I previously mentioned that I might not decorate this year, but of course, the holidays got the best of me. I caved in and went and got a four-foot Christmas tree. By no means are things over the top. This year's tree is minimalistic, with eight ornaments strung on it. The tree brings back memories from last year. Paddington was a few months old, and he took a liking to the ornaments, I should reword that as LOVE, he fell in love with the ornaments. As soon as I turned my back, I'd find a tattered stuffed teddy bear angel-type thing chewed up. In the end, I resorted to using his crate to protect the tree and decorations from him. I think he’d be better this year but the true test will come next year.
This year for the holidays my gift guide is all about helping people cook. The guide includes my favorite kitchen tools and small appliances that I turn to again and again at home.
Thermapen - Everyone needs a Thermapen in their kitchen. It is one of the most reliable and easy-to-use instant-read thermometers I’ve owned. It's also easy to clean.
Kitchen Timer - Okay, this isn’t actually a kitchen timer, but it is a laboratory timer that I used to when I worked in research. I love it because I can set up different timers on the same device, and it counts up and down. The alarm sound is also adjustable.
Rolling Pin - Cookbook author Alice Medrich introduced me to this style of rolling pins, and I've never turned back. When recipes tell you to roll out pastry or cookie dough to ¼ inch/6mm in thickness, you don't need to sit with a vernier caliper or measuring scale; this rolling pin has you covered.
Electric Kettle - My electric kettle is the unsung hero of my kitchen. It does so much more than make me a cup of tea or coffee. For those moments, when I need hot water to add to flour or melt chocolate in a steaming bath, my kettle comes to my rescue.
Weighing Scale - A weighing scale takes the guesswork out of measurements and whether the cup was filled to the brim or packed tight enough.
Cup Measures - While cups aren't my favorite way to measure ingredients in the kitchen, I appreciate their convenience. However, get a set of cup measures that are accurate, reliable, and tested. I own the 7 cup set, and it was also tested by the folks at Wirecutter at the N.Y.T. I've double-checked the volume to weight measurements with these cups, and they are spot on.
Tadka Spoon - For those of you that made my dal and love to amp the flavor in your dishes with a tadka, this tool from Diaspora Co. is for you. Also, check out their beautiful brass spice box container as well as the various assortment of gift boxes of spices.
My Cookbooks: Get a copy of my books The Flavor Equation and Season. I've signed copies available at Now Serving L.A. (they ship worldwide), and you can also get copies through Amazon and Bookshop. Additionally, there are four foreign editions/translations to choose from German, Italian, Dutch, and Indian.
I make certain recipes without fail each year for the holidays, and this decadent gingerbread cake occupies a special position in my heart. It's something you must sit down within the evening after dinner and eat slowly, simply to savor the flavors in each bite. It is decadent, and every taste is full of joy. The bourbon sauce has its own personality, you might want to make a bottle of it for yourself.
GINGERBREAD CAKE WITH DATE SYRUP BOURBON SAUCE
I’m of the opinion that all gingerbread cakes must have ginger in both the ground spice form and a bit of the crystallized form. The Date Syrup Bourbon Sauce gives it that extra edge of smooth richness and is inspired by one of the top-ten desserts I’ve eaten: the date cake with whiskey sauce at Gjelina in Los Angeles. Use a Microplane zester for the lime zest to get a fine grate.
THE FLAVOR APPROACH
Ginger and black pepper give this cake its warmth.
The aromatic molecules in the spices and lime zest are extracted into the butter, where they are highly soluble before they are incorporated into the cake batter.
There are a few ways to tell if a cake is done: You can insert a skewer through the center, and it should come out completely clean. But you can also tell if a cake is done by gently pressing the surface; it should spring back to its original form in a few seconds. If the cake isn’t done, it will remain depressed after the pressure is removed, as the flour has not yet formed the necessary structure.
SERVES 12 / MAKES ONE 9 IN [23 CM] SQUARE CAKE AND 2 CUPS [480 ML] SAUCE
For the cake:
¾ cup [165 g] unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
1 Tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground green cardamom
1 tsp lime zest
2½ cups [350 g] all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 oz [55 g] crystallized ginger, chopped
¼ cup [50 g] sugar
¼ cup [85 g] honey
1 cup [320 g] unsulfured molasses or sorghum
½ cup [120 g] crème fraîche
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup [240 ml] water warmed to 158°F [70°C]
For the date syrup bourbon sauce:
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup [240 ml] date syrup
1 cup [240 ml] heavy cream
2 Tbsp honey bourbon or whiskey
¼ tsp fine sea salt
Lightly sweetened crème fraîche
Fresh lime zest
Grease a 9 in [23 cm] square baking pan with a little butter and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and stir in the ginger, black pepper, cardamom, and lime zest. Let steep for 10 minutes.
Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl. Reserve 2 Tbsp of the flour mixture in a small bowl, add the crystallized ginger to it, and toss to coat well.
Preheat the oven to 325°F [163°C]. Place the sugar, honey, and molasses in the bowl of a stand mixer. Scrape out the melted butter from the saucepan with a silicone spatula and add it to the mixer bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix on medium speed until it turns a toffee-brown color, 4 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl, add the crème fraîche, and mix on low speed until combined, 1 minute. Stop and scrape down the bowl. Mix in 1 egg at a time on medium speed until combined. Add the sifted dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. On low speed, add the water and mix until combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape the sides. Fold in the crystallized ginger and transfer the cake batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake until the cake is golden brown on the surface and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool completely in the pan. Run a knife along the edges of the pan to release the cake and transfer to a serving plate.
To prepare the date bourbon sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Swirl the butter in the saucepan until the milk solids start to turn red. Whisk in the date syrup and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream, followed by the bourbon and the salt. Transfer to an airtight jar and refrigerate until ready to use. You can make this sauce 2 days ahead of time.
To serve, cut the cake into slices and serve with sweetened crème fraîche, a little lime zest, and a generous drizzle of the date bourbon sauce.
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