a pastry bag and make a decorative pattern.
- Dust with cocoa or a mix of cocoa and a pinch of cinnamon. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving. Decorate with gingerbread cookies if desired.
Makes 8 servings