Gingerbread Trifle with Poached Pears Recipe

gingerbread trifle with poached pears | pamela salzman

One of my favorite smells is gingerbread baking in the oven.  That warm, spicy fragrance which reminds me of decorating cookies for Christmas as a child and cozying up in front of the fire with some tea and a moist chunk of gingerbread. My kids love it, too.  Over the last few years, I’ve taught four gingerbread-ish recipes in my classes from Molasses Ginger Cookies and Gingerbread Biscotti to Vegan Gingerbread and Gingerbread Cut-out Cookies.  Last year, I pulled out all the stops with this Gingerbread Trifle.  I have to say, this is my favorite one.  This trifle is a bit of a show-off dessert, but it’s just about the prettiest presentation and the flavors are WOW!

making the poached pears

making homemade pudding

A trifle is a dessert made of layers of cake, custard, fruit and sometimes liqueur.  It is usually assembled in a glass trifle dish which has high sides so you see all the beautiful layers.  Very dramatic!  But you can make infinite combinations of the ingredients.  The cake can be yellow cake, sponge cake, angel food cake, pumpkin bread and so forth.  The cream can be whipped cream, curd, pudding or custard.  The fruit can be peaches, berries, pears, cranberry sauce and so on.  It’s best to keep the fruit seasonal, though.  I bought my trifle dish a few years ago at Crate and Barrel, but I don’t think they sell it anymore.  A similar one can be found at Williams-Sonoma or amazon.  Amazon also has this other one, which is slightly different, but very pretty too.  Truth be told, any glass bowl would be fine, as would individual glass cups, mason jars or stemless wine glasses like I did at Jenni Kayne’s house last year for her Christmas class with  How darling are these??

assembling trifle

gingerbread trifle with poached pears | pamela salzman

Don’t look at the recipe just yet because it’s like 3 pages long.  BUT — that’s if you want to make every single component from scratch.  I did teach my students how to do it all homemade, of course.  But seriously you could buy it all and not even need a recipe to make the most gorgeous, delicious trifle.  You can obviously buy gingerbread cake or make it from a mix.  Click here for my vegan gingerbread recipe with step-by-step photos.  You can buy vanilla pudding or make a fast whipped cream.  And you can buy canned pears.  I know, I know.  Canned pears?!!  I personally wouldn’t buy canned fruit (lots of lost nutrition there and not into cans lined with BPA,) but I also know how stressful the holidays are and if that’s what you have to do, then by all means do it.  But if I can encourage you to try one or more of these components from scratch, I will tell you they can all be made 1-2 days in advance and then you’re just assembling the dessert without a care in the world.  And this recipe for poached pears is BEYOND delicious!  You will not get anything as good canned.  Just saying.

gingerbread trifle with poached pears | pamela salzman

I think this is the perfect dessert for Christmas and/or New Years and everything in between.  I actually made it last year for Thanksgiving and not a morsel was left.  You can get your kids to help you assemble this because it’s the easiest thing in the world to layer and kids love patterns, as in A-B-C-A-B-C.  Once you fall in love with this dessert, I know you will start dreaming about the next holiday for which can make a trifle!

gingerbread trifle with poached pears | pamela salzman

Gingerbread Trifle with Poached Pears
Serves: 8-10
  • For an 8 x 8 pan of gingerbread:
  • ¾ cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
  • ¾ cup 100% pure maple syrup (Grade B is fine)
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • ½ cup melted unrefined coconut oil or unsalted butter
  • 2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour*
  • 1 ½ teaspoons aluminum-free baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) ground ginger
  • 3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 cup hot water
  • For the Pastry Cream (or you can make or buy pudding):
  • ½ cup cane sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 6 Tablespoons non-gmo corn starch
  • 2 ½ cups whole milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 2 Tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • For the Poached Pears:
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle white wine, such as Riesling or Viognier
  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup cane sugar
  • 1 whole vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 1 whole clove
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 star anise
  • 6 firm Bartlett, Anjou or Bosc pears, peeled, halved and cored
  • For the Whipped Cream:
  • 1 ½ cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons cane sugar or powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (click here for my favorite method of de-seeding a pomegranate)
  1. To make the gingerbread:  preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease and flour an 8-inch square baking dish.
  2. In a blender, combine the molasses, maple syrup, applesauce and coconut oil.  Blend until smooth.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, sea salt and spices.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined.  Stir in the hot water.  Pour into the prepared pan.
  5. Bake 45-55 minutes (ovens vary wildly) until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes, remove from pan and place on wire rack and allow to cool completely. You can freeze this or make this several days ahead.  Cut into ½ –inch cubes and set aside.
  6. To make the pastry cream:  in a medium saucepan whisk the sugar, egg yolks and cornstarch together until thick and pale.
  7. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat bring the milk and vanilla bean (if using) just to a boil (just until milk starts to foam up). Remove from heat and add about ½ cup slowly to egg mixture, whisking constantly to prevent curdling (if you get a few pieces of egg (curdling) in the mixture, pour through a strainer).                                                                               –continued-
  8. If using vanilla bean, remove from mixture and scrape out seeds and add the seeds to the egg mixture.
  9. Pour the remaining milk into the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Bring the egg-milk mixture to a boil over medium heat whisking constantly. When it boils, whisk mixture constantly for another 30-60 seconds until it becomes thick. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla extract if you are using that instead of the bean.  Immediately transfer the pastry cream to a clean bowl, whisk in the butter and allow to cool on the countertop for a few minutes.
  10. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the cream to prevent a skin from forming.  Refrigerate.  You can make this up to 2 days in advance.
  11. To poach the pears: place the white wine, water, sugar, scraped vanilla beans, vanilla pod, clove, cinnamon and star anise into a saucepan large enough to hold all the pears. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  12. Decrease the heat to medium low and place the pears into the liquid.  Cover and cook for 20-25 minutes or until tender and easily pierced with a knife. Remove the pears from the liquid and chop into ½-inch pieces.
  13. Remove the vanilla bean from the saucepan, increase the heat to high and reduce the syrup to approximately 1 cup of liquid, approximately 20 to 25 minutes. Do not allow the syrup to turn brown. Pour the syrup over the diced pears and refrigerate until cool, at least 1 hour.  You can do this up to 2 days in advance.
  14. About 30 minutes before assembling the trifle, make the whipped cream: If you can think about it ahead of time, place your mixing bowl and whisk in the freezer. In a deep bowl or electric mixer, whisk the cream, sugar and vanilla together until soft peaks from. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  15. To assemble the trifle: place half the gingerbread on the bottom of a 7 ½ or 8 inch trifle bowl or other deep bowl.  (You can also do individual trifles in glass jars.)  Spread half the pastry cream on top, then half the pears (remove with a slotted spoon,) then half the whipped cream, then half the pomegranates.  Repeat layers, ending with the whipped cream and then the pomegranate seeds.  Or don’t add the whipped cream until the top.

Winter fruit salad recipe

Although I’m not 100% strict about it, I do try my best to eat seasonally as well as locally.  This helps to keep our bodies in harmony with nature, and is more healthful for us as well as the planet.  I know, easy for me since I live in Southern California.  It’s true we do have access to such a bounty of wonderful fresh produce all year.  But not even in sunny Southern California do I find locally grown melons and stone fruits in the dead of winter.  You might find a few vendors at local farmer’s markets who sell berries grown in hot houses all year long.  But I haven’t seen any farms with cantaloupes and watermelons in their fields in December.   

Yet people love a good fruit salad for brunch or after dinner and for some reason I don’t see too many fruit salads without watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe and strawberries even at this time of year.  Sure these fruits look lovely together and are easy to cut up, but when was the last time you tasted a fabulous piece of watermelon on Christmas?  It’s time to think outside the fruit salad box and try a combination that is a more natural complement to gingerbread and pumpkin and everything else you’re serving for your holiday brunches.  I’ve been making this delicious fruit salad for several years and I am still obsessed with it. I use pears, apples, pomegranate seeds and dried fruit, but it’s the spiced-infused steeping liquid that takes it over the top.  If you’ve never used star anise, it is amazing.  It imparts a beautiful, floral, licorice flavor to the syrup.  If you can’t find it, just sub a cinnamon stick.

Technically I think this would be considered a fruit compote, but we don’t worry about semantics here.   Whatever you call it it’s easy peasy, and the best part — you guessed it — do ahead!   Which is why this fruit salad is really SO perfect for Christmas morning or any of your holiday brunches.  I have also made it for a more healthful after-dinner dessert option which is always so welcome during a season of cookies and pies and cookies and chocolate and… cookies.  But actually my favorite way to eat it is with yogurt and some sliced almonds — what a scrumptious breakfast or snack that is!

Here’s hoping your Christmas is merry and bright and that you can spend it with the ones you love!

Winter Fruit Salad
Serves: 4-6
  • ¾ cup maple sugar or cane sugar (I used maple sugar in these photos.)
  • 3 star anise or 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 2-inch piece of ginger, cut into slices
  • ½ of a vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
  • 4 2-inch long pieces of lemon rind (use a vegetable peeler)
  • 8 dried unsulphured apricots, thinly sliced
  • 4 dried unsulphured figs, thinly sliced
  • Juice of the zested lemon
  • 3 firm Bosc pears or Asian pears
  • 1 firm tart apple
  • Seeds from half a pomegranate
  1. Fill a medium saucepan with 4 cups water. Add the sugar, star anise, ginger, vanilla bean and lemon rind. Bring to a boil, and simmer until all the sugar is dissolved. Let it cool for just a few minutes, but still hot and then add the dried figs and apricots. Set aside to cool completely.
  2. Peel and core the pears and apple, if desired. Slice thinly crosswise (1/4-inch slices) and place in a large bowl. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and toss to coat.
  3. Once the syrup with dried fruit has cooled, pour it over the apples and pears. Cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.
  4. The next morning, remove the fruit with a slotted spoon and transfer it into a serving bowl. You can remove or leave the ginger, vanilla beans, star anise and lemon zest. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve.
Syrup can be made up to two days in advance and kept refrigerated. Salad can be fully prepared and kept refrigerated up to two days. Other dried fruit that works well – dried cherries, raisins, peaches, persimmons


Harvest chopped salad

Halloween is tomorrow, but to tell you the truth, I don’t make much of an effort to show my “spirit” with cupcakes that look like spiders or swamp slime green Jell-o.     Do my kids really need marshmallow ghosts on top of the candy  I have not forbidden them to inhale as they trick-or-treat?  Silly question!  Actually, my only food strategy on Halloween is to make a very hearty , filling dinner, like vegetable chili with brown rice, so the kids aren’t starving while they carry around a sack o’chocolate.  Works for me!

If you checked out my post last Thursday, you probably guessed I have bypassed Halloween and gone straight into Thanksgiving mode.   Not only have I already taught two Thanksgiving classes, but I am starting to check tasks off my list.   Invites — out.  Menu — planned.  Turkeys — ordered.  So if you’re like me and you’re daydreaming about maple-glazed root vegetables instead of witch cakes,  let’s get down to business!

The vegetables are really the only part of the menu that I get to have any fun at all.  My family and guests would have a rebellion if I didn’t make roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and sweet potato casserole.  So every year I try some new salads and vegetables just to mix it up a bit.   This salad is one of my absolute favorites and not just for Thanksgiving.  I have made this for other holiday dinners and for friends, and I always save a little extra for me for the next day’s lunch.  This salad is the perfect complement to a Thanksgiving meal consisting of lots of cooked food,  much of it soft and beige.  Not only will all of these colors brighten up your holiday buffet table like little jewels, but you’ll be happy to have something juicy, crunchy and (is this a crime?) healthful to eat.  Even though there are apples, pomegranates and dates in the salad, it doesn’t feel too sweet.  It’s more like a tart-sweet, a perfect complement to roast turkey.

This salad is also ideal for Thanksgiving since you can prep almost all of it the day before.  Oh yeah!   No need to squeeze anything into your already monopolized oven or dirty any measuring spoons the day of.  You can blanche the beans the day before, roast the beets two days before, chop fennel the day before and cover with a damp paper towel, seed the pomegranate several days before, chop walnuts whenever you want, and make the salad dressing several days in advance.  The only last minute item is the apples which you can dice a few hours in advance and keep in ice water in the refrigerator.  Just drain and pat dry before adding to the salad.  How’s that for a plan!


Harvest Chopped Salad
Serves: 6
  • 6 ounces green beans, trimmed
  • 3 stalks celery or 1 bulb fennel, diced (I prefer fennel.)
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1 medium pomegranate)
  • 1 large crisp apple (e.g. Fuji or Granny Smith), diced (peeled or unpeeled)
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 3 dates, pitted and diced (easier to cut when they’re cold)
  • 1 cup diced roasted golden beets (can be done the day before)*
  • Vinaigrette: (can be prepared several days in advance)
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • a few grinds of black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
  • 2 teaspoons 100% pure maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons walnut oil (or use all olive oil)
  1. Prepare a large bowl with ice water. Blanche green beans for 2 minutes in boiling, salted water. Drain and submerge into ice water. Drain, pat dry and slice on the diagonal into bite sized pieces. (Can be done the day before.)
  2. In a large bowl combine beans, chopped celery, pomegranate, apple, walnuts, dates and beets.
  3. Prepare the vinaigrette: whisk all the ingredients in a small bowl. Pour enough vinaigrette over vegetables to coat lightly. Taste for salt and pepper.
*To roast 1-2 beets, wrap each one in parchment and then foil. Or follow the photos above to roast a pan of several beets. Roast in a 400 degree oven until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife. Large ones can take about 60 minutes. Allow to cool and then peel off the skins.


Grain-Free Cauliflower Tabbouleh Recipe

We have had some interesting discussions in my classes lately about the latest findings concerning the presence of arsenic in rice.  Arsenic is a chemical element which occurs naturally in water, air, food, and soil.  This natural form is referred to as organic arsenic.  Arsenic is also the product of contamination from manmade fetilizers and pesticides, as well as burning coal and oil.  This inorganic arsenic is what is linked to certain cancers and has many people concerned.  Inorganic arsenic has found its way into may different foods through soil, as well as into our drinking water, but for some reason rice absorbs it much more than other foods.

Although I don’t take such reports lightly, the jury is still out on just how much arsenic is actually in rice since it varies from region to region (California-grown rice seems to contain less than rice grown in Arkansas, for example) and how much we should limit or not limit our rice consumption.  I’m generally not an alarmist in these situations, so I will be mindful of this information and continue to eat rice in moderation.  But it’s a good reminder of why it’s important to eat a well-balanced diet of a wide variety of whole foods (90% of the time, of course!).  I’m sure one can do research and find whatever it is we want to hear.  I like Dr. David Katz’s interesting point that cancer rates are generally low where rice consumption is highest.

But if you are concerned about your rice intake or you’re just looking to expand your horizons a little, have I got the recipe for you!  Cauliflower Tabbouleh uses barely steamed and grated cauliflower in place of the typical bulgur wheat, making this a grain-free,  gluten-free salad.  When the cauliflower is grated, it completely resembles rice in appearance and even texture a little.  It’s fun serving this tabbouleh to guests who usually have no idea what they’re eating and naturally assume it’s rice.  Cauliflower has a fairly subtle flavor, so you really pick up everything else that’s going on here with fresh herbs, juicy pomegranates and a sweet-earthy dressing.

Tabbouleh is traditionally a parsley salad with bits of bulgur wheat, onion, tomato and cucumber.  It’s such an awesome, healthful, fresh salad which I really enjoy when the weather is warm.  I make a really yummy version with quinoa that is one of my summer staples.  But this recipe with cauliflower is like an autumnal tabbouleh with some pomegranates for a sweet and juicy crunch.  Many “cauliflower rice” recipes call for the cauliflower to be raw, which I don’t enjoy as much as giving it a quick steam or blanche.  Raw cruciferous vegetables are also a tad harder to digest than lightly cooked.  Cauliflower is is very rich in fiber, phosphorus and potassium, and a very good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Folate, and Manganese.  Plus the entire cruciferous family contains powerful anti-cancer compounds.

I just made this for Rosh Hashana lunch last week and served it with roast chicken and a few other salads.  The girls got it in their lunchboxes the next day mixed with a few spoonfuls of quinoa and one of them had some feta mixed in as well.  By the way, I am posting photos of the kids’ school lunches once a week on Facebook and Twitter in case you’re in a lunchbox rut.  I also love this cauliflower with Spice-Rubbed Salmon, grilled chicken kabobs, and even turkey burgers. More importantly, there are so many ways to have fun with this preparation of cauliflower.  I’m thinking about using it in place of rice for a vegetable fried rice, just for fun of course.    No one here is giving up rice that fast!

Grain-Free Cauliflower Tabbouleh
Serves: 6-8
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Kosher salt for cooking cauliflower
  • 2 cups diced celery, about 5 stalks
  • Seeds from 1 large pomegranate, about 1⅓ cups
  • ½ cup finely diced red onion or shallot (you can soak in ice water for 15 minutes to take the raw edge off)
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ½ cup unrefined, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon cumin
  • ¾ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper or to taste
  1. Prepare a large bowl with ice water. Place cauliflower in a large pot with an inch of water and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil and steam cauliflower for 3-4 minutes until crisp tender. Drain in a colander and immediately plunge cauliflower in ice water.
  2. Drain cauliflower and transfer to a clean kitchen towel to dry off a little.
  3. Fit the grater attachment in a food processor and gently grate/shred the cauliflower. It will look like barley or rice. Transfer to a serving bowl.
  4. Stir in remaining ingredients and toss to combine. Taste for seasonings, especially if you allow this to sit. You may need an extra pinch of salt.