What is this charming layered dessert, and how does it only take about 15–20 minutes’ work? Surely there’s no way it contains flavors of gingerbread and cheesecake. That would be too much to ask.
OR WOULD IT?
Although this particular toss-together dessert features ginger cookies and cream cheese, it’s inspired by a (Mexican, I think) frozen charlotte known as “postre de limon,” which is made up of alternating layers of vanilla cookies and lemon filling.
This version, however, doesn’t use vanilla or lemon, and freezing is optional, so it is a far cry from its inspiration. But it’s good, in a different way.
Instead, it’s made from your choice of gingerbread or gingersnaps, sandwiching layer after layer of rich, sweet cream cheese filling. Then it’s either frozen, keeping some crunch in the cookies, or refrigerated until the cookies absorb moisture from the filling and turn into a soft cream-cheese-ginger-snap pudding. This part is another choice you get to make. In either case, you cannot make the wrong choice. There are only correct choices here. Sweet, sweet correct choices.
As for the three-ingredient filling, it references the inspiration dish (but with no evaporated milk and less citrus juice than you’d see in a postre de limon), as well as pulling from a classic Eagle Brand cherry pie recipe. This pie recipe is also, rather puzzlingly, claimed by Paula Deen as her own. Although ownership is difficult to trace, the following 1965 and 1966 magazine ads (via vintagepaperads.com) suggest that Eagle Brand likely published first.
It is certainly possible that Paula had developed the original recipe by the time she turned 18, then had it poached from her by the greedy and powerful condensed milk people, whose reduced the lemon juice by two-thirds of an ounce and called it their own. Or maybe she submitted her creation to an Eagle Brand recipe contest, and they forgot to credit her for the next 47 years. However, there is another, more disappointing likelihood, regarding Paula’s and the Food Network’s crediting policy.
I mean, I don’t like to get all complainy, but for recipes like this I would at least appreciate a notation along the lines of, “This recipe has been around for so many decades, we can’t even be sure where it originated, but it’s a classic!” It would save us all the embarrassment of declaring a dish “a Paula Deen recipe” in the presence of those who may know it’s one of these been-around-forevers. But I guess we can’t have everything.
What we can have is delicious gingerbready-cheesecakey-pudding-stuff. It’s super easy. It’s like, put some stuff in the mixer, scoop it into a bowl, watch TV, go to bed, get up, yum.
Except it’s really not breakfast food.
Unless you’re an adult who makes your own decisions, and sometimes eats dessert for breakfast. It’s the holiday season, you guys. Do what you feel.
Postre de Gingersnaps
Easy Gingersnap Trifle
- 1 (8 oz.) package full-fat cream cheese, softened
- 1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
- Juice of one lemon (about 1/4 cup)
- Gingersnaps or gingerbread cookies
- Fluff up the cream cheese with your mixer or beaters. Continue to beat while gradually adding condensed milk, then lemon juice. Mix thoroughly, scraping the bottom of the bowl and checking for lumps.
- Optional step for gingerbread: Since gingerbread is much softer than gingersnaps, you may wish to “seal” it from the filling, to keep the cookies from getting soggy. This is 100% a matter of taste; as a dunker, I happen to like a soggy cookie, but you may be different. If so, you can add an extra step to protect your cookies: dissolve 1/2 cup of sugar in 1/4 cup of water over low heat, then brush this syrup over both sides of each cookie and allow to dry.
- Layer cookies along the bottom and sides of your serving dish. (Any serving dish will do, from a medium-sized trifle dish to a serving bowl to a few soup bowls.) Spread a layer of filling over the cookies on the bottom (how thick? about as thick as your cookies, give or take; there’s no real rule here). Layer more cookies on top of the filling, then more filling on top of the cookies. Continue alternating until the dish is full or you’re out of filling. End on a filling layer, and garnish to your heart’s content with cookies on top.
- If refrigerating, for a soft cake-and-pudding consistency: Cover and refrigerate to allow the cookies to soak up the filling. For gingersnaps, leave at least 8 hours to get the cookies nice and soft, but up to 24 hours is fine. Gingerbread, on the other hand, is already soft, so it won’t take as long for the components to meld, unless your gingerbread is very thick. Gingerbread recipes and results vary wildly, but you should be OK serving a Postre de Gingerbread after 4–6 hours.
- If freezing, for a thick cream-and-cookie consistency: Cover tightly and freeze at least 4–6 hours before serving. If using gingersnaps, you may want to refrigerate for several hours or overnight to let the cookies soften first, then move to the freezer to finish. Otherwise your cookies will stay pretty firm and crunchy, which, I mean, isn’t a bad thing, but it will be tougher to scoop out of the serving dish.