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Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes

I think I've mentioned before that J is an alien creature who often resembles a normal fellow but occasionally exposes his true color (green, naturally). One of his little oddities I discovered recently is a propensity to refer to cupcakes as "fairy cakes."

Though there's a little friendly debate about what constitutes a proper fairy cake in the comments over at Becks & Posh and Cupcakes Take the Cake, the Wikipedia lumps cupcakes and fairy cakes together on the same page.

When it comes down to it, the difference between a fairy cake and a cupcake actually seems to be geography.

Ginger Cakelet

I believe that J might insist that the true fairy cake — that is, the most correct example of the genre — is the one that's exactly to his taste: Simple. Petite. Spiced with an unexpected hit of ginger. Something to enjoy with his pot of afternoon tea, perhaps.
Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes (Makes about a dozen)

3 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
2 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped finely
3 eggs
3/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the cups of a muffin pan or line them with wrappers.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, ginger and the eggs, beating well.
4. Add about a quarter of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, blending well. Blend in about a quarter of the buttermilk, then continue alternating the flour mixture and buttermilk, incorporating everything until just blended.
5. Pour the batter into the muffin cups to about 2/3 of the way full. Bake cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of one comes out clean.
6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Ice with simple cream cheese frosting (below) and share with people you like.

Across the pond, I think the cakes (fairy and otherwise) tend to have more conservative icing than the mountains of fluffy frosting you see on cakes hereabouts. If you've seen Nigella Lawson's pretty little tabletop-flat cakelets, you'll know what I mean.

But I just can't be satisfied with a thin icing. Truthfully, I'm devoted to cream cheese frosting. It's rich, smooth and tangy and it tastes good on everything from carrot cake to devil's food.

For a recipe like the one above, I add a bit of lemon zest, but I'd resist that urge for cakes of a chocolate persuasion.
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting (Makes enough to frost a 13" x 9" cake or about a dozen cupcakes.)

1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)

In a mixing bowl, blend the butter and cream cheese. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Blend in the vanilla extract and lemon zest (if using).

Cheers to you and all the fairies in your life!
Miss Ginsu

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2.04.2009

Day 18: Warm Gingerbread w/ Bourbon Custard Cream

This post marks Day 18 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

I really wanted to make a Warm Gingerbread Bread Pudding, which seemed like it'd be a decadent holiday dessert for the snowy, blustery days leading up to Christmas.

But in order to make a bread pudding, one really needs stale bread. And honestly, who has a bunch of gingerbread laying around getting stale? So I gave up that idea for quicker, more simple — but still truly tasty — Warm Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream.

Gingerbread with Bourbon Custard Cream

I like the method Alice Medrich uses for gingerbread in her delicious book, Chocolate Holidays.

It's quick, spicy and makes the kitchen smell like a homecoming hug. I've modified hers a bit for our evil purposes here. (Bwah-haha!)
Quick & Tasty Gingerbread (Makes one 9" square or round cake)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1/3 cup fresh ginger, peeled and grated
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9" round or square pan (or line it with parchment)
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and ginger.
3. In another mixing bowl, blend the brown sugar, molasses and honey, then whisk in the egg and ginger.
4. Heat the butter and 1/2 cup water in a saucepan until the butter melts.
5. Whisk the butter mixture into the brown sugar mixture. Add the dry mix and stir until smooth.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes.
7. Cool the cake on a rack about 20 minutes before loosening the edges of the cake with a butter knife and turning it out onto a plate.

This custard sauce is essentially just a modified Crème Anglaise, one of those classic patissier sauces that make people go mad with delight.
Bourbon Custard Cream (Makes about 1 cup)
1 cup whole milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
1 Tbsp bourbon

1. In a saucepan set over moderate heat, combine the milk and vanilla and cook about 5 minutes — just until small bubbles begin to appear.
2. Meanwhile, whisk the sugar, egg yolks and nutmeg (if using) until blended.
3. Pour about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture in a thin stream, blending well as you pour.
4. Mix the hot egg mixture into the remaining milk in saucepan, stirring and cooking until the sauce thickens (about 4 to 5 minutes).
5. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Serve immediately atop the warm gingerbread or refrigerate until needed. It'll keep in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge.

To serve, cut the warm gingerbread into wedges and top with a dollop of the Bourbon Custard Cream. Maybe anoint the whole thing with a dusting of cinnamon if you're feeling fancy.

And if you somehow find that your guests remain unmoved by all that wonder and delight, I have to conclude they're jaded souls who simply won't be wooed.

Enjoy your slice of warm gingerbread and thank your lucky stars that you have light in your heart and custard cream on your lips.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.18.2008

Day 14: Lemon-Ginger Bath Cookies

This post marks Day 14 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

There are those gelid winter days on which some part of me believes I'll never be warm again. These are the moments when I pine for a wood-scented sauna, but settle for a hot, spiced bath instead.

J's mom makes awesome soaps, but anything having to do with lye is a bit terrifying to me. I also love fizzy bath bombs notmartha has a great post on that... I just haven't been able to lay hands on liquid glycerin and spherical molds yet.

Lemon-Ginger Bath Cookies

So homemade bath cookies are about as complicated as I'll probably get with body care recipes for the moment. Though they don't fizz, they do make the water feel soft and pleasant, they're cheap, they're endlessly customizable and as with traditional cookies, they're pretty fun to make.

You can find vitamin e and epsom salt at drugstores. (The vitamin e is optional, but it's good for the skin.) Essential oil shows up at natural food stores, craft stores and places like the Body Shop. Add a little color for festivity, or go au naturel, as you like.
Lemon-Ginger Bath Cookies (Makes about 36)

2 cups epsom salt or finely ground salt
1/2 cup baking soda
1/2 cup cornstarch
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp vitamin e oil (optional)
2 eggs
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1 Tbsp ground ginger
Food color and/or Essential Oil (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 350° F.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine the salt, baking soda and corn starch, blending well.

3. In a small saucepan, heat the olive and vitamin E oils (add a few drops of essential oil, such as lavender, if you like) just until they're warm.

4. Whisk the eggs into the warmed oil and pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Blend just until the mixture forms a dough.

5. Roll heaping tablespoon-sized portions into discs. The dough will begin to dry, so work quickly. Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets and bake for 7 to 9 minutes.

6. Cool on the baking sheet before storing in airtight containers. Allow to rest overnight before using. To use, drop 1 to 2 cookies into a hot bath and allow them to dissolve slowly.

Use them for yourself or put some in a pretty box with some "do not eat" usage instructions. They make a festive — and comforting — homemade gift.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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12.14.2008

Pumpkin-Spice Breakfast Bread

Call it squash seduction. Call it the autumnal chill. I don't know what you want to call it, but the pumpkins in the farmers' market have been calling to me.

Of course, I've been too lazy (or maybe just too busy) as of late to turn one of those tempting gourds into a pie.

Luckily, I'm told that few palates can actually discern the difference between fresh-made pumpkin puree and the pumpkin puree that's conveniently canned.

Pumpkins at the Market

With that thought in mind, I whipped up a pumpkin spice bread for brekkie. I wanted something a bit lower in sugar and higher in whole grain flour than a lot of recipes I've seen. I also wanted to experiment in baking with the ginger liqueur I mentioned last week.

This little loaf fit the bill and was quite nice both sliced and slathered with cream cheese and also toasted and kissed with butter.
Pumpkin-Spice Breakfast Bread — Makes One Loaf

6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus a bit of butter for the pan
8 oz (1 cup) pumpkin puree (cans are typically 16 oz)
1 Tbsp ginger liqueur (optional)
2 eggs
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus a bit more for the pan
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup packed brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour one 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch (6-cup) loaf pan, and set aside.
2. In a mixing bowl, blend the sugar, pumpkin, melted butter and eggs.
3. In a different bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.
4. Add the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture and stir until just combined.
5. Pour the batter into the greased pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50 minutes.
6. Let the loaf cool 10 minutes before transferring it to a wire rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest overnight. Slice and eat the next morning — toasted, if you like.

Bon appetit!

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11.11.2008

1. Go Vote. 2. Mix a Drink. 3. Hope for the Best.

I'm not going to tell you who to vote for (vote Obama), but in a tense time of great anticipation for the American people, this Election Day brings long lines at the polling places, a huge throng of first-time voters (noobs) and the need for a great autumnal cocktail.

Because whether you're happy with the outcome of the poll returns or not (seriously... vote Obama), I think we're all going to need a drink.

Zippy Ginger Fizz

I'm not going to go with red drinks or blue drinks here, because a.) ew. and b.) I'm sure you can find those all over the interwebs.

Instead, I want to feature something that's appropriate to these first days of November.

Though it's not the cheapest or most readily available option on the liquor store shelf, I'm kind of in love with Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur lately. It's delicious. And it's French. And, as you may have noticed, the French have a way with tasty things.

If you can't find it, I recommend you make this cocktail by whipping up some ginger simple syrup (don't worry... it really is simple) and substituting in vodka for the liqueur. I'll provide both options below.

For Ginger Simple Syrup, just add a 5" to 6" piece of ginger root (sliced thin), 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar to a sauce pan. Stir well, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the ginger, and badda bing... that's all it takes.

You can store it, chilled in the fridge, for about a week or freeze it for longer.

This cocktail was inspired by the classic Gin Fizz and a spin on a tasty drink I had at a recent work event... but if you were to heat it up, you'll note it'd be close kin to the ginger toddy recipe I featured last December.

I think the kick of spice and rich ginger tickle are nicely autumnal.
Zippy Ginger Fizz
1. In a cocktail shaker, add 1/4 cup ice, 2oz ginger liqueur, a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon (about 2 Tbsp).
2. Shake well and pour into a highball glass or straight up into a chilled martini glass.
3. Top off the glass with club soda.
4. Garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of mint, if desired.

Zippy Vodka Fizz
1. In a cocktail shaker, add 1/4 cup ice, 1oz ginger simple syrup, 1oz vodka, a sprinkle of ground cayenne pepper and the juice of half a lemon (about 2 Tbsp).
2. Shake well and pour into a highball glass or straight up into a chilled martini glass.
3. Top off the glass with club soda.
4. Garnish with a twist of lemon and a sprig of mint, if desired.

Remember: It's 207 270(!) electoral votes for the win. There's a map here if you want to print it out and color in the states while the returns roll in tonight. I'm pretty sure that's what I'll be doing.

Cheers!
Miss Ginsu

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11.04.2008

Food Quote Friday: Herman Melville

Ginger Stars

"Copying law papers being proverbially a dry, husky sort of business, my two scriveners were fain to moisten their mouths very often with Spitzenbergs to be had at the numerous stalls nigh the Customs House and Post Office. Also, they sent Ginger Nut very frequently for that peculiar cake — small, flat, round, and very spicy — after which he had been named by them. Of a cold morning when business was but dull, Turkey would gobble up scores of these cakes, as if the were mere wafers — indeed they sell them at the rate of six or eight for a penny — the scrape of his pen blending with the crunching of the crisp particles in his mouth."

Herman Melville in Bartelby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street

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5.30.2008

Day 21: Ginger Toddy

This post marks Day 21 of Miss Ginsu's 2007 Advent Calendar. To click into other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

The common cold. It really is the gift that keeps giving.

I've got one now (sneezing, coughing and reaching for tissues as I type... but don't worry: it's not a virus), and it brings to mind all the other colds I've had in all the other winters of my life.

When I was little, my grandmother used to make me a cough syrup with honey, brandy and simmered rose hips (chock-full of vitamin C).

When I was sick at one of my restaurant jobs, an older Indian lady simmered up something similar that her mother had always made with some jaggery (a flavorful raw sugar used in India), fresh lime juice and simmered fresh ginger.

One of my coworkers told me about a time when he was sick with a cold in France and a kind soul administered hot Calvados with lemon and honey until my coworker fell into a deep sleep. He awoke the next day much repaired. He claims it's a panacea.

Just recently, I realized that all these beverages are simply variations on a Hot Toddy.

I don't know if it's the warmth on the throat, the soothing sweetness or the direct application of affection that makes homemade cough remedies feel so good, but I guess I don't care. Whatever works, works. Make one for yourself or someone you love.

Obviously, I'm not suggesting anyone fall off the wagon or liquor up the kids (that was the practice of another era), but I have the requisite number of years behind me, and I think the brandy sounds like a good move.



Below, my amalgam of the remedy tonics administered throughout my life. Good for a cold, and good even when you don't have a cold.
Ginger Toddy
1" fresh ginger, sliced
2 cups hot water
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Optional add-ins
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
brandy

1. Simmer water and sliced ginger (with the spices, if desired) in a small saucepan for 20-30 minutes.
2. Stir in honey and lemon juice and taste. Adjust with a little more honey and/or lemon, to taste.
3. Add in a shot of brandy (if using), and serve immediately.

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12.21.2007

Food Quote Friday: Ming Tsai

Ginger-Duck Soup at the Slanted Door in San Francisco
Ginger-Duck Soup at the Slanted Door in San Francisco. I would eat this constantly if I were given the opportunity.

"I don't belive in putting a nuance of ginger in a dish such that you can barely taste it. If you say there is ginger in the sauce, you should really be able to taste it."

- Chef Ming Tsai

Find another batch of spicy food quotes here.

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1.12.2007