Pumpkin Butter!!

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I love love love a piece of good bread with jam in the mornings with coffee. I recently decided to take a bit of the pumpkin puree I made and turn it into some lovin’ for my toast. It’s incredibly easy and super tasty. I’m sure there are some recipes online but I just freestyled it. I really need to replenish my fall spices, but what I had on hand worked fine.

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Pumpkin Butter:

3-4 frozen pumpkin “pucks” (roughly 1 1/2-2 cups)
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom to taste. Allspice would be a good addition too.
Maple syrup to taste
1 tablespoon good butter (like Plugra)
A bit of confectioner’s sugar if it seems too thin

Defrost pumpkin, strain if it seems watery. Add spices, syrup, butter. Add powdered sugar until it is a good consistency. Refrigerate and use within a week or so.

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Baked Sunday Mornings: Cornmeal Griddle Cakes

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I was looking forward to making these all week. I had plans to surprise my honey with breakfast before I had to go to work for a bit.

My plans were thrown off first by my sweetie getting sick mid-week, then by a surprising and very weird tragedy that happened to my extended family on Friday.

I almost didn’t make these at all.

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I’m so glad I did take the time out for this project, I was a complete nervous wreck and pretty much just pacing around my house.

Cooking soothes my soul.

I had to slow down and breathe to measure, whisk and mix. Midway through the process (which I was taking my time with since Baby G was down for a nap) I felt stress and tension melt away.

As each element of the recipe came together I felt my thoughts slowing down for the first time all day.

I decide to give making my own butter a try, something I have always wanted to do but had put off because I thought it would be a pain.

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It was so hard to keep mixing the heavy cream after it became gorgeous, perfect whipped cream. I had already added vanilla and some lemon simple syrup (leftover from the candied lemon peel I made for the Lemon Drop cake) and it was heavenly. I bit the bullet and kept mixing.

I was surprised to hear sloshing in the mixing bowl!

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It made exactly one cup of buttermilk, enough for the griddlecakes!

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The cakes cooked up quickly and beautifully. The edges crisped up but the centers were fluffy and not at all gritty or heavy like I was imagining. They were perfect. Even my poor sick husband enjoyed them.

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I topped them with chopped pecans and maple syrup. The recipe made about ten, I used slightly more batter than 1/4 cup.

We at half of them and I’m freezing the other half for school day breakfast for my littles.

I would definitely make these again! (Even though some sizzling hot butter jumped out of the pan and burned my hand when I was cooking the last griddle cake!)

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Head on over for the recipe and to see how everyone else fared!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Alfajores

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I have never eaten an alfajor before, so I was excited to give these a shot. The preparation of the dough was pretty straightforward except there were two things that initially threw me.

1. One cup of corn starch! I’ve never used a cookie that uses corn starch I don’t think, especially not a full cup. But I sifted that right in there, interested in what it would do to the cookies.

2. Rum. Although I saw on a blog that you could optionally use apple cider. Those things seem quite different to me. I didn’t have rum or regular old cider hanging around but I did have some apple ale. I was drinking some as I baked so I just tossed a couple of tablespoons in there. I have no idea if that hurt anything or not, but I couldn’t taste it in either the dough or the finished cookie.

I took the dough out after chilling and rolled it out between two sheets of unfloured parchment paper. That didn’t work too well since the dough was a bit sticky. A bit of flour fixed that right up and they rolled out perfectly.

I was a little worried that I was rolling them too thin, but it seemed that I was getting the proper amount of cookies so I just went with it. Re-rolling the scraps was easy and the dough didn’t seem to be negatively affected by it. (i.e: changing texture)

I had never made dulce de leche before and definitely wanted to give it a shot. I ended up microwaving it instead of using the oven or stovetop method mostly because I recently got a new microwave. It was easy and at the end of the suggested cook time the filling seemed to be the right texture although the color was not a deep amber but more of a light golden brown.

I’m torn as to what to do next time. I may buy a can just to compare taste and texture but I may also try the oven method. I normally value making everything from scratch but dumping some sweetened condensed milk into a bowl and putting it in the microwave is not exactly upping my baking game.

I had planned on filling them the same night I baked them but I got interrupted when baby G woke up needing me. I covered the cookies and tossed the dulce de leche in the fridge.

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed when I went to bed. I tasted the warm cookies and they seemed ok–a hint of lemon from the added zest but I was convinced they were going to harden up overnight and become brittle and crispy.

I do not like crispy cookies.

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When I got up this morning I warmed the filling for a couple of minutes to bring it back up to room temp and started filling the cookies. The dulce de leche was a great consistency: slightly sticky but easy to spread and it went exactly where I wanted it to when I pressed the cookies together.

For some reason I had expected it to be somewhat drippy or hard to manage but it wasn’t at all. The only problem I had was that I filled them with wild abandon on the first half of the cookies then realized I wasn’t going to have enough for all of them and had to greatly reduce the amount of filling I put in the rest of the cookies.

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I sprinkled a bit of sea salt over the top of the caramel before putting the top half of the cookie on. There was a bit of salt added to the sweetened condensed milk to make the dulce de leche but I love a small burst of salt mixed with creamy sweet caramel.

It was quick to fill them all and I topped them with a dusting of sifted confectioners’ sugar. They were really pretty cookies: not super fancy since I used a plain round cookie cutter but still very tempting on the plate.

I was completely blown away when I tasted them. First you taste the candy sweetness of the powdered sugar followed by the faint lovely lemon flavor of the cookie and then the slightly salty creamy- sweet caramel. The cookie is amazingly not crunchy or crumbly at all!! It is perfectly soft and delicate but it holds up to the dulce de leche perfectly.

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I am trying hard not to eat all of the 32 cookies I made but these are the most surprisingly addictive cookies I’ve made!

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Next up: cornmeal griddle cakes! Go over and see what everyone else made today!!

Baked Sunday Mornings: Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

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I was thrilled to make my first recipe as part of Baked Sunday Mornings. Of course last weekend I made a Lemon Drop Cake and yesterday I made the Sweet & Salty cake but this my first time following the official baking schedule.

I was relieved that it was a quick and simple recipe so I could still have lots of time to celebrate my man’s birthday. I bought raw hazelnuts from Whole Foods last week when I was shopping for good chocolate for the cake. It was hard to gauge in cups at the bulk bin so I accidentally bought $15 worth of nuts, twice as much as I needed. Now I know why Nutella is so expensive: those suckers are not cheap. But the good news is they are immensely tasty so having extra on hand is not a bad thing.

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I roasted all of the nuts at once and spent the next day or so removing the skins at my leisure. I first rubbed them with a damp towel, as the recipe suggested. With the skins that remained I either slipped them off or rubbed handfuls between my hands to gently remove them. I don’t think you need to have totally naked hazelnuts, but the papery skins need to go so they don’t mess with the texture of the spread.

I am always amazed and delighted whenever whole nuts liquefy and turn to butter. However, my small 4 cup food processor was not so excited. 😦

My husband wanted to buy the big daddy when we were first looking at them but for some reason I vetoed it. Big mistake. I wasn’t too worried about it burning out but if I was I would have taken the hazelnuts out once they liquefied and mixed in the other ingredients by hand.

I didn’t do that and the motor did get a good workout. I smelled a bit of burning machinery towards the end. I won’t be sad if I’m forced to buy a bigger food processor! 😉

I didn’t use hazelnut oil, the nuts were expensive enough so I didn’t want to buy any more special ingredients. I used grapeseed oil which was fine but next time I would definitely use hazelnut oil so it could impart more warm nuttiness to the finished product.

The spread was perfect and yummy and will be happily spread on apples–done already 😉 and over toast and crackers and maybe biscuits or scones. We are definitely fans of Nutella here and homemade is even better!

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See you next week!! Next up: alfajores! Don’t forget to head over and see what everyone else did this week!

Lemon Fest 2013 Continues

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Last night I crossed off two projects from my baking to-do list. Lemon Pudding Cake and Duke of Earl Cookies.

I used Meyer lemons in both recipes which was why I was trying to do both at once. Plus, the cookie dough needed to chill in the fridge for an hour or so, which is about how long the cake needed to bake for, so it worked out well.

For the cake, I got to set up my first bain-marie and I was excited to see that it worked perfectly. In fact, nothing about that recipe was stressful or difficult. It was a breeze to make and was a great mid-week dessert–and it tasted fantastic. Really, exactly how I was imagining.

It was so nice to dust confectioners’ sugar on top and feel confident that not only was it really pretty, but it was probably going to taste exactly how I thought it should.

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The cookies used the zest from the lemons that I used for the cake and was also an easy, straightforward recipe. I followed the recipe exactly, I bought brown rice flour for it. (I had rice flour but not brown rice, but I wanted to get the slightly nutty flavor that the brown rice would provide.

The dough wasn’t at all frustrating–it was simple to roll into a log (unlike my cinnamon rolls 😉 and again I used my brioche pan to support it while it chilled. It made 26 cookies (the recipe said it would make about 40) and after they were through they were round and sparkly (from the superfine sugar) I tasted one and gave one to my sweet husband to taste.

Both of our response? “Good.” Not great–but good. I was looking forward to eating them this morning, but I made the mistake of brewing my customary pot of coffee instead of a pot of tea and I think the dark espresso overpowered the taste of the delicate earl grey cookies.

The rice flour gave it a slightly crumbly texture: like a pecan sandy. I have to admit, I normally prefer giant chewy cookies, but again, these cookies were perfectly delightful and a low-key addition to breakfast. But still…they were missing something.

So what does one do when faced with so-so cookies and leftover, glossy lemon curd and fluffy-sweet lemon vanilla buttercream?

Yes, frosted cookies served with a schmear of curd…

Perfect. And I still have 3 lemons left!!

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Milk Bar: Ritz Crunch

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I actually have no idea why I’m making this (other than the fact that I had all the ingredients) as I have no immediate plans for it. It is used in the Milk Bar cook book in the Grapefruit Pie recipe, but try as I might I can not work up any interest to make that pie yet. (although the blog post that I linked the recipe to actually made it seem like something I may want to consider later in the summer)

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The recipe for the crunch alone is super super easy and the same for all of the Milk Bar crunches: corn flake, fruity pebble, pretzel, etc. I will probably end up using this in a new batch of Compost Cookies.

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You start with a sleeve of crackers. The recipe says to crush them with your fingers, but I have soft lady hands that do not like the feel of sharp crackers in their palms so I use my rolling pin to crush them instead. Crushing things with the rolling pin is super fun, but you do have to be careful because you don’t want to get carried away and pulverize the crackers. They need to be roughly 1/4 their original size.

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Once you have the crackers all set you just dump in the rest of the dry ingredients: 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup milk powder, 1/2 kosher salt.

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7 tablespoons of melted butter binds it all together and creates tasty little clumps that you transfer to a silpat-lined sheet pan and bake for 20 minutes or until they look toasted and smell buttery.

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They are in the oven right now and when they are finished I will cool them and store in an airtight container. They will keep fresh at room temp for 1 week or in the fridge or freezer for 1 month.

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Update: Oh, god. This is NOT going to last in my house. I just went over to the cooling pan and prepared to store the crunch, I noticed big yummy pieces that looked like flakey nut brittle and grabbed one to try. HOLY MOTHER…it was good. So delicious and addictive–it took me completely by surprise. I handed my sweet husband a piece and he did the holy shit double take. Tiny G even approved. Yum, yum, yum.

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Mustard Pie

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This evening after dinner I started on my banana cream pie.
Since I was using frozen bananas instead of fresh, I was a little nervous at how things would turn out.

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I put the bananas in the blender and added heavy cream and half & half instead of heavy cream and milk because I was out of milk. Next in was cornstarch, salt, sugar and egg yolks. After it was blended it went into a medium saucepan to be whisked and thickened. In the cook book it said that the mixture will “resemble thick glue, bordering on cement, with a color to match” and she was totally right. At that point I thought maybe the darkness of the defrosted bananas wouldn’t matter.

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A bit of bloomed gelatin and butter went into the blender with the bananas for round two of mixing. After it was all ready it was time to add yellow food coloring. This is one of the issues I have with the book: I am a bit of an ingredient snob because of my holistic background and some of the stuff she uses (food dye, crap cereals…) gives me a bit of anxiety. But I gamely tossed in more and more yellow until I had squeezed most of the bottle in there. Ew.

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It was looking a bit like baby poop yellow curry but I didn’t worry since I knew I’d later be mixing it with heavy cream and powdered sugar and it would probably lighten up. I threw it in the deep freeze to rapidly chill and got to work on the crust.

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The first time I made one of the Milk Bar pies (Crack Pie) I felt like I didn’t add enough butter, like maybe the oat crust was too dry when I tried to press it into the pie plate. So this time I added more butter until it formed a really cohesive ball. This may not have really been necessary since the Crack Pie crust was later baked and it was perfect. But this crust was definitely prettier although maybe I should have baked it a bit. Instead I just followed the recipe. (except I did add some graham crumbs because I was worried I didn’t have quite enough chocolate crumbs to make a good crust)

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By the time the crust was done the banana mixture was chilled through and ready to be whisked into heavy cream and confectioner’s sugar to finish the filling.

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Even after the banana was mixed with the whipped cream it still had a crazy color. If we like the pie, next time I’ll make it with fresh bananas and see what that color looks like. Or maybe I’ll just leave the food coloring out. I’m ok with a grayish-colored pie! 😉 It has been chilling in the fridge for a bit so I may go scoop some out and see how it tastes. I think the mustard-y color actually looked kind of cool with the deep brown crust. Very 70’s.

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I did read a blog where the person who attempted the pie said that the pie filling remained loose, kind of pudding-ish so she didn’t cut cohesive slices but just kind of scooped it out. I was planning on leaving it overnight in the fridge to set with the hopes that I’d get pretty pieces but if that isn’t going to happen I’d like to sample my creation tonight. There were no pictures of the pie after it had been cut in the cook book so I’m not quite sure what to expect.

Next Up:

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I think the Milk Bar Banana Cream Pie needs to happen at some point today. I freeze super ripe bananas (much to my husband’s chagrin) and I think today is the day they will become a yummy pie. I had chocolate crumb leftover from the chocolate-chocolate cookies so that can be used for the crust.

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Ooh! When I was looking for a chocolate crumb photo I stumbled upon a tumblr page where someone basically did a Julie/Julia with the Milk Bar cook book. Can’t wait to read it, I just skimmed a bit.

Meanwhile, back at the Milk Bar…

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In the past few weeks since I got the Milk Bar cook book I have been baking like crazy. There is something very satisfying and familiar about Christina Tosi’s book. She is an American pastry chef who really likes blending nostalgic childhood flavors with more sophisticated and unexpected flavor combinations. But all of it is immediately recognizable to me so I have really enjoyed trying out different recipes. I already wrote about the amazing corn cookies, after that I made compost cookies with dark coffee grounds, milk chocolate chips and oatmeal (the were DELISH and kind of reminded me of cowboy cookies)

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After that I made cereal milk ice cream from Cap’n Crunch. I rushed the process and tried to spin the batch before my bowl was ready but it made great shakes.

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Once I tried ice cream I decided to go crazy and make chocolate-chocolate cookies AND two crack pies at thes same time. The cookies call for a chocolate crumb mix in that has to be made and baked separately before being added to the cookie dough. I have never in my life made baked crumbs. They are fantastic and super versatile:

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The finished cookies are dense and super rich, like a perfectly round brownie.

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The pies are so fantastic, so much bigger than the sum of their parts. It’s deceptively easy: oat cookie crust with a brown sugar custard filling. But after baking and freezing to set, then thawing for an hour in the fridge the suspense just about kills me. But it’s worth it because the finished product is so delectable. I couldn’t even get a picture of a whole pie because we ate them too fast. The boys told me it was ‘the best pie in the whole universe.’ It’s quite possible. Finished oat cookie, what will later become the crust after it marries a nice fellow named Butter.

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Here is the finished product, my filling seems a little different than what she described. I may have defrosted too much in the fridge before serving, but no one complains once they eat it. Seriously. It’s great. And shut up, I know that looks a little like snot.

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The recipe calls for a dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top but I skipped it, it really didn’t seem necessary, especially after we tried the first pie.