Monday, October 20, 2014

Pumpkin Bread


You may have noticed it's October. Do you know what that means for a baker? Cooler weather, ovens on, spices and PUMPKIN!

We've been eating pumpkin everything at our house. Pumpkin oatmeal, pumpkin fudge, and my very favorite (drumroll, please!) pumpkin bread. (Just a quick tangent here: we call a thing a bread, a muffin, a biscuit, but really it's cake: the sugar to fat to grain ratio makes it so. And may I say that cake is the most wonderful food in all the land.) A healthy slice of pumpkin cake bread on a cool fall day with a hot cup of tea or mulled cider, sitting by a fire in your jeans, socks and an oversized sweater creates the epitomal fall moment, n'est-ce pas? Je pense oui!

Lulu and I were at the Whole Foods and saw these cute little pumpkins hanging out by the butternut, spaghetti and kabocha squashes and we just had to buy one. This started a frenzy of oven-roasting, blending and baking several recipes (yes, there will be more from this pumpkin!). I used to make some of Lulu's baby food and pumpkin puree was a huge hit back then.

It's fall, my friends. The best season of the year to turn your oven on and try something new. If you have never baked before, this season is YOURS. And, so is this cake quick bread. It's easy to assemble, easy to bake, stays looking nice when you slice and serve it and it's way too easy to gobble up. You may find yourself spreading cream cheese on a slice or two or toasting it and smathering apple butter all over it. You can also bake it in a bundt pan, glaze the top (I'll include a recipe below) and serve it as actual cake with some whipped cream - or on its own! This one will travel well, keep well and freeze well. My equations make 2 regular loaves or one bundt cake, which I highly recommend, especially if you've been invited somewhere.

Keep in mind that it's pretty amazing to use fresh squash, but if you're a newbie chef, please don't do that. Open up a can and feel GOOD about that. You're amazing. This bread is amazing. You're a match made in heaven.

xox,

A.
Pumpkin Bread
(makes 2 loaves or one standard 10 C bundt cake)
3-1/2 C flour
2 t cinnamon
1-1/2 t baking powder
1 t nutmeg
1 t ginger
3/4 t kosher salt
1/2 t allspice
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t baking soda

First blend all those together and set aside. Then, read on.

1-1/2 C sugar
1-1/4 C dark brown (or regular brown) sugar
1 C canola or other light oil
5 eggs, at room temp
2 C pureed pumpkin
2/3 C buttermilk

If using pumpkin, slice your squash in half, scoop out the seeds and place face down on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Bake at 425 for 30-45 minute (this will depend upon how much squash you're baking) until the pumpkin gives easily when pricked with a fork.

Once it's cool, scoop the pumpkin flesh out from the skin and puree in a blender or food processor until lump free. If you find this is not happening easily, add water in tablespoonsful until you get a nice, smooth puree. With a 3 lb. pumpkin, you'll have about 4-5 cups of puree, although you only need 2. Put the remainder in a freezer bag and stick it in the freezer for next months' pumpkin pies. See? You're ahead!

Preheat your oven to 350 and prep your pans by buttering and flouring them or by spraying them with baking spray.

Combine sugars, oil and 2 eggs until blended. Add remaining eggs and pumpkin and mix well.

Alternately add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in 4 total additions. So, you're going to add about 1/2 the dry mixture and then about 1/2 the buttermilk. Then, repeat.

Pour the batter into your prepared pan(s) and bake 60-70 minutes or until you feel the cake spring back when touched. If you're using a glaze (recipe below), pour the glaze on while the cake is warm, but not hot.

Vanilla Cinnamon Glaze
1-1/2 C powdered sugar
2-3 T milk
2 T maple syrup
1/2 t vanilla
1/2 t cinnamon
pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together. Pour over warm cake. Let set at least 10 minutes and then slice away.



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

One Motorcycle, Two Brides, and Three Tiers of Krispy Kreme

I mean, have you EVER? She's STUNNING.
Caveat: this post does not include a recipe, nor any photos of aforementioned Krispy Kreme donuts, although those were served at the wedding in lieu of wedding cake. But, I wanted to share this with you. Hope it fills your heart even a smidgeon as much as it has mine.

My cousin Erica is a wild animal of the fluffiest variety. You know how the biggest, baddest men are actually teddy bears on the inside? My Harley-riding, 6-foot-one-inches tall, stunner of a cousin is exactly the same. What I mean to say is that this young woman (she's 12 years younger than I) may run marathons, travel the globe for work (and play!) and generally tackle life head-on, but she also has this beautiful and rare capacity to make herself vulnerable in the most intense of circumstances.

Two years ago she started dating someone that from the moment she shared the news, just felt different. Gone was any desperation or fear from Erica's voice. When talking about this new relationship, she simply had a calm about her: a steady hope. Watching it unfold in social media, I fell in love with her new love, too. Alisha was a bona fide grown up. Gorgeous and successful, it was almost too good to be true. And, then, one day in July 2013, I got a call.

"So...I wanted to call you and let you know directly..." Erica was speaking very, very quickly. Oh, s--t. What was she going to tell me now? I could feel the other shoe dropping. "...that we've decided to take a leap of faith and I'm moving to London I know it's kind of fast and sudden..." Insert sigh of relief. Oh, thank goodness.

It didn't actually seem sudden at all. Not to me, anyway. Alisha and Erica had been dating long distance for about a year. Only a few months before this conversation, they had survived the Boston Marathon bombing (literally seconds and inches). It made sense they wouldn't waste time. Plus, Alisha is my age, so, for sure she knew what she was doing, even if E didn't, right?

Erica moved to London last October.

In early December, I got an email asking me to officiate her wedding. What?!?!?!?!?!! Beyond thrilled, I said YES and proceeded to tell everyone we knew that my cousin was engaged! Okay, I actually told people that I had been asked to officiate a wedding and that my cousin was engaged.

Me (left) yukking it up as officiant. Alisha taking in her bride.
Me and my mom.
Where she got the idea to ask me to officiate, I do not know. Humbled, honored and scared s--tless, I pretty much got e-ordained the next day and started writing the ceremony. Which was great because I realized right away that I had no freaking idea how to write a wedding ceremony. Several library trips and one large Amazon purchase later, I read everything I could get my eyes on. (In case you are ever called to do this, the most helpful of these were the Knot's Wedding Vows & Traditions and Reverend Judith Johnson, PhD's The Wedding Ceremony Planner, the latter of which completely saved my life.) It took me the whole 10 months to write what would take me less than 20 minutes to say, but it filled my year with something so happy, so meaningful, so deep that it was more than worth the hours I spent reading, writing, editing, sending the brides email after email.
If only you could hear Alisha whispering "Oh my God" as she sees her bride for the first time.
Erica with her flower girls Piper (her niece) and Lulu (my baby girl!).

Stealing a kiss at the altar that was decorated with sheets of Led Zeppelin music.
My husband and I have been fortunate enough to attend more than 12 weddings in the 7 years we've been together. This one was something unique and special. There is something truly beautiful about seeing two people who are so obviously meant to spend life together commit to doing just that. These two were so grateful, so vulnerable, so earnest, so very beautiful in every way and they poured themselves into this gathering, each wanting it to be special for the other. Alisha, formerly entirely non-musical, learned to play Led Zeppelin's Thank You on the guitar in only 5 lessons. Erica rode in on her dad's Harley with Uncle Danny.

Just married!!! And, Erica's dad's (my Uncle Eric's) Harley, in repose.
Each of them had make up and hair and gowns and fabulous shoes. Every touch was personal to them. Even the gifts they gave to each of us in the wedding party (I was an honorary member) were personal. Beautiful art books specific to something that means something to each of us. In my case, a gorgeous book of art made famous by some of the world's most incredible bands.

Hands-down the BEST Best Man I have ever seen (in those fab red shoes). Robert was never further than this from Alisha all day long.
Of course, these women are family, so, I will never forget this. It was an incredible experience and has made me feel so close to them. But, I cannot thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to step so far outside of my comfort zone that my boundaries have been redefined. There are not words for the gratitude I feel to them and the hope I have in my heart that they will have happiness and laughter every day of their lives together. The English language fails me in trying to describe the love I feel for them and the overspilling of love I have felt every moment since declaring them Mrs. and Mrs. Anderson.

They had it right. Led Zeppelin said it best. "An inspiration is what you are to me." Thank you, Alisha and Erica. Thank you.


When Jeremy, Lulu and I got home Sunday afternoon, naturally, I baked an apple pie. More on that soon.

xox,

A.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Apple Spice Cake

It's obviously apple season and we the Stabiles are certainly celebrating it!

After I baked those rustic apple dumplings last week, we were far from satiated. In fact, it seems we needed lots more apple. As fall is my favorite season, I start feeling nostalgic for the holidays as soon as school starts up. I start dreaming of a home filled with the scent of gingery & cinnamony spices, a fire in the hearth, a big chunky sweater and cuddles on the couch.

Nothing goes better with those yummy dreams than a hearty apple cake with a simple apple cider glaze and a little cardamom whipped cream. I swear, this cake is everything it sounds like it might be. Hearty & buttery like a pound cake, tart & chunky with apples and sweet & crisp with appley glaze and spices, it's a great cake to take to a fall dinner party or picnic. That is, if it can stay in tact long enough to make it out the door!

xox,

A.

Apple Spice Cake
3 C flour
2 C sugar
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t ginger
1/4 t allspice
1/4 t nutmeg
1/8 t cloves
1 C + 2 T oil
3 large eggs, at room temp
1 t vanilla

2 large or 3 small apples peeled, cored and diced into medium-sized chunks

Apple Cider Glaze
1-1/2 C powdered sugar
3 T apple cider
1 T melted butter

Cardamom Cream
1 C heavy whipping cream
1 T sugar
1/4 t cardamom

Make the cake.

Preheat the oven to 350 and whisk the dry ingredients together, including the spices.

In a separate bowl, blend the oil, eggs and vanilla.

Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the oil mixture into the well, slowly folding the wet ingredients in with the dry. When you have a good, lumpy batter going, fold in the apples.

Transfer the batter to a well-greased bundt cake pan and bake 55-70 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top of the cake is a nice, light golden brown.

Let cool 10-20 minutes before turning out of the pan to finish cooling, another hour or so. 

Make the glaze.

Pour all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk until well blended. Spread over the cooled cake.

Now, you can eat the cake just like this. But, why stop when we've come this far?

Make the cream.

In a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, blend the cream, sugar and cardamom until nicely whipped.

Slice the cake and dollop a generous bit of cream on top. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Apple Dumplings

It's apple picking season! However, it seems we here in California may not have as many apples this year as we're used to (can you say drought???). Of course, we Californians aren't used to suffering, so we just truck them in from Washington state, which, really, is the best place to get them from anyway.

On Monday I started a juice cleanse as all this baking has made me less than svelte plus my skin has been looking a wee bit un-pretty. Besides, a good internal cleaning can't be bad, right?

Knowing I'd be consuming only fresh vegetable juices for an eternity 3 days, it seemed fitting to bake something wonderful this past Sunday night. What could I make out of ingredients we had on hand that wouldn't incur any leftovers that I may not be able to resist during aforementioned juice fast?

It just so happened we had some of those gorgeous Washington apples I mentioned and you know I always have butter, flour, sugar and cinnamon. After whipping up some pie crust dough (there's extra in the freezer for when you visit, Dad), I rolled it out, cut the apples in half, dusted them with a tablespoon of brown sugar, a sprinkling of cinnamon and a pat of butter and wrapped it all in these fabulous oversized ramekins I recently bought with my friend Barb at a neighborhood shop. Topped with vanilla ice cream, these were the easiest, homiest, most lovely desserts I've made in a while. Perhaps it was the fall equinox, or that autumn is my favorite season, but it felt like my little family was kicking this season off with a BANG! I mean, the house smelled of cinnamon. The brown sugar and melted butter pooled into a gorgeous caramel sauce. The homemade buttery pie crust was divine. It really doesn't get any better. This is why I bake. The scents, the feeling, the satisfaction, the smiles on my husband and daughter's faces. That's IT. My love story in a nutshell.

Now, if you were feeling less euphoric about fall, or simply didn't want to make the effort, buy yourself some pie crust dough (I like the Pillsbury sheets you find in the cold section near the cookie dough - or sometimes it's in the deli aisle) and wrap apples (or pears, peaches, any of the more solid fruits will work) and be done with it. Either way, I'll bet you experience the same joy we did with spoonful after spoonful of this very homemade-tasting dessert.

Let me know!

xox,

A.

P.S Pillsbury is just my preference in a pinch. This post was not sponsored in any way and please do NOT tell my mom that, on occasion, I use store-bought pie crust dough.


Apple Dumplings
Serves 4
2 Fuji, Honeycrisp or Granny Smith apples, peeled, halved and cored
4 T brown sugar, plus more for dusting
1 T butter, cut into four cubes plus more for dolloping (you'll see)
1 t cinnamon, divided into quarters
Pie crust for one double pie (recipe follows)

Simple All-Butter Pie Crust
Makes 2, 9" pie crusts or one double pie crust
1-1/4 C Flour
1 C whole wheat pastry flour (or use regular if you don't have it)
14 T cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
7 T ice water
1T apple cider or white vinegar
1T sugar
1/4 t salt
1/4 t baking powder

Process* the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder in 3-5 pulses, until thoroughly mixed. Add in the butter and pulse another 3-5 times. With your food processor running, quickly add in 5T water and the vinegar and stop the machine. If it looks dry, add in the rest of the water. If not, pull it out, divide it and freeze for 30 minutes.

*Note: you can do all of this by hand. Take your rings off and get dirty using the same steps above. Enjoy.
 
To make the dumplings: Preheat the oven to 375.

Cut your pie crust dough into quarters and roll it into 4 circles. They do not have to be perfect and they'll look more homemade if they're not. Set an apple half face up on each circle and drop 1T brown sugar, 1/4 T butter and 1/4 t cinnamon onto each. Wrap them up and place onto a baking sheet (or in a ramekin or other baking dish if you have the right size) and dust with a little more brown sugar and one more dollop of butter. You'll be glad you did. (See? This is why I need a juice cleanse.)
I crimped the edges here a wee bit. You can just spread the dough over top, too!
Bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Let cool about 15-20 minutes and add a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. Dig in!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Buttermilk Cake with Raspberry Buttercream

A month or so ago I noticed a very interesting trend in blogging: the buttermilk cake. What is buttermilk cake, I had to ask? If The Vanilla Bean Blog and Nothing But Delicious were creating these gorgeous white cakes with original frostings, surely I must join in on the fun!

The perfect opportunity came last week when my friends Tracey and Tracy, who are married to each other (they kept their last names to avoid confusion) and having a baby girl in November, came for an overnight visit. Perhaps it's that I love them so. Perhaps it's that they're having a girl. Perhaps it's that I'm just tickled pink that Tracy and I have been friends for 40 years (holy shit cow!), but I just had to make a pink cake. And because we don't do artificial coloring in our house, I had to make it pink naturally. So...butter, sugar and raspberries!

Buttermilk cake, it turns out, is a delicious vanilla cake that is the most versatile cake I've ever made. Using buttermilk gives the body a nice, silky crumb and the flavor a tiny, almost imperceptible kick. (Not dissimilar to a lighter pound cake.) It would go perfectly well with caramel frosting, All-American Chocolate, or strawberries and cream. As I've mentioned, in this case we went pink with raspberries and it was divine. Adding a thin layer of lemon curd and another thin layer of seedless raspberry jam to the filling and we had the perfect, very sweet, feminine cake. While this one is perfect for a tea party or afternoon celebration, it's really great anytime and so, so pretty. Try it!

xox,

A.



Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Nothing But Delicious 
1 C butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
3 C cake flour
3 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 t vanilla (or vanilla bean paste or the seeds from one vanilla bean)
1 C buttermilk (I used lowfat with great results)

Oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 9" cake pans and set them aside. 

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and then lightly whisk them together to blend. 

In your stand mixer (or a separate bowl), cream the butter on its own first until it's fluffy and lighter in color than when you started. Then, with the mixer running, slowly pour in the sugar and beat 3-5 minutes more, until the mixture is almost white and very pillowy.Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating them fully and scraping the sides of your bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat quickly. 

Alternating in 3 separate turns, add the flour and mix fully, then buttermilk and mix fully and so on.

Pour the batter into your pans, evenly distributing (as best you can) and bake for 18-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let the cakes cool fully before frosting. 

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting
1 C frozen raspberries, thawed
1 C unsalted butter, at room temp
5 C powdered sugar
1/2 t sea or kosher salt

Strain the raspberries so that no pulp nor seeds remain. 

Beat the butter on medium high until it's light and pillowy. Add the sugar in 2 batches, mixing thoroughly. Add the salt and mix quickly. With the mixer on, slowly drizzle the raspberry juice/seedless pulp and mix thoroughly. The coloration will vary depending upon how much raspberry you use and how deep the flavor of the berries.

To finish: using about 3T store bought or homemade lemon curd and 3T seedless raspberry jam, spread very thin layers of each onto the bottom layer of your cake and cover with buttercream. The fillings will blend a bit unless you freeze the cake between layers of filling, but I think a little blending never hurt anyone. Repeat this process on your second layer and then top with the third layer of cake. Frost fully and serve.
If your guests were anything like mine, this is what plates will look like within about 5 minutes. Hehe. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Apricot Almond Granola Bars

Now that we're all back to school, it seems like a good time to admit that my family doesn't so much eat as snack. Breakfast may consist of a little yogurt followed an hour later by some fruit. Mid-morning, there may be some crackers and cheese or half an apple slathered with a tablespoon of almond butter. The rest of the day is much the same until dinner, when we actually eat a meal. Perhaps we sit to eat dinner because that lovely meal (last night was hot dogs and baked beans. Oh, the glamour!) is followed by my favorite meal of the day: dessert! Yes, I consider dessert a meal. It's my hard-earned right after a day slaving away for these people and dog! Not that I'm justifying...

Okay, back to breakfast. My favorite morning snack is a cup of steaming hot English Breakfast tea with a bit of vanilla soymilk and a granola bar. I find that Lulu and Jeremy will pretty much eat what I'm eating (thank goodness!!!), so, I've been searching out the best granola bar recipes. Most of them are predictably sugary or fatty, but leave it to Smitten Kitchen to find an alternative. Now, I know I've been referencing this blog a lot lately, so, I promise this is my last recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cook book, for now anyway! I altered it quite a bit, so if you're a purist, you may want to buy her book.

I do plan to make this one over and over, because I like it that much but also to attempt to perfect it. While the recipe is delicious, the bars crumble easily and are a bit dry, which explains why so many others use more butter! Never fear, though, these are lovely with tea or popped into a lunch box and I will find the right balance of sweet, healthy, toasty and packable. In the meantime, make these and tell me in the comments if your family loves them as much as mine did.

xox,

A.

Apricot Almond Granola Bars
Makes 10 bars

1 C dried apricots, chopped
1-1/4 C oats
3 T flax seed meal
1/3 C wheat germ
1/2 C sliced toasted almonds
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 C almond or other nut butter
1/4 C olive oil
1/4 C honey
1/4 t almond extract

Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8"x8" pan with parchment (one long piece hanging over the sides is perfect).

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the almond butter, olive oil, honey and almond extract. In a separate medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients until thoroughly blended. Pour the wet mixture over the dry and stir until well incorporated.

Spread the batter into your pan and bake for 20 minutes or until they're nicely browned. It's kind of good to overbake these.

Let them cool and remove them from the pan in one big block. Put the block into the freezer for 15 minutes and then cut in half and then across 5 times, making 10 bars.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Red Velvet Cake

Classic Red Velvet Cake
Seven years ago this month I met the sweetest little 8 year-old cheerleader you ever did see. Michaela was a darling, shy, soft-spoken child who loved to cuddle up next to me, her then-auntie-to-be. This little darling turns 15 years old today. (Sigh.) She's now a fierce competitor on the volleyball court (indoor and beach!) who, at over 5'7", towers over most of us in the family and really never asks for so much as a hug anymore now that she's practically a grown up (I say in my best Eloise voice).

No matter how tall she is, she's still our family's little darling and when we all gathered last Sunday to celebrate her, naturally I made her favorite: Red Velvet Cake. The cake recipe is from Julie Richardson's trusty and gorgeous Vintage Cakes Cookbook but the frosting is a family recipe that I've shared on the blog before. The cake was a wee bit dense, but I blame myself for that. If you actually follow the steps rather than pouring all the wet ingredients into the bowl at once as I did, you will ensure yourself a lighter crumb. Let me just say, though, that the cake was truly yummy. Normally, I don't love that coating you get on your tongue that makes a velvet cake, but this one was mild and the cocoa flavor was bolder than I'm used to. I mean, anything chocolate pleases me!

My sweet little strong and confident Michaela seemed to like the cake a lot. The girl is a teenager, so, she wasn't effusive. But, she ate it all, as did everyone else so I'll take that as a good sign. The true test, though, is whether I liked it and not only did I, but I would absolutely, hands-down make this one again - maybe even following the directions next time!

Happy Birthday, lovely Michaela. You are a light to our whole family and I love you so. 

xox,

Auntie A.

red velvet cake for Michaelas birthday

Red Velvet Cake
Serves 12

2-1/2 C sifted cake flour
1/2 C lightly packed unsweetened cocoa (Ms. Richardson would insist upon the Dutch processed variety)
2 t baking powder
1 t fine sea salt
3/4 C oil
2 t vanilla
1 T red food coloring (I used a concentrated gel for maximum color)
3/4 C unsalted butter, at room temp
1-3/4 C sugar
4 large eggs, at room temp
2 large egg yolks, at room temp
1 C buttermilk, at room temp

One and one half recipes Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
Recipe here

First, prep 3 9" cake pans by buttering and cocoa-ing them. So, spread a little butter around, getting it into the grooves of the pan and then sprinkle about 1 t cocoa and tap the pan until it's coated. And then add a parchment paper pan liner (or cut parchment into a 9" circle and drop it in).

Preheat the oven to 350.

In a small bowl, sift together:
flour
cocoa
baking powder
salt
then whisk until well mixed.

In another small bowl, combine:
oil
vanilla
food coloring

Beat the butter & sugar together until they're light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides several times to make sure it all gets incorporated well.

Slowly drizzle the oil mixture into the butter & sugar, running your mixer at low speed until blended, and then beat on medium until fluffy. Add the eggs, then the yolks, one at a time, incorporating fully after each.

turn your mixer on low and alternate adding the cocoa mixture with the buttermilk in 3 separate additions each. So, add a little cocoa and fully mix. Add a little buttermilk and mix. Repeat and repeat. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter into the prepped pans and bake in the center of your calibrated oven for 18-25 minutes. If you're using only 2 pans, it will take more like 25-30 minutes, so, keep an eye on them.

Cool these cakes at least 30 minutes before removing them from their pans. I waited 2 hours, but I had that kind of time. If you don't, put them into the freezer for 15 minutes or so and use extra care removing them from their pans.

Make your frosting. 

Place one layer onto your cake plate and spread about 1/2 C frosting. Repeat with the next layer and then add the top layer. I highly recommend frosting with a crumb layer and placing the cake into the fridge about 30 minutes to firm up before frosting with the rest of the frosting and making it pretty.
Red Velvet Cake Slice Baking a Love Story
Let it set about 30 more minutes (or while you eat dinner), place your candles, sing Happy Birthday and EAT.
Top View Red Velvet Baking a Love Story
Don't expect leftovers. ;)