Orange Ginger Bourbon Cake

From Delicious!: A Novel by Ruth Reichl

I’ve never made a recipe from a novel before. Making a recipe featured in a novel has always seemed a little counter-intuitive. Like shopping at a gas station for produce. You go there more for the free bathroom than the fresh organic vegetables. I go to books to escape, not to become the next top chef. But in the interest of adventure I decided to attempt a recipe from a book and see how it turned out. My first experiment was from the book Delicious!: A Novel by Ruth Reichl.

Book Review

Delicious! was one of those novels where I called my mom every twenty minutes to tell her what the character was up to. This is a bad habit I developed in my adolescence when I was reading a novel written in the form of a diary and mentioned the date of one entry to my mom. She, being a good sport, said “I guess I’d better get your brother a birthday gift, then.” I was delighted. In our world it was September, in the book world it was March… I could live in two worlds! I gained an unhealthy love for updating my mom every month during that book that’s never really gone away when I find a good book.

Delicious! Is the story of Billie Breslin, has the ability to taste food. Really taste food. I dated a guy with this superpower once. His father owned a Chinese restaurant and would send him in to other restaurants to taste the food, pull out the flavors and help him recreate the recipe. The guy didn’t work out so well but every once in a while I do miss the dumplings he made.

Anyway, Billie has this same superpower and finds herself taking a job in New York City at Delicious! an iconic food magazine. She quickly becomes enthralled with the office and the weird string of foodies she comes in contact with through her work.

The magazine shuts down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office to maintain a hot line for reader complaints. She stumbles upon a room of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a 12-year-old girl, to the legendary chef James Beard. We never get to see James responses to Lulu, but each of her letters to him are engaging, innocent, fun, sad, and full of pluck.

The letters she writes are probably my favorite part of the book. They paint a picture of life during WWII, especially rationing, something I previously didn’t know much about. To help Lulu and her family James Beard responds to Lulu’s letters with ration friendly recipes (cooked Milk Weed, anyone??). My biggest disappointment in the book is we don’t get to see what the recipes consist of (since we only see Lulu’s letters to James, not his to her).

The book was super fun. And at the end we do get one recipe. A recipe called Billie’s Gingerbread. The name was a little misleading for me. I expected gingerbread men… but what it really is is a really lovely, spicy cake with a taste of ginger, orange and bourbon.

Right now I’m off all fun things like wheat, sugar, dairy and bourbon to manage some physical symptoms I’ve had. Mary Lapp at Simple and Merry has been coaching me through it and it’s certainly been trans-formative! The down side to the wonderful transformation has been making a delicious(!) ginger cake and not being able to scrape the goo off the bottom of the plate.

However, I was scheduled to make a dessert for church last Sunday so I pulled out my measuring cups, spoons, and other wedding gifts and got down to baking one Saturday afternoon.

Since I couldn’t taste the cake I was a little nervous about bringing a previously untested recipe to church. I finished the worship service, and took my typical spot next to the lead pastor greeting people as they left church. I walked up to fellowship hall afterwards, where people meet for treats and coffee. I wanted to grab a photo of the half eaten cake for the blog, but all I saw left of my delicious (!) cake was… crumbs. And as I stood there, dumbfounded, those were being scraped into a napkin as the best way of consuming the goo (the icing leftover with the cake crumbs).

Lemon bars and cookies remained, but the ginger cake had disappeared.

Bottom Line

I heard more than one person comment on how great it was. I’d totally make it again. It’s a little time intensive, but not too bad, and people really enjoyed the unique combination of flavors and spices. This book recipe was a total win.

Billie's Gingerbread
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Spicy, rich, with dominant notes of orange, ginger and bourbon. It's good freshly glazed, even better a day after. Recipe from Delicious!: A Novel
Servings Prep Time
1 bundt cake 30 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 bundt cake 30 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Billie's Gingerbread
BigOven - Save recipe or add to grocery list
Yum
Print Recipe
Spicy, rich, with dominant notes of orange, ginger and bourbon. It's good freshly glazed, even better a day after. Recipe from Delicious!: A Novel
Servings Prep Time
1 bundt cake 30 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Servings Prep Time
1 bundt cake 30 minutes
Cook Time
40 minutes
Ingredients
Cake
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns (can substitute ground but whole is best)
  • 1 tsp whole cloves (can substitute ground but whole is best)
  • 1 tsp whole cardamom (can substitute ground but whole is best)
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick (can substitute ground but whole is best)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/2 sticks butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large fresh ginger root 1/4 cup, tightly packed when finely grated
  • 2-3 fresh oranges needs zest for the cake, save the orange for the glaze
Soak
  • 1/2 cup bourbon
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar
Glaze
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar sifted
  • 5 tsp orange juice
Servings: bundt cake
Instructions
Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 6 cup Bundt pan
  2. Grind peppercorns, cloves and cardamom and measure out 1/4 teaspoon of each. The recipe recommends this over pre-ground. I don't have a spice grinder so I did fresh ginger and peppercorns and pre-ground cloves, cardamom and cinnamon.
  3. Grind cinnamon stick and measure out 1 tsp (again pre-ground is acceptable).
  4. Whisk flour with the baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl.
  5. In another bowl whisk eggs and egg yolk into the sour cream. Set aside.
  6. Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until the mixture is light, fluffy and almost white. This should take about 3 minutes.
  7. Grate the ginger root - this is a lot of ginger - and the orange zest of 2-3 oranges. Add them to the butter/sugar mixture. Grating the ginger is the most annoying part of the recipe, but it's totally worth it. It took me about 7 minutes. I peel ginger with a spoon, it's the easiest way I've found ( see this article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/09/how-to-tackle-fresh-ginger_n_1084949.html)
  8. Beat the flour mixture and egg mixture alternating between the two, into the butter until each addition is incorporated. The batter should be as luxurious as mousse. I've never made mousse but this batter was thick, silky and fluffy. It really nice texture.
  9. Spoon batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes until cake is gold and a wooden skewer comes out clean.
  10. Remove to a rack and cool in the pan for about 10 minutes
Soak
  1. While the cake cools in the pan, simmer the bourbon and the sugar in a small pot for about 4 minutes. It should reduce to about 1/3 cup. I had some extra orange zest so I tossed it in. It gave it a stronger orange taste.
  2. While the cake is still in the pan, brush half the bourbon mixture onto it's exposed surface (the bottom of the cake) with a pastry brush. Let the syrup soak in for a few minutes, then turn the cake onto a rack (I turned mine onto my serving plate. It saved another transfer for this clumsy cook).
  3. Gently brush the remaining mixture all over cake.
Glaze
  1. Once the cake is cooled, mix the sugar with the orange juice (I juiced the oranges from the zest) and either drizzle the glaze randomly over the cake or put it into a squeeze bottle and do a controlled drizzle.
  2. I went way overboard on the glaze (my phone died and I couldn't remember the amount so I made too much). Frankly I'm glad I did. It left a nice "goo" as one person put it at the bottom of the pate and had people literally scraping to get the last bit.
  3. Also as you can tell I clearly didn't sift the powdered sugar. I ended up just smoothing out the ruff edges with my blue spatula thingy. If you have a sifter I'd sift it, if not just smooth the clumped sugar out.
Recipe Notes

I haven't tried it, but I imagine this would be wonderful as cupcakes.  I would follow the recipe substituting the muffin tin for the Bundt cake pan. Then I would make a thicker icing using more powdered sugar and less orange juice with a bit of butter at room temperature.  This would make a thick, fluffy icing to put on top of the cupcakes.

If you try it leave a comment in the comment section and let me know how it turned out!

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About Kaitey Moore 40 Articles
Kaitlin Moore Morley is passionate about storytelling, the kind of our imagination and the kind of our experiences. She works as a hospital chaplain where she collects love stories and as a pastor where she collect biblical narrative. She holds an undergraduate in Social Anthropology from the University of Manchester in England and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky. She lives in Evansville, Indiana in an old (very cold) Victorian house with her husband, Darren and their dog Olga.

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