Like many of you out there in the land of food geekdom, I enjoy reading cookbooks. I do not enjoy reading all cookbooks, however. I am generally bored to tears by the big, slick coffee table tomes. Charlie Trotter? Forget it. It’s nothing personal, they’re just not my thing.
What fascinates me are the smaller cookbooks; those by someone’s grandmother or, say, the Junior League of Salt Lake City. Those, to me, are fascinating. They tell a story without a publicist or, quite often, even an editor breathing down the creator’s neck.
Perhaps even more fascinating to me are the collections of recipes published by larger-than-life or, at least, larger-than-my-life celebrities.
Over the past few decades, many a celebrity (and by celebrity, you must understand that I mean anyone who was capable of having their agent obtain them a booking on Match Game ’74, Hollywood Squares, Battle of the Network Stars or any such show or better) offered up a recipe or two for a charity cookbook or an appearance on Dinah! Others seem to have been written by actors who aren’t doing so much acting any more. Sometimes, the submissions are See?-we’re-just-like-you-poor-non-famous-folk annoying or painfully (and by painfully, I mean amusingly) self-delusional and chock full of irony.
Such standouts include Paul Lynde and his Diet Waffles or even Tori Amos and her Glazed Turnips (the recipe given to her by her personal chef). Very few celebrities, by comparison, have managed to produce their own cookbooks.
And so… I present to you…
Liberace Cooks– A Cookbook! The exclamation point is his, not mine.
I should note that this book was not written during his lifetime, but compiled by the people who love him the most– those woman who unsmilingly devote themselves to his memory. Okay. That was bitchy. I was thinking of the stories I’ve heard about the women who work at the Liberace museum in Las Vegas who seem to think that the faithful, obsessive polishing of rhinestones might actually bring about his resurrection. This cookbook was published in 2003 by the Liberace Foundation for the Performing and Creative Arts. Any organization that has managed to award more than $5,000,000 in scholarship money to deserving students isn’t going to get the harsh treatment from me. Not too badly.
The 59-page book(let) is filled with a wide array of recipes from the ethnic Polish Radish Salad to the what-was-fancy-in-the-60’s-and-70’s dishes Boeuf à la Mode en Gelée and Coq au Vin.
When I received this book as a gift from my friends Gary and Bill, I just thought it was a funny gag. It’s still pretty amusing (you should see the photos of him with starlets mooning and drooling over his, um, cooking), but this feels like a real, personal cookbook. This man was in the kitchen a lot. These are dishes he actually made. These are recipes passed down from his mother, and we all know how much he loved his mother.
And now, here’s a recipe published with what I can only hope to God was a wink and a nod.
Liberace Sticky Buns
What I find so wonderful about this recipe is that it is, without any trace of self-mocking humor, his own. It is very easy to make, I assure you. The only change I’ve made is in my choice of raisin, and that is only because I didn’t feel like hunting for little boxes of white raisins (a dried fruit more popular in the 1970’s that it is today). A friend assured me that red flame raisins seemed much more appropriate to use in this recipe, given that its creator was such a bright, shining star who burned out much too quickly. I must say that I agree with him.
If the preparation reads like a never ending paragraph, it is because that is exactly how it was written. I am as faithful to Liberace as I can be.
1 cup white raisins (or, of course, flame)
1/2 cup light rum
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 pound (two sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon each of ground nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ginger
3 packages (18 buns) Pillsbury crescent dough.
Soak the raisins in the rum over a low flame. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325 F. In a saucepan, melt butter and stir in the spices and the brown sugar until the mixture becomes a bubbling syrup. Unroll the crescent dough, keeping each package in one flat place. Drizzle one quarter of the syrup over each individual piece of dough, reserving the last quarter for later. Sprinkle one third of the raisins and spread one third of the chopped pecans [Pecans? Liberace seems to have missed something fairly important in his ingredients list. Please excuse me while I go back to the store to buy some nuts.] on each of the three sheets of dough. Roll up each section of dough, jelly-roll style and cut into 1-inch pieces. Grease two eight-muffin pans or three six-muffin pans with butter. Put a scant teaspoon of the reserved syrup and a few whole pecans in the bottom of each muffin mold. Cover with the individual jelly-roll pieces, cut side up. Bake in preheated oven for the time recommended on the Pillsbury packages. While pans are still hot, invert them on a sheet of heavy aluminum foil allowing the buns to be released. Replace any of the syrup and pecans that cling to the molds on the individual buns. You should serve the buns while they are still warm and have that fresh-from-the-oven taste.
Apart from the omission of pecans from the ingredients list, I might substitute water for butter in the making of the syrup. It would make for a much smoother, lighter and yes, stickier syrup. Otherwise, this was a freaking easy recipe. I’m not even embarrassed to have used Pillsbury crescent dough– it’s been far too long since I’ve experienced the joy of whacking that cardboard tube against the kitchen counter.