Spiced Pumpkin Bread

November 19, 2011

Man, I love Thanksgiving! “Love” is an exaggeration. It’s an understatement, if anything. I love, love, LOVE opening my google reader and reading all the Thanksgiving recipes, drooling over photos, and scribbling down recipes, notes, and suggestions for Thanksgivings (and meals) to come. Most of the free mental space in my brain, in fact, is dedicated to thinking about Thanksgiving and food.

I have to laugh at myself here because it’s typical that, for the amount of time I spend thinking about Thanksgiving and for the amount of inspiration out there, I’ve done nothing in terms of choosing what recipes to use next week (I could feed off ideas forever; the “getting things done” part is always hardest for me). Thanksgiving is less than a week away, giving me a little bit of time, but if next week is anything like this week in terms of passing by WAY too quickly, then I’m in trouble!

So, even though spiced pumpkin bread isn’t really a Thanksgiving recipe, I felt compelled to make it and share it for a couple reasons. The first is that it’s full of pumpkin and makes your kitchen smell wonderful while it bakes. Second, it seems like a great addition to a post-Thanksgiving brunch spread! My family never did this, but I think I’m going to weasel the day-after brunch into my own Thanksgiving tradition. The bread is perfect, just another great recipe from America’s Test Kitchen! Good luck with your own Thanksgiving preparations!!!

Spiced Pumpkin Bread

(Recipe adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Cookbook)

Yields one 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf

Notes: I switched out the granulated sugar called for in the original recipe for honey, and, desirous of a less sweet finished product, added less sweetener than the original. I also threw in some ground flax seeds for good measure, but they are totally and completely optional.

Ingredients:

1 15 oz can pumpkin puree

½ cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup whole wheat flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

Optional: 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method:

1. In a small or medium saucepan, cook pumpkin puree, honey, cinnamon, salt, and nutmeg over medium high heat, stirring constantly for 5 to 7 minutes or until mixture is thick and glossy. Take off heat and cool. To hasten the cooling process, stir or whisk mixture vigorously for 5 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 ½ by 4 ½ inch loaf pan, and place loaf pan on a baking sheet. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flours, ground flax seeds (if using), baking soda, and baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together cooled pumpkin mixture, butter, eggs, and vanilla.

4. Fold liquid ingredients into dry, taking care not to over mix. The batter will be thick.

5. Scrape batter evenly into prepared loaf pan and smooth top. Bake loaf 45 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out with just a few crumbs attached, rotating loaf pan halfway through baking time.

6. Let loaf cool in pan 10 minutes before removing loaf and placing it on a cooling rack. Cool loaf at least one hour before serving.

Store loaf either covered tightly with plastic wrap or in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days.

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Soft Pretzels

November 4, 2011

One would think that, after almost one documented year (!) of consistent baking and the many undocumented years prior, I’d know how to read a recipe, or at least know how many times I need to reread a recipe in order to bring a baked good to delicious fruition. Colleen tries to make soft pretzels, take one. Action!

After reading the recipe in its entirety, I read down the ingredients once more to start working on the recipe. I reread the first step and saw that you have to combine everything in the same bowl to make the dough. Really, really, excruciatingly simple! I added the yeast, honey, salt, flour, warm water, and then added the baking soda. As I was adding the three tablespoons of baking soda, I kept thinking how strange it was that you would add so much of a chemical leavening agent to dough that already has one, yeast. If this were a movie, you’d see me in the kitchen with a dramatically exaggerated confused look on my face as I added tablespoon after tablespoon of baking soda, and the text at the bottom of the screen would read, “Weeeeeeeeeird”. If you’ve seen the first Bridget Jones movie, it’d be like the scene where her handsome boss catches her in a lie trying to impress him and there is a not so appropriate expletive that runs across the bottom of the screen while she is looking at him with an expression of total fear and embarrassment. Not the same emotion, but the same concept and funny image.

Soft pretzels are unique because they, like bagels, are boiled before baking. Soft pretzels are boiled not just water, however, but in a baking soda and water solution so they get that characteristic brown coloring. I realized my mistake when I went to boil the water, and couldn’t NOT finish the recipe. I rolled out the dough and shaped the pretzels, which was super fun, then got to boiling and baking. The pretzels were beautiful. Inedible, on account of the baking soda mistake, but beautiful nonetheless. The insides were soft and fluffy, and would have been perfect had I not buggered up the baking soda bit. I can’t wait to make soft pretzels again, though, knowing how much fun the process is, and how great the finished product will be!

Soft Pretzels

(Recipe from Baking Illustrated, an ATK publication)

Yields 12 soft pretzels

Notes: Soft pretzel dough is super stiff, almost too stiff to knead by hand. ATK recommends using a stand mixer or food processor because pretzels come out most flavorful with the appropriate amount of kneading. I’m writing the recipe for a stand mixer, but check out the book if you want the food processor method. Also, check out the book for cheese and cinnamon sugar variations of this recipe. When rolling out pretzels, I found the dough worked best on a surface that was not floured, even though the recipe recommends rolling dough on a lightly floured surface. I also did not roll my dough into 20-inch long ropes, resulting in small, chubby pretzels. To each her own?

Ingredients

For the dough:

1 teaspoon instant yeast

¼ cup honey

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups bread flour

1 cup warm water, around 110 degrees F

Optional: 2 tablespoons kosher salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds

For the boiling water:

6 cups of water

3 tablespoons baking soda

Method:

1. In the bowl of stand mixer, stir together yeast, honey, salt, flour, and water.

2. Fit mixer with a bread hook and knead dough at a low speed 5 to 7 minutes, or until dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. Coat a large mixing bowl with a thin layer of cooking oil.

3. Place ball of dough in oiled bowl, flipping dough over so the top is oiled, too. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Deflate dough, cover again with plastic, and let dough rise until doubled in size for a second time, between 30 and 40 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or lightly oiled aluminum foil. In a 12-inch skillet, Dutch oven, or wide pot, bring 6 cups of water and baking soda to a boil.

5. While oven is preheating and water is coming to a boil, form pretzels. Divide dough into 12 equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each portion into a 20-inch long, ½ inch wide ropes. Shape ropes into pretzel form by picking up the ends and crossing them over each other to form an oval and pressing ends over the bottom of the oval. It helped to pinch the dough together there, but a dab of water will also help the ends adhere to oval.

6. When water is boiling, use tongs to place 3 to 4 shaped pretzels face down in boiling water. After 30 seconds, use a slotted spoon to flip pretzels. After another thirty seconds, use tongs to drain pretzels thoroughly and place them directly on prepared baking sheet. Repeat until all pretzels are boiled. Since pretzels will not spread, you can try to fit all 12 pretzels on the same baking sheet. Sprinkle pretzels with salt, if desired.

7. Bake pretzels in preheated oven for 12 to 16 minutes, until pretzels are well browned, turning the baking sheet halfway through baking time. Remove pretzels to a cooling rack and cool until cool enough to eat or room temperature.

ATK says pretzels are best the day they are made, served either warm or at room temperature, but will also keep for two days at room temperature in an airtight container or frozen up to 2 weeks.

To spice things up a bit, I’m stepping into my savory baking shoes this morning. I have a considerable amount of baking experience, but very little of that experience consists of baking outside the sugar box (I just got a little overwhelmed by the thought of a “sugar box”, where all your wildest sugar fantasies are kept, neat and compartmentalized, until ready to be unleashed upon the world. I’m not sure whether it’s a beautiful, happy thing or a terrifying one). A lot of it has to do with what I like to eat and what I like to share, sweet goods as opposed to savory, but a little part of me shies away from savory baking because it’s unknown territory. Sure, I’ve baked a few loaves of bread and kneaded some pizza dough in my day, but never have I made soft pretzels, or bagels, or any number of delicious non-sugar inundated food items. Seems downright silly to allow my lack of experience to take control over what I decide to bake in any given week.

I’m going to start small, literally, with a cheddar cheese mini loaf. And this isn’t just any mini loaf, everyone, this is a mini loaf from America’s Test Kitchen. You’re already well aware of my love for them, their kitchen, their recipes, their people, and their books/magazines, but I’ll say again how much I love the accessibility and ease of their recipes. For someone who was more than a little afraid to tackle a very little loaf, it was comforting to know that it would be very difficult for me to not end up with something that would be tasty and satisfying.

According to my calculations, I could create a mini loaf storage container out of this copy of War and Peace. Convenient AND classy!

This mini loaf did the trick for breakfast, but will also have a spot at the dinner table this evening. Another thing I’m coming to love about savory baked goods is that they can be served at any meal – breakfast, lunch, dinner, appetizer, snack- without the guilt pangs that inevitably come from substituting a bowl of ice cream for dinner, or countless mini chocolate bars for snack.

Hopefully this means I’ll be branching out a little more in the coming months, but for the time being, enjoy some cheddar cheese mini loaf and happy Tuesday!

Cheddar Cheese Mini Loaf

(Recipe adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Cooking for Two 2011)

Yields one 5 ½ by 3 inch loaf

Notes: For the grated cheese you could either use a variety of cheese combinations (I used some sort of Mexican-themed grated cheese mix from a bag) or freshly grated Parmesan. The original recipe suggests the latter but other cheese will do in a pinch. The recipe also suggests that, after greasing the pan, you sprinkle grated Parmesan over bottom of pan. I omitted this step just because I didn’t have any Parmesan on hand and wasn’t sure whether or not other would burn.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons grated cheese

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

Pinch of both cayenne and black pepper

2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into ¼ inch cubes and totaling about ½ cup

¼ cup milk

3 tablespoons sour cream

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly, plus extra for greasing pan

1 large egg

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease a 5 ½ by 3-inch loaf pan.

2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk flour, baking powder, salt, and peppers together until ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout mixture. Add cheddar cheese cubes and stir, breaking up clumps, until cubes are coated in flour mixture.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk milk, sour cream, butter, and egg together until smooth.

4. Add wet ingredients to dry, and gently fold with a rubber spatula until just combined. Take care not to overmix batter!

5. Scrape batter evenly into prepared pan and smooth top. Sprinkle grated cheese over top of loaf. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, until loaf is puffed and golden brown. A tester inserted into middle of loaf should come out with just a few crumbs attached.

6. Let bread cool in pan for five minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and cool for at least an hour before serving.

Store bread wrapped in plastic at room temperature up to three days, or refrigerated up to a week. This bread toasts beautifully in the oven or toaster oven, and I’m kind of excited to try to make mini grilled cheese sandwiches!

Before making this cobbler, the most amazing thing happened to me. On account of participating in America’s Test Kitchen Boston Blogger Cookie Challenge I had the opportunity to take a tour of the test kitchen itself, along with 6 or 7 other bloggers who had also participated in the challenge. I pass the ATK building every single day on my walk from home to work and have more than one friend involved with the test kitchen, either as a full-time employee or volunteer. I’ve always felt like my relationship with ATK resembled “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”, always kinda-sorta-touching on them, being in love with their recipes and publications but never really connecting with the people or place itself, until now.

The tour was totally overwhelming and good lord you should see the amount of notes I took, trying to make sure every single detail I found even remotely interesting made it into my notebook and, supposedly, into my brain for a long time. For example, did you know they have one of the largest private cookbook collections in the US? It’s not surprising when you hear it, because most of the recipes they use in order to come up with the ATK-perfect version are found in cookbooks, but the amount of cookbooks made me stumble over myself a little bit. They were organized, shelf after shelf, by region or genre, like “entertaining” or “holiday”. The test kitchen building is very small, so we noticed how everything of theirs, cookbooks, pans, napkins, etc, was meticulously organized.

I guess here’s where I leave off my notes and talk about what was most important to me about this tour. I felt so lucky and insanely appreciative of the generosity we were showed while touring. It’s a small space with so much hustle and bustle and sometimes I felt so bad, like I was only there to step on everyone’s feet and make it impossible for anyone to do his or her job. I’ll make it very, very clear: everyone was SUPER nice and not a single person made us feel unwelcome. Some employees even stopped to talk to us and answer questions. It was then that I realized how unique and truly awesome ATK is; they care deeply for food, and most importantly, for people. The recipes they painstakingly develop and books they laboriously put together and the photos they spend so much time perfecting are all for us, the public, so we can enjoy good food with ourselves, our families, the people we love, the people we might love, and the list goes on. All of this care and passion comes through in each recipe and article and equipment testing, directly to us. It was exhilarating to tour the test kitchen and meet some lovely people, but it was even more exhilarating to fully understand my relationship with ATK, that of adoring public.

So, yes, before making this cobbler touring the test kitchen was the most amazing thing to happen to me. Then I made the cobbler, and, quite fittingly, eating it is now the most amazing thing to happen to me. Good gravy, it’s a heck of a recipe and if you have any sort of blueberry (frozen or fresh) within 50 miles, make this and you won’t regret it! I made a few adaptations only because of the ingredients I had on hand, like substituting heavy cream for some of the milk (to use it up) and instead of using a lemon sugar, I used cinnamon to spice the cobbler. I will be the first to recommend you pick up the most recent issue of Cook’s Country and try their recipe as is, but until then, hopefully this will suffice!

(Thanks again, ATK – you never, ever let me down!)

Texas-Style Blueberry Cobbler

(Recipe adapted from Cook’s Country (issue September 2011), an America’s Test Kitchen publication)

Yields one 9 by 13 inch pan (enough to feed at most ten people)

Notes: I adapted this recipe to make it sort of a love child between the Texas-style cobbler and another fabulously famous recipe, blueberry boy bait. The original recipe uses lemon instead of cinnamon as a complementary flavor to the blueberries while I used cinnamon. I also had some heavy cream in the fridge so did about a cup of heavy cream and ½ cup milk – the results being a richer cake and amazing enough that I dropped everything, packed up the cobbler, and took it to my place of work to force-feed some co-workers.

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pats, and ½ cup, or 1 stick, butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

3 cups blueberries (if using frozen berries, thaw first)

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups milk

 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In the same glass, 9 by 13 inch pan in which you plan to bake cobbler, melt four tablespoons butter in oven while preheating. Keep an eye on the butter while melting in the oven, taking it out before it starts to bubble – this will not take long, 8 to 10 minutes at most.

2. In a large mixing bowl and using a potato masher, mash blueberries with 1 tablespoon sugar until coarsely mashed.

3. In a separate, large mixing bowl, combine flour, 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Whisk in milk and cooled, melted butter, until batter is smooth.

4. Pour batter evenly into prepared pan. Dollop mashed blueberry mixture over batter, as evenly as possible, then sprinkle with ¼ cup granulated sugar.

5. Bake in preheated oven until edges are golden and crispy, 45 to 50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time.

6. Once out of oven, let cobbler cool in pan on a cooling rack at least 30 minutes before serving.

I would serve this immediately and eat it as soon as possible (not a difficult thing to imagine once trying it). I refrigerated a good portion of it and it was definitely edible the next day but you lose the crispy, golden edges that are so amazing the first day.

I apologize for the radio silence, and am offering up this recipe in hopes of forgiveness. My roommate just came up with the complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show cookbook, and everything in my life melted away, except the urgent desire to make cookies. And eat chocolate. Though it’s safe to assume I always have the burning desire to eat chocolate. Even though it’s 9 o’clock in the morning.

The cookie dough reminded me of brownie batter, explaining why I couldn't stop sampling it.

In the blurb above this recipe, from the cookbook, the authors write that they are automatically skeptical when cookies tote themselves as intensely chocolate-y. They did what they do best, and created a recipe to allay suspicions and prove that intense chocolate cookies are possible in this sad world of impostors. Not only are they possible, but they are insanely easy to throw together.

Thank you, ATK, for compelling me to make cookies for breakfast. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chocolate cookies

(Recipe minimally adapted from The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook (2001-2010). “Minimally adapted” because at this point in the game I don’t mess with ATK.)

Yields 20 to 25 cookies using two tablespoons of dough, about 16 if those two tablespoons are very generous

Ingredients:

1/3 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon plus 1/8 teaspoon salt (or a generous pinch of salt, if you don’t feel like measuring)

½ cup corn syrup (preferably dark, but I used light)

1 large egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup packed brown sugar (add a tablespoon of molasses if you are using light brown)

4 oz (about ¾ cup) chopped dark, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate

Method:

1. Whisk or sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

2. Whisk the corn syrup, egg white, and vanilla together in a separate, smaller bowl. Set aside.

3. If you are using a stand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars on medium high speed until the mixture is light and fluffy. ATK suggests two minutes of beating. If there’s no mixer, cream the butter and sugars until light and fluffy.

4. Decrease the speed on the mixer to medium low, and gradually add the corn syrup mixture, beating for a few seconds until fully incorporated, scraping down the bowl as needed. You can do this step by hand, as well.

5. On low mixer speed, add the flour mixture and chopped chocolate, mixing until just incorporated. I just took the bowl off the stand mixer and did this step by hand with a sturdy wooden spoon, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl.

6. Chill the dough for no more than 30 minutes, to make it easier to shape. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and prepare your baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. When the dough has chilled and the oven preheated, roll the dough into balls, using a generous two tablespoons worth of dough. Roll the tops in the granulated sugar before placing them on your baking sheets two inches apart. I fit 6 to 7 cookies on each sheet.

8. Bake each sheet in the preheated oven for 10 to 11 minutes. The cookies will not look completely done when you pull them out, but don’t be alarmed! If baking two sheets of cookies at a time, switch the sheets at five minutes to ensure even baking.

9. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for five minutes before moving them to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Store them in an airtight container for up to a week! Though I doubt they will last that long. My roommates and I had them for breakfast. Talk about will power in the morning.