Friday, December 30, 2011

A Little Extra Something

Christmas baking is usually a time for me to cut loose and do some creating and experimening, but not this year.  My day job kept me busy right up to the last with nary a spare moment.  With professional obligations weighing so heavily Bella and I decided to stick with traditional family favorites:  My grandmother’s Gingerbread Cookies, my mother’s Sugar Cookies, Chocolate Raisin Oat Bars, and Brandied Almond Fruit Bars.  As we would be baking small batches, we needed to come up with a little extra something to deliver to the neighbors along with our holiday well wishes.  Epiphany--Pumpkin Cranberry Bread!

This past fall, when pumpkins were in short supply else where, a banner crop was harvested in Vermont--in spite of Hurricane Irene.  Our pumpkins were purchased from the neighbors who had a beautiful crop of both carving and eating pumpkins, of which they had several varieties.  Growers insist there are major differences between the eating varieties in flavor, texture, and sweetness, but truthfully I can detect no noticeable differences.  This year we purchased fewer and smaller pumpkins, and they yielded an incredible amount of puree.  With a freezer full of homemade pumpkin puree, a plentiful supply of fresh cranberries purchased at The Morse Farm, and a fast, easy, quantity-producing recipe for Pumpkin Cranberry Bread, it was decided that this would make the perfect additional something for the neighbors.

There is, however, a significant difference in flavor between home processed pumpkin puree and commercially canned.  If you’ve never made your own, I encourage you to try.  It is a very straightforward forward process, and worth the bit of time it takes. (Click here for the link to my post on how to make pumpkin puree.)  Once you eat homemade, it’s hard to go back to a commercially produced product.

Notes for this recipe:  Yes, the pans must be lined with parchment paper.  This is an essential step, skipping it will result in breads stuck to the pan.  Dried cranberries can be substituted for fresh, but the flavor and texture of the bread will suffer.  Orange juice can be substituted for apple cider.  Commercially canned pumpkin puree can be substituted for the fresh.

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

3 c. flour

¼ tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated preferred)
¼ tsp. cloves
¼ tsp. mace
¼ tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. brown sugar
2 c. fresh pumpkin puree (or 15 oz. commercially canned)
4 large eggs
1 c. canola oil
½ c. apple cider
2 cups fresh cranberries

Grease 1 5x9” pan or 5 3x5” pans, line with parchment paper.  Grease and flour parchment paper and set pans aside.  Preheat oven to 350. 

Measure flour, spices, baking soda, and salt into a bowl, set aside. 

Measure oil and apple cider into a 2 c. glass measuring cup and set aside. Measure brown sugar into a large bowl.  Add the eggs and oil mixture and stir with a rubber spatula to combine.  Add the pumpkin puree and mix with the rubber spatula just to combine.  Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Fold in the cranberries. 

Scrape into the prepared pans.
Bake for 55 to 60 minutes or until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove pans to wire racks.  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.  To remove breads from their pans, tip pans onto their sides and gently ease out the breads.  Carefully remove the parchment paper.  Gently turn breads back onto their bottoms and cool completely.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Life is Like That From Time-to-Time

It’s Christmas Day.  It may seem unusual that I have chosen to write a blog post today of all days.  Let me begin by saying that it has been an especially busy quarter. The demands of my day job have left little time for doing anything other than working and sleeping.  (Life is like that from time-to-time.)

Bella is off “doing tree” with her other family, and DH and I are grateful for the quiet solitude of this Christmas Day.  Unlike Chistmases past we will not be having 30 people for dinner.  DH and I sit here companionably, waiting for Bella to return, listening to French Carols, reading and watching the gently falling snow through our living room windows.  I find myself, for the first time in many months with leisure time. It is glorious and I can’t think of a better way to spend my first leisure moments in months than to write a blog post.

We had a houseful for Thanksgiving.  Family from away and family from just up the road a piece gathered here to celebrate this most American of holidays. While planning out the day’s menu, Bella and I decided to try and keep it as simple as possible—including the desserts.  Thanksgiving would be incomplete without a pie or two, but they needed to be quick and easy.  That led us to Dutch Apple Pie and Chocolate Pecan Pie, two absolute family favorites. 

The Chocolate Pecan Pie is based on a recipe I ripped from a magazine eons ago.  Like 99.9% of the recipes I use, it has been altered from the original.  So, here it is—Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Notes for this recipe:  Use the best quality bittersweet choclate you can find.  (Belgian Callebaut is my chocolate of choice.)  The pie crust can be made a day in advance, wrapped and stored in the refrigerator until you are ready to roll it out.  The pie can be made two days in advance. To store, cover it tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow the pie to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.  If you choose to serve whipped cream with your pie, organic heavy cream provides the best flavor and texture.  Add just a splash of vanilla to enhance the flavor.

1 single pie crust (click here for my pie crust recipe)

8 oz. high-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped--divided
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 eggs
¼ c. brown sugar
1 c. corn syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla
1-1/2 c. pecan halves
Whipped cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 400.

Place the butter and 4 ounces of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over simmering water.  (Be sure the water is not touching the bottom of the top pan.)  While the chocolate and butter are melting, line a 9 inch pie plate with the dough.  Trim, and flute the edge high.  Set aside.  When the chocolate is melted, stir with a rubber spatula to smooth it out.  Remove the bowl to the counter to cool slightly while you prepare the rest of the filling.

Crack the eggs into a mixing bowl and beat lightly with a fork.  Brush a little of the beaten egg onto the prepared pie crust.  To the beaten eggs, add the brown sugar and stir to combine.  Add the vanilla and corn syrup, mix well.  Add the slightly cooled, melted chocolate, stir to combine.

Next, stir in the remaining 4 ounces of coarsely chopped chocolate and the pecan halves, stirring to combine.  Scrape into the prepared pie crust. 

Place in the preheated oven and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.  After 20 minutes reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until a  knife inserted about halfway between the edge and center of the pie comes clean. 

Remove the pie to a wire rack to cool completely.