Light, delightful coconut bread

coconutbread

Spring gets me in the mood to make quick breads with fresh fruit and light flavors. I had a bag of unsweetened coconut in my cupboard that had gone unused for months, so I decided it was time to put it to good use. I came across this recipe for coconut bread from Smitten Kitchen and decided it was the best way to use it.

I don’t like overly sweet breads so, though her recipe called for sweetened coconut, I used the unsweetened coconut I had without adding any sugar, and it was perfect. The bread is light, fluffy, and slightly sweet.

Heed the warning not to overmix the batter. I did that on my first attempt and it made the bread far too dense. The second time around, it was perfect.

Ingredient
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups sweetened flaked coconut
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted or melted and browned, if desired
Vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray for baking pan

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add sugar and coconut, and stir to mix. Make a well in the center, and pour in egg mixture, then stir wet and dry ingredients together until just combined. Add butter, and stir until just smooth — be careful not to overmix.

Butter and flour a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or coat it with a nonstick spray. Spread batter in pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, anywhere from 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan five minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack.

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Gingerbread that works

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The fourth item in my countdown isn’t a cookie. It’s a gingerbread cupcake.

Gingerbread has never been a seasonal flavor I get excited about. The flavor always tends to be either too harsh or not quite right — at least in cookie form.

A few years ago, I saw this recipe for Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting. I went into it expecting to be disappointed, but was surprised at how much I enjoyed them. Putting the gingerbread flavor into a cupcake resulted in a lighter version of the flavor, one that wasn’t overwhelming. The frosting was really good, too. Together, they made a wonderful pair. If cookies aren’t your thing, I recommend this cupcake recipe for the holidays.

On another note, for those of you looking for gifts for the cooks in your family, check out my Pinterest board. It contains many of my favorite kitchen items, and contains items for any price range. I hope it helps you find the perfect gift.

Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons unsulphured molasses
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pan with baking cup liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour and spices; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the molasses until incorporated. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla. Add flour and mix on low speed until just combined.

Fill the cupcake papers three-quarters full, making sure that the batter is divided evenly. Bake cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center of them comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire rack 10 minutes, then transfer cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cinnamon

To make the cinnamon cream frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Add cinnamon and vanilla extract and beat until combined.

Place frosting into a large decorating bag fitted with a decorating tip and approximately 1/4-inch above cupcake top at a 90° angle to cupcake surface, pipe a spiral of icing, beginning at the outer edge and working inward.

Seasonal cake worth celebrating

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It’s time to jump on the pumpkin bandwagon. Pinterest is exploding with fall recipes and Starbucks has its Pumpkin Spice Latte back in stores. Two occasions at the end of October provided a good reason to bust out my cans of pumpkin puree. The first was my sports editor’s last day. The second is my dad’s birthday, which falls on Halloween.

My sports editor loves pumpkin-flavored things, so the week before she left I started brainstorming about what to make for her. I came across this recipe for pumpkin-spice cake and knew it would fit the bill. The problem was that I hadn’t yet successfully made cupcakes at high altitude. Every time I previously tried, the tops sank in or didn’t rise, or I had to cook them longer to see if they would get there, and then the outside would be overcooked. But, it was about time to give it another go, so I put on my apron and got to it.

I only wanted to make a dozen cupcakes, so I cut the original recipe in half. I made all the alterations based on the adjustments that I’ve learned work at high altitude. I used a bit more flour, less of the leaveners and more salt. It worked. The cupcakes had a beautiful crumb and rose exactly as they should. They are, by far, the best cupcakes I’ve made at high altitude, and definitely make the top five of all time.

Since the cupcakes were such a hit with my staff on my sports editor’s last day on the job, I decided to also use the recipe to make my dad’s birthday cake. A while ago, I saw an idea on Pinterest for a pumpkin cake. Upon closer examination, I realized they used a pumpkin pan, but I decided to play off that creation by making two smaller bundt cakes and turning one on top of the other. It is one of the best cakes I’ve ever made — though, to give credit where it’s due, my best friend came up with the idea on how to create the pumpkin-like ridges in the frosting, and he drew the leaves. Decorating is not my thing, but it can be fun to learn a trick or two.

This dessert has a double dose of pumpkin, as both the cake and frosting contain it. But it isn’t overwhelming, and neither are the spices in the cake. The flavor is balanced, which is why I enjoyed them so much.

I’ve provided the cupcake recipe at high altitude and the cake recipe at regular altitude. However, if you want to make a cake at high altitude, double the cupcake recipe below. If you want to make one dozen cupcakes at regular altitude, cut the cake recipe in half. Or, if you want to make two dozen, leave it as is.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Happy birthday, dad!

2pumpkincake102713One dozen cupcakes (at high altitude)
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed
2 large eggs
1/2 of a (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Line a 12-muffin pan with paper liners and coat the liners with vegetable oil or cooking spray; set aside.

Place the sugar and measured oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Return the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 1/2 minutes total mixing time. Reduce the speed to medium low, add the pumpkin, and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Add the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and salt and beat slowly until almost completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in any unincorporated flour at the edges with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.

Fill the muffin wells three-quarters of the way (about a heaping 1/4 cup per well). Bake for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in a cupcake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make a half batch of frosting (recipe below).

Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the cupcakes from the pans and cool completely on the racks. Frost.

3pumpkincake102713Cake (at regular altitude)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
2 3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed
4 large eggs
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée (not pie filling; about 1 3/4 cups)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F and arrange a rack in the middle. Grease and flour one regular-size bundt pan — or two, if you have them.

Place the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to aerate and break up any lumps; set aside.

Place the sugar and measured oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until the sugar is incorporated, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Return the mixer to medium speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, about 1 1/2 minutes total mixing time. Reduce the speed to medium low, add the pumpkin, and beat until just combined, about 30 seconds. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula.

Turn the mixer to low speed, slowly add the flour mixture, and beat until almost completely incorporated, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in any unincorporated flour at the edges with a rubber spatula, making sure to scrape to the bottom of the bowl.

Put half of the batter into the bundt pan. Bake the cake for 40-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for 5-10 minutes, or until you are able to remove the cake from the pan cleanly. Let cake cool on a plate or wire rack. Leave the oven on and let pan sit for another 5 minutes, then grease and flour pan again and put remaining half of batter in it. Bake the cake for 40-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, make frosting (recipe below).

Once cakes have cooled, turn so the part of the cake that was facing up when it was baked is once again facing up. Using a bread knife, cut convex part off, so top becomes flat. Set cake scraps aside. Repeat on other bundt.

Put frosting on the flat side of one bundt. Top by turning over the other bundt and placing it on top. Fill the hole in the middle with the scraps. Spread frosting all over cake. To achieve effect shown in photo, drag the back of a spoon from the bottom to the top of the cake. Repeat around entire cake. To create leaves, add about 10 drops of green food coloring to remaining frosting. Use a knife to make leaves. Use a piping bag or plastic bag filled with frosting to draw tendrils.

Pumpkin-and-Cream-Cheese Frosting
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature
1/3 cup pumpkin purée (not pie filling)

Place the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.

Place the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until fully combined and smooth, about 1 minute.

Reduce the speed to low, slowly add the powdered sugar mixture, and beat until fully incorporated and smooth, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

Turn the mixer to medium speed, add the pumpkin, and mix until fully incorporated and smooth, about 1 minute. Use immediately.

Who knew applesauce could be so good?

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Until recently, I had never made applesauce. My only experience with it was the kind spooned from the Mott’s jar with a yellow lid. I never found it impressive. It was something I might eat with pork chops, but not much else. That is, until I made my own.

While figuring out what to make next, I remembered I had bookmarked Ina Garten’s recipe for applesauce. Then I saw that it was baked in a Dutch oven, which is perfect since I’ve been using mine nonstop since I received it.

The recipe is straightforward, which is what I’ve come to expect from the Barefoot Contessa. That she keeps things simple is what I most like about her attitude toward cooking. Her recipe for applesauce is no exception. I had no idea applesauce could be so good until I made her flavor-packed version. applesauce2After baking the ingredients, her recipe calls for whisking them together. I left small chunks of apple in mine instead of making it the same consistency as the store-bought stuff.

Over the course of a week, I devoured the pot. It’s great for breakfast, a snack or as a dessert — and healthier than many alternatives. This applesauce may become a regular item in my refrigerator. I doubt I’ll ever purchase a jar of applesauce from the store again.

Ingredients
Zest and juice of 2 large navel oranges
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
3 pounds Granny Smith apples (6-8 apples)
3 pounds sweet red apples, such as Macoun, McIntosh or Winesap (6-8 apples)applesauce3
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 pound unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the zest and juice of the oranges and lemon in a large bowl. Peel, quarter and core the apples and toss them in the juice. Pour the apples and juice into a nonreactive Dutch oven or enameled iron pot. Add the brown sugar, butter, cinnamon and allspice and cover the pot. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, or until all the apples are soft. Mix with a whisk until smooth. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A triple-threat cookie for Christmas

cinnamon swirls

I discovered one of my now-favorite Christmas cookies in the 2010 edition of America’s Test Kitchen Holiday Cookies. I tried many of the recipes in that edition, some failures and some successes, but this one stood out. I could make the dough ahead of time, something that really helps when making a large number of cookies.

Some of the cookies I make for Christmas are elaborate — chocolate cookies with homemade caramel, carefully decorated sugar cookies, chocolate-dipped mint cookies — so I need a couple that are less involved. These Cinnamon Swirls were exactly what I wanted. They’re simple, beautiful and tasty, what you might call a triple threat in the world of baking. They’re like a sweet shortbread, one with cream cheese mixed into the dough; and the cinnamon not only adds a bit of spice, but a nice design as well.

One thing to note when making these is to make sure to roll them tight enough. On my first attempt a couple years ago, the rolls were too loose, so there were gaps in the baked cookies. Be sure to refrigerate the dough for the proper amount of time, too, because they’ll spread out too much if the dough is at room temperature before it goes in the oven.

I really do love this recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup super-fine sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for filling
1/4 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces and softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

With electric mixer on low speed, combine flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt, and butter, and mix until crumbly and slightly wet, 2 minutes. Add cream cheese and vanilla and mix until dough just begins to form. Finish kneading dough by hand to form large cohesive mass. Divide into 2 disks of dough, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Whisk remaining sugar and cinnamon together. Roll one disk between two large sheets of parchment paper to a 12-by-7-inch rectangle. Remove the top layer of parchment and sprinkle dough with half of the cinnamon-sugar, leaving a 1/4-inch border along the edges. Spritz the filling with water, and roll dough into a 7-inch log, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, about two hours. Repeat with remaining dough and cinnamon-sugar.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place rack in the middle position. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Trim the edges of each log, then cut each log crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing about 1 inch apart. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes, switching baking sheets halfway through baking time. Cool 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.