Baked Pumpkin Bread

While we prepare for Hurricane Sandy here in Brooklyn, I thought it would be good to make a nice autumn quick bread. Pumpkin Bread! I forgot how delicous it was until my husband and I bought some from a little girl on the sidewalk selling some. Think lemonade stand, but replace that image with warm, nutmug bread. Yum.

So since schools have been shut down for tomorrow because of the storm and parts of the neighborhood have been evacuated, I decided what better time to make a loaf? The grocery store trip that was supposed to be just a quick stop, ended up being forty minutes in line because everyone decided to stockpile.  Other customers bought water and crackers and canned soup. I bought sugar for baking. Go figure.

One of my least favorite parts of being pregnant is that I can’t lick the bowl when making chocolate chip cookies. However, with this recipe, I can add all the ingredients, eat as much batter as I please and then add the egg in at the end and not touch a drop of it. It may sound crazy, but it is my favorite part of baking. My sisters have often complained about my fingers getting in the way of their baking.

I took this recipe from allrecipes.com. It was listed under “healthy’ options, but don’t be disappointed. It was really delicious. I think the biggest difference is it cut down the egg and butter ingredients and replaced it with buttermilk. It is no way a low sugar bread.

Pumpkin Bread

Recipe Type: Baked Goods
Cuisine: Dessert/Breakfast
Author: All Recipes
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 60 mins
Total time: 1 hour 10 mins
Serves: 8
An easy 10 minute mix and then an hour in the oven.
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup of solid pack pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup of brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp of butter, softened
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix all the dry ingredients together and then the pumpkin, brown sugar, buttermilk, egg and butter until well blended. Pour into a 9 by 5 inch loaf pan.
  2. Bake for 1 hour or until a knife or toothpick comes out clean from center.

So it’s really sort of amusing.  As my oldest sister works a ton of hours, takes care of two kids and somehow manages to make homemade salsa along with tons of other amazing treats, and my other sister is off scavenging for walnuts (ps, don’t forget to enter her giveaway here!) I find a bit of time to actually make me some quick bread! Well, hopefully I am still living up to my reputation as the sister with the easiest cooking advice.

See Sara’s Super-Moist Sweet Potato Bread and Whole Grain Sweet Potato Muffins for more fall treats.

Rose Cake (Guest Post)

A little while ago I posted an amazing-looking cake on my facebook page.  Kathy, my “aunt-in-law” (or whatever one calls one’s husband’s aunt), noticed this post–and soon began posting pictures of her own takes on this cake to her facebook page.  When I saw what an amazing array of rose cakes she was turning out, I asked if she could explain how she does it, and she wrote Three Clever Sisters’ very first guest post!

Thanks Kathy–this is the next best thing to having a slice myself!  

Every once in a while, you see  something and you just have to try it. That’s how I felt when Three Clever Sisters posted a photo of the gorgeous Neapolitan Rose Cake from i am baker.  It turns out Rose Cakes are easy to make. All you need are some 1M (very large star) decorating tips (you only need one tip if you want all your roses to be the same color) and a batch of buttercream. If you would like to make a basket of roses, such as the one pictured above, you will also need a number 47 tip. And it helps to have a turntable to set your cake on and a small step stool to set your turntable on, so that when you pipe your roses, the cake is raised about a foot off the table. You can cover a cake with roses in ten minutes.  If you have a more time (30 minutes or so) and would like your cake to be a little less icing- intense, pipe a basket weave onto the sides of it and just pipe roses on top.

Any layer cake recipe will work.  I made a chocolate cake and filled it with chocolate ganache, but of course, you just ice your center layer with buttercream and save even more time.

Here is a great recipe for buttercream that pipes well.  Change the flavor by replacing vanilla with other extracts (it usually takes a little more extract for other flavors to come through, for instance, orange buttercream takes 3 – 4 T of orange extract to taste orangey).    If you want to make chocolate buttercream (which is also nice for a basket weave pattern), replace a cup of sugar with a cup of cocoa (Hershey’s is fine) and increase the salt to ¾ tsp.

Vanilla Buttercream   (Yes, this makes a lot, and yes, you need a lot!)

  • 2 cups of butter (room temperature)
  • 6 – 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • 2 T vanilla
  • 4 T heavy cream or more

Beat butter with paddle on medium speed.  Add 6 cups of sugar and mix on low speed so it doesn’t blow all over the place.  Increase speed of mixer and add vanilla and cream.  Test consistency (icing should hold its shape – kind of like the “stiff peaks” stage of beating egg whites) and keep adding sugar or cream until you get there.

To ice the cake:

First, spread a crumb coat. Cover the entire cake with a thin coat of icing.  This both provides a nice background color for your decorating and helps the piped roses adhere.

Next, pipe on your basket. (Skip this step if you would like to cover the entire cake with roses, a simpler techniques that brings very beautiful results.) This is not nearly as difficult as it might seem; you just need to keep your wits about you as you pipe.   Using a coupler, fit a number 47 tip onto your pastry bag and fill the bag with about half your frosting.  If you have never worked with a pastry bag before, fear not.  Just snip the tip off the bottom of the bag, push the coupler through the hole in the bag, and fasten the tip on.  Then fold over the sides of the bag, fill it with frosting, squeeze it down and twist the bag to make sure it is nice and tight.

First, pipe a straight vertical line from the top to the bottom of side of your cake. (step 1)  Then pipe three parallel horizontal lines across the vertical line, so that the vertical line bisects each line.  (step 2) Then pipe another vertical line so that the right edge of each horizontal line is covered (step 3) Then, filling in the square spaces created by the intersection of the second vertical line with the horizontal lines, pipe horizontal lines across the second vertical line, so that that vertical line bisects the horizontal lines (step 4).  Repeat process until the side of the cake is covered.  If you like, you can pipe a straight line along the bottom edge of your cake to finish off your basket weave.  I have done a simple shell pattern line here, but a basic line will do just fine.

Finally, pipe your roses!   You can make roses all one color or split your buttercream into several bowls and add a few drops of food coloring to each for a multi-color bouquet.    You don’t need a coupler for the large 1M tip; just cut ¾ inch off the tip of your pastry bag and push the 1M tip through. Fill your bag with icing and push it all the way to the tip, again, twisting together the top of the bag and applying pressure so there are no air holes.  If you are covering the entire cake with roses, begin on the sides, at the bottom. Apply gentle pressure until you make a little blob of icing (step 1) and then just rotate your tip around the blob one (step 2) or two (step 3)complete rotations (depending on how big you want your rose to be).  Voila! A rose has blossomed.

Pipe another rose next to the first one and continue around the cake.  Then pipe a row of roses above the bottom one, spacing them so that you cover the side of the cake.  Don’t worry, if you have any noticeable spaces between your roses, just pipe a little blobby swirl in any gap and no one will notice.

To cover the top of your cake with roses, begin at the outside edge (covering your basket edge) and work toward the center, using the technique described above.

Whether you just pipe roses

Or, you pipe the basket too…


Your cake will be pretty!  Happy piping!

 

“Exceptionally Good” Macaroons

My love of coconut is a new thing.  We didn’t eat much of it when we were growing up, so I didn’t bake with it much.  With so many other tasty options in bakeries, I would go for the good ol’ standby rather than try something new.  My attitude seems to be more “why mess with a good thing?” than my sisters.  I remember Sara made coconut cupcakes for little E’s first birthday and sent home the extra flaked coconut home with Marie who was visiting.  I thought, “huh.  Coconut?”  Slightly intrigued and yet since I was on the other coast during that birthday I had still not had the occasion to enjoy.

Last year, Paul sent me this picture:

A picture is worth a thousand words, right?

It was a chocolate dipped coconut macaroon.  He bought this delicacy at the Mt. Bachelor ski lodge near Bend, Oregon.  It’s about a 3 1/2 hour drive from where I live now in Portland, so the treat did not make it to me for a sample.  However, he discovered they were ALSO sold at Kettleman’s Bagels, which happened to be in my neighborhood and in my work neighborhood.  These macaroons were the size of your fist, sweet coconut goodness with just the right amount of chocolate.  Wow.  Love.  Sometimes we’d split the macaroon sometimes we’d each get our own.  Occasionally my boss and I would treat ourselves on a particularly tedious Friday afternoon.  She’s a fan too.

I mention that Kettleman’s HAPPENED to be in the neighborhood.  Past tense.  A few months ago it was bought out by Einstein’s bagels.  Much of the locavore community here in Portland was up in arms with the diminished selection of bagels (a controversy that was dubbed “Bagelgate“).  They took to facebook indeed!  I, however, have mourned the coconut macaroons.  Resigned with the knowledge that the treats were no more, I decided it was time to learn how to make them.

I found this Alice Medrich recipe on Salt and Serenity via my good friend Lis.

Were I to do this again, I’d try with shredded coconut to be more in line with my original favorite, but as one recipient commented, they are “exceptionally good” macaroons.

Exceptionally Good Macaroons

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 3 1/2 cups (5.25 ounces) unsweetened dried flaked (not shredded) coconut, also called coconut chips OR 3 cups (9 ounces) sweetened dried shredded coconut
  • 3/4 cup (5.25 ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • Slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper or foil Set aside.

2. Combine all of the ingredients in a large heatproof mixing bowl, Set the bowl directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir the mixture with a silicone spatula, scraping the bottom to prevent burning, until the mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and turned from translucent to opaque, 5 to 7 minutes. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

4. Using 2 tablespoons of batter, make attractive heaps 2 inches apart on the lined cookie sheets.

Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

5. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for 10 to 15 minutes and again rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, you can lower the heat to 300°F.  I also covered them with a little foil because I don’t prefer them too dark.

6. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool. If you plan to add chocolate, press a small piece of your favorite chocolate into the cookies while they are still hot.  I tried semi-sweet chocolate and dark chocolate – whatever suits your fancy!


7. Let cool completely before gently peeling the parchment away from each cookie. The cookies are best on the day they are baked—the exterior is crisp and chewy and the interior soft and moist. Although the crispy edges will soften, the cookies remain delicious stored in an airtight container for 4 days.

Coconut Vegan Brownies – Mixed Review

Sometimes you just want steak.  Most ominvores would say that when confronted with a vegetarian meal.  The corollary for vegetarians presented with vegan brownies would probably be, “sometimes you just want butter and eggs … and milk chocolate.”

I will fully admit the error of my ways.  I was trying to avoid the extra ingredient involved in making vegan brownies that well, didn’t taste just a little funky.  I found a recipe that called for what was sitting in the pantry — cocoa powder, flour, sugar, oil, baking soda, and no need for the soy yogurt, etc. I also found a recipe for “macaroon brownies” — the regular kind, and I thought I could easily combine the two.  Sad.  That was the result.  Sad.

I followed the recipe here:

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

And proceed to combine and mix.

And then I departed for the recipe here:

Essentially, I mixed 4 cups of coconut with 1 cup of soy milk and 1TB of vanilla.  I then poured half the brownie batter into the prepared, 9 x 13 pan and then dropped the coconut mixture evenly over the top and then poured the remaining batter over that.

I baked for about 30 or 45 minutes.  Finally, from the oven, they looked intriguing, and I was so excited — a coconut brownie!  YUM!  Well, not so much.  Paul though they were “okay” if a bit “dry” and then there was that odd “taste.”  I’m guessing that was the old vegetable oil I was using…  His recommendation — “these need frosting.  Cream cheese frosting.”

The next day at Fred Meyer I purchased the powdered sugar and the tofutti cream cheese.  I couldn’t remember if cream cheese frosting needed butter too (it does), but I didn’t want to buy it (Clevering penny-pinching strikes again!).  At home, I tried to make the frosting without the butter.  It was too glossy and just didn’t have the right richness.  And tofutti has a bit of a funky taste.  Apparently I have a refined palate these days.  I reserved a little frosting for myself and then proceeded to taint the vegan “cream cheese” frosting with REAL butter.  I topped off the brownies and added some more coconut for a flair. They passed the test and were even shared with work.

My pure vegan brownies were shared with the trash.

Lesson learned.  Perhaps.

Modern Baker Challenge: Lime-Scented Wafers

I don’t make cookies as often as you might expect–for someone who blogs a lot about baking, if you poke around here enough you’ll note that my posts on this topic are scant.  It’s probably just a matter of taking the easy way out–I just prefer something I can stir together and dump into a pan all at one go.  (So when I figured out that you can basically bake muffins as a quick bread, you can guess what happened).

Lime Scented Wafers (1 of 5)

However, I did sign up for the Modern Baker Challenge, and a few weeks ago, you might just recall, was Christmas, so it’s practically obligatory to turn a few batches of cookies out of the oven.  With no particular plan in mind I leafed through my second copy of the Modern Baker down in DC. (It’s not because I’m obsessed that I have a spare:  Nick Malgieri was kind enough to send all us participants a personalized signed copy so I now have two, which turned out to be quite convenient).  I paused at the page for the lime-scented wafers–citrusy, simple, with a single batch turning out enough to feed a crowd, this seemed like the perfect option.

Lime Scented Wafers (2 of 5)

This is nothing more than a basic roll cookie–formed into a tube, chilled, and sliced–scented with lime juice, coated in lime zest and sugar crust.  Pretty simple, but like many things that are simple, difficult to get absolutely perfect.  Aesthetically at least.  It might be failure begetting failure, with me making bar cookies too infrequently to get the technique down, but my carefully rolled cylinders always emerge from the fridge flattened at the base.  So instead of crisp little cookie disks I get something looking either like a deflated tire or worse, a badly drawn rectangle.  I tried to smoosh them back into the desired shape as I placed them one by one onto the baking sheet but it got to be tedious, and with the dough softening more and more I wasn’t improving matters.  For those of you baking along, I also ended up using only about half of the lime sugar coating.    I meant to find some creative use for it, but with kitchen real estate being very tight in a full house, down the garbage disposal it eventually went.  If you make these, I’d say you only need half the quantity called for.

Lime Scented Wafers (3 of 5)

Fortunately, I am not a professional baker, and my in-laws are not so fussy about the details as long as the cookie tastes as it should.  (Substance over form here, people).  Crisp and fragrant, with a crunchy sugar edge, it was a welcome component of my husband’s family’s traditional “Platter of Sin.”  They softened a bit after a few days, but were still being happily nibbled on.

Lime Scented Wafers (4 of 5)

So while these cookies were definitely not a disappointment (and there was an impressive quantity of them), I’d still say I have to work out a few kinks before I become a cookie-making superhero.  In the meantime, if there’s any secret tricks you’d care to share, I’m all ears.

I leave you with a shot of the infamous Platter of Sin.  And be assured, that’s only a small portion of it, lest you have any fears that it’s not sinful enough.

Lime Scented Wafers (5 of 5)

Christmas Cookies-A Recap

That’s it. Nothing too out of the ordinary.  I decided to make some Christmas cookies when I realized I otherwise wasn’t going to get through the Modern Baker Challenge chapter on cookies, and that this was the perfect motivation.

Then, weeks passed and I realized that it’s was going to be really hard to make the more challenging raspberry sandwiches as opposed to making the very simple sugar cookies. I also had a hard time imagining the more fancy cookies in the shapes of dancing reindeer and glitter. Williams Sonoma have some great cookie cutters and stamps and rollers that you can roll into the dough after you cut the shape. Christmas trees, ornaments, and snowflakes. Gotta love em. If anyone is inspired by these amazing cookies (hmph) then Sara’s favorite King Arthur Flour also has a great selection available for the future holidays. Every holiday seems to have a cookie shape now. Take your pick.

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I would say the hardest part of making these cookies was the icing. I really thought that I could ice them just like the box picture. Not so. Not so. The more fun I had rolling stars and bells in the cookies, the more I was cursing under my breath to get the icing in the right lines. The easiest ended up being the snowflakes with the straight lines believe it or not. Squiggly lines are so easy to mess up if they aren’t symmetrical and straight lines are easy when there is a indentation to follow.

Either way the best part of the entire project was bagging them in the clear baggies. I got to put these really cute gift tags on all of them (for my friends in NYC) and they covered up the flaw here or there. Also a handful of M and M’s at the bottom of the bag doesn’t make anyone upset so why not?

Maybe next year, I’ll graduate up to a Modern Baker cookie. 😉

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Recipes

Sugar Cookies:

Below is the recipe that I got right from the William Sonoma website! I also bought the food dye from William Sonoma. A couple people have asked what type of dye I used. At William Sonoma it’s called “Food Paste-Vivid Color.” Before I refrigerated the dough, I divided it into three parts and re-blended the dough with the color (only about 2-3 drops) in the mixer. The color turned out fantastic and I’m excited to use them again.

16 Tbs. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room
temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 piece vanilla bean, about 2 inches long, or
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
Colored sugars and decorating pens

Directions:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the flat beater, beat together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and, using a small, sharp knife, scrape the seeds into the butter mixture. If using vanilla extract, add it now. Mix well.

In a sifter, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Sift the flour mixture directly onto the butter mixture. Reduce the speed to low and beat until well mixed.

Turn the dough out onto a work surface and divide into 4 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball, then flatten the balls into disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. (The dough can be prepared up to 3 days ahead.) Let it soften slightly at room temperature before continuing.

Position a rack in the upper third of an oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 2 large baking sheets.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out a dough disk 1/4 inch thick. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes. Transfer the cutouts to the prepared baking sheets. Gather up and reroll the scraps and cut out more cookies. Repeat with the remaining dough disks.

Bake until the cookies are golden on the edges, about 8 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks and let cool completely. Decorate the cookies as desired with colored sugars and decorating pens. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Makes 24 to 30 cookies, depending on cutter size.

Royal Icing:

So I have been searching for the exact recipe I used for my royal icing. Sad to say, I can’t find the exact one.

Here is a variation:

1lb of confectioners sugar
2 egg whites
Lemon juice from one lemon

Mix it up and taste. It’s fabulous……
If it’s too runny just add more sugar until it’s stiff. It’s then easy to add to the frosting bags. I used the smallest tip possible for the lines on my stars but then my arms got tired and when I went to my trees and ornaments, I mixed things up in order to finish quicker!