The time of year has come where I’m choosing to settle in with cozy books, and Ruth Reichl’s food-centric novel Delicious! fit that bill perfectly. Reichl is a well-known food writer, and her past certainly helped her craft the core of this novel, since the main character Billie Breslin works at the prominent (but fictional) food magazine, Delicious.
Billie has a phenomenal palate and can detect even the slightest amount of ingredients in a recipe with just a bite. It’s this gift — along with her appreciation of and curiosity about food — that earns her a job as assistant to Jake, the editor of Delicious. Billie fits in instantly, at home among people who are equally passionate about food, and her future is looking bright. But, when the magazine suddenly shuts down, her work family disperses, and she’s left alone in the office (housed in a 19th century mansion) to make good on the Delicious Guarantee.
Billie becomes obsessed with the mansion’s ancient library and uncovers letters written to famed author James Beard by a little girl named Lulu during WWII. At that point, the homage to food gives way to a mystery, and a whole new world opens to Billie.
I love the food mentions throughout the book, and I enjoyed learning Lulu’s story along with Billie. I thought perhaps Reichl tried to cram a little too much into the last quarter of the book, but overall, it was charming and perfect for foodies like me. As with The Late Bloomers’ Club, I didn’t have to look far for a recipe — the recipe for Billie’s Gingerbread was included in the back of the book. It was our first glimpse at Billie’s palate and played a key role in her hiring. It’s also a wonderful recipe for this time of year.
To start, I creamed the butter and sugar together in my stand mixer. While that worked, I combined the flour, spices, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, I whisked together three eggs, an egg yolk and sour cream.
Alternating between the dry and wet ingredients, I poured a third of each into the mixer, only mixing until combined and stopping occasionally the scrape the bowl. Once the batter was finished, I poured it into a 6-cup Bundt pan (thank you to my neighbor for letting me borrow it!) and put it in the oven.
Once it was baked through, I took it out to cool and made the bourbon syrup. I brushed the bottom of the cake with the syrup, let it soak in a bit, and then turned the gingerbread out of the pan and brushed the top with the rest of the bourbon.
When the cake was fully cooled, I drizzled it with a quick orange-sugar glaze.
The gingerbread isn’t quite what I was expecting, and is obviously quite more like a cake than a dense gingerbread, but was absolutely delicious. It turned out to be light yet full of flavor. I took it to work the day of our holiday party and everyone gobbled it up.
For the cake:
- Whole black peppercorns or ¼ tsp ground black pepper
- Whole cloves or ¼ tsp ground cloves
- Whole cardamom or ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 cinnamon stick or 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1½ sticks 6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup fresh ginger root finely grated and tightly packed (from approximately 2 large pieces)
- 1½ tsp orange zest from approximately 2-3 oranges
For the soak:
- ½ cup bourbon
- 1½ TBS sugar
For the glaze:
- ¾ cup powdered sugar sifted or put through a strainer
- 5-6 teaspoons orange juice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 6-cup Bundt pan.
- Separately, grind your peppercorns, cloves and cardamom, and measure out ¼ teaspoon of each. Grind your cinnamon stick and measure out 1 teaspoon.
- Whisk the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt in a small bowl.
- In another small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk into the sour cream. Set aside.
- Cream the butter and sugar in a stand mixer until the mixture is light, fluffy and almost white. This should take about 3 minutes
- Grate the ginger root -- this is a lot of ginger -- and the orange zest. Add them to the butter/sugar mixture.
- Beat the flour mixture into the butter, alternating with the egg mixture, until each addition is incorporated. [I recommend a third each time.] The batter should be as luxurious as mousse.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared pan until two-thirds full and bake for about 40 minutes, until the cake is golden and a wooden skewer comes out clean.
- Remove to a rack and cool in the pan for 10 minutes.
- While the cake cools in its pan, simmer the bourbon and the sugar in a small pot for about 4 minutes. It should reduce to about ⅓ cup.
- While the cake is still in the pan, brush half the bourbon mixture onto its exposed surface (the bottom of the cake) with a pastry brush. Let the syrup soak in for a few minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack.
- Gently brush the remaining mixture all over the cake.
- Once the cake is cooled, mix the sugar with the orange juice and either drizzle the glaze randomly over the cake or put it into a squeeze bottle and do a controlled drizzle.
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