Gingerbread Trifle: Café Maxx

No, no- this is not a post reviewing restaurants, but simply about one particular restaurant. Our favorite. We have been eating here since they opened in the 80’s; Café Maxx has just about the best food in South Florida (and could easily hold its own in New York City); as well, their wine list is extraordinary. In the beginning, we couldn't even get a reservation and actually gave up trying for a while.

The innovative chef/co-owner here is Oliver Saucy and years ago I took a cooking class or two from him when he and his partner Darrel had opened East City Grill directly across from the beach in Ft. Lauderdale. My mother always loved cooking classes and enjoyed lunching afterwards so this was a treat for her; we also loved being entertained by the antics of the beach crowd – let’s face it- this is Elbow Room country. So we went often, with or without cooking classes; such fun. We even made the drive down for dinner off and on. It was a sad day for us when it closed- the hotel where they were located went condo.

Chef Oliver and Darrel Broek also own Café Maxx; I think the official name is Darrel and Oliver’s Café Maxx. It’s located in a strip mall on East Atlantic Blvd. in Pompano Beach. You’d drive right by it if you didn’t have a GPS. (Check out details at http://www.cafemaxx.com/.) They’re open 364 days a year. It’s closed on some off-the-wall day like Labor Day. That also means it’s open Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Years Day (along with the eves). Very busy here all the time but it gets really crowded on those particular days. It makes one wonder if holiday cooking is going out of style but then I remember this is Florida: perpetual vacationland.

Anyway….my daughter and I celebrated New Year’s Eve there this year. Per usual we had a lovely wine, delicious dinner (I’ve got to stop her from ordering rack of lamb every single time.) and, although we couldn't possibly fit in another mouthful, we had a peek at the dessert menu. And there sat Gingerbread Trifle. I couldn’t resist. I knew it wouldn’t be what we expected-they put such an ingenious touch on everything here, so we absolutely HAD to share one.

And I was right: it wasn’t what we expected. Oh, it was trifle all right, but the gingerbread had an unusual flavor and was toasted, there was some sort of spicy black cherry sauce layered in with the pastry cream and some sugared pistachios were sprinkled on top. Absolute ambrosia. Be fun to find out if everyone loved it as much as we did.

For the first time ever I twisted Darrel’s arm and persuaded him to get me the recipe. (I wonder who their pastry chef is? Big talent there because they also have this dense chocolate thing both my sons adore and an almond apple tart tatin to die for.) So- with the ( 3 page!) recipe in hand, I made the trifle at home this week and it was just as good as I remembered- better maybe. I’m going to share this little piece of heaven with you; save the recipe for the holidays next year- I guarantee a smash hit. All ages.

It’s an odd sort of gingerbread batter, so don't be surprised, but it works. I was lucky to get fresh black cherries this week, but if you can’t, you could try the canned- just drain them. While cooking, I was thinking of ways to make this in advance for a busy holiday meal. The cake you could bake and freeze, ditto the black cherry mixture. You could do the pastry cream the day before along with the pistachios. Then toast the gingerbread cubes and put it together before serving. Ready? Here it is:

Gingerbread Trifle
From Café Maxx, Pompano Beach, Florida

Components:Cubed gingerbread- toast before servingVanilla Pastry CreamSpiced Cherry SauceWhipped CreamCandied Pistachios

The Gingerbread:
2 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
6 eggs, room temperature
3.6 cups flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cloves
2 teaspoons cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
14 ounces melted butter
1 1/2 cups half and half cream, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter two loaf pans and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs.
Combine the melted butter and half and half. Beat the sugar and eggs until very thick. Add the dry ingredients. Add the butter mixture to the flour. Mix. (It will be a very runny batter.) Bake for about 45 minutes.

The Vanilla Pastry Cream
3 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 ounces butter, cold, diced
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
2 yolks (save one of the whites for the pistachios)
1/4 cup cornstarch

In a saucepan, heat the milk and sugar.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, yolks and cornstarch well. Temper the milk into the eggs and return to the heat. Whisk briskly until the mixture has thickened. Quickly, remove from heat and pour into a mixer bowl, using the paddle attachment. Add the diced butter and vanilla and beat until somewhat cool. Put into a container and cover with plastic wrap, making certain the plastic wrap touches the custard top. Refrigerate until ready to use.

The Spiced Cherry Sauce
1 bag of fresh black cherries
2 cinnamon sticks
5 whole cloves
1 star anise
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon water

Pit the cherries and put all the ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat.
Cook about 20 minutes. Cool, put into a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

The Candied Pistachios
1 egg white
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 to 2 cups pistachios

Preheat oven to 350°.
Whisk the first three ingredients together, add the nuts and toss. Lay out on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake until you can smell the nuts.
To Assemble the Trifle:
Cut the gingerbread into 1 inch cubes and toast. Layer the pastry cream, spiced cherry sauce and gingerbread in a glass dish. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with pistachios.

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