October 20, 2012

Pumpkin Cookies

If you've ever had a pumpkin whoopie pie, prepare to celebrate because these are just like the cookies in a whoopie pie. They are soft and moist, more like heavenly bite-sized droplets of cake than cookies. I make them exceptionally small to get the texture just right, but be careful or you'll end up inhaling half a dozen of them.

Don't feel bad, though; they really aren't that bad for you. At least when you compare them to all the other (inferior) cookies you've had in the past. Because of the incredible amount of pumpkin, these cookies are chock-full of those things called vitamins. Oh yes, I said it. The mortal enemy of dessert, something actually healthy, is in something this delicious. How could that be? Well, you'll just have to make this recipe and find out.

2 T Sugar
1 1/3 Cups Brown Sugar
1 Stick Butter, Softened
1 Egg
2 tsp Vanilla
1 Cup Pumpkin Puree*
2 Cups Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
1/4 tsp Baking Soda
1/8 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cinnamon
1/4 tsp Ginger
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Allspice
1/8 tsp Cloves

*If you use a standard can, you'll have just enough to make a batch of pumpkin cinnamon buns

Heat oven to 350F. Line cookie trays with parchment.

Combine the cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.

Cream the sugar, brown sugar, and butter together until fluffy. Add the egg, vanilla, and pumpkin puree. Fold in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 1/2 tsp of the spice mixture.

Using a small cookie scoop, roll the dough into balls. Place on the prepared trays and bake for 12-14 minutes or until golden.

Makes 30
Recipe Adapted from Marcy Goldman

October 10, 2012

Caramel Apple Tartlets with Walnut Crumble

This is a very meaningful recipe to me; it's been my go-to dish for various important moments in my life, from being the winning dessert at the 2011 Share Our Strength Great American Baking Contest to, as of October 11, being featured on CBS Better Mornings Atlanta. It is so comforting and is the epitome of this time of year, so I hope you love it just as much as I do.

I start with my basic pie crust. Yes, you can buy a roll at the store and cut it into rounds, but why do that if you can make your own? It's surprisingly easy and can be made in minutes. I use butter, not shortening or lard, because it is much more flavorful and is still pretty flaky and light. Again, always use unsalted butter so you can regulate the salt content. I cut it into rounds that fit a mini muffin tin, and mine needs to be about 2 1/2 inches in diameter to reach the top. Yours may be different, but it should be close to that so that you keep the balance of flavors and the bite-size portions.

Now for the apples. I cut mine in a very small dice so that they cook perfectly and you bite into more than one piece when you eat the tartlets. To add a punch of flavor, I toss them in some sugar and fall-esque spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. This part smells SO good by the way. If you are feeling a little daring, splash in a few spoonfuls of apricot brandy. It is my secret ingredient and gives it a complex flavor without overwhelming the apples. You certainly don't have to do this, but it does add something special.

After piling the apples into the tartlet shells, I drown them in caramel sauce, the same one used in my Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns. It bakes into the tartlets and perfumes them with that sweetness unique to caramel. I drizzle more on after they are cooked, but adding some before baking flavors the whole tartlet and gives it a delicious stickiness.

But where are the walnuts? They are a crucial part of this recipe, and I pile them high on top of the tartlets in two ways. The crumble has chunks of walnuts as well as walnut flour. Walnut flour can be difficult to find and very expensive, but it is so easy to make your own. Simply grind up some walnuts in a food processor or chop them very finely by hand until powdery. Just make sure that they are cool when you do this or you will end up with walnut butter (think peanut butter made with walnuts). I also mix in some chopped walnuts to add crunch and nuttiness.

This is by far one of my favorite recipes. It reminds me of some of my favorite cooking experiences, and it just tastes fantastic. It is perfect for fall because I associate apples, walnuts, caramel, and all those delicious spices with this time of year. They are the perfect size, too, since they are so small. The flavors are simple yet sophisticated, and they are all wrapped up in one perfect bite!

1 Recipe Pie Crust (See Below)
1 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1/8 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Allspice
1/8 tsp Cloves
3/4 Cup flour
1/2 T Walnut Flour
1/2 Cup Chopped Walnuts, Toasted
7.5 T Butter
2-3 Golden Delicious Apples
3/4 Cup + 3 T Dark Brown Sugar
3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
1/2 Vanilla Bean or 1 tsp Vanilla Extract
1/4 Cup Apricot Brandy, Optional
4 1/2 T Sugar
Pinch Salt

Pie Crust:
1 1/4 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 tsp Salt
1 Stick Butter, Chilled
1 Egg Yolk

Pulse the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse until small pieces remain. Combine the egg yolk with a tablespoon of cold water and add in. Pulse until it begins to form a ball, adding more water as necessary. Chill.

Roll out the pie crust and cut into 2.5" circles. Place in a greased mini muffin tin and chill.

Combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, the heavy cream, vanilla extract or vanilla bean pod and seeds, and 3T butter in a small pot. Bring to a boil and cook until thick, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool; remove the vanilla bean pod, if using.

Combine the flour, remaining brown sugar, 3T sugar, walnut flour, and salt. Add 4.5T butter and the chopped walnuts. Chill.

Core, peel, and dice the apples. Toss with the brandy (if using), remaining sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Place a spoonful of apples in each dough-lined cup. Drizzle with caramel and top with some crumble. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden and bubbling. Cool completely, then drizzle with more caramel.

Makes 20

October 6, 2012

Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns

Everyone loves a good cinnamon bun. The combination of warm, soft bread and sweet, sticky cinnamon filling is prefect on a cool Fall day, and it is made even better by mixing in some pumpkin. First, we need to distinguish between sticky buns and cinnamon buns. Sticky buns are cinnamon buns baked in a pool of caramel and then drizzled with even more of it after they are baked. cinnamon buns are served plain or with that delicious sugary icing. My pumpkin cinnamon buns have elements of both; I don't bake them in caramel, but I do douse them with a few spoonfuls of mock caramel sauce.

The caramel sauce for these treats is not real caramel. Real caramel is tricky and dangerous; to make it, you boil sugar and water until amber and then whisk in cream and sometimes some other minor ingredients. It burns easily and you can get burned easily as well. Overall, it's just not much fun to make but definitely worth it, so I decided to make a topping that tastes just like it but is much faster and less painful. Instead of boiling the sugar and adding the cream, I combine brown sugar, cream, and butter and boil them all together. The brown sugar gives it color and a complex flavor from the molasses, and the butter gives it a nice richness. The cream, of course, makes it creamy and velvety. Best of all, you don't have to watch it constantly and add ingredients at just the right moment since you just let the mixture boil until it thickens.

My favorite part of both cinnamon buns and sticky buns is the bread. Yes, it is bread; it has yeast and lots of flour and is kneaded. That, to me at least, is bread. Don't be intimidated, though, because this bread is exceptionally easy to make. It only proofs (rises) twice, and both times are relatively short. This is proof (no pun intended) that not all breads require hours slaving away in the kitchen.

And finally, we have that signature swirl. Yes, the streusel. The main reason most people eat cinnamon buns and sticky buns. That spiral of yumminess and cinnamon and sugar and all that is good in this world. So simple, yet so good. The streusel perfumes the whole bun with cinnamon and gives it an extra punch of flavor. Honestly, I can't see pumpkin without cinnamon. The two just go together so well, so I actually doubled the amount of streusel the original recipe called for (don't judge me for that until you try it).

2 1/4 tsp Yeast (1 Packet)
4-5 Cups Flour
3/4 Cup Pumpkin Puree
1/3 Cup Milk
4 T Butter, Melted
6 T Butter, Chilled
2 T Butter
1 1/4 Cups Dark Brown Sugar
1 1/4 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
5 tsp Cinnamon
1/2 Cup Cream
2/3 Cup Chopped Toasted Pecans, Optional

Combine the yeast, 1 tsp sugar, and 1/4 cup warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let stand for 5 minutes. Add 3 cups flour, pumpkin, milk, 1/2 stick melted butter, 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp salt, and nutmeg. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour as necessary, about 6-8 minutes.

Grease a large bowl and add the dough, turning to coat. Cover with plastic and let rise for 45 minutes or until doubled.

Meanwhile, combine the remaining 3/4 cup sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1 stick melted butter

Roll the dough out to an 11x15" slab. Spread on the streusel and press lightly to adhere. Roll up so that it is a 15" log and cut into 12 slices. Place the slices in a greased small Pyrex pan, cover, and let rise for 25 minutes. It can be chilled overnight at this point.

Heat oven to 375F. Bake for 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Makes 12
Recipe Adapted from Back to the Cutting Board