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Orange Gingerbread Squares with Cream Cheese Frosting

  It's December.  And despite the fact that you can still comfortably wear a t-shirt outside (in Wisconsin...what the heck??), I'm feelin' the holidays.

  Last year I got major Christmas stress.  I was planning Christmas dinner and the gift boxes for neighbors, while trying to successfully shop for the perfect present for everyone.  I got sort of absorbed.

  The menu planning is what really got me.  I spent hours on the computer, perusing my favorite blogs for (affordable) recipe inspiration.  It was no small task.

  After much perusal, I finally got one set.  But by the time Christmas got here, I was exhausted.  I dragged myself out of bed early to make food, and just went through the motions.

  That's no way to enjoy Christmas.

  But this year, I'm on top of things!  My shopping is all done,  and I'm letting mom take over most of the Christmas gift baking.  I'll contribute a few simple recipes that were loved on last year, just enough to get me into the spirit of things.

  And thanks to Sundays with Joy, I've already got part of my menu covered.  This gingerbread is everything you need for a simply elegant, crowd and taste bud-pleasing dessert.  It tastes like Christmas should.

  I adore the garnish on this, it totally makes it.  And now I want to figure out more ways to incorporate pomegranate seeds into my life.

  Simple, pretty, happy, and with just enough baking.  That's how I want Christmas to be.  And after whipping up this beauty, I think I'm well on my way.

  The key to being content during Christmas: don't set ridiculously high goals.  And even if you don't hit the small ones you made, you know what?  It's ok.  Christmas will still happen.

  Be sure to check out the other members' gingerbread at the end of the post!
  (Please, only link up if you're a fellow Sundays with Joy member.)

Orange Gingerbread Squares with Cream Cheese Frosting
Yield: one 8x8 inch panful (about 9-12 squares)

Ingredients for the cake:
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  • Dash of freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup unsulphered molasses (not blackstrap)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 teaspoons orange zest
  • 3/4 cup warm water

Ingredients for the frosting:
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, chilled
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • Big pinch of salt
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease an 8×8-inch square (or 9-inch round) baking pan.  Line with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper.  Set pan aside.  

To make the cake, in a medium bowl, whisk together flour, spices, baking soda, and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl whisk together vegetable oil, sugar, and eggs until thick and pale.  Stir in molasses, honey, and orange zest.  Add the dry ingredients, all at once, to the wet ingredients.  Stir together until entirely incorporated.  Add the warm water and gently stir until entirely incorporated and the mixture is silky smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  If you find that the mixture fills the pan more than three-quarters of the way full, you might consider using a larger pan (a 9 or 10-inch pan may serve your better). (I had about 1/2 cup of batter leftover after filling my pan 3/4 full, not enough to merit moving up to a bigger pan size.  I just tossed it.)

Bake cake for 35-45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.  Allow cake to cool in the pan for 20 minutes.  Using the edges of the parchment paper, remove and allow to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting the cake.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, blend the cream cheese on medium speed.  The cream cheese should be as soft and smooth as possible.  Stop the mixer and add the softened butter.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat the two together over medium speed until smooth and incorporated.  Add one cup of powdered sugar.  Blend on low until incorporated.  Add remaining cup of powdered sugar and the vanilla on low until incorporated.  Increase to medium high speed and beat until frosting is smooth and silky.

Frost the cooled cake and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds before serving.

This cake can be stored, in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days. 

Sources: adapted from Joy the Baker's Cookbook and blog post