Old Fashioned Gingerbread with Egg Nog Icing

Old Fashioned Gingerbread with Egg Nog IcingSo I know the holidays are over, but come on, there is still plenty of time for gingerbread. This year I started a new Christmas morning tradition with my parents by baking my favorite gingerbread recipe. Not overly crunchy decorated cookies, not a house, but a warm, spicy, moist, real old fashioned gingerbread. This is a recipe I love to make at the very beginning of a party. As it bakes it fills your house with the most incredible aroma – warm, inviting, unmistakable. It wafts down the hallways and turns heads. My favorite thing is when people enter my hallway in my building and immediately ask (in reference to the aroma), “is that you?” Oh yes, that is me. As long as you’re talking about the gingerbread and not the poorly ventilated trash chute…

This recipe that I speak so highly about is actually not my own, but one I came upon some years ago on a quest for really good gingerbread. Amongst all the recipes I found, it was one from Emeril Lagasse that I decided to try and I certainly picked a winner. What makes it special is the use of Guiness – a whole cup. What more needs to be said? I also love that it calls for Turbinado Sugar (aka raw sugar – the big brown crystals). The combination gives it such a warm and earthy depth. I promise you’ll love it.

Now you’ll notice that Emeril gives instructions for a spiced creme anglaise to serve with the bread. The starving artist says eff that – isn’t it enough that I’m baking a cake? Truth be told, it *does* need something to put on top of it as the cake itself is not that sweet (another reason it’s so fantastic). I came up with a very easy and festive alternative: egg nog icing. Need I say more?

Gingerbread Recipe

Egg Nog Icing:

1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup Egg Nog
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch grated nutmeg
2 tsp Brandy (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together. Done. I like the icing to be a little loose for this recipe – if you want it thicker, reduce the amount of egg no.

Peanut Butter Cake!

Usually as the weather gets warmer I manage to find ways to NOT turn the oven on and heat up my apartment even further. But for some reason I’ve had the need for baked goods, so you know what, I’m just going to go with it.

Last night I pulled out one of my long time favorites, Peanut Butter Cake. Mmmmmm. It also happens to be a favorite of my roommate as well. This is actually a Paula Deen recipe that I’ve had in my book for years, ever since I started baking when I was living in New York City. What I love about the cake is that it calls for 2 cups of graham cracker crumbs, which gives it the most incredible texture and flavor. Combine that with real peanut butter and shortening and you get a ridiculously moist cake that no one can resist.

Now, is this a true starving artist recipe, you ask? Well it depends on what you keep on hand in your kitchen. One of the reasons I thought of this cake was that I had milk and eggs already in the fridge. I know many of us keep peanut butter in the cabinet at all times, so that’s set. I always have butter, I always have dry ingredients, and I have to confess that I keep a bucket of shortening on the top shelf that I only ever use to make this cake. Not ashamed. So all I had to buy was graham crackers and peanuts and I was good to go. Totally worth it for me.

I’ve given the link to Paula’s recipe below, and while I love you, Paula, I have to make one correction to your recipe. You absolutely should bake this cake at 350 degrees, not at 375 like her recipe says. I have baked this cake many, many times, and believe me when I tell you that 375 just kills it. 350 for about 35-40 minutes is perfect for a moist but browned cake. And it works the same in a glass baking dish. Enjoy!!

Paula’s Peanut Butter Cake

Crust Knots

I’m an unapologetic user of store bought refrigerated pie crust. Correction – I’m an unapologetic user of PILLSBURY refrigerated pie crusts. Unless it’s Thanksgiving when everything is extra special and over-the-top and you just have to make the crust lest you desecrate the fictional sacred tradition of our puritan ancestors, then yes I’ll make a pie crust… but let’s be serious, even then no one would really care or likely even notice (at least no one at my Thanksgiving table). If there is any downside to using a refrigerated pie crust, it would be that one winds up with a lot of excess crust. Though now that I think of it, you can hardly call this a downside. I mean who doesn’t want extra pie crust? And come on, the starving artist wastes nothing, particularly a chance to get creative with pie crust dough. And that’s just what I’ve done.

When making the blueberry pie I posted about earlier this week, I wound up not only with extra pie crust, but a ton of extra egg wash, which I feel like is also something of which one always has too much. So, while my pie was baking, I pulled out a baking sheet and got to work on the extra dough. I broke up the dough into 2-inch strips and sort of wrapped each strip around itself into a little knot-shaped bundle. I then dropped all of the knots into the bowl of leftover egg wash and tossed them gently. Then, they were ¬†plunged into a bowl filled with cinnamon and sugar and tossed to coat (I use a 2 to 1/2 ratio granulated sugar to cinnamon). After giving the baking sheet a spray with non-stick spray I arranged the knots onto the sheet and threw them in the oven with the pie. Once they were browned and crisp, I removed them from the oven and brushed on a bit of melted butter. Yes. Instant tasty treat – no waste, no extra fuss, totally resourceful, and totally addictive. And the really good news is you can bake these at whatever temperature you’re already baking at, just keep an eye on them for doneness. Yummm!!!!

You know, this is inspiring me to explore other ways of using pie crust that isn’t crust for pie. I feel like the possibilities are endless…. any other ideas out there?

Blueberry Pie!

This past Saturday I attended one of my first summer cookouts, hosted by my friends Alexis and Sam. It was a gorgeous day and they had a splendid spread of barbecue favorites: hot dogs, kebabs, baked beans, potato salad, etc. I must say that I was dually impressed with Alexis’ rice krispie treats, which she made with brown butter and rosemary. A truly “adult” spin on such a classic. I ate way more at this party than I care to admit.

I offered to bring dessert, and since it’s blueberry season, what better treat than a homemade blueberry pie. I have to tell you I found an incredible, fool proof, works-every-time recipe that I’ve used over and over again. No, it is not mine, in fact it is Alton Brown’s Frozen Blueberry Pie. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. What makes it so versatile is that the pie filling is prepared with fresh blueberries and then frozen in a disc that can then be used to make fresh, amazing blueberry pie anytime you like. And I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I use a Pillsbury pie crust when it comes time to make the pie. Flakey and delicious every time. I add a little more sugar than what Alton calls for since I like my pie sweet, otherwise the recipe is a total home run. Enjoy!

Look out for my next blog entry, which will be all about my attendance at yet another glorious Tender Greens Beer Garden. Hope everyone had a spectacular summer weekend!

Magic Muffins

Ok, they’re not really magic, they’re just blueberry. But the way people scarf them down, you’d think they were magic. When I lived in NYC back in 2005-9 I had an office job at a fantastic music publishing company. Usually once per week I would bake these muffins and share them with my coworkers. It’s amazing how fresh baked goods really brighten someone’s day, particularly in an office setting. I hadn’t made this recipe in almost two years, mostly because when it comes to self control, I have zero, and having an entire batch of muffins laying around is never a good idea for me… in fact it can get downright ugly.

Right now it is blueberry season in SoCal, so everywhere you go you find vast quantities of the berries for little money. I had a giant bucket of blueberries sitting on my counter over the weekend that I got from Trader Joe’s for only $5.99 – a serious bargain. As you read in yesterday’s post, I decided baking muffins for my friends would be the perfect way to start off our Sunday.

Truth be told, the recipe is not of my own creation. It is actually a recipe from Ina Garten called “Blueberry Coffee Cake Muffins.” And she is right to call them that – the muffins are just like coffee cake except without the crumbly topping… and blueberries… fluffy, eggy, and not too sweet. It’s a fool-proof recipe that is always a crowd pleaser. Definitely worth sharing, even if it isn’t mine. Thanks, Ina!

Blueberry Muffins (Recipe PDF)