This was one of our Thanksgiving desserts this year. There are lots of recipes out there for pumpkin trifles, but I chose this one from epicurious not only because it calls for homemade whipped cream, but the gingerbread part sounded amazing.
You absolutely could substitute a box of gingerbread mix and Cool Whip, but after tasting this trifle I would have to argue that it is totally worth it to make the gingerbread and the whipped cream from scratch. The gingerbread was spicy, sweet, and had a light, fluffy texture. The recipe calls for both molasses and dark brown sugar (and since brown sugar is really just molasses mixed with white sugar, that's a lot of molasses!).
It specifically said not to use blackstrap molasses so I bought another kind (I just bought the only bottle I could find that didn't have the word "blackstrap" anywhere on it). Molasses is the byproduct of refining cane sugar into table (white) sugar. Each time the sugar syrup is boiled, the flavor intensifies and becomes slightly more bitter. Sweet molasses is what you get from the first boiling, and that's (I think) what I used in my gingerbread. Blackstrap molasses is made from the third boiling of the sugar syrup. While it is a little more bitter in flavor, it also has a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals, making it a good choice of sweetener compared to white sugar, which is completely stripped of it's original vitamins and minerals. I bet that's more than you ever wanted to know about molasses, but I found it very interesting!
We made most of the trifle the day before (all except the very top layer of whipped cream) and transported it to my parent's house. Right before we were ready to serve it, I whipped up some cream for the top. The pumpkin mousse has unflavored gelatin in it, which seems to make it hold itself together so it doesn't soak into the gingerbread very much, which I guess is why you can make it the day before.
You want to hold off on that top layer of whipped cream until ready to serve because you can't cover the trifle dish with it on, at least that would have been my problem, as you can see in the photo below. Next time I think I would take a little more care to make the layers straighter, but that's just because I am a perfectionist. I would arrange the gingerbread in an even layer rather than just pile them in, and then I would pipe the mousse and whipped cream into the dish instead of spooning and spreading. If you didn't have a trifle dish but wanted a nice presentation you could also use individual clear glass dishes or goblet-type glasses.
adapted from epicurious
Note: You can make the gingerbread the day before you assemble the trifle if you want. Just keep it in the pan at a cool room temperature, covered. You can assemble the trifle, without the top layer of whipped cream, 1 day ahead. Whip half the cream just before serving.
For the gingerbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup mild molasses (not robust or blackstrap)
3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk (not powdered)
1/2 cup hot water
For the pumpkin mousse:
1 (1/4 ounces) envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
15 ounces pure pumpkin (canned or homemade puree)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (grate it fresh yourself for best flavor and aroma!)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
To make the gingerbread:
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 13x9-inch pan with a layer of foil, then butter the foil. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, add the flour, baking soda, spices, and salt, and whisk to combine.
In an electric mixer, beat together the butter and brown sugar at medium speed for 3-5 minutes, or until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until blended. Add the molasses and buttermilk and beat until blended. Lower the speed and mix in the dry ingredients until smooth. Add hot water and beat for one minute (batter may look curdled).
Pour batter evenly into pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan. Get the gingerbread out of the pan by lifting up on the foil. Gingerly (haha) transfer to a cutting board and cut into 1-inch cubes. They say to use a serrated knife but I had better luck with my santoku.
To make the pumpkin mousse:
Put the water into a small saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let soften for one minute, then bring to a simmer, stirring until all the gelatin has dissolved. Whisk this mixture together with the pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl until thoroughly combined.
Clean your electric mixing bowl and beaters from making the gingerbread. Beat the cream and vanilla until they hold soft peaks, then gently, but thoroughly, fold into the pumpkin mixture.
To make the whipped cream:
You can just use the same electric mixing bowl and beaters as you just used for the mousse. Beat the cream with the sugar and vanilla until it holds soft peaks.
To assemble the trifle:
You can either be very "Type A" about this or more laid back, it's up to you. Put about half of the gingerbread cubes into the bottom of the trifle bowl. Top with about half of the pumpkin mousse, then half of the whipped cream. Add the rest of the gingerbread, then the rest of the mousse, then the rest of the whipped cream. Chill for at least 2 hours, then serve.