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.

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Blackberry Jam Cake {ModBak}

This week’s Modern Baker Challenge recipe is Blackberry Jam Cake, a cake that was popular in the 19th century but which is relatively unknown today. I’m not sure when or why this cake fell out of favor, but I applaud Nick Malgieri for bringing it back to the modern kitchen. This is a delicious and simple cake that, as Nick says, deserves to be better known again.

To make the batter, I began by creaming butter and sugar, then adding eggs. Next, I mixed flour, cocoa, allspice, cinnamon, and baking soda in a bowl. I then added the flour mixture and buttermilk to the butter mixture, alternating between the wet and dry ingredients. Finally, I stirred in blackberry jam, raisins, and walnuts.

I scraped the mixture into a Bundt pan that had been buttered, sprinkled with bread crumbs, and sprayed with cooking spray.

I baked the cake for about an hour, until it was firm, well risen, and baked through.

We ate this cake plain, and it really didn’t need any accompaniment. If you wanted to dress it up, a few sugared blackberries would be really nice.

This cake was delicious — the blackberry jam infused the cake with a sweet, rich flavor without being overpowering. And the cocoa added depth and color to the cake. The spices lent a warmth to the cake that made it seem like it would be perfect for late fall or winter, although we enjoyed it in the heat of summer, too.

This is a wonderful cake that I will be sure to make again when the heat of this crazy summer breaks and the leaves start to turn. In fact, it might just make an appearance at Thanksgiving this year.

This recipe and post are part of the Cakes section of the Modern Baker Challenge. Margaret was the official blogger for this recipe. Check out her blog to see how she liked it.

Espresso Walnut Meringues & Cinnamon Meringues {ModBak}

Me: I don’t like meringues. It’s like eating air.
Nancy: It’s like eating sugared air. And what’s wrong with that?

OK, so maybe Nancy does have a point. But I’ve still never been a big fan of meringues. However, I knew if anyone could change my mind, it would be Nick Malgieri. Besides, these meringues were up next in the Modern Baker Challenge, so I was going to make them, like it or not.

Most meringues I’ve tried in the past seemed to be nothing more than egg whites and sugar, so I was intrigued by the addition of chocolate, espresso powder, and walnuts to this recipe. And the variation with walnuts and cinnamon sounded interesting, too. Given my overall skepticism, I decided to make a full batch of meringues, but divide the meringue in half so I could make a smaller batch of each kind to try.

I began by whipping egg whites and salt in the mixer.

I added half the sugar, a little at a time, while the egg whites were whipping. By the way, if you happen to have the hardback edition of The Modern Baker and are wondering what you’re supposed to do with the remaining sugar, the answer can be found in the paperback edition of the book. The rest of the sugar gets layered in with the remaining ingredients below.

Once the egg whites had reached meringue consistency, I removed the bowl from the mixer and divided the meringue between two bowls.

The bowl on the left contains walnuts, the rest of the sugar, espresso powder, bittersweet chocolate, and cornstarch. The bowl on the right has walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch. I folded the ingredients in gently, trying not the break the meringue.

I spooned the meringues in mounds on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. I forgot to take a picture before I put them in the oven, so I opened the oven door and took a quick snap.

The meringues baked at 300°F for about 30 minutes, until they were fairly dry. This surprised me, as most other recipes I’ve seen call for baking the meringues for 2-3 hours, and some instruct to leave the meringues in the oven overnight to finish drying.

The picture above is of the espresso meringues. The one below shows the cinnamon meringues.

The meringues smelled really good baking, and I was anxious to try them to see if they would change my mind. And they almost did. They were both quite flavorful. The cinnamon meringues had a wonderful, spicy aroma. And the chocolate in the espresso meringues made them quite tasty.

The only thing I didn’t really care for was the mouth feel after eating a few of them. I didn’t notice it at first, but after a while, my mouth felt really dry, and the meringues left a powdery aftertaste. I think it was from the cornstarch. Eating them with a cup of tea or coffee remedied this for the most part, but I just don’t care for that taste and feeling in my mouth. I have since looked at several other meringue recipes, and none of them seem to call for cornstarch.

If I make these again, I’ll try leaving the cornstarch out, as I really did like the flavor of both of them. I think they might need to bake longer without the cornstarch, as I suspect that is what shortens the baking time in this recipe compared to others.

It might be worth trying. They were mighty tasty.

OK, Nancy, maybe I see the point of sugared air after all.

Swiss Walnut Crescents {ModBak}

For some reason, I had a mental block when it came to making this recipe for the Modern Baker Challenge. I’d decide to make it, then decide I didn’t want to, then change my mind again. On and on it went over the course of several weeks. I must have moved the puff pastry from the freezer to the fridge and back again half a dozen times. I even jumped ahead and made Danish Cheese Pockets while trying to motivate myself to finally get to this recipe.

It wasn’t until I started putting the recipe together that I finally realized why. Even though he calls these “Swiss” pastries and describes both their Swiss German and Viennese heritage, these crescents reminded me of kifli (or “keeflee”), a Hungarian pastry that my aunt makes every year around the holidays.

Now, don’t get me wrong (especially you, Aunt Dar, if you’re reading this); I don’t dislike keeflees. They’re fine. Sweet, nutty, and perfect with a cup of tea. But a few of them go a long way for me. And, like most treats that are only made once a year, no one ever makes only a few of them. No matter whose house you stop by over the holidays, there are plates of them everywhere, and they are offered to you all day long. So, even though I enjoy them well enough, by the middle of December, I would swear I never want to see another keeflee as long as I live.

Nonetheless, this was the next recipe in the Challenge, so I would make it, like it or not. The recipe wasn’t difficult, and the ingredients and method were interesting. I began by making a paste of sorts out of ground walnuts, bread crumbs (I used crumbs from the less-than-stellar maple walnut scones recipe I had recently made), milk, sugar, butter, and spices.

After cooking the nut paste, I spread it out on a plate to cool while I prepared the pastry dough.

For the pastries, I rolled the puff pastry dough out to a large rectangle, then cut it into triangles. I plopped a spoonful of nut filling on the end of each pastry, rolled them up crescent-style, then put them on a baking sheet. I chilled the dough for a few hours, then baked the crescents at 375°F for about half an hour, until the pastry was puffed and golden.

The recipe called for an egg wash before baking the crescents, but I forgot that part. After tasting a few of them and realizing that they really were a lot like keeflees, only better (sorry Aunt Dar), I decided to finish them keeflee-style by shaking them in a bag with powdered sugar.

Like keeflee, these crescents beg to be enjoyed with a cup of tea or coffee. They are sweet, nutty, buttery, and just a tiny bit crunchy. The powdered sugar was great with the puff pastry, although J thought it distracted a bit from the buttery flavor.

In the end, I was glad I overcame my keeflee-block and finally got around to making these crescents. I made a full recipe, and they were gone within a few days. And while I can’t say for sure that I’ll make these again, I may change my mind when keeflee season arrives.

Banana Walnut Tart {ModBak}

The third recipe I made from the Sweet Tarts and Pies section of The Modern Baker was another easy and delicious tart. I had sweet tart dough left over from when I made the bourbon-scented pecan tart the other night, so this tart came together really quickly. In fact, I mixed this recipe up this evening after work — something I rarely do — and it was less than 20 minutes from the time I got the dough out of the fridge until I was putting the tarts in the oven.

I used my 4 1/2-inch tart pans and had enough dough for three tarts. I wasn’t sure how much filling to make, so I opted to halve the recipe. After rolling out the dough, I measured walnuts and brown sugar into the food processor and pulsed them until the nuts were finely chopped. Then I added butter, an egg, cinnamon, vanilla extract, baking powder, and flour and mixed everything into a thin batter.

I cut up two bananas and arranged them in the tart pans, poured in the batter, then topped the tarts with chopped walnuts. 

I baked the tarts at 350°F for about 30 minutes. The recipe doesn’t give a baking time, so I started with 20 minutes and kept an eye on them until they were done. Other than the crust, the tarts looked almost like a cake.

Now came the hardest part — waiting for the tarts to cool. I left them in the pans for about 15 minutes, then took them out and let them cool the rest of the way while I distracted myself by watching Jeopardy.

I sliced into one of the tarts. The banana looked almost like a custard filling.

I know some of my fellow Modern Bakers were a bit skeptical of this recipe, mostly because of the cooked bananas. While I understand their reluctance, having tried this tart I can tell you it is delicious, bananas and all. Nick is right when he says the bananas cook to a sweet, jam-like consistency. And the flavors of the bananas, walnuts, brown sugar, and rum all compliment each other, making this tart sweet, nutty, and hard to resist.

While I liked most of the savory tarts and pies in the last section, I think sweets are definitely Nick’s forte. And I’m looking forward to the rest of the recipes in this section.

Gruyère, Scallion, & Walnut Tart {ModBak}

The first recipe I claimed for the Savory Tarts & Pies section of the Modern Baker Challenge was one that Nick Malgieri claims he could “bake and eat… once a week”. Having made it myself, I can see why. This recipe is quick and easy to throw together, and what little effort it required was well worth it.

I started by making the tart crust. Nick gives three recipes for tart dough in this section — Rich Pie Dough for Savory Pies and Tarts; Olive Oil Dough for Savory Pies and Tarts; and No-Roll Flaky Dough. He suggests either the rich or no-roll dough for this recipe. I’ve made the rich dough several times and am actually getting pretty good at it, so I decided to try the no-roll dough for this recipe.

I’ll admit that my no-roll technique needs a bit of work. I think the dough was either too dry or that I didn’t mix it enough. Whatever the case, the dough was a bit too powdery. Nonetheless, I was amazed at how quickly it went from this…

…to this…

…and finally to this…

With my dough made and in the pan, most of the work was done. The tart filling begins with walnuts toasted for a few minutes in a pan, then set aside too cool.

Next, I sautéed scallions in butter for a few minutes, until they were soft and brightly colored.

After letting the scallions cool for a few minutes, I scattered them over the crust in the pan, then sprinkled on the cheese. I mixed up the custard, which consisted of milk, cream, eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and poured the whole thing into the crust.

I put the tart in a 350°F oven to bake, then turned back to the counter and noticed this:

Fortunately, the tart had only been in the oven for a few minutes at the time, so I pulled it back out and scattered on the walnuts.

Back in the oven, the tart baked for about 30 minutes, until the custard was puffed and lightly browned. I cooled the tart in the pan for about five minutes, then removed it to a serving plate.

I served the tart for a light weekend supper. I didn’t measure the walnuts, and I think I might have used too many, as they somewhat overpowered the other flavors in the tart. Even so, this tart was absolutely delicious. The scallions, cheese, and nuts all complimented each other well, and I found myself going back for small slices throughout the evening.

I can see why Nick is so fond of this recipe. And while I may not make this tart once a week, it will certainly be featured on my table on a regular basis.

Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans {FFwD}

It happens every Fall. I get on a pumpkin kick. Actually, I love pumpkin enough that I cook and bake with it year-round. But there’s something about the weather changing around this time of year that always sends me to the store to stock up on canned pumpkin and has me scouring the Internet and my cookbooks for untried pumpkin recipes.

So, when I got my copy of Around My French Table, it was only natural that I turned to the Index and started looking at the pumpkin recipes. This recipe caught my eye right away. And I knew I couldn’t wait for French Fridays with Dorie to make it. So on a recent weekday evening, we had Pumpkin-Gorgonzola Flans for dinner.

This recipe is easy enough to whip up after work. The ingredients consist of pumpkin, eggs, heavy cream, salt, pepper, gorgonzola, and walnuts. You mix the first three ingredients in the food processor, season with salt and pepper, then pour the mixture into buttered custard dishes.

The recipe says that it makes six flans, and Dorie writes that she uses 6-ounce custard cups. My cups are also six ounces, but, as you can see, the custard mixture only filled four of them. I’m not sure why my results differed from the recipe.

Another difficulty I had with the recipe, besides the custard cup issue, was trying to balance the salt. After adding salt and pepper to the custard, I tasted it, added a bit more salt, and tasted again. It still seemed to be slightly under-salted, but I knew the gorgonzola would be salty, and I didn’t want to overdo it. I did sprinkle the flans with fleur de sel before putting them in the oven, both for appearance and for that final burst of flavor.

After filling the cups and adding the gorgonzola and walnuts, I baked the flans in a water bath for 35 minutes, until the custard was set and the cheese melted and bubbly.

Next came the nearly impossible task of waiting for the flans to come to just-warm temperature before eating them. I drizzled the tops with a touch of honey before serving.

My wife, who is not a big fan of French cooking (at least not yet, but I’m working on it), initially said she didn’t want a flan, but wanted to take a taste of mine. One taste was all it took, and she was hooked. Even though she had just had a few pieces of pizza, she ate her flan and declared it one of the best things she had ever tasted. And I would have to agree.

The mild flavor of the pumpkin custard paired perfectly with the tang of the gorgonzola and the slightly sweet finish of the walnuts. The salt level was perfect, and I was glad I had given it that final sprinkle of fleur de sel.

This is another winning recipe from Dorie’s new book. And I’m one step closer to making a French food lover out of my wife.

Date Walnut Bread {ModBak}

I love recipes that move me out of my comfort zone. I don’t view a recipe with unfamiliar techniques or unusual ingredients as something to fear. Rather, I see it as a chance to expand my experience as a chef. When I first looked at the recipe for Date Walnut Bread, the fourth bread in the Modern Baker Challenge, I wasn’t disappointed, as it looked like another tasty recipe. But it also didn’t seem to offer anything unusual in the way of ingredients or techniques. That is, until I looked at the directions for preparing the pan.

This bread is baked in a Bundt pan. First, you butter the pan, which in itself is not at all unusual. The next step — which I have never heard of for prepping a pan for baking — is to dust the pan with bread crumbs. And, as if that weren’t enough, the pan is finally sprayed with vegetable cooking spray. OK, maybe I’m easily excited, but I thought this was kind of cool.

As with the other recipes in the Quick Bread section of The Modern Baker, once my mise en place was done, the batter came together really fast. As I was preparing the dates, which were placed in a bowl with butter and boiling water, I noticed that the dates I had purchased had sugar added. I compensated for this by cutting the sugar added to the recipe by 1/2 cup.

The directions call for mixing the batter by hand, first with a whisk, then by folding with a rubber spatula. Although I love my Kitchen Aid mixer, and in fact used it for almost all of the breads in the BBA Challenge, I have enjoyed mixing most of the Quick Breads by hand.

After beating the eggs, I whisked in the sugar and vanilla. Next, I folded in the dates, butter, and water. Finally, I stirred in the flour, baking soda, and salt, and added the walnuts. The batter was thick, gooey, and smelled delicious. It reminded me of caramel or butterscotch.

OK, it’s time for an admission. Some of you may find what is to follow rather disturbing and may wish to skip to the next paragraph. Those of you who choose to read it: you’ve been warned. I’m a batter eater. Yup, it doesn’t matter to me if it has raw eggs in it — I always taste cake and bread batters. I’ve always done it, and always will. I even let my kids do it. My older, more cautious daughter often declines if the batter has eggs in it. But my younger daughter, the risk taker of the clan, dives in with reckless abandon. The girls weren’t around when I made this bread, so I had to enjoy the batter by myself. And enjoy it I did. It was rich but not too sweet, with a chewy texture from the dates.

The bread is baked in a 325° F for about an hour and comes out looking like this:

And it smelled so good, there was no chance I was going to wait until it cooled to try it.

This bread did not disappoint. It was simple enough to throw together after work. And delicious enough to want to make again and again.