Archive | October, 2010

Happy Halloween!

31 Oct

We take a break from baking from scratch to take part in the annual indulgence of overly packaged, high fructose laden, preserved-well-until-2011 candies of this lovely holiday.

Creepily Yours,
Moriah and Lucienne



Falling for Pumpkins

29 Oct

I love autumn in Western Washington. It is by far the region’s most prominent season, with the kaleidoscope of red and yellow leaves, cool, crisp air, and bubble gum pink sunsets that seem to precede dinner almost overnight. Cozy blankets and SmartWool socks woo Northwesterners back indoors to  prepare for the drizzly, dark doldrums of winter. On the up side, it also marks the return of beloved scarves and knee boots, individually packed holiday candies, and malty seasonal beers. Fall is essentially a list of my favorite things.

Amid the leaves and warm beverages, there is an autumn standout – the pumpkin. Pumpkins truly define fall. Piles of chubby orange spheres line grocery storefronts on beds of crunchy leaves, awaiting their transformation into a uniquely carved Halloween lantern. They are found on doorsteps, mantles, window stickers, and $3.00 Old Navy tees. However, the best way to enjoy pumpkin is in a dessert.

Last year, Lucienne and I bonded over Smitten Kitchen’s to die for Pumpkin Cupcakes. They were the catalyst for this very blog. This year’s standout pumpkin dessert is the Joy of Cooking’s classic Pumpkin Bread. To summarize this recipe in two words: flavorful, and a word many women abhor, moist. This melt in your mouth seasonal quick bread pairs nicely with coffee or orange juice for breakfast, or with red wine for a post-dinner treat.

Below is the original recipe, listed with my preferred variations (e.g. butter instead of shortening).


PUMPKIN BREAD from the Joy of Cooking

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Whisk together:
1 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1⁄4 teaspoon ground cloves

Combine in a small bowl:
1⁄3 cup water (or milk – I used water and it turned out well)
1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla

Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
6 tablespoons (3⁄4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar plus 1⁄ 3 cup packed brown sugar

Beat in one at a time:
2 large eggs (be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula)

Add and beat on low speed just until blended:
1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree (I used Trader Joe’s organic pumpkin puree)

Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the vanilla/water mixture, beating on low speed or stirring with a rubber spatula until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Fold in:
1⁄2 cup chopped pecans

Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding to cool completely on the rack.

Baking is a Piece of Cream Cheese Apple Cake

15 Oct

apple cakeGrowing up, my Mom worked full-time in a busy office and like most adults, she was always tired in the evenings. I remember wondering how she could be so wiped out from sitting at a desk all day. In my adolescent mind, meetings and preparing reports didn’t really compare to a draining teenage schedule of student council car washes, working out geometric proofs, and running lines at basketball practice.

Fast forward ten years and guess who has joined the ranks of sleepy-eyed desk jockeys? I spent six of the past ten days in all day meetings and by the time I arrived home, I was utterly exhausted…from sitting…at a desk. Needless to say, I did not bake nor blog during my weeks-o-meetings.

After a couple restful days of straightening up the house and reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest, I pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks and whipped up a delightful cream cheese apple bundt cake. As the warm apple cinnamon aroma filled my house, I realized that if I would have mustered up the energy to peel three granny smiths, my Kitchen Aid mixer would have happily completed the job. I could have enjoyed a homemade cake with my morning coffee rather than succumbing to mediocre meeting donuts.

This perfectly sweet apple cake reminded me that home baking does not require a huge time investment. If you choose a simple, seasonal recipe, and have the basics on hand, preparing a dessert from scratch is a worthy weeknight feat.

This Cream Cheese Apple Cake recipe is from a fantastic baking book titled, The Grand Central Baking Book. Every recipe I’ve used from the book is easy to follow and super tasty. I haven’t had a chance to visit the actual Grand Central Baking Company in Seattle, but if I can create “sweet Jesus that is good!” caliber desserts in my humble kitchen, the actual bakery will have me dancing in the floured aisles.

Check out Grand Central Baking Company’s Baker’s Blog to read about this recipe and find more freshly baked, Northwest treats.


Cream Cheese Apple Cake

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (8 ounces/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2-1/2 cups (1 pound 1.5 ounces) granulated sugar
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/4 pounds tart apples, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish

Prepare to bake.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and lightly flour the baking pan.
Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon together and set aside.

Cream butter, cream cheese and sugar.
Put butter, cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat ingredients on medium-high speed until mixture is very light in color-almost white-and the texture is fluffy. This will take about 6-8 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl once during the process to ensure that butter is evenly incorporated.

Add eggs and vanilla.
Crack eggs into a liquid measure and add vanilla. With the mixer on low-speed, slowly pour mixture into the bowl allowing eggs to fall in one at a time. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl.

Add dry ingredients and apples.
Add sifted dry ingredients on low-speed; stop mixing as soon as flour is incorporated. Fold apples in by hand using a stiff spatula and scrape batter into the prepared pan.

Place pan in the middle of the oven and bake 60-75 minutes rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. When cake is finished, a wooden skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Allow cake to cool 15 minutes before removing it from pan. Cool completely and cover with a thick dusting of confectioners’ sugar.

Coffee, Burritos & Beards? Read On…

8 Oct

Moriah and I have recently discovered two neat places. The first place is QB, or Quality Burrito, and the food is amazing. The second place is a charming, dimly lit coffee shop called Sizzizzis. Both places have one delicious treat in common: cupcakes. These cupcakes are unique because they are vegan, but you wouldn’t know it. Complemented by delectable, creamy frosting that does not leave you guessing what the flavor is, the cake is moist and substantial, but not too dense. If you wanted to fool your vegan-skeptic friends, surprise them with one of these decadent desserts and tell them after they are licking their lips with satisfaction. They won’t know what hit them. I have tried mango and lavender, which were both tasty. I have also tried others that didn’t resonate. But my two all-time favorites so far are chocolate cake with blackberry frosting, and ginger cake with strawberry frosting. The cupcakes are baked locally by the Bearded Lady Food Company in Olympia, WA.  Despite the name, I’ve never encountered a hair.