Cranberry Walnut Pumpkin Loaf {TWD-BWJ}

I can’t tell you how excited I was about this week’s Tuesdays with Dorie – Baking with Julia recipe. After all, it features one of my favorite ingredients: pumpkin! To say I love pumpkin doesn’t really do justice to how I feel about this ingredient. Obsessed might be a better word.

Anyway, I was really looking forward to this bread. And it did not disappoint!

Now, this is not what you probably think of when you hear “pumpkin bread”. It’s a yeast bread, not a quick bread. And it’s not overly sweet. It’s more like raisin bread. Except with pumpkin. And walnuts. And whole cranberries.

Isn’t that beautiful? And you should have seen the bread!

Here are my observations:

  • As mentioned, this isn’t a sweet bread. It’s actually a bit on the savory side, with the tangy cranberries, walnuts, and even the pumpkin, which is, after all, a squash.
  • Speaking of the pumpkin, it adds a beautiful color to the dough, but not a distinct flavor. If you tasted it with your eyes closed, you probably wouldn’t guess that it had pumpkin in it.
  • As I often do with pumpkin-based recipes, I switched out the spices called for in the recipe with five-spice powder.
  • A number of bakers reported that their dough didn’t rise well. Mine rose fine, but when it came out of the fridge after an overnight rest, it was really sluggish. It’s a really rich dough, so I would probably recommend using SAF Gold yeast if you have any.
  • I baked my loaf in one pan, and it took significantly longer than the recipe called for. The finished loaf was moist, somewhat dense, and delicious.
  • This bread is great as toast with butter. But with Speculoos butter, it is sublime.
  • This would be the perfect bread for making toast on Thanksgiving morning. It wouldn’t be too filling, but it would wake your mouth up to the flavors to come later in the day.
  • I wonder how this bread would be as bread pudding? I don’t think the current loaf is going to last long enough to find out, but it would be worth making again for that purpose.

So, in summary, I loved this bread! And not just because it had pumpkin in it. Although, that certainly didn’t hurt.

Banana Rum Coconut Layer Cake {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge cake features one of my favorite flavors. No, I don’t mean dark rum (although I’m certainly not opposed to rum). I’m talking about bananas. Regular readers of my blog know about my obsession with all things pumpkin, as well as my love of apples. But I am equally enamored with bananas.

Now, that doesn’t mean I’ll eat anything that’s banana flavored. In fact, like strawberries, while I love real bananas, I really dislike “banana flavored” foods. But give me a fresh banana, or better yet a baked good made with ripe bananas, and I’m a happy man.

So this cake was right up my alley. It combines ripe bananas with rum and coconut for a delicious tropical flavor baked into a homey layer cake.

To make the cake layers, I beat butter, granulated and dark brown sugars, and vanilla until fluffy, then added eggs. I mixed flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in one bowl and mashed bananas, milk, and dark rum in another. I alternated adding these to the butter mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

I beat the batter for several minutes to lighten it, then divided it between two 9-inch pans. I baked the cake layers in a 350°F oven for about 25 minutes, until the cake was well risen, golden, and firm in the center.

This cake smelled good enough to eat right out of the oven. But I resisted and cooled the layers while I made the frosting.

As I’ve baked my way through the Cakes section of  The Modern Baker, I have really come to appreciate the simplicity, lightness, and wonderful flavor of whipped cream as cake frosting. And when you add rum to the whipped cream, well, things can only get better.

Having cooled the layers and made the frosting, which consisted of whipping cream, sugar, and dark rum, I was ready to assemble the cake. I placed the first layer on a cake plate, sprinkled it with about a tablespoon of dark rum, and spread the top with whipped cream. I inverted the second layer on top of the first and topped it with rum and whipped cream. I spread the frosting over the top and sides of the cake, then pressed coconut into the frosting.

We enjoyed this cake for dessert, and everyone asked for seconds.

This cake was delicious, with the tropical flavors of banana and coconut shining through. And even though it had dark rum in the batter and frosting, it wasn’t at all boozy tasting.

This is another celebration cake: one that’s simple enough to make for any gathering, but impressive enough to commemorate those special occasions.

Popovers {TWD-BWJ}

Oh, beautiful, delicious, airy, fluffy popovers! Where have you been all my life?!?

Not only had I never made a popover, until this recipe came up for Tuesdays with Dorie, I had never even tried one before. I can’t believe I have lived for 40-some years and never had the joy of tearing into one of these beauties before dinner this evening! I can promise you, it won’t be 40 more years before I make them again. It probably won’t be 4 days.

I must have been planning on making these at some point, because I have a popover pan. I think I got it with points from my bank the same time I got Baking with Julia. So it’s only fitting that I used the pan for the first time with Marion Cunningham’s recipe from BWJ.

I preheated the oven to 400°F, as that’s what several recipes I saw using popover pans called for. Based on some of the comments on the P&Q for this recipe, I buttered the pans really well with melted butter. (As a side note, my Chicago Metallic popover pans are nonstick, and I’ve found their nonstick pans to work really well with a minimum of greasing.) I filled the cups about 1/3 full and baked them for exactly 35 minutes.

They looked absolutely perfect when they came out of the oven. Dinner was on the table, so the popovers went right from the pans to a basket and onto the table.

I tore into one and was surprised and delighted by how open and airy the center was. They weren’t doughy or custardy in the middle, just a little less done than the crispy exteriors. I slathered the insides with butter and drizzled on some honey. They were absolutely delicious! Soft and crisp at the same time. Puffy, buttery, dripping with honey. I could have made a meal of them.

I’m glad I tried this recipe. And I’m glad to have a popover pan, wherever it came from. I only wish I had two pans so I could make a dozen of these at a time.

Our hosts this week are Paula of Vintage Kitchen Notes and Amy of Bake with Amy. Cruise on over to their blogs for the recipe and to see what they thought of these yummy popovers.

Raspberry Cream Cake {ModBak}

In last week’s Modern Baker Mondays post, I recounted my first successful attempt at making a classic génoise.

And I promised that if you came back this week, you’d see what became of this wonderful cake layer. Obviously, a cake this beautiful had to be destined for something equally stunning. So I used it to make this show-stopping raspberry cream cake.

This is a special cake for a special occasion. Who wouldn’t feel great about being presented with a cake like this for a birthday or anniversary? It’s just enough work to make it a cake worth saving for a special occasion; but not so much that you should be intimidated about making it. In fact, once you have your génoise prepared, most of the work is behind you.

This cake derives its raspberry flavor from three components: raspberry moistening syrup (which is just a simple syrup with a little framboise stirred into it), seedless raspberry jam, and raspberry buttercream.

This is a classic buttercream with a raspberry purée (seeded raspberries cooked down to a jelly-like consistency) and more framboise added to it. Once you’ve made the génoise, syrup, and buttercream, it’s just a matter of assembling the cake.

I began by cutting the génoise into three layers.

I inverted the top layer onto a tart pan bottom, then brushed it with the raspberry syrup.

I spread some raspberry jam on the layer.

Then I topped it with buttercream.

I repeated these steps with the second layer, then inverted what had originally been the bottom layer on top.

I finished the cake with buttercream, then pressed sliced almonds on the sides of the cake. Finally, I topped everything with some sugared black raspberries.

This cake was amazing! The génoise was light and airy, and the raspberry flavor permeated the entire cake yet was somehow delicate and almost understated. We enjoyed this cake for dessert the day it was made and over the next several days, as it held up really well.

This is definitely not a weeknight cake, but it’s not so complex that you should be afraid to try it. The “wow” factor definitely exceeds the amount of work it takes to make, making this a great cake for any special occasion.

Spicy Hazelnut Biscotti {ModBak}

Today I present to you the first biscotti recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge. Unlike the biscotti regina I made back in January, which was actually a cookie (biscotti is, after all, “cookie” in Italian), this is what I would consider a classic biscotti recipe. It’s twice-baked, very crunchy, and made for dunking in coffee or tea.

What makes these biscotti unique is the addition of lots of spices, including some that might surprise you – ginger, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, and black pepper. The dough also contains lots of hazelnuts, some of which are ground with the sugar, while the rest are chopped up and stirred into the dough. A bit of honey and orange zest round out the flavorings.

The dough came together very quickly, although it was a bit powdery after I initially mixed it up. I worked it on a floured board until it held together, then I formed it into a log, put it on a cookie sheet, and flattened the top. I baked the log at 350°F for 40 minutes, until it was firm and nicely browned.

I cooled the log on a rack for half an hour or so, then cut it into 1/2-inch slices. I put the biscotti back on the cookie sheet and returned them to the oven, this time at 325°F for about 20 minutes, until they were dry and firm.

The aroma of the spices filled the house like Christmas at grandma’s. They smelled so good, I couldn’t wait for them to cool before trying them. I brewed a cup of French roast coffee, grabbed two biscotti, and headed for the living room.

How do I describe these biscotti? Crunchy, sweet, spicy — all those things, but so much more. The combination of flavors is absolutely genius, perhaps Nick Malgieri’s finest work.

These would be a perfect for the holidays, when spicy treats are on everyone’s minds. But don’t wait until then to make them. They’re too good not to enjoy year-round.

Irish Soda Bread {TWD-BWJ}

Although I’ve recently had to cut back on my baking/blogging commitments, I’ve been toying with joining the second round of Tuesdays with Dorie since it was announced. I bought the book Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan a while ago but hadn’t made anything from it yet. So when a group was announced to regularly bake recipes from the book, I was sorely tempted to join. What finally tipped the scales was the fact that there would only be two recipes per month, and members are only required to post one of the two. A once a month commitment fits even my schedule, so I decided to jump in.

The other thing that helped me decide was the second recipe for March: Irish soda bread. I love Irish soda bread and make it regularly, especially around this time of year. In fact, by the time I saw this pick for March 20, I had already made two soda breads: one from a Bob’s Red Mill mix and the other Irish whiskey soda bread from my friend Michele’s blog. I ended up taking these loaves to work, where they were both big hits, so I needed to make another loaf for home for St. Patrick’s Day. What better way to ease into TWD than baking something I was going to make anyway?

This is a very simple recipe. There are only four ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, and buttermilk. The dry ingredients get whisked together, then the buttermilk is stirred in and the whole thing is formed into a loaf. After slashing the top of the loaf with the traditional cross-shaped pattern, it goes into a 375°F oven for about 50 minutes.

This loaf baked up beautifully and looked like a traditional soda bread. We had already had dinner by the time I made it, so I ate a piece of the bread with butter for an evening snack. It came out a bit dry for my liking. I didn’t check the temperature of the loaf during or after baking, so I’m not sure if it overbaked or if that texture was to be expected. There is almost no fat in the bread, so I’m not surprised it came out kind of dry.

As far as the flavor goes, it was just so-so. The buttermilk gave it a nice tang, but otherwise it was a bit bland. Of the three soda breads I made this week, this came in third in both flavor and texture. Others have reported liking it more than I, so I might try it again sometime. But for now, it’s definitely not a contender to become my go-to soda bread recipe.

Cappuccino Thumbprint Cookies {ModBak}

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I’m not a fan of fussy cookies. My idea of making cookies is mixing the dough, dropping the cookies onto a pan, and baking. Bar cookies are even better, as you get to skip the individual cookie dropping step. So I tend to pass over recipes with a lot of shaping, dipping, rolling, and filling. Like this one.

These cookies had it all, and then some. First, you make the dough, shape it into a square (I put it in an 8×8 pan), and chill it.

After the dough chills, you unwrap it (as you can see, I had a bit of trouble getting mine out of the pan), then cut it into squares.

The individual pieces of dough (all 40 of them) are then rounded, dipped in an egg wash, rolled in ground almonds, and placed on the pan.

Next, you make a cavity in each cookie and then bake them.

While the cookies are baking, you make a white chocolate and espresso filling. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, so I made two fillings, one with white and the other with bittersweet chocolate. After the cookies cooled, I piped the filling into the cookies, then sprinkled them with cinnamon.

These cookies were a lot of work, but they tasted really good. To my surprise, I even liked the white chocolate ones. I could see making these cookies again for a holiday cookie tray. Maybe by next Christmas I’ll have forgotten how much work they were.

This recipe is from The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri and is part of the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge.

Lemon Poppy Seed Drops {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe is a simple, but kind of odd, little cookie. At least I’ve never made or eaten anything quite like it before. The main flavor and texture ingredients are lemon, poppy seeds, and almonds. The dough also contains eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, flour, baking powder, and salt.

The poppy seeds were the ingredient that seemed a bit strange to me. Other than keeflees, kolache, and lemon bread or muffins, I’m not familiar with using poppy seeds in sweets. And they had a strange effect on the dough — they turned it rather gray. So much so that I was a bit skeptical about making these cookies. After all, who would want to eat a gray cookie?

But I pressed on. After all, with the dough mixed up and ready to go, it was just a matter of rolling hunks of dough in chopped slivered almonds, flattening them, and baking them. I found that the amount of almonds was almost perfect. My last few cookies didn’t have quite as many almonds on the outside, but I also didn’t have a bunch of chopped almonds left over.

I flattened the cookies with the bottom of a drinking glass.

Once they were all rolled and flattened, they were ready for the oven. I was still a bit worried about the color, but I had come this far, so I had to finish them.

I baked the cookies in a 350°F oven for about 15 minutes, until they were golden, slightly risen, and baked through. The poppy seeds were still quite evident in the cookies, but they lost their gray pallor in the oven and actually came out looking pretty nice.

Despite the appearance of the dough, these cookies were quite good. They weren’t too sweet and reminded me a bit of shortbread. The lemon gave a bright flavor to them, and the almonds and poppy seeds lent an earthiness that worked well with the other flavors. And even though they weren’t overly sweet, I found myself reaching for them again and again, as there is just something “morish” (as my mother-in-law used to say) about them.

These cookies would be great for a holiday tray, as the flavor is quite subtle and wouldn’t overpower the other cookies on the tray. Of course, they’re not bad on their own, either.

This recipe can be found in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of The Modern Baker, by Nick Malgieri. If you want to add a great baking book to your library, this one has everything — from cookies and cakes to pies, tarts, and breads. And the recipes are clear, concise, and easy to follow.

Raisin Pecan Spice Bars {ModBak}

The third recipe in the Cookies, Bars, & Biscotti section of the Modern Baker Challenge is an old-fashioned, straight from your grandmother’s oven kind of recipe. Spicy, chock full of raisins and nuts, Nick Malgieri hits the nail on the head when he describes these bars as “homey”.

I made a half recipe. We had plenty of sweets around, and I knew that since these bars had raisins in them, the girls would leave them for me. So instead of the 9 x 13-inch pan called for in the recipe, I broke out an 8 x 8-inch pan and lined it with parchment foil.

The bars have a lot of ingredients in them, but they mixed up quickly and were in the oven in just a few minutes. I baked the batter at 350°F for about 25 minutes, until it was well-risen and spongy to the touch, about like a cake.

I cooled the cake in the pan, then inverted it onto a cutting board, peeled off the parchment, and turned it right side up. I cut the cake into 2-inch bars.

These bars were so good! They had an almost gingerbread-like spiciness to them, and the raisins and pecans gave just the right amount of flavor and texture. To my surprise, the kids even tried them — and liked them!

This recipe is definitely a repeat. It’s especially perfect for the holidays or those cold Winter days when you want something homey and comforting to warm you.

New Orleans Praline Disks {ModBak} {Recipe}

Throughout the year, I’ve participated in a number of online food parties. I even hosted a few myself, like the Pumpkin Dinner and Thanksgiving Dinner roundups. With these “parties” everyone makes a dish, takes pictures, and posts about it on the same day. Then the host does a roundup featuring links to everyone’s posts.

These are always enjoyable, and invariably we bemoan the fact that we don’t actually get to try each other’s food. Well, this year a couple of enterprising food bloggers came up with the idea of combining real and virtual cookie exchanges. Thus was born the First Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.

Here’s how it worked: everyone who signed up was sent the names and addresses of three participants. Once I got my names, I baked cookies, packed them up, and mailed one dozen to each of the three people whose names I had received. Then I sat back and waited for a dozen cookies to arrive from three other bloggers.

The cookies I received came over the course of two days. They were all delicious: peppermint sables; candy cane chocolate chunks; and a mixed dozen of molasses, double chocolate, and butterscotch cookies. It was fun making the cookies and sending them off. And of course, getting cookies in the mail made me feel like a kid at Christmas.

This is the final part of the Cookie Swap. We each agreed to post our recipes on the same day, so we could see what everyone made and have all the recipes. At last count, there were 625 participants. That’s a lot of cookies!

For my contribution, I made New Orleans Praline Disks from The Modern Baker. As it happens, these were also one of my designated posts in the Cookies section of the Modern Baker Challenge. I love pralines, so I was excited to find a cookie that has a similar flavor profile.

The cookies were easy to make. I pulsed pecans and brown sugar in the food processor, then beat butter, more brown sugar, and the pecan-sugar mixture with the mixer until it was well combined. I beat in an egg and vanilla, then mixed in flour.

The recipe said to roll a teaspoonful of dough in between your palms, but I found that using a small scoop made perfect dough rounds.

After putting the dough on the pan, I flattened the cookies slightly and sprinkled the tops with chopped pecans.

I baked the cookies at 375°F for about 12 minutes, until they were firm and well-browned around the edges.

I made some crispier than others, and I found I liked the slightly chewier ones better.

These were really delicious cookies. The flavor reminded me of pralines — buttery and sweet, with a strong pecan flavor — although they weren’t as rich as real pralines. But they were a lot easier to make, so I’m sure they’ll be showing up around here on a regular basis.

New Orleans Praline Disks (adapted from The Modern Baker by Nick Malgieri)

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups pecan pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, very soft
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment or Silpat.
  2. Place pecan pieces in bowl of food processor and pulse until chopped, but not too finely. Measure out 1/4 cup pecan pieces and set aside. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar to the food processor bowl and pulse until well mixed and pecan pieces are finely chopped.
  3. Combine remaining brown sugar, butter, and pecan-sugar mixture in a mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add egg and vanilla and beat just until smooth.
  4. Add flour to bowl and mix on low just until flour is mixed in. Give the dough a final mix with a large rubber spatula.
  5. Scoop the dough onto the prepared pans with a small cookie scoop, or roll the dough by the tablespoonful between your palms to make a small balls. Space the dough balls about 1 1/2 inches apart.
  6. Flatten the spheres with your fingers and sprinkle each cookie with chopped pecans.
  7. Bake the disks in the center of the oven for about 12 minutes for chewy cookies or 15 minutes for crunchy cookies. Cool on a wire rack and store in a plastic container or zipper-top bag.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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