Playing with pumpkin


Fall is the season for warm flavors. At this time of year, I find myself using cinnamon, nutmeg, apples and pumpkin more often than any other season.

Pumpkin is one of my favorite ingredients to play with. It can be used in sweet dishes such as pies and muffins or turned into something savory such as pumpkin soup. Since I haven’t had a lot of time to bake lately, I went with another quick bread this week. Pumpkin-chocolate chip bread, to be exact.

The original recipe made two loaves, but I only had enough pumpkin for one. Just as I was about to put it in the oven, I remembered I had a small amount of coconut left that needed to be used, so I threw it on top of the batter in the pan. I liked the texture it gave the top.

If you let this bread cool for the time the recipe recommends, you’ll end up with a moist loaf that is easy to cut through. I’ve found that cutting certain breads right after they come out of the oven can cause them to break apart. Let this one cool. It’s worth the wait.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
3/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
(Optional: 1 tablespoon coconut, brown sugar or oats)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan.

Combine flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a large bowl. In another bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, pumpkin and oil. Stir into dry ingredients until just moistened. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into loaf pan. Top with coconut, brown sugar or oats. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan and placing on wire rack.

Fall baking is a piece of cake


As lower temperatures enter the weather forecast, my thoughts have turned to fall baking — apples, pumpkin, soups and comfort foods.

I joined Pinterest a couple months ago and have built up quite the board of recipes I want to try. Last week I saw a pin for this apple coffee cake. I added it to my “Recipes to try” board and actually got around to it. The recipe calls for two layers of apples, one in the middle and one on top. The apples in the middle stayed moist and provided a nice fresh layer to break up what would otherwise just be a piece of moist cake. The apples on top got a bit dry in the baking process so, if you want them to stay moist, you could save some of the batter for a third layer on top of the second layer of apples.

Though it smelled delicious while it was baking, I wasn’t crazy about this coffee cake at first; but it grew on me the next day after reheating a piece for breakfast. The flavors had time to come together. The cake had a nice crumb, the apples had just the right balance of sweetness and tartness and the cinnamon added a welcome dose of spice. It wasn’t overpowering; it was light enough without being devoid of flavor.

I took the coffee cake to work the next day and my coworkers devoured it. I don’t know if anything I’ve bought to work has received such rave reviews. It must have hit the spot for them.

5 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon of cinnamon
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/2 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven at 350 degrees and grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, toss sliced apples, 1/3 cup of sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl and set aside. If you’re at high altitude, cook the apples, cinnamon and sugar in a pan over medium heat until the apples are soft. I’ve found that fruit doesn’t bake the same and often comes out too crisp in the final product, so cooking them beforehand ensures that they’ll be the consistency you prefer. Remember to use half the amount of baking powder, too.

In a mixing bowl combine flour, 2 cups sugar, baking powder, vanilla, eggs, salt, orange juice, apple sauce and vegetable oil. Mix well. Pour half the batter into baking dish and arrange apple slices on top. Pour and spread the rest of the batter on top of the apples. Bake for 60 minutes or until done. Cut coffee cake into squares and serve warm.

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Sweet strawberry-filled success

Strawberry oatmeal loaf

When I’m not in the mood to tackle regular bread recipes, I opt for a quick bread. I like quick breads because there’s no rising process and I can usually find a recipe that uses ingredients I have on hand.

One of my favorite quick bread recipes is this Oatmeal-strawberry bread. The bread is sweet and moist and makes a nice treat or breakfast with a cup of coffee; not to mention it smells delicious while it’s baking. It would also make a great snack for kids.

I often have strawberries around and there are few recipes that use strawberries correctly — most breads and muffins that incorporate them end up with large soggy spots where the berries are. For this recipe, take the time to slice the strawberries so they’re thin. If you leave them in chunks, the bread will get too soggy in spots or the strawberries will sink to the bottom of the loaf. I know this from experience. Also make sure to grease the bottom of the pan well, or the bottom of the loaf will break off when the loaf is being taken out of the pan. Check the bread with a toothpick about 10 minutes before it should be done baking. If you’re at high altitude, use 1/2 teaspoon baking powder instead of a full teaspoon or it won’t come out correctly. It may need to bake longer, too.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
10 ounces fresh strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 7-inch-by-3-inch loaf pan.

Stir together the flour, 3/4 cups rolled oats, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.

In another bowl, whisk together the vegetable oil and eggs; stir into flour mixture until just moistened. Fold in strawberries. Pour into the prepared loaf pan, and sprinkle the tops with the remaining 2 tablespoons of rolled oats.

Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the strawberry bread in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling completely on a wire rack.

Pita made from scratch


Breads have always been difficult for me. I’ve had them turn out too dry, not fully cooked in the center or fail to rise in the dough stage on many occasions. I tend to avoid making them, usually because of the long process, but sometimes because I’ve felt discouraged.

A few weeks ago, while grocery shopping, I was in the bread aisle and about to buy some pita bread when I thought, “Maybe I should try to make it instead.” Today, I finally got around to that challenge.

I found this recipe through a Google search, and it seemed simple enough for a first-time pita baker.

My apartment tends to be cold, so, when I got to the three-hour rising stage, I covered the bowl in plastic wrap and set it in the sun. That did the trick.

The recipe says to divide the dough into 10-12 pieces. I did 12 and baked them in three batches of four to give them enough space on the baking pan. If I were to make these again, I would only do 10 pieces because the final rounds were smaller than I wanted them to be. If you’re planning to stuff these for a meal, you’ll want them to be bigger.

I live in the mountains, so there are altitude challenges as well. I follow each recipe the first time I make it in order to figure out what adjustments I’ll need to make in the future. In the case of this recipe, I noticed the first batch of pita was cooked a little harder than I wanted it to be, so I reduced the first cooking time (four minutes) to three minutes for the second batch. The second batch came out with more of a golden color. I was initially worried about how stiff the pita appeared when I took it out of the oven but, after I immediately put them in the bags, they steamed themselves to a softer consistency. I let them sit in the bags for about an hour before I dug in. The end result was still a little stiff around the edges, but I was able to open them and stuff them.

Not bad for my first attempt.

1 package of yeast, or quick-rising yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup lukewarm water

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy.

Combine flour and salt in large bowl. Make a small depression in the middle of flour and pour yeast water in depression. Slowly add 1 cup of warm water and stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until elastic.

Place dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer sticky and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded. Coat large bowl with vegetable oil and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all of the dough is coated. Allow to sit in a warm place for about 3 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Once doubled, roll out in a rope, and pinch off 10-12 small pieces. Place balls on floured surface. Let sit covered for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 500 deg F. and make sure rack is at the very bottom of oven. Be sure to also preheat your baking sheet.

Roll out each ball of dough with a rolling pin into circles. Each should be about 5-6 inches across and 1/4-inch thick.

Bake each circle for 4 minutes until the bread puffs up. Turn over and bake for 2 minutes.

Remove each pita with a spatula from the baking sheet and add additional pitas for baking.

Take spatula and gently push down puff. Immediately place in storage bags.