Liberace’s Sticky Buns

Today, thanks to the magic of Twitter, I learned that the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas, Nevada is closing.

All those years of visiting Sin City and I never once bothered to go to that damned museum. I always said to myself, “Next time. I’ll go there next time.”

And now there won’t be a next time.

(Sniff.)

Thirty years of rhinestones and sequined pianos snuffed out like a candle from one of those glorious candelabras.

Or is it candelabrae? I really couldn’t tell you, but I bet Liberace could.

He could do anything.

Especially cook.

While it’s true that some big, big stars were avid cooks (think Dom DeLuise) and offered up a recipe or two for a charity cookbook or an appearance on Dinah! (or the 700 Club), other celebrities seem to have been conned into submitting recipes for publication by their publicists. Some of them are painfully (and by painfully, I mean entertainingly) self-delusional and chock full of irony.

Think: 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 (DeLuise aside).

But Liberace did.

Sort of.

Or not.

Okay, he didn’t.

And yet, there exists a cookbook entitled: Liberace Cooks! The exclamation point is his, not mine.

This posthumous collection of recipes was compiled the people who love him the most– those woman who unsmilingly devote themselves to his memory and 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, an organization that has managed to award more than $5,000,000 in scholarship money to deserving students.

Buy a copy for yourself. It’s a must for any serious collector of cookbooks. And non-serious, too.

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 merely accepted it as a thoughtful, funny gag gift. Well, it is amusing (you should see the photos of him with starlets mooning and drooling over his, er, cooking), but it also manages to maintain the surprising quality of feeling like a real person’s cookbook, not merely one from a celebrity showing off in the kitchen. Liberace was in the kitchen a lot. These are dishes he actually made– many of the recipes were passed down to him from his mother.

And we all know how much he loved his mother.

In honor of Liberace, his museum, and his dear mother, here’s a recipe from his cookbook that was published with what I can only hope to God was a wink and a nod.

Liberace’s Sticky Buns

What I find so wonderful about this recipe is that it is- without any trace of self-mocking humor– his own. And it’s ridiculously easy to make, too. The only change I’ve made is in my choice of raisin, and that’s simply 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). Just prior to baking, my friend Nicky assured me that red flame raisins seemed much more appropriate to use, given that the creator of this recipe was such a bright, shining star who burned out much too quickly.

I must say that I agree.

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.

Ingredients:

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.

Preparation:

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.

My notes:

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, ummm, 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.

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31 Responses to Liberace’s Sticky Buns

  1. Aww. Sad. Not the sticky buns; the museum.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      For me, the saddest thing of all is that I never got there.

      • Sherrie says:

        I wish I would have gone also. One of lifelong wishes was to see Liberace in person. I want this cookbook and I saw him on David Letterman on YouTube and Liberace admitted writing a cookbook.

  2. Nicole says:

    I adore this post.

  3. Susan says:

    I adore this and everyone of your posts ,Michael, because you manage to conjure up memories that are long since forgotten (that phrase seems to come out of Brideshead) . In this case it is an episode from the Dinah Shore show in which she is making spaghetti for Burt Renolds. Why that episode is so memorable I don’t know maybe it’s because she added carrots which I started to do since watching that show.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Oh, Susan. So many of my own phrases and memories seem to come out of Brideshead Revisited as well. You should hear my Antoine impersonation.

      What’s funny is I had Burt and Dinah specifically in mind when I mentioned her show.

  4. As a child I used to greet the opening of the Liberace Show with the question, “Why is that man smiling at me Mummy?” What a fabulous smile! Still love him to bits. Thanks for the memories you have brought back for me.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Hello there, Springingtiger!

      Did your mother ever come up with a satisfactory answer as to why that man was smiling at you?

      Thanks for visiting and commenting. I didn’t realize Liberace had his own television show. I must now go hunt for it and spend countless hours, um, counting his costume changes.

  5. ruairi says:

    Super :-)

    I would LOVE to see the Tori Amos cookbook…..that would be a laugh a minute!

    I haven’t heard about this guy before, but its sad that they are closing the museum. Particularly as they support the next gen of artists with scholarships.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      I think Miss Amos merely contributed one recipe to a “celebrity” cookbook, but I cannot be sure.

      To submit a recipe that one’s chef has created for you smacks of a certain grandeur that only a Romanaff, Orloff, Mornay, or Parmentier could pull off convincingly.

  6. weegee says:

    That is tragic that the Liberace Museum is closing! For me, it was one of the best attractions in Vegas. I wonder what will happen to all those amazing costumes?

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Agreed. My hope is that Debbie Reynolds will snatch them all up, re-open her Las Vegas Hotel, and exhibit them along with her collection of Golden-Age-of-Hollywood memorabilia, when she isn’t too busy starring in the television show my friend wrote for her.

      A boy can have his dreams, can’t he?

  7. Aimee Kilbane says:

    I visited the museum in ’92 during an impromptu stop in Vegas and it RULED.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Aimee!

      Did you buy any souvenirs? Please tell me you bought souvenirs. Like the Liberace pop-up doll book. I will give you all of my money, if you did.

      • Tammy says:

        We bought just one souvenir on our visit to this amazing place — a fridge magnet — but it is a constant daily reminder of the great performer. Sorry — I cannot part with it. We will treasure it always. RIP Liberace (and the museum).

        I have some family in Las Vegas, and they seem to be up on all the latest openings. They too, were big on the Liberace museum. As of March 2012, we’ve heard no word of any revivals. Alas.

        Thanks for the recipe and wonderful tribute!

  8. ursula says:

    This looks lovely!
    and I wish I had some of those red/white/blue sparkly shoes. They’re like bowling shoes, but with sequins.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      To me, his outfit just looks like something that any gay Tea Partier who got a hold of a Beadazzler on the 4th of July might come up with.

  9. DW says:

    I just found your blog after searching what people have written about the Negroni—yours is a fine entry.

    Now I don’t like Liberace, but I very much like the idea that you have written about Liberace and sticky buns. And I think I will like the sticky buns too.

    You have a delightful blog here, and I’m glad you are still writing so I can add you to my bookmarks and come back and read more.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      DW– Well, hello there. I’m very happy you decided to stop by.

      Not everyone has a taste for Liberace, you know. My hope, however, is that everyone will have a taste for his sticky buns. My affection for him is derived from the tension between his over-the-top-ness and his inability (given his era) to come out of the closet. It’s like he was screaming “I’m gay!” without ever actually mouthing the words.

      I hope to see you here again soon,

      Michael

  10. Lana says:

    My first encounter with Liberace was when I arrived to Michigan, fresh off the boat, er, PanAm plane in the late 80s. I was mesmerized by his immense personality, flamboyance, and courage to be so kitsch-y (and adorable). I played piano for years and I admired him as an entertainer.
    But I did not know he was a cook. That’s why I read your blog:)
    You have a wonderful way of expressing yourself. I enjoy your stories immensely.

    • michaelprocopio says:

      Lana,

      Thank you, as always. I am cheered by your support, you know.

      If you can get your hands on this cookbook, please do. It’s a really fun read.

  11. Kina says:

    They are trying to put together a national museum tour with a large portion of the collection. There is also talk of relocating the museum to the strip.

  12. jim says:

    I visited the Liberace museum a week ago…it’s open until 10-17. I bought his book ” Joy of Liberace” hoping to get his “sticky bun” recipe. Sadly it wasn’t in there, but so many other kitschy recipes and pictures were. It was my first trip to Vegas, and I’m so glad I got to experience it before it closed.

  13. ChardonnayLuvr says:

    I don’t think “Liberace Cooks!” was posthumous collection of recipes. I believe it really was originally published in 1970. I’ve been searching for a copy in thrift stores ever since some heavyweight TV chef (can’t remember who) said it was one of his favorite cookbooks ever! Who’da thunk it?

    • It’s a very sweet cookbook, in its own way, posthumous or not. If you ever do remember which heavyweight TV chef said this, please let me know. Oh, and by “heavyweight”, do you mean “plus sized”? I am merely trying to visualize.

      • hildine says:

        Nigella Lawson talked about how she loved this book on her show. She used one of his recipes to make a cheese cake with crushed lime candy (I think it was?)in it. Looked very yummy!

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