It's mostly because a gingerbread — no matter how delicious — is kind of simple for such a day of big celebrations. So we decided to jazz it up a bit, turning your basic gingerbread into a far more festive trifle layered with a rich vanilla pudding and orange-black pepper caramel. For ease, this impressive dessert can be prepped a day ahead. And if you're hitting the road at the holiday, it also travels very well.
CHRISTMAS GINGERBREAD TRIFLE
Start to finish: 1 hour, plus chilling
For the vanilla bean pudding:
4 cups whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the orange-black pepper caramel:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup light cream
Pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper (more or less, to taste)
Zest of 1 orange
For the trifle:
1 cup heavy cream
1 loaf (about 1 1/2 pounds) purchased or homemade gingerbread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized (candied) ginger
In a medium saucepan over medium, heat the milk until scalded (bring it just to the boiling point), then remove from the heat. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrap the seeds into the milk.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch. Add the eggs and beat until completely smooth and no trace of egg lumps or sugar remains. When the milk is scalded, while whisking the egg mixture, pour half of the hot milk in a thin stream into the bowl. Pour the egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan of remaining milk.
Return the mixture to the stove and, whisking continuously and scraping the bottom and corners of the pan, cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer and thickens. Return the pudding to the bowl and whisk in the butter. Press a sheet of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pudding and refrigerate until chilled.
Meanwhile, make the caramel. In a medium saucepan, combine the brown sugar, butter, cream, salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring continuously, until slightly thickened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the orange zest, then set aside and cool to room temperature.
When the pudding and caramel have cooled, prepare to assemble the trifle. In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the heavy cream to medium peaks, about 3 to 5 minutes. Divide the chilled pudding in three portions, then gently fold the whipped cream into one of the portions of the pudding.
Arrange a third of the gingerbread cubes in an even layer in the bottom of a trifle dish. Drizzle with a third of the caramel sauce, then sprinkle a third of the chopped ginger over that. Spread one of the plain pudding thirds (not the batch mixed with cream) over the ginger, then repeat the layering with the remaining ingredients. Finish the trifle by topping it with the cream-pudding mixture. Refrigerate for 2 hours before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 520 calories; 260 calories from fat (50 per cent of total calories); 29 g fat (14 g saturated; 0.5 g trans fats); 145 mg cholesterol; 62 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 30 g sugar; 8 g protein; 260 mg sodium.