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.

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Having fun with a less common fall flavor

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Fall is here, and that means it’s time for baking comfort foods with apples and pumpkin. Last weekend, I went wine tasting in the Apple Hill area and stopped at a farm stand on my way home. The best deal at the farm stand was a box of about eight pears for $2. I bought two boxes because I knew I’d want to bake with them.

But, before I proceed, I want to let you know that Red Pen Recipes now has a Facebook page. Like it here.

Screen shot 2013-09-25 at 8.14.25 PMI also recently purchased a ticket to see Curtis Stone in Reno. Those of you who read regularly know that I love his style of cooking. According to his response to the question I posed to him on Facebook, we’ll be having cocktails, stir-frys and chocolate. The countdown to Oct. 12 has begun.

So, back to the pears. When I got home, I started looking for recipes and found this Pear and Almond Tart recipe from Bon Appétit. I had all of the ingredients, and it sounded like the perfect way to use a few of those pears.

This recipe has three major components, all of which can be done separately and saved until you’re ready to assemble the whole thing. If you don’t want to spend hours at a time in the kitchen, do one piece at a time.

I know my crust looks burned in the photo, but it didn’t taste like it at all. I was pleasantly surprised.

The recipe didn’t say to save the liquid from poaching the pears, but I knew from experience that I could boil it into a syrup. A beautiful simple syrup is a terrible thing to waste so I decided to use it to make ice cream.

For the ice cream, I used this recipe. If you plan on using the syrup for ice cream, you have to do things just a bit differently. I’d recommend adding a fourth pear to the poaching process. Set it aside and, when you’re ready to make the ice cream, core it, then dice it and add it to the ice cream when it’s in the ice cream mixer. After the pears have cooled in the liquid, remove them. Then bring the liquid back to a boil and keep it on the heat until there’s about 3/4 cup of thick syrup. Take it off the heat and set it aside. Use it in place of the 1/2 cup sugar in the recipe by using 1/2 in the milk mixture and adding the remaining 1/4 cup to the egg yolks. I know it seems like a lot, but trust me. It works. The bits of pear in the ice cream provided a nice contrast to the texture, too.

If you’re not into that, bottle the syrup and use it on pancakes or find another way to use it. But I encourage you not to waste it, because it’s too delicious to throw away.

Pears
4 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 medium-size firm but ripe pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled (each about 7 ounces)

Bring 4 cups water, sugar, and lemon juice to boil in large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add pears. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until pears are very tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Cool pears in syrup. Can be made two days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

Crust
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

Blend powdered sugar, almonds, and salt in processor until nuts are finely ground. Add butter and blend until smooth, scraping down sides of bowl occasionally. Mix in egg yolk. Add flour. Using on/off turns, blend until dough comes together in clumps. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Almond filling
2/3 cup blanched slivered almonds
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
7 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg
Powdered sugar (optional)

Finely grind almonds and flour in processor. Mix in 7 tablespoons sugar, then butter, blending until smooth. Mix in egg. Transfer filling to medium bowl. Cover and chill at least 3 hours. Can be made two days ahead. Keep chilled.

Once you’re ready to assemble all three components, position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Roll out chilled dough on floured sheet of parchment paper to 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough occasionally to free from paper. Using paper as aid, turn dough into 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom; peel off paper. Seal any cracks in dough. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch. Fold overhang in, making double-thick sides. Pierce crust all over with fork. Freeze crust 10 minutes.

Line crust with buttered foil, buttered side down, then fill with dried beans or pie weights. Bake crust until sides are set, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and beans. Bake crust until sides are golden and bottom is set, pressing with back of fork if crust bubbles, about 10 minutes longer. Cool crust in pan on rack. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F.

Spread almond filling evenly in crust. Stem pears and cut each in half lengthwise; scoop out cores. Cut each half crosswise into thin slices. Gently press each pear half to fan slices but keep slices tightly overlapped. Slide spatula under pears and arrange atop filling like spokes of wheel with narrow ends in center.

Bake tart until golden and tester inserted into center of filling comes out clean, about 55 minutes. Cool tart in pan on rack. Push pan bottom up, releasing tart from pan. Let stand at room temperature. Cut tart into wedges; sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve.

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.

Playing with pumpkin

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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.

Ingredients
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

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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.

Ingredients
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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