I'm P.C., and I have studied food and cooking around the world, mostly by eating, but also through serious study. Coursework at Le Cordon Bleu London and intensive courses in Morocco, Thailand and France have broadened my culinary skill and palate. But my kitchen of choice is at home, cooking like most people, experimenting with unique but practical ideas.

I live, mostly in my kitchen, in my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Eggnog Pound Cake

Eggnog Pound Cake

Pound cake is one of the best holiday desserts out there. It is easy to make, can be made ahead, is perfect for transport and imminently customizable. Pound cake really just uses the most basic techniques of baking, made easy using an electric mixer, and it’s a pretty forgiving process. A pound cake can easily be made a few days ahead and kept wrapped tightly on the counter. It can even be frozen (without a glaze or frosting). And if the cake dries out, toast the slices and serve with a drizzle of sauce. A pound cake is sturdy, so it can travel to a party or a road trip without fear of layers sliding apart. And the list of what you can do with a pound cake is endless. Serve it with ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate, caramel or fruit sauce. Berries, poached fruit, jam or a combination of any of the above.

Here, I up the holiday factor by adding in one of my favorite festive flavors, eggnog. The sweet, creamy flavor is incorporated both into the cake and with a rich frosting, all set off by spicy nutmeg. This cake can make a simple, homey treat or an impressive display. Put it on your favorite funny Santa plate or an elegant cake stand as a centerpiece for a dessert buffet.

Eggnog Pound Cake
Serves 12
Print
For the cake
  1. 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  2. 3 cups granulated sugar
  3. 6 eggs
  4. 3 cups flour
  5. ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  6. ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  7. ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  8. 1 cup prepared eggnog
For the frosting
  1. ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  2. ¼ cup eggnog, at room temperature
  3. ½ teaspoon vanilla
  4. ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  5. 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
For the cake
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Grease and flour a 12 cup bundt pan.
  2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a large stand mixer on medium until creamy. Slowly add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, a good 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Combine the flour, nutmeg, salt and baking soda and add the creamed mixture, alternating with the eggnog. Do this in three additions, ending with eggnog. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 -60 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Cover the top of the cake loosely with foil if it begins to brown to much. Cool the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes, then invert it on a wire rack to cool completely.
For the frosting
  1. Beat the butter, eggnog, vanilla and nutmeg together in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium until smooth and creamy. Add the confectioner’s sugar gradually and beat until combined and smooth. You want a thick but pourable icing, so adjust with extra eggnog or sugar as needed. Spoon the frosting over the completely cooled cake.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Gingerbread Brownies with Buttermilk Glaze

Gingerbread Brownies with Buttermilk Glaze

My first introduction to “gingerbread” was the cute crisp gingerbread men cookies decorated with cinnamon candies and white icing we are all so familiar with. Few of those were homemade, and none ever did much for me. So I really never much thought of gingerbread as a favorite part of my holiday season. Those cookies sure are cute, but not much in the flavor department.

But then I discovered, deep, dark, cakey, traditional gingerbread and I was hooked. The warm spices of gingerbread are now a true holiday favorite for me. I love the way gingerbread smells, while the batter is being stirred up and as the gingerbread bakes. The combination of spices and the rich, deep molasses are immediately homey and comforting. These bars are a fun way to share the classically holiday flavors of gingerbread at any party or gathering. The sweet and tangy buttermilk glaze adds an extra layer of lovely.

Gingerbread Brownies with Buttermilk Glaze
Serves 16
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For the Brownies
  1. 1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
  2. 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  4. 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  5. ½ teaspoon baking powder
  6. ½ teaspoon salt
  7. ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  8. ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  9. ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  10. 2 large eggs
  11. 1/3 cup molasses
  12. ¼ cup butter, melted and cooled
For the Glaze
  1. 1 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
  2. 3 Tablespoons buttermilk
  3. ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 8 by 8 inch brownie pan with non-stick foil or parchment.
  2. Mix the flour, brown sugar, baking powder salt and spices together in a large bowl. Use a fork to combine everything and break up any lumps of brown sugar.
  3. In another bowl, combine the eggs, molasses and melted butter until thoroughly combined. Add to the dry ingredients and stir together until everything is incorporated and there are no dry ingredients visible. The molasses is thick, so this will take a little effort.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and use lightly moistened fingers to press it out to the edges and smooth the top. Bake for 20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
  5. Cool the brownies in the pan.
For the Glaze
  1. While the bars are cooling, whisk together the glaze ingredients, making sure there are no lumps. Spread the glaze over the baked bars and leave to set, at least 15 minutes. Lift the brownies out of the pan using the foil or parchment. Cut into bars.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Festive Finds 2014

Festive Finds

Holiday shopping season is upon us once again, and I love to share gift ideas for the food lovers in your life. As always, these are just some ideas about personal favorites – no one has asked me to promote any products. To get a good look at all this year fun finds, follow me on Pinterest.

Of course, I think Pimento Cheese The Cookbook: 50 Recipes from Snacks to Main Dishes Inspired by the Classic Southern Favorite is the best gift you could give or receive. (Ok, I am a little biased).

Available now!

Available now!

There are a host of wonderful cookbooks new this season. For the canner or preserver in your life, Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry is an absolute bible and a must – have. Southern cooks will love The Southern Living Community Cookbook,a compendium of recipes from community cookbooks and resources. The Southern Pantry Cookbook makes it possible to whip up your favorite Southern dishes from a well-stocked pantry. The Savor the South series features lovely little books from amazing writers on classic Southern ingredients like Okra, Sweet Potatoes, Catfish, Celebrations and Pickles and Preserves.

Savannah’s own Byrd’s Cookie Company packages their delicious cookies in wonderful ways. I like these colorful mod tins, but shop around for many options. Chef Vivian Howard has put together some wonderful gift collections and suggestions for Southern Season stores that would be a real bonanza for any Southern food lover. Philip Ashley Designer Chocolates are delicious little works of art anyone would love to recieve. Beautifully packaged and absolutely delicious, Memphis chef Felicia Willet’s Flo’s Homemade Goodness gift box of Tomato Jam, Pepper Jelly, Chow Chow and Bread and Butter Pickles is a treasure trove of Southern preserves (each available individually too). Atlanta’s jewel-box of a shop, Preserving Place also offers some fine Southern preserves – I particularly like the apple butter. Batch offers monthly subscription boxes of local made goods from Memphis, Nashville, Charleston and Austin and is the gift that keeps on giving.

This set of snazzy casserole carriers will liven up any party or potluck, and the two different sizes are handy. Sleek and practical, A Bag Named Sue will carry all your party supplies or cookbooks in style. Alabama Chanin is one of the great Southern makers, and these cocktail napkins are a perfect gift. West Virginia-made Blenko Glass water pitchers are classically stylish and imminently practical. You know and love Tennessee’s own Lodge cast iron, I’m now coveting this carbon steel skillet. And carry your water (or wine) with a touch of whimsy in this coated canvas water bottle. And these fresh, farmers market inspired Produce candlesmake a lovely hostess gift or kitchen happy. The baker on your list is sure to love this personalized rolling pin.

But maybe the best gift of all is giving on behalf of someone you love to someone in need. There are so many great organizations to give to that will create special cards you can wrap up for your recipient or have it sent directly to them. Women for Women International is an amazing organization that works to raise women and girls out of poverty around the world. They have a whole selection of gift donations.

And as food banks are under more strain than ever, Give-A-Meal through Feeding America to a family in need in honor of a family you love. And remember your local food bank with monetary donations or canned goods.

For some more ideas about my favorite fun kitchen finds, book and movies – check out The Spoon’s Store, powered by Amazon. Just click on the box on the right hand side of the page.

Decadent Chocolate Bread Pudding (and variations)

Decandent Chocolate Bread Pudding

I’ve been making this bread pudding for years, when I really want to pull out the stops for a decadent, but homey, dessert. It’s another of those recipes written on card, transferred to a notebook, moved to a file folder – the victim of my many attempts to organize a lifetimes worth of shared and saved recipes. The chocolate custard soaks through the bread and the chocolate morsels add little surprises of molten chocolate. This is not a dessert for the faint of heart.

When I was making this again to test and photograph it, I was suddenly struck with great indecision. Should I make a peppermint version? Add a new sauce? I finally decided the most helpful thing to do would be to stick with the basics and share this template recipe, which is utterly delicious and perfect as it is. But I offer some seasonal variations and additional trimmings from the archives.

Decadent Chocolate Bread Pudding (and variations)
Serves 6
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Ingredients
  1. 1 pound loaf challah bread or soft Italian bread
  2. 3 cups heavy whipping cream, divided
  3. 8 ounces semisweet chocolate
  4. 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  5. ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  6. 5 large eggs
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla
  8. ½ cup whole milk
  9. 11.5 ounce bag milk chocolate morsels
Instructions
  1. Cut the bread into roughly 1-inch chunks and set aside.
  2. Break the chocolate into small pieces and drop it in a food processor. Heat 1 cup of the heavy cream in the microwave (about 45 seconds) or in a saucepan until just steaming. Do not boil or bubble. Process the chocolate for a few seconds to break it up, then pour over the warm cream and process until smooth. Leave to cool for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar, the melted butter and the vanilla to the chocolate mixture and process until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, processing until smooth between each addition. Scrape the chocolate mixture into a capacious bowl –one that will fit the bread too. Stir in the remaining 2 cups cream and ½ cup milk and stir until smooth. Add the bread cubes and the chocolate morsels to the bowl and gently stir until the bread is well coated, the morsels are evenly distributed and everything is well combined. Scrape the mixture into a greased 9 by 13 inch baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour, but up to six.
  4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Take the baking dish out of the fridge for 10 – 15 minutes to get the chill off. Bake for 55 minutes to an hour, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  5. Serve warm.
Notes
  1. You can serve this with ice cream, plain vanilla, salted caramel or peppermint or with whipped cream, or try it drizzled with Toffee Sauce or Bourbon Sauce.
  2. Give an autumn twist by adding 2 cups of dried cranberries, soaked in a little brandy to plump and ½ cup chopped walnuts, using just 1 cup of chocolate morsels.
  3. As the holidays approach, mix this up to make a Mint Chocolate Bread Pudding. Swap the vanilla for ½ teaspoon peppermint extract and use white chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate. Sprinkle the top with crushed peppermint candies before serving.
The Runaway Spoon http://therunawayspoon.com/blog/

Creamy Scrambled Egg Casserole

Creamy Scrambled Egg Casserole

I have, for many years, been searching and experimenting with recipes for a make -ahead breakfast casserole that is all egg.  The classic breakfast casserole around here is sausage, cheese and bread bound with an egg and milk custard, and I have made many variations of that.  But I wanted something that didn’t include bread or other elements, because so often, a brunch spread includes them in other forms.  Okay, for the big holidays, indulgence is the norm – I have been known to serve a plate of bacon and a sausage casserole, cheesy grits, biscuits and muffins – but that is not always the way to go.  It has been my goal to serve a simple, scrambled egg casserole alongside the bacon and ham and biscuits and preserves, not adding to the overload, just complimenting it.  And most off all, I don’t want to be up early cracking eggs and cooking them to order.

This is the result of trial and error, combining the best bits of all sorts of community cookbook recipes.  My version below is very simple, jazzed up only with a little sharp green onion and some chives, but the brilliance of this is its adaptability.  Add ingredients that suit the rest of your brunch spread – a combination of other fresh herbs, some finely diced peppers or mushrooms, even a little bacon or ham.

Creamy Scrambled Egg Casserole

5 Tablespoons butter, divided

2 ½ Tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups milk

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

1 (8-ounce) bar cream cheese

12 eggs

2 green onions, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 Tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the flour until you have a smooth paste.  Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly, until smooth.  Add the nutmeg and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce is thickened and smooth, about five minutes. Cut the cream cheese into small cubes and whisk it, bit by bit, into the sauce until it is smooth and melted. Remove from the heat.

Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk thoroughly, until the yolks are broken up and the eggs are well combined.  Whisk in a dash of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Melt the remaining 3 Tablespoons of butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat.  Pour in the eggs and cook gently to form large, soft curds.  Do not “scramble” the eggs too much, just gently push the cooked egg aside to let the uncooked egg cover the bottom of the pan.  When the eggs are almost cooked, but some uncooked liquid is left, remove the pan from the heat and pour the cream sauce over the top.  Sprinkle over the chopped green onion and chives, then fold the sauce through the eggs.  At this point, you can break up any large egg pieces to distribute evenly through the sauce.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Spread the eggs into a well-greased 9 by 13 inch baking dish.  Leave to cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 300° and cook the eggs just until heated through, about 20 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6 – 8

Holiday Spice Bread with Whipped Honey Butter

Holiday Spice Bread with Whipped Honey Butter

I adapted this recipe from an old community cookbook, modernizing and stream lining it a bit, but I can’t imagine its origins.  Maybe Scandinavian? Or a take on a French quatre epices? A Byzantine tradition?  I don’t know, but the unusual spice combination lightly sweetened with honey really sets this bread apart.   I want there to be some story that this is symbolic of the Three Kings riding in from the East, with the whiff of exotic spices.  Though that is just my fanciful imagining, there is something mysterious about the flavor of this alluring loaf.

I love this bread warm with honey butter, on a cold morning, with a cup of warm tea or hot chocolate. But it is also rather intriguing beside a bowl of creamy soup.  The honey butter, of course, has more uses than I can list here.

Holiday Spice Bread with Whipped Honey Butter

¼ cup warm water

1 packet active dry yeast

1 cup milk

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) Tablespoons butter, divided

½ cup honey

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 ½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

4 – 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 egg

Place the warm water in the large bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle over the yeast.  Leave to become foamy and bubbling.

Pour the milk into a 2 cup glass measuring jug or small bowl and add 6 Tablespoons of the butter cut into pieces.  Microwave in 20 second bursts until the milk is just warm and the butter is melted.  Stir well.

When the yeast has foamed up, add the honey, milk mixture spices and salt to the yeast in the bowl.  Beat with the paddle attachment on low speed until everything is just blended.  Add the flour slowly, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.  When you have added 2 cups of flour, beat in the egg, then continue adding the flour until you have a shaggy ball of dough, most of which clings to the paddle in a ball, but all of which you can easily scoop into a ball.

Butter a large bowl well, scoop the dough into a ball and transfer to the bowl.  Turn the dough ball around in the bowl so it is buttered on all sides.  Cover the bowl with a towel and place in  a warm place to rise for about an hour, until doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and knead it 3 – 4 times, then place in a well butttered 9-inch round casserole dish.  Cover and let rise for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake for 1 hour or until golden, firm and it makes a hollow sound when you knock on it.  You can tent the loaf lightly with foil if it starts gets darker than you prefer.

Melt the remaining butter (after using some to grease the bowl and the casserole) and brush over the top of the hot bread. Cover with a tea towel and cook in the pan (covering the bread keeps the crust soft).

Makes on 9 – inch loaf

Whipped Honey Butter

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

¼ cup honey

¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste, vanilla seeds or vanilla extract

Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment to smooth it out.  Add the honey and vanilla and beat on high speed, scraping the sides of the bowl a couple of times, until the butter is light and fluffy.  Scoop into a bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Makes ½ cup

Southern Boiled Custard

Southern Boiled Custard

Boiled custard is one of my great childhood Christmas memories.  We spent a lot of Christmases at my grandparents house in Columbia, Tennessee and my grandmother always served boiled custard in Santa Claus mugs and caramel cake for dessert at Christmas lunch.  Boiled Custard was something you bought.  I never really thought of it as something people make. I assumed it was some mystery product that only the professional dairies could ever produce.  Over time, our Christmas traditions changed and some of our gathering don’t have that nostalgic love of boiled custard, but my mom always buys a little carton, even if only a few of us drink it.  But I have over the years gotten more and more interested in making things from scratch, and low and behold, I discovered that lots of Southern cookbooks have recipes for boiled custard.  I am now pretty sure there are some people who think bought boiled custard is an absolute sacrilege.  So, feeling nostalgic, I set out to create a fresh family recipe for an old-time favorite.  And it is delicious.

After my Grandmother died, my cousin claimed the old Santa mugs.  They were so chipped and cracked no one thought they could possibly be useful and every offer to buy her a new set was refused.  I totally understand that.  Those mugs filled with boiled custard are a part of Christmas.  But I bought my own Santa mug, similar to the old ones, just for me, just for boiled custard.

Southern Boiled Custard

This is a rich drink so small servings will do.  If you want to make more, I recommend making it in several batches.  It is very difficult to create a larger double boiler and more liquid takes longer to cook and is likely to produce lumps.

1 quart whole milk

½ of a vanilla bean

5 eggs

1 cup sugar

½ cup heavy cream (If needed)

Set up a double boiler and bring the water in the bottom pot just to a low boil.  If you do not have a double boiler, place a metal or glass bowl over a saucepan.  The bowl should not touch the bottom of the pan or the water in it and must fit securely so steam does not escape.

Pour the milk into the top of the double boiler, scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add to the milk.  Heat the milk until it is hot to the touch and just bubbling.  Do not boil.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined.  Add the sugar and beat until light and the sugar has dissolved.  Slowly add  ½ cup of the hot milk into the eggs and beat thoroughly.  Repeat with another ½ cup milk.  Pour the egg mixture into the milk in the pan and whisk to combine.  Continue whisking as the milk cooks.  Cook until the custard lightly coats the back of a metal spoon, and when you run your finger through the custard on the spoon it leaves a gap.

While the custard is cooking, wash and dry the bowl and place a wire mesh sieve over it.  When the custard is ready, pour it immediately through the sieve.  Leave it to cool for a few minutes, then place a piece of plastic wrap directly over the surface of the custard.  This will present a skin from forming.  Refrigerate the custard until cold, then pour into a pitcher. If the custard is too thick, whisk in about ½ cup heavy cream.

Serves 6 small glasses

Red Velvet Pound Cake

Red Velvet Pound Cake

Christmas is the perfect time for red velvet.  It’s the festive color of the season, and it is just so fun.  I’ve made Red Velvet Polka Dot Cookies and Red Velvet Surprise Cupcakes, and experiment with even more ideas.  But this may be the most practical.  Pound Cake is such a holiday staple – it’s easy to make, keeps well and freezes beautifully.  Serve hefty slices with whipped cream or ice cream and some festive sprinkles for a dessert, or smaller slices on a buffet. Wrap a loaf in plastic wrap with pretty ribbon and it makes a beautifully fun, festive gift. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think it would be lovely baked in those little decorated paper mini loaf pans as a gift.

I’ve added a simple glaze (skip it for freezing or wrapping) because it adds a lovely snowy top, but the cake is rich and lovely without it.  I’ve even sprinkled the glaze with sparkling sanding sugar to give it a real winter wonderland effect.

Red Velvet Pound Cake

½ cup (1 stick) butter,  at room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ Tablespoons red food coloring

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

a pinch of salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar

½ cup buttermilk

For the Glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 Tablespoon buttermilk

Preheat oven to 325°. Lightly grease and flour a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan or use baking spray like Bakers’ Joy.

Cream the butter and sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla and food coloring on slow speed.

Sift the flour, salt and cocoa together in a bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the vinegar and add to the buttermilk in the measuring jug. Beat the dry ingredients into the butter and egg alternately with the buttermilk in three additions, mixing well after each and scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth the top.  Tap the pan on the counter a few times to release air bubbles. Bake for about 50 minutes or until cake is done and a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan about 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

For the Glaze:

Whisk together the powdered sugar and buttermilk until you have a runny galze (use a bit more buttermilk if needed.  Pour the galze evenly over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides.

Merry Morning Muffins with Eggnog Butter (Overnight Gingerbread and Cranberry Muffins)

Everyone is up earlier than any other day of the year to see what’s under the tree.  Wrapping paper ripping, bows flying, boxes everywhere.  And somewhere in there, folks get hungry.  Just a nibble before the big celebration.  Something special, but simple.  There’s just too much going on to whip up a gourmet feast.  And the cookies Santa left behind just won’t do.

I’ve been making versions of this type of muffin for years, and decided it was finally time to work out a Christmas version.  Because these are the perfect treat for a crazy, busy morning.  Make the batter a day or two ahead, then simply scoop them out in the morning and bake.  The deep ginger and molasses flavor sings of Christmas and the tart, sweet cranberries add to the festive flavor. I love the added hit of candied ginger, but feel free to leave them out or substitute raisins or nuts.  These muffins are delicious straight up, spread with a little plain butter or some cranberry jam if you happen to have any around.  But add this nutmeg-y butter with the flavor of eggnog to add to the holiday spirit.  Make it ahead too, even a double batch for toast or waffles.

Merry Morning Muffins with Eggnog Butter (Overnight Gingerbread and Cranberry Muffins)

For the Muffins:

½ cup butter, room temperature

½ cup white sugar

½ cup molasses

2 eggs

1 ¾ cup flour

½ teaspoon ginger

½ teaspoon nutmeg

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon warm water

1 cup dried cranberries

¼ cup crystallized ginger pieces

For the Butter:

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened

2 Tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon nutmeg

For the Muffins:

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy using an electric mixer.  Beat in the molasses, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until combined.

Sift the flour and spices together and beat into the batter, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the batter is just mixed.  Dissolve the baking soda in the warm water in a small dish, then mix into the batter.  Stir in the cranberries and ginger until they are distributed throughout.

At this point, the batter can be refrigerated for up to two days, tightly covered.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°. Grease 12 muffin cups and divide the batter among them equally.  Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool.

Makes 12 muffins

For the Butter:

Beat the butter and confectioners’ sugar together until light and fluffy.  Beat in the vanilla and nutmeg until combined and smooth.  Scoop into a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until firm.

The butter can be made up to a week ahead.

Makes ½ cup

Eggnog Pie

I considered calling this Christmas Panic Pie. It is the perfect recipe to have in your pocket for  the busy holidays.  It is simple, requires a few ingredients you can easily have on hand and can be dressed up elegantly or served simply.  During the holidays, I always have a carton of eggnog in the fridge.  It is one of my favorite holiday flavors and ingredients, and stashing some store bought pie crust rolls in the fridge or freezer means a delicious dessert is minutes away.  Serve it for dessert at an impromptu family dinner, take it to the office party you forgot about, make it in a disposable pan, wrap it in cellophane tied with a ribbon and instant hostess gift.  And if you are tasked with providing dessert for a huge crowd, it is easy to make pie after pie in a flash.

Serve this pie straight up, or pipe a decorative trim of whipped cream around the edges. Sugared cranberries would be a beautiful garnish.  I say this serves eight, but when there are other sweets on offer, slender slices are enough.

Eggnog Pie

Pastry for one 9-inch pie, homemade or store bought ready-to-roll

½ cup (1 stick) butter

3 eggs

3 Tablespoons flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon nutmeg, plus more for sprinkling

1 ½ cups refrigerated dairy eggnog

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Fit the pastry into a 9-inch pie plate.

Melt the butter and set aside to cool to room temperature.  When the butter is cool, whisk the eggs in a large bowl until lightly beaten.  Add the flour, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg and whisk until combined.  Pour in the butter and whisk thoroughly.  Add the eggnog in a drizzle while whisking until the filling is smooth and everything is fully incorporated.

Pour the filling into the crust and use a sharp pointed knife to pop any large air bubbles that form.  Shape a piece of aluminum foil to fit over the pie before you transfer it to the oven, but put the pie in the oven uncovered at first. Sprinkle a little nutmeg over the top of the filling.

Bake the pie at 425° for 12 – 15 minutes, then cover the pie with the prepared foil and lower the heat to 325°.  Continue baking until the filling is set, 30 – 35 minutes.

Remove the pie from the oven and cool completely.  I prefer to chill the pie overnight, but it can be eaten at room temperature.

Serves 8