One of the benefits of the site Epicurious.com is that visitors can read recipe reviews written by those who have already tried the recipe out. These reviews are very helpful to me when I am trying to narrow down my choices, and although I am relying on other peoples' opinions, a long list of positive or negative reviews is usually a good indicator.
That being said, one of my pet peeves is a review on Epicurious that starts out with the reviewer listing the multiple changes that he or she made to the original recipe. This sometimes goes on for paragraphs. Inevitably, the posting ends with the reviewer telling us how incredibly awful and inedible the recipe was. What a surprise. You changed virtually every ingredient, the oven temperature, the cooking vessel, and the technique, and the recipe didn"t turn out perfectly? Go figure. As far as I'm concerned, "reviews" such as these are not only a waste of space, but they skew the results of what could be a "four fork" recipe.
My friend Meredith has this same grievance, and apparently we are not alone. She found this Epicurious review one day while looking at a recipe for Bacon and Mushroom Mac and Cheese (I know--yum!) This witty individual does a fantastic job of mocking the type of review that I detailed above--enjoy!:
"In keeping with the proud tradition of the cook from Jamaica Plain, MA, I say RECIPE SCHMECIPE! So instead of macaroni I substituted shredded eggplant boiled in 7up instead of water. Rather than make a cheese sauce, I combined mayonnaise, lingonberry jam, 4 cups of sea salt and one large casaba melon. Bacon? You must be kidding. No, I used half a pound of sweetbreads and one whole flounder. I baked the dish at 550 for 3 hours, then moved out of town to start a new life as a palm reader in Fresno. This dish was truly a life-altering one and I highly recommend it to all adventurous epicures."
Pretty funny, huh? Epicurious is not the only site featuring these types of reviews. A few nights ago, I watched the Barefoot Contessa's Thanksgiving dessert special on Food Network (Jacob, a.k.a. Food Network Addict, was lucky enough to be personally invited by Ina Garten to be part of the show---soooo jealous, but he did a great job!) Ina prepared the most fantastic looking spiced gingerbread, which I swore I could smell as it baked in her enviable kitchen. Immediately deciding that this is a must-try recipe, I logged onto FoodNetwork.com to print it out. To my surprise, the recipe showed a 3 out of 5-star rating, a rarity in Ina's case. As I read the reviews, only 1 reviewer had actually prepared the recipe! The others simply speculated on whether eggs had been left out of the ingredient list, followed by a low rating. Grrrrrrrrrrrrr.
Being the Ina Garten fan that I am, I felt obligated to try the gingerbread recipe, as written, so that I could write an educated review. Plus, I was really craving gingerbread. Well folks, I am very happy to report that no eggs are needed! Ina's extremely fragrant gingerbread came out of the oven nicely risen, dark, and moist. The unique addition of crystallized ginger and golden rum-soaked raisins adds texture and a bit of a kick. It is indeed a delicious, perfect-for-the-holidays recipe--not that I ever doubted you, Ina! Here are a few extra tips for making Ina's seasonal spiced dessert:
- I made a few modifications to Ina's recipe, and the gingerbread still turned out to be delicious (I love a flexible recipe!) I used a 9-inch square pan instead of an 8-inch. I also added the raisins along with any remaining rum, as opposed to just the raisins, to the batter. Finally, I topped the finished gingerbread with powdered sugar instead of the glaze. I have always preferred gingerbread this way, but I'm sure that the glaze is outstanding too )maybe next time....)
- Ina also suggests serving the gingerbread with lightly sweetened rum whipped cream. Just flavor sweetened whipped cream with a little bit of rum instead of vanilla.
- Crystallized ginger can be found in various parts of your grocery store, depending on the company. Whole Foods sells it in the bulk bins. Some grocery stores keep it in the produce section, while others place it in the natural foods area. You might even find it in the baking aisle. When all else fails, ask an employee for help!
- Although it is probably best eaten the day that it is made, the gingerbread can be stored, tightly wrapped, for 2-3 days. Wrapping it tightly will help to retain moisture. The flavor will intensify a bit over time.
Ina's Old-Fashioned Gingerbread
¼ cup dark rum
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 ⅓ cups flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
⅓ cup minced dried crystallized ginger
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2-3 tablespoons orange juice
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper.
Place the rum and the raisins in a small saucepan, cover, and heat until the rum boils. Turn off the heat and set aside. Place the butter and the molasses in another small pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cool for 5 minutes, then mix in the sour cream and orange zest.
Whisk together the flour, baking, soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in a medium bowl. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the molasses mixture and mix only until smooth. Drain the raisins and add them and the crystallized ginger to the mixture with a spatula. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Set aside to cool completely.
When the cake has cooled, whisk together the confectioners' sugar and orange juice and pour it over the gingerbread, allowing it to drip down the sides. Allow the glaze to set. Cut the gingerbread into squares and serve.