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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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Day 16: Almond & Olive Oil Cake

This post marks Day 16 of Miss Ginsu's 2008 Advent Calendar. To find other days and other projects, use the calendar page to navigate.

Compared to cookies or layered bars, or — heaven forbid — strudle, a basic cake is such a simple, lovely treat. Just a few steps. Just a little time in the oven. Just a few ingredients.

Cake is essentially just flour, butter, sugar and eggs, right? Well, as I discovered on last summer's foray to Rome, sometimes cake is flour, olive oil, sugar and eggs.

Almond & Olive Oil Cake

Today's recipe is a sunny, elegant Italian-style cake that's just the thing for cawfee tawk or teatime... but it comes together so quickly, I'd even serve it warm out of the oven as a special breakfast or brunch for holiday guests. It's so delicious, this may just be my new favorite cake.
Almond & Olive Oil Cake (Makes One 9" Cake)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 Tbsp finely grated lemon, orange or tangerine zest
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup olive oil
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted (optional, for garnish)
Powdered sugar (optional, for garnish)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and oil an 9" round or square cake pan.
2. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add the orange zest, vanilla, milk and olive oil.
4. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
5. Set pan on a wire rack to cool 20 minutes before turning the cake out onto the rack to cool completely. Top with toasted, sliced almonds and powdered sugar, if desired.
The first time I met an olive oil cake, it was a simple citrus-olive combination; absolutely delightful, but I think the emphasis on almonds makes it even more elegant.

That said, I'm nut crazy, so if for some reason you're not quite so wild about almonds, it's a simple thing to leave them off the top and substitute an orange liqueur (like Grand Marnier) or swap vanilla extract for the almond extract.

Holiday Cheer!
Miss Ginsu

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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.

Miss Ginsu

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FoodLink Roundup: 10.20.08

Cupcake's Link Roundup
Last week, Cupcake was reviewing flats of sweets in Istanbul, Turkey. Where in the world is Cupcake this week? Post your guess in the comments.

River Cottage Bramley lemon curd
A lovely photo series composed of lemon curd made with apples. Mmm...

i voted!
As if voting wasn't already its own reward... Now, there's ice cream.

Rancher’s Goat Meat Grabs Attention of Chefs
Niman dumps the cows, goes for the goat.

On recession gardens
The retro Victory Garden returns in new, credit-crunched clothing.

Credit Crunch Cooking
Cheap meats, thoughts of eating the pets and a return to MFK Fisher.

New food links — and another postcard from Cupcake — every Monday morning on missginsu.com

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A Hammock, a Pimm's Cup and Thou

I feel that fully half of what makes the Pimm's Cup such a beguiling summer cocktail is in the garnish. There are multiple variants, of course, but I favor the ultra-simple slice of cucumber + slice of lemon.

Pimm's Cup

Pimm's makes a variety of styles, and that namesake cocktail made with the formulation known as No. 1 has traditionally been popular in the south of England, appearing as one of two staple drinks (the other sip of choice would be champagne) at such rarefied events as Wimbledon, the Henley Royal Regatta and the Glyndebourne opera festival.

Knowing all that, it's interesting to see that the recipe for the classic Pimm's Cup cocktail is terrifyingly simple. Common, even...
Pimm's Cup
2 oz Pimm's No. 1
4 to 6 oz lemonade (some use lemon/lime soda; I favor ginger ale)
Mint leaves, and slices of lemon (or orange, strawberry, apple...)

Originally, the cocktail required borage leaves in lieu of mint/cucumber, but as borage is a bit tough to come by in U.S. markets, cucumber is the go-to garnish hereabouts.

But as I mentioned, I find the cucumber/lemon combo to be particularly magical. The cooling qualities of the cucumber alongside the citrus zip and vigor of the lemon go a long way in gin-style cocktails (and Pimm's No. 1 is one such blend) in particular, since gin is, by nature, herbaceous.

I've even become a great fan of lemon and cucumber slices served with water. So simple, but the scent and flavor results are elegant... perfect for brunch, for time spent on the deck/patio/fire escape and for adding a touch of class to your next grill-fest. Give it a try and see if you don't become a convert.


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