Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Each week I follow along with Ina Garten (aka the Barefoot Contessa) and attempt to recreate one of her dishes in my tiny New York City kitchen. The catch? This is my version of cooking school and I’m making these recipes for the first time. I’ll share both my successes and um, challenges, along the way and we’ll see if I can keep up with the Contessa!

Episode: “A Barefoot Thanksgiving”

The Set-up: Ina and Bobby Flay are testing recipes for the Thanksgiving dinner they’re co-hosting.

Ina’s Contributions to the Menu: Herb and Apple Bread Pudding, Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts, Make Ahead Cranberry Sauce, Orange Honey Glazed Carrots, Lemon Ginger Molasses Cake

Bobby’s Contributions to the Menu: Smoked Whole Turkey, Eleven Layer Potato Gratin, Heartland Chopped Salad, Fall Sangria

0:53 – On a very special episode of Barefoot Contessa, Ina welcomes her neighbor, Bobby Flay, to the barn for a trial run of their Thanksgiving menu

1:10 – The theme of their dinner is centered on two rules – 1. traditional Thanksgiving dishes with the “volume turned up” and 2. The dishes are recipes that can be made ahead.

2:23 – We’re starting with Smoked Whole Turkey, which Bobby is preparing in a Big Green Egg smoker over hardwood charcoal and wet pecan wood chips. I assume he hauled that over to Ina’s place?

3:34 – We’re going back inside, and back in time to see Ina assemble the Herb and Apple Bread Pudding, which is based on a stuffing recipe transformed into a casserole. The seasonings start with sautéed pancetta, the traditional onions and celery, and large cubes of granny smith apple.

4:15 – Ina occasionally deglazes with sherry, which I’ve never tasted but Agatha Christie characters are constantly having a glass to steel their nerves. I wonder what the flavor is like?

5:41 – The toasted bread, savory custard and sautéed vegetables all go in a baking dish to sit together in the refrigerator overnight, then Ina bakes the stuffing before dinner. If you’re a fan of moister stuffing, but don’t like stuffing the bird this would be a way to have your cake and eat it too.

6:02 – Outside to Bobby who is brushing the turkey with oil, then sprinkling with kosher salt and pepper before putting the entire roasting pan and turkey into the smoker.

7:30 – He doesn’t say how many pounds the turkey is, but I’d guess somewhere in the 13-15 range.

8:46 – Bobby comes inside for the taste test of Ina’s Herb and Apple Bread Pudding shockingly, it passes muster and will make the cut. Whew!

12:20 – Ina and Bobby are simpatico when it comes to entertaining – no first course at Thanksgiving, and dinner is served buffet style. Apparently Ina hates have a table with a bunch of bowls scattered all over it. Who knew?

13:38 – Next up, Heartland Chopped Salad, which has kale, baby spinach, pears, re-hydrated cranberries, and wild rice. Bobby’s Pro Tip #1: Slightly over-cook the rice so that it puffs up and absorbs more of the dressing.

14:09 – So there is one thing Ina and Bobby disagree on: measuring. She measures everything, he eyeballs the ingredients in the dressing. But, lo and behold it turns out perfectly balanced!

15:31 – Now time to assemble all the components, and we get Bobby’s Pro Tip #2: to avoid over dressing the salad, drizzle a small amount of vinaigrette along the sides of the bowl. Then use tongs to toss the salad and push it into the dressing picking up a little at a time.

16:12 – Busted! Bobby almost forgot to add the wild rice, but Ina reminds him in the most adorable way “Is there rice in the salad?”

17:25 – Taste-test time! Ina says she doesn’t usually think to put a salad on the Thanksgiving buffet, but after one bite she’s moved on from testing into just plain eating. Nailed it!

22:40 – On to dessert and Ina has decided that pie is passé, so she’s serving Lemon Ginger Molasses Cake.

23:54 – This seems like a fairly simple cake, cream the butter and sugar, then add the flavorings, followed by the dry ingredients alternated with some milk.

24:13 – Ina’s reasoning for skipping pie seems to be more related to their soggy-bottom factor, as a result she’s pro-crisps/crumbles, or this cake which improves with time.

25:38 – Out to Bobby who is preparing to baste the turkey with chicken stock, apple cider vinegar, and honey. I have conflicting feelings on basting – doesn’t that make it difficult to get crispy skin?

26:49 – Time to frost the cake and Bobby is getting a little lesson in whipped cream making. This one is stabilized with some crème fraîche which he doesn’t bother to measure. Natch.

27:41 – These two are totally in synch – same whipped cream (soft, but holds it’s shape if you’re curious) and garnishing preferences.

28:52 – Taste testing time where Bobby reveals that he pretty much only runs so that he can eat (Amen.) and then fends Ina off from having any more of his piece of cake (so hard to share!)

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

32:07 – Buckle-up kids, this is a double episode and now we’re on to part two. Next up: Eleven Layer Potato Gratin. Bobby admits, that much like his measuring the “eleven layers” are more a guideline/clever name

33:16 – Ina is on to Bobby’s game – thinly sliced potatoes (russet) alternated with a drizzle of heavy cream and a sprinkling of salt and pepper until it reaches the top of the baking dish – “this isn’t even cooking!”

34:24 – Essential: season every layer. The gratin is finished with caramelized shallots and crispy sage, but I would have liked to see some of those shallots in the layers.

35:33 – This would be a great addition to the menu, something that can be made ahead, is super simple, and requires almost zero fussing over. Don’t we all need a dish or two like that?

36:41 – Now Ina’s showing us how she makes Orange Honey Glazed Carrots in advance with no one the wiser. Tricky! The secret seems to be cooking them until they’re just al dente and then reheating them in a little olive oil on the stove top.

37:51 – Bobby’s basting the turkey again and he seems to be just as star struck as I would be. He can hardly believe he’s smoking a turkey in Ina’s back yard!

38:12 – Taste testing again (how many is this...?) and we get Ina’s Pro Tip #1: when re-heating, make sure to rehydrate (the olive oil) and check for seasoning, even though you seasoned during the cooking process.

42:18 – Onward and upward to the Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts. Ina says she’ll shred the sprouts in advance using a food processor and then refrigerate them in a plastic bag until Thanksgiving day.

43:06 – Ina is intentionally making the Brussels sprouts on the stove top because “there’s so much going on in the oven…even if you’re smoking a turkey.” Yes! Such a great point and all the more reason to consider diversifying the cooking methods. This definitely counts as Pro Tip #2)

44:47 – The “supermodel of turkeys” appears to be done, but Bobby is going to check it in two places with a thermometer to be sure: Breast (155 degrees F) and Thigh (160 degrees.)

45:24 – Okay, I’ll say it. Bobby and Ina are really sweet together – so complimentary and respectful of each other’s styles! Such a love-fest there, no wonder they’re doing Thanksgiving together.

46:13 – Taste test complete and the Sautéed Shredded Brussels Sprouts are allowed to be on the buffet. Now for the finishing touches on the Eleven Layer Potato Gratin with fried sage and the sautéed shallots.

47:59 – Pro Tip #3: Sage (and fresh oregano) are really strong herbs, so use them sparingly to prevent overpowering the dish.

48:21 – Carving time!!! Step 1: Separate the legs and thighs from the body. Step 2: Divide the thigh from the drumstick. Step 3: Take the entire breast off and then slice across so that each piece has a bit of skin.

49:04 – Fun Fact: Ina’s dad was a surgeon and was a champion turkey carver.

54:36 – Ina and Bobby are continuing their test-run Thanksgiving and it turns out that Ina has even tested the table setting. #prepared #formerGirlScout (?)

55:15 – She’s using a round table with a white table cloth, burlap overlay, white plates, and a floral centerpiece in a hollowed out pumpkin. Bobby seems relieved that she took that job on.

56:29 – And, because Ina is awesome she has also made Make Ahead Cranberry Sauce with fresh cranberries. She and Bobby do a little ribbing over those who prefer the jellied kind, but there’s a reason it’s a classic!

57:48 – Cocktail hour is next with Bobby’s Fall Sangria involving a cinnamon simple syrup, fresh pomegranate, apples, oranges, pears. The best part: it improves with time, so making it ahead benefits the final product. Winning!

58:32 – Now to boozy part as they “layer the liquor” with a red table wine, pear brandy, apple brandy (aka Calvados), and then regular apple cider.

59:50 – Taste test time with a batch Bobby made a few days ago and since they’re done testing now it’s full glasses and cheers to the “best thanksgiving ever!”

Final Thoughts:
Ina and Bobby are so right about cooking in advance – isn’t it nice to have a lot of the heavy lifting out of the way so you can enjoy your guests?

Yes and amen to spreading the work across the stove top and the oven – how else could everything be hot at the same time?

Oh, to be a fly on the wall after that second glass of Fall Sangria… Hope Bobby has a DD for the ride home!

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Lessons Learned:
I don’t make many cakes or large desserts in general, mainly because with only two people to eat them we either have waaaay too much of a good thing, or they go stale on the counter. At least with cake I can usually re-portion into cupcakes, suitable for sharing. I decided to make the Lemon Ginger Molasses Cake in cupcake version, here’s what I learned along the way.

Recipe Notes – I’ve come to appreciate a well-written recipe that anticipates the pitfalls and concerns of the home cook. Ina, of course, knows to warn you that the cake mixture might appear curdled, and in so saying reassures you that all will be well.

Cupcake Portioning – I used a cookie scoop to help me roughly measure the amount of batter per space in the muffin tin. If you’d like to avoid a literal muffin top, then fill with batter about 2/3 full – for me that was 2.5 scoops. If you don’t mind a little spill over the edge of the muffin liner, then 3/4 full or 3 scoops will work.

Cupcake Baking – Since this recipe was originally written for a whole cake, I had to guesstimate the cooking time for cupcakes. The 3/4 filled cupcakes needed 25-27 minutes to spring back in the center; the 2/3 full cupcakes only needed 22-24 minutes. When fully baked, the texture is quite fluffy and almost spongy in texture.

Frosting – Again, a little adaptation was needed here because I needed to frost them the day before but whipped cream isn’t something that can be made more than 24 hrs in advance. I went with a make-shift butter cream instead following the spirit, if not the letter of Ina’s recipe. My version is below if you want to try it for yourself. One of these days I’ll get a piping bag and learn how to frost, for now you’re stuck with my “old fashioned” look.

Make-Shift Whipped (Butter) Cream Frosting (yield: scant 2 cups, enough for 12 cupcakes)

8 tablespoons room temperature butter
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Place the softened butter in a large mixing bowl and sift the confectioner’s sugar over the top to remove any lumps and add in the kosher salt. Beat together on low speed with an electric hand mixer until mostly combined.

Pour in the vanilla extract and then add the heavy cream a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is smooth and very thick, but still spreadable. The frosting should be fluff and hold it’s shape when spread with an offset spatula.

Frost fully cooled cupcakes. Frosting will stiffen and set up slightly, but remain soft underneath.

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes. For the cake I used a large mixing bowl, electric hand mixer, two muffin tins, dry and liquid measuring cups, small cutting board, mesh sieve, chef’s knife and a rubber spatula. A small cookie scoop helped with portioning, but isn’t essential. For the frosting I washed and re-used the mixing bowl, hand mixer, measuring cups and sieve, chef’s knife and small cutting board adding in a small off-set spatula. Muffin liners will help make sure the cupcakes come out of the tins.

The Verdict:
I’m a chocolate lover, so while cake of any kind is tempting I’d usually put something spiced or god forbid, carrot cake, at the bottom of the list. That is until I tasted Lemon Ginger Molasses Cake. Ina has really out done herself with this one – it’s deep and dark with gingery spice, the sweetness tamed with just a hint of lemon and the bitterness of molasses. It was seriously hard not to help myself to seconds. This would be perfect for a holiday party or wintery celebration. Outstanding.

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Lemon Ginger Molasses Cupcakes | Image: Laura Messersmith