Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Swedish Visiting Cake

Today is the birthday of my baking idol Dorie Greenspan. I simply adore her cookbooks. Her recipes are never too sweet and often consist of traditional treats with a modern twist. Her writing style makes you feel as if she is an old friend who has just happened to drop by to help you bake. I have loved just about everything I have made from one of her cookbooks and Paul is absolutely in love with her because she brought these cookies into our lives.

In honor of Dorie's birthday, I am sharing her recipe for Swedish Visiting Cake. This is one of the easiest cakes you can throw together on the fly - perfect when you need a sweet treat to pair with a warm cup of coffee or tea. For being so simple (the recipe only includes a handful of ingredients and is mixed together in a single bowl), the flavor is delicate and sophisticated. The crumb is simply lovely with a nice crunchy crust on the top and sides created by the caramelization of the sugar while baking. I love it. Then again, it is really hard for me to resist anything flavored with both lemon and almonds.

Happy Birthday, Dorie!

Swedish Visiting Cake
adapted slightly from Baking: From My Home to Yours

Note: I insist that you bake this in a cast iron skillet should you own one. It helps the cake develop an delightfully addictive crust and crumb.

1 cup sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4-1/3 cup sliced almonds

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a seasoned 9-inch cast-iron skillet or other heavy ovenproof skillet. If you do not have a cast iron pan, you can use a 9-inch cake pan or pie plate.

In a medium bowl, blend the zest and sugar together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic.  Whisk in the eggs one at a time until well blended.  Whisk in the salt and vanilla.  Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in the flour.  Finally, fold in the melted butter.

Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  Scatter the sliced almonds over the top and sprinkle with a little sugar.  If you're using a cake or pie pan, place the pan on a baking sheet.

Bake the cake for 25-30 minutes, or until it is golden and a little crisp on the outside (the inside will remain moist).  Remove the pan from the oven and let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides and bottom of the cake to loosen it.  You can serve the cake warm or cooled, directly from the skillet or turned out onto a serving plate.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Pumpkin Lasagna with Swiss Chard and Parmesan

A lot of people ask me if Matthew is a picky eater. I would not necessarily describe him as being "picky" but rather a "stubborn eater." For a kid his age, he actually eats a wide variety of food and actually likes meals that are heavily spiced and have some heat (he is not one to shy away from jalapenos!). He also loves raw vegetables of all types and will never turn down fruit of any kind. I do not struggle so much with finding food that he will eat, but rather ensuring that he finishes his meal in a timely manner.

Zoning out instead of eating! He's the ultimate procrastinator!!

You see, Matthew loves to chat incessantly - especially during mealtime. Long after Paul and I have cleaned our plates, Matthew will still be leisurely picking at his meal while lecturing us on everything he knows about dinosaurs (or whatever the hot topic happens to be that day). I get so frustrated getting him to finish his dinner - because it is not that he does not want to eat it - he just views mealtime as an opportunity to reconnect and socialize. And it is - but neither Paul nor I really want to linger over each meal for hours listening to whatever train of thought happens to be traipsing through Matthew's little brain. I cannot even begin to count the number of times we sternly say during each meal: "STOP TALKING AND FINISH EATING, MATTHEW!"

So, that is our biggest challenge with Matthew: Getting him to eat faster. However, I will note that he is very picky when it comes to getting him to eat protein. He is adverse to the texture of most meat, preferring mainly chicken and sometimes sausage (if we slice it into little rounds and shamelessly lie by telling him it's a hot dog). He spits out ground beef and hates the chewiness of steak. However, he is a huge fan of bacon.

This of course means that my little guy is a big fan of the many meatless main dishes we prepare throughout the week. This pumpkin lasagna was no exception. Matthew polished off half of this pan by himself (splitting it up over dinner and a couple lunches)....he loved it! This dish is a unique way to use up pumpkin and the flavor is reminiscent of butternut squash ravioli. Instead of a traditional red sauce, a pumpkin alfredo sauce is spread between each layer of lasagna noodles along with a tasty, aromatic mixture of sauteed onions and swiss chard. The pumpkin adds an intriguing sweetness that pairs wonderfully with the chard and sage. Give this meal a try for a satisfying and different addition to a harvest-themed dinner menu.

Pumpkin Lasagna
adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, November 2010

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 pounds Swiss chard, tough stems removed, leaves washed well and chopped
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 cups canned pumpkin puree (one 28-ounce can)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan
1/2 cup milk
12 no-boil lasagna noodles

In a large nonstick frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Increase the heat to moderately high and add the chard, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook, stirring, until the chard is wilted and no liquid remains in the pan, about 5-10 minutes.

Heat the oven to 400°. In a medium bowl, mix together 2 cups of the pumpkin, 3/4 cup cream, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon sage, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg.

Pour the milk into an 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Top the milk with one third of the noodles, then spread half the pumpkin mixture over the noodles. Layer half the Swiss chard over the pumpkin and top with a second layer of noodles. Repeat with another layer of pumpkin, Swiss chard, and noodles. Combine the remaining 1 cup of pumpkin and 3/4 cup of cream. Spread the mixture evenly over the top of the lasagna and sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake until golden, about 15 additional minutes.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Apple Crumble Bars

Last year, we were so disappointed to learn that the local apple and peach harvest had been severely stunted by a combination of strange weather patterns and swarms of ridiculously famished insects. Due to these unavoidable conditions, apple and peach picking was relatively non-existent and our annual visits to local orchards to gather our normal 50+ pounds of delicious apples for use in pies, tarts, crisps, and sauce were cancelled. It was an activity that I definitely missed.

This year, we have been delighted with the abundant apple harvest. The apples this year have been bigger and better than ever and local farms have been practically giving away barrels full because their trees have produced so many. Unfortunately, Paul has been unable to join us on our apple-picking adventures due to obligations at work, but Matthew, Emma, and I have made it out to the orchards several times this fall to gather as many apples as we can. Matthew has especially enjoyed the trips because he is now old enough to climb the ladders scattered about the orchards to aid in reaching the apples located in the highest branches. He still has a tendency to pick the tiniest/wormiest apples (although they do fit perfectly in his grubbly little fists) but I don't want to discourage him and try to discreetly toss those undesirable apples from our bucket when he is not looking.

From our bounty, we have made a large supply of applesauce and apple butter, as well as several new apple desserts and treats. These apple crumble bars were on the "must try" list for this Fall and I chose to make them for the lovely ladies at our local gym who do such an amazing job of watching the children for me while I run during the week.

These bars were fun and simple to throw together and tasted like handheld pieces of apple pie. I loved the filling and the buttery shortbread crust was so addicting. The only change I might make in the future is to perhaps increase the apple filling although that might very well make the bars a bit too sloppy. Either way, this recipe is a delicious apple-themed treat!

Apple Crumble Bars
adapted slightly from Annie's Eats

For the Base:
1 stick butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

For the Apple Filling:
4 large apples
5 tablespoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons fruit jam (I used a store bought plum jam)

For the Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

Peel, core and coarsely dice apples. In a large skillet, combine apples, sugar and cinnamon. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 5-7 minutes, until apples are tender but still firm. In a small cup, combine cornstarch and lemon juice. Add cornstarch mixture to the apples and stir constantly for 3 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8" square pan and line the bottom with parchment paper leaving an overhang on both side (for easy removal of the bars).

In a medium bowl, combined flour, sugar and salt. Mix well. Using your hands, rub the butter into the flour until its crumbly. Press into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly brown around the edges. Remove from oven.

Heat the jam in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds and stir vigorously so it will spread easily. Spread the jam evenly on the hot cooked base and top it with the cooked apple.

In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients for the crumble. Mix until well combined and crumbly. Sprinkle evenly over the apple filling. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and cool completely at room temperature. Cut into squares and serve.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Bars with an Oatmeal Cookie Crust

Matthew's new favorite word is "Behold!" I have no idea where he first heard it, but this delightful little word has quickly become part of his vocabulary. He uses it all the time and it only adds to his already obnoxiously dramatic demeanor. Just a few examples:

While helping me change is sister: "BEHOLD! A diaper for Baby Emma."

While washing his hands: "BEHOLD! Matthew puts on soap and water!"

While eating lunch: "BEHOLD! A delicious hot dog for Matthew!"

While playing with his toys: "BEHOLD! I bring you the Monkey!" (I should probably note that at this point his monkey is being suspended at the very tip of a toy lightsaber...a very regal position indeed).

This photo showcases how Matthew dresses himself for bed and how
he thinks his little sister (like the cat) deserves a good head pat every now and then!
Maybe Matthew's love of this word is rubbing off on me, or maybe it is because I found this recipe so darn fantastic that it seems only appropriate to introduce them in such a manner. Either way...

BEHOLD, I bring you Pumpkin Pie Bars with an Oatmeal Cookie Crust. A creamy, dreamy pumpkin filling perfectly layered between layers of oatmeal cookie crust and crumb.

This was a new recipe for me to try this fall and it has already catapulted to the top of my "favorites list." I am a huge texture person when it comes to food, so this dessert was an absolute joy to eat. The bottom layer of oatmeal crust is chewy, while the middle layer of pumpkin pie is creamy and soft. The remainder of the oatmeal cookie dough that is crumbled over the top is crisp after baking. Delicious!

These bars can be scooped out of the pan cobbler-style and served warm with cinnamon or vanilla ice cream or they can be chilled overnight in the fridge where they will firm up and slice easily into neat little bars. I shared these with some friends and they were enjoyed by all. While trying to take a couple pictures, Matthew kept sneaking pieces to snack on. I think my pumpkin fetish might be rubbing off on him.

Pumpkin Pie Bars with an Oatmeal Cookie Crust
barely adapted from Cooking Classy

For the cookie layers:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups quick oats
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Pumpkin Pie Filling:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed-light brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1 pinch ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned pureed pumpkin

1/3 cup 2% milk (do not use skim)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, oats, salt and baking soda. Add in 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar an mix until no clumps remain. Combine melted butter and vanilla and add to mixture, then stir with a spoon until evenly moistened.

Gently press half of the mixture into a greased 8 by 8-inch baking dish and bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes.

While the crust bakes, whisk together 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add in egg, egg yolk and vanilla and stir until blended. Mix in pumpkin then milk. Pour mixture over baked cookie portion and return to oven to bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle remaining cookie crumb mixture over the top. Return to the oven to bake about 20 - 25 minutes more or until the top is golden and the center only jiggles slightly. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before scooping out and serving warm with ice cream.

If cutting into bars, let cool for 1 hour at room temperature and then transfer to refrigerator to cool for at least 1 hour longer (overnight is better). Cut into squares and serve.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

TWD: Danish Braid

Dear reader, I present to you my favorite recipe from Baking with Julia thus far. This pastry was so much fun to make - and easy too! Every step was simple to follow and resulted in a beautiful, puffy, buttery pastry.

While this recipe does require a little advanced planning because the dough needs ample time to chill in the fridge. However, there is a lot of flexibility in that the dough can remain in the fridge for a couple days in advance of baking, making this an ideal make-ahead brunch treat for company or holidays.

Look at those buttery layers!!!

For the filling, I did not adhere to any of the five fillings detailed in the book and decided to "go rogue" and make my own. I had a bottle of cherry preserves in the fridge, so I decided to pair that with a basic cream cheese filling in one braid. For my second braid, I used the extra cream cheese from my first pastry to make a pumpkin cheesecake filling. I also chose to drizzle a generous portion of maple icing over this braid once it finished baking.

While braiding my first pastry, I briefly toyed with the idea of using an egg wash to help seal the criss-crossed strands to one another in order to guarantee that they not separate while baking. I decided to ignore my instincts and follow the recipe as written and simply brushed the entire pastry with egg wash after braiding. Sure enough, my strands separated while baking. Having learned my lesson, I brushed egg wash on one side of the second pastry before braiding and this did keep everything together during baking, resulting in a much better, tighter looking braid.

Danish Braid with Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling

I am so in love with this recipe. I had a blast making it and I loved how delicious it tasted! I was so excited to share the results with Paul, as he loves a good danish (as well as crappy ones come to think of it...he has been known to devour multiple slices of stale danish from motel breakfast buffets). Fully expecting him to gobble down the cherry-cream cheese danish, I was taken aback when he announced that it was my pumpkin confection that had won his heart. (and his stomach!)

This is a fantastic recipe to have in your arsenal. The results are impressive without too much fuss. I'm already thinking this would be a great treat to whip up for breakfast on Thanksgiving, Saint Lucia's Feast Day, Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day!

Danish Braid (with two fillings)
pastry recipe and method from Baking with Julia

For the dough:
1/4 cup warm water (between 105-115 degrees)
1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 sticks (8 ounces) cold unsalted butter

For the Cherry-Cream Cheese Filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 large egg yolk (save the white for the egg wash)
1 teaspoon minced fresh lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cherry preserves

For the Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
6 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1 egg yolk (save the white for the egg wash)

For the Maple Glaze:
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp brown sugar
½ cup powdered sugar
1 Tbsp milk

1 tsp vanilla

To Make the Danish Pastry Dough:
Pour water into bowl; add yeast and let stand for 2-3 minutes until yeast foams. Add milk, egg, sugar and salt and whisk to mix. Set aside.

Measure flour into food processor with metal blade in place. Cut butter into 1/4 inch thick slices and drop into flour. Pulse 8-10 times, until butter is cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Be careful to not over-pulse. You want nice chunks of butter dispersed throughout the flour to make those mouthwatering layers in your finished pastry!

Empty flour mixture into bowl with yeast and with rubber spatula, gently fold the two mixtures together just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Don’t be too energetic! The butter must remain in pieces so that you will produce a flaky pastry, not a bread dough or cookie. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (or up to 4 days).

Lightly flour a work surface; turn dough out onto it, and dust dough with flour. Using the palms of your hands, pat dough into a rough square. Roll out to 16 inches on a side. Fold dough into thirds, like a business letter and turn it so that the closed fold is to your left, like the spine of a book. Roll out again, into a long narrow rectangle, about 10 inches wide by 24 inches long. Fold into thirds again. Roll out to make a 20-inch square. Fold square into thirds again to make a long, narrow rectangle. Then again, fold into thirds to make a square. (If at any point in this procedure the dough gets very soft, cover and chill it for 30 minutes or so.) Cover and chill the dough before final shaping. You can store the dough in the refrigerator for 4 days or wrap it air tight and keep it frozen for 1 month; thaw overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator. Before shaping the final pastry, make your fillings.

To Make the Cream Cheese Filling:
Mix together the cream cheese and powdered sugar until soft and creamy. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, egg yolk, and salt and mix until completely combined. Set aside until ready to use.

To Make the Pumpkin Cheesecake Filling:
Mix together the cream cheese and powdered sugar until creamy and completely combined. Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, salt, vanilla, and maple syrup. Stir until combined. Stir in the pumpkin and egg yolk. Set aside until ready to use.

To Shape and Bake the Danish Braid:
Remove your chilled dough from the fridge and divide in two even pieces. Return one piece to the fridge while making and baking the first braid. Roll the dough into a rectangle measuring 10 x 16 inches on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the rectangle of dough to a piece of parchment paper. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center of the pastry. Top with the cherry preserves. Cut slanting strips at 3/4 inch intervals along both sides up toward the center using a small, sharp knife. Brush one side of the pastry with egg wash (make the egg wash by beating the reserved egg white with a fork until frothy). Fold strips over filling in a crisscross manner, being sure to lay the strips with the egg wash on top so that the wash will help seal the braid. Transfer the piece of parchment paper with the shaped braid to a baking sheet. Brush the entire braid with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the pastry rise at room temperature until puffy, about 30 minutes (the pastry will not double).

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center position.

After the pastry has risen, bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack.

While the first pastry bakes, shape the second pastry as directed above, only filling the braid with the pumpkin cheesecake cream cheese. Brush with egg wash, sprinkle with coarse sugar, and set aside to rise as directed above. Bake as directed above. Allow to cool on a wire rack before drizzling with the maple glaze (recipe below). Serve warm!

To Make the Maple Glaze:
Whisk together the melted butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, and milk in a medium microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds, then remove and whisk again. Repeat 30 seconds in microwave and whisk until smooth. Add vanilla and powdered sugar, whisking until smooth. Adjust consistency as desired with additional splashes of milk or powdered sugar. Drizzle over pumpkin danish.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Apple-Cream Cheese Spice Cake with Praline Frosting

Oh this cake. It is magnificent. Easy to prepare and wonderful to eat. The worst part about this cake is how long you have to wait to eat it!

Catherine and I decided to make a cake to eat while the kids were sleeping. We picked this cake out based on the picture but then neglected to read the recipe all the way through before starting to make it around 8:00pm. We figured it would be ready in about 2 hours - perfect for a late night snack. But no.

First, I decided to make the applesauce for the cake and we had to wait for that to cool completely. That took 1 hour.

Nexty, we made the cake batter and cream cheese filling. That took about 20 minutes.

Then we baked the cake. That took 65 minutes.

After removing the cake from the oven, we had to wait for it to cool completely before frosting. That took another 2 1/2 hours.

By the time the cake was ready to be frosted, it was approximately 1:45 AM and we had watched three movies and were about ready to die from exhaustion. A very tired and grumpy Catherine turned to me with a look of undeniable frustration and whined: "You promised me cake!!! Where is it?!? When can we eat it?" She was mad.

Luckily, she loves my children too much to kill their mother.

It took until the following afternoon to frost and remove the first slice from the cake. It was so pretty that I simply had to get a good photograph of it. This frustrated Catherine even more. There was her slice of cake, pretty as could be, enjoying a mini photo shoot. It was almost too much to bear. She really wanted a bite of that cake. She was downright forceful about it.

But in the end, she got what she wanted. And she was happy.

Happy Catherine!
Sadly, it was soon time for her to go and I had fully intended on sending her away with half of this cake. I even wrapped it up for her but then forgot about it as Matthew, Emma, and I said goodbye. I walked back inside to find it sitting on the counter forlornly. I grabbed it quickly and dashed outside, but she was already speeding down the street.

"WAIT! YOUR CAKE!!!" I yelled after her. But she was gone.

Oh well. More for us.

Paul came home and had a slice for a snack and immediately told me: "Remember this cake for my birthday." That pretty much says it all.

Easy to throw together, perfectly moist, and mildly spicy. This cake would be awesome for entertaining. The frosting is amazing - it was the best part of the whole dessert to me and I usually am not a huge fan of frosting. This would make a great non-traditional addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table.

Apple-Cream Cheese Spice Cake with Praline Frosting
from Southern Living, September 2011

For the Cream Cheese Filling:
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Apple Pecan Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups peeled and finely chopped Gala apples
1 cup finely chopped, toasted pecans

For the Praline Frosting:
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

To make the cream cheese filling, combine the cream cheese, butter, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat on medium speed until very smooth. Add egg, flour, and vanilla and beat just until blended. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk together the flour, sugars, salt, baking soda, and spices. In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil, applesauce, and vanilla. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the egg mixture to it. Gently stir together until everything is moistened. Fold in the chopped apples and toasted pecans.

Spoon two-thirds of apple mixture into a greased and floured 12-14 cup Bundt pan. Spoon Cream Cheese Filling over apple mixture, leaving a 1-inch border around edges of pan (I found this to be a bit tedious - but persevere!). Swirl filling through apple mixture using a paring knife. Spoon remaining apple mixture over the cream cheese filling.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60-75 minutes (mine took about 65 minutes) or until a long wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes before removing the cake from the pan. Let the cake cool completely on the wire rack before frosting (about 2 hours).

When the cake has cooled completely, prepare the frosting. Bring 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup butter, and 3 Tbsp. milk to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan over medium heat, whisking constantly. Let the mixture boil for 1 minute while whisking constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Gradually whisk in powdered sugar until smooth. Stir gently for 3-5 minutes or until mixture begins to cool and thickens slightly. Pour immediately along the circumference of the cooled cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. Let stand a few minutes before slicing and serving.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pumpkin Cookies

Last week, my lovely sister Catherine paid us a visit. It was wonderful to see her and spend some quality time one-on-one with her without the distraction of silly things like husbands and boyfriends. We had a grand old time sipping coffee, picking apples, watching movies, and spending all night soothing wailing children back to sleep....which led to even more coffee drinking. Catherine made the delightful comment at 1:00 AM when Emma woke up for the third time (followed shortly by Matthew): "Monica, I love your kids...but they sure don't sleep very long."
My favorite little pumpkin. She might not sleep much, but I sure don't mind having her around!

Catherine and I made a of couple delicious treats while she was in town. She insisted that we make something with pumpkin to bring back to share with her fiancĂ© since he and his family are obsessed with everything pumpkin. Apparently, a pumpkin roll always makes a star appearance at family gatherings - even during the summertime. 

Our reasons for baking this cookie recipe were twofold: 
  1. We wanted cookies - more specifically, we wanted cookies adorned with FROSTING.
  2. Catherine has a tendency to turn what should be a recipe for gooey, chewy, delicious cookies into a DIY project for hockey pucks. We needed to correct this.

Catherine did an excellent job getting the dough mixed together and insisted that all her baking woes stem from her lack of kitchen equipment, namely a stand mixer. Watching her almost throw the egg shells into the cookie batter made me doubt her claim.

Some tweaks were made to the original recipe, especially to the frosting. More powdered sugar was added to thicken it up to a spreadable consistency. A small amount of salt was thrown to round out the flavors. In one batch, I added some maple flavoring instead of vanilla extract just because pumpkin and maple go together like apples and pie.

The result? We loved these cookies. They really do melt in your mouth. Without the frosting, I thought the cookies themselves were a little on the bland side. However, add that frosting and they become something special. After sitting in an airtight container for 24 hours so the flavors can mingle, they become ethereal. Do not let the pumpkin season pass without making these. This might be another non-traditional addition to our Christmas cookie platter this year.

Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pumpkin Cookies
adapted from Better Homes and Garden

For the Cookies:
2 cups butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 15-ounce can pumpkin
4 cups all-purpose flour

For the Frosting:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Generous Pinch of Salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)
3-4 cups powdered sugar

To Make the Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the 2 cups of butter on medium speed until smooth and creamy. Add granulated sugar, baking powder,baking soda, salt, the 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and the nutmeg. Beat until combined. Beat in the eggs and 2 teaspoons of vanilla until combined. Beat in the pumpkin. The mixture will look a bit curdle - but have no fear! Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer (about 1 cup at a time). Stir in remaining flour with a wooden spoon.

Drop dough by tablespoons onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, being sure to space them about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until tops are set. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

To Make the Frosting:

In a small saucepan, heat the 1/2 cup butter and brown sugar until melted and smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in milk, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, and salt. Beat in powdered sugar until smooth. Spread frosting on cookies. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon if desired for a pretty finish.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Seven Quick Takes: October Already?

I cannot believe it is already October! I feel as if I blinked and we jumped over the entire month of September. That's only because it has been a crazy busy couple of weeks - filled with lots of visitors, road trips, weddings, and quiet moments enjoying this beautiful Fall season. Today, I am linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary to share some quick takes.

1. A few weeks back, Emma attended her very first bachelorette party. No worries - it was held at a pottery place where we were able to pick out a piece to paint while sipping champagne. It was a perfect, fun afternoon.

2. At the bachelorette party, I discovered that I really, really like [yellow tail] Bubbles Sparkling Rose. Emma discovered that she loves honey wheat pretzel twists. They were the perfect size for her to wrap her chubby little hands around. She got so mad whenever she dropped one.

3. Apple picking by yourself with a baby strapped to your chest and a toddler who refuses to walk more than 10 feet without begging to be held is very, very difficult. I have pretty ripped arms for a reason.

4. I finally bought new running shoes and our two month long epic search for the perfect shoe has ended. We both ended up with a nicer pair of Asics...and I love them! I've been squeezing in an average run of 5-8 miles per day and they have proven to be extremely comfortable.

5. Paul bought new shoes at the same time. He took about 3 hours at the shoe store to choose his pair (there was a lot of pacing, toe tapping, running in place at the store while I irritably tried to keep our 3-year-old nomad subdued). He finally decided on a pair of clunky, all-black shoes but then changed his mind when I told him they made him look like a geriatric. He then picked an expensive pair of Asics, purchased them, and then decided to return them a week later. He then bought the same exact pair online, but ordered the wrong size. So his shoe saga continues. I think he is secretly trying to avoid running with me.

6. My college roommate married the love-of-her-life last weekend in a beautiful Catholic ceremony that brought me to tears. The love between her and her husband radiated throughout the entire room. They both have pretty large families and everyone was so welcoming, accommodating, and fun. I have shared some incredible times with this girl and felt so honored to be part of her special day. Matthew tore it up on the dance floor the ENTIRE reception. His favorite part of the whole day was sharing a special dance with the bride herself ("I dancing with Aunt JEN!"). Watch out, Pat!

7. In the past week, I have been mocked no fewer than 10 times by people approximately 30+ years my senior for my "dinosaur phone." It is one of those basic, basic chunky flip phones that NOBODY has anymore. I do not text or have any sort of data package. It's just a phone. A 60-something-year-old lady told me that it was time for me to "get with it." Thoughts?

Well, that's it for me! I will be posting some delicious Fall treats in the next few days..but in the meantime, head on over to Conversion Diary to enjoy some more quick takes!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pumpkin Muffins with Cookie Butter Frosting

Here we are already a week into October and I have yet to post a recipe! I feel as if we have been cooking and baking more than ever but the hustle and bustle of the past week has rendered me a sleepy bag of bones by the time I have a quiet moment to blog. However, I can assure you that as soon as I flipped the calendar over to October, the mass baking of pumpkin-themed treats began. I have crossed off no fewer than six treats from my pumpkin list...and we are only a week into October. I may be a bit obsessed.

Luckily, my little Matthew also loves all things pumpkin. I have been stirring pumpkin into his oatmeal every morning and he has been loving it. First thing he asks for when he wakes up in the morning is for a hot bowl of the "orange oatmeal." I'm more than happy to oblige. Who am I to refuse if my child asks for a vegetable along with his breakfast?

As I have mentioned before, Matthew is obsessed with making muffins. He loves helping divide the batter among the little cups and then watching them bake. However, I think his favorite part about muffins is the cute little size. He seems almost overwhelmed by the fact that he gets to eat his own perfectly formed little cake. Normally, when I hand him one to eat, he dances around a bit while admiring the "cute little muffin cake" before finally taking a bite. This treasuring of the muffin gets a bit annoying because he has been known to wax poetic about it without actually eating for upwards of an hour. At times I want to yell: "I get it Matthew! The muffin is cute! It's little! It's a cake! EAT IT NOW!" It's a lesson in patience.

This batch of pumpkin muffins was the first thing we made with our freshly purchased hoard of canned pumpkin. We basically took my Mom's pumpkin bread recipe and evenly distributed it among muffin tins instead of baking it into loaves. The result is a deliciously moist, warmly spiced batch of muffins that are perfect with a cup of tea on a cold day. And the smell of these baking will fill your house with the aroma of pumpkin spice better than one of those expensive Yankee candles. I highly recommend making the frosting. Our family is obsessed with the cookie butter from Trader Joe's and we have talked about how the gingerbread flavors in the cookie butter would pair perfectly with pumpkin. I threw together the frosting on a whim and was very happy to discover that it complements the spices in the pumpkin bread SO WELL. It was very difficult not to eat the frosting by itself with a is incredibly addicting. If you do not live near a Trader Joe's, you can find Biscoff Spread near the peanut butter in most large grocery stores. It's basically the same thing.

Pumpkin Muffins with Cookie Butter Frosting
bread recipe from my Mom

Note: This recipe makes a approximately 30 muffins or 2 large loaves of bread.

1 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water
3 cups white sugar
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a couple 12-cup muffin tins or line with paper muffin wrappers.

In a medium bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, vanilla water and sugar until well blended.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin pie spice and ginger. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and then dump in the pumpkin mixture. Stir just until blended and no dry bits of flour remain. Spoon into prepared muffin tins.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes in the preheated oven (mine took closer to 25 minutes, but start checking at 20). The muffins are done when they spring back when lightly touched in the center. Be careful not to overbake. Let cool 5 minutes in tin before removing to cool completely on a wire rack. Once cool, frost with cookie butter frosting.

Cookie Butter Frosting

1/2 cup cookie butter (or Biscoff spread)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
2-4 tablespoons milk, to taste
1 1/4 to 1 3/4 cup powdered sugar, plus more to correct consistency
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla

Place the cookie butter, softened butter, 2 tablespoons of milk, 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a bowl. Whip together with a spoon until everything is combined and creamy, shiny, and smooth. Mix in the vanilla and add more powdered sugar until it is a thick, spreadable consistency.