For the Cake
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour can sub AP as well
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1 and 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 2 sticks salted butter, softened
- 2/3 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs room temp
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup molasses not blackstrap!
- 1 cup buttermilk see note if you want to use regular milk
For the Frosting
- 20 tbsp butter, softened 2 sticks + 4 tbsp
- 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 10 ounces mascarpone cheese no need to soften!
- 6 cups powdered sugar, sifted
- 2 and 1/2 tbsp milk
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 1/8 tsp salt
For the Sugared Cranberries + Rosemary Trees
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup granulated sugar, for rolling
- 7 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- Make the Sugared Cranberries + Sugared Rosemary Trees: Mix water and sugar in a medium pot on the stove. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and dip the rosemary. Set aside on a plate or small pan lined with parchment paper to dry for 15 minutes. Next, add the cranberries into the mixture in the pot. Cover with a dish towel and let sit 10 minutes. Remove cranberries (save the syrup!) and set on a piece of parchment paper to dry for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 hour before sugaring. (I’ve made these in a rush before and only waited 15 minutes and they still turned out just fine.)After the dry time is up for each element, roll in a bowl of granulated sugar and set on a new, dry piece of parchment paper and let set 10 minutes before using or storing (see make ahead tips below).
- Prep: Grease + flour three 9-inch cake pans and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Make the Cake Layers: Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl (flour through nutmeg, as listed above). Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter. Add brown + white sugar and mix until well combined and creamy. Add the eggs, 2 at a time, and mix until just combined. Add molasses + vanilla and mix until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is well incorporated. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then mix. Add 1/3 of the buttermilk, then mix. Repeat until everything is well incorporated. Evenly distribute the batter between the three pans (use a kitchen scale or eyeball it). Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until cake layers look just done and a toothpick comes out with cake crumbs on it, not wet batter. Let cake cool in the pans 10 minutes, then invert them onto cooling racks. Let cool completely before frosting or storing (see make ahead tip below).
- Make the Frosting: In a large mixing bowl, cream softened butter. Add cream cheese and mix until well combined. Add the mascarpone cheese and mix until well combined and creamy. Sift in the powdered sugar, 2 cups at a time, and mix until well combined. Add milk, vanilla, and salt and mix until well combined. Add up to 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin or could use a little extra sweetness. Divide frosting into 3 equal parts using a food scale, if desired, to ensure even layers. This is totally optional – I usually eyeball it!
- Assemble + Frost Cake: Lay a thin strip of wax paper going in each direction on your cake stand, with the edges hanging over (forming a square with an opening in the center). Place one cake layer down, and frost, spreading the frosting a bit over the edges of the cake (see photo in post above). Repeat with second layer. Use remaining frosting to cover the top of the cake and dot the bare sides of the cake in random places, all the way around. Use a cake smoother/scraper to smooth the dots of frosting by holding it against the side of the cake, and slowly turning the cake and pulling the cake smoother towards you while turning the cake the opposite direction. Continue until desired effect is reached. Use the frosting removed by the cake smoother to add back to spots where you want more frosting. Create swirls on the top of the cake using a spoon, and decorate with the trees (place the sprigs upside down to make that pine tree look!) and cranberries.
- Serve + Store: Serve immediately! Store leftovers tightly covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Make Ahead Tips: The frosting and cake layers can be made a day in advance, along with the sugared cranberries and rosemary trees. Make cake layers and let cool completely. Place each on a plate and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Store at room temp until ready to use. Cover frosting tightly and keep in fridge – take out a little bit before frosting the cake so it’s not solid as a rock and un-spreadable. Sugared cranberries + rosemary can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge, in an airtight container with a small bowl of rice in it. This keeps them from getting soggy.
NOTE: To sub for the buttermilk, add 1 tbsp lemon juice to a measuring cup. Add milk until you have 1 cup. Stir and let sit out for 5 minutes.