Cardamom-Scented Pumpkin Pie

We love pumpkin pie, and of course it is a must-have dessert at Thanksgiving.  It is fun to tweak the flavorings and try different combinations of spices.  I’ve tried all sorts of variations over the years, and this recipe is my favorite version.   The pie smells wonderful when it comes out of the oven and has a lovely spiced flavor.  I include cardamom and vanilla with the spices, and use fresh cream in the filling. (I use a combination of heavy cream and half & half, but if you can find light cream that works too).  I like to bake the pie the same day that we will be eating it; for Thanksgiving this means baking the pie first thing in the morning, before roasting the Turkey.  I prepare the pastry dough (I use Julia Child’s pie pastry) a couple of days ahead, and keep it in the refrigerator until I am ready to roll it out.

Cardamom-Scented Pumpkin Pie

Pie pastry for single 9” pie crust

3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 15-oz can pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
scant ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
3/4 cup heavy cream or a little more
1/3 cup half & half
½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 425°

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugars together until well-mixed.  Stir in the pumpkin puree, spices and salt and mix thoroughly.  Stir in the cream, half & half, and vanilla.

Roll out the pastry and line a 9” pie dish with it.  Trim and crimp the edges.  Pour in the filling; it will be quite full.

 

 

Bake the pie at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325° and bake for another 40-45 minutes, or until the filling is set.  (A knife inserted into the center will come out clean).
Cool the pie completely before cutting and serving.

 

 

 

 

 

Serve with Whipped Cream.

Whipped Cream

1 cup heavy cream (fresh, non-ultrapasteurized tastes best)
1 tablespoon superfine sugar (regular sugar also works)
¼ teaspoon vanilla

Pre-chill the mixing bowl and beaters of the mixer.  Beat the cold cream in the chilled bowl with a mixer at high speed until the cream begins to thicken.  Add the sugar and vanilla; continue to whip at medium speed until the cream forms soft peaks.  Spoon into a chilled  bowl to serve.

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Cranberry Bread

When my kids were in elementary school, every year before Thanksgiving we checked out the book Cranberry Thanksgiving, by Wende and Harry Devlin, from the library.  It is different so many other Thanksgiving stories for children as it isn’t about the pilgrims!  A recipe for cranberry bread figures prominently in the story, and that recipe is printed on the back cover of the book.  Everyone, adults and children, liked this bread when we made it, so it has become part of our family’s Thanksgiving tradition.  It is a sweet tea bread, but like so many other sweet dishes, goes well with the Thanksgiving meal, and is wonderful for snacking or breakfast on the days following the big meal.  I bake this the day before Thanksgiving; it is a moist bread that keeps well.

The recipe is available on the Devlin website, but I have included it below. You will need two or three oranges and about a half bag of fresh cranberries for this bread.

Cranberry Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ cup melted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 ½ teaspoons grated orange rind
¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 cup golden raisins
1 ½ cups cranberries

 

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Chop the cranberries.

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl with a fork.  Mix egg, orange rind, melted butter and orange juice together and add to the flour mixture.  Stir just until evenly moist.  Fold in the raisins and chopped cranberries.  (A half cup of chopped walnuts may be substituted for the golden raisins if you prefer).

Pour the batter into a buttered loaf pan and bake for 50 minutes to an hour, or until a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow the bread to cool completely on a rack. Wrap well and keep overnight before slicing and serving.

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Spring Fair Lemon Bars

When Amanda came home from college this Spring, I made these Lemon Bars.  As she bit into one, she said, “This reminds me of Spring Fair!”

I made Lemon Bars for the Spring Fair school fundraiser each May when Amanda and Zach went to Belle Sherman Elementary School.  Even after both kids had moved on to middle school, I got requests from the PTA to continue baking lemon bars for Belle Sherman’s Fair.  With both lemon juice and lemon zest in the filling, they have a very bright, tart lemon flavor.  The buttery shortbread crust is also delicious.  These lemon bars would be a popular dessert for any bake sale, and are also a nice treat at home.

Spring Fair Lemon Bars

First make the shortbread base, then prepare the lemon filling while the shortbread is baking.

Shortbread base:
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup (two sticks) salted butter, cut into small pieces

Lemon Filling:
4 eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
4-5 lemons (preferably organic, since you will be using the rind)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder

Confectioners’ sugar for topping

Preheat oven to 350°.  For the shortbread base, combine flour, confectioners’ sugar and butter together using a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.  Press this crumbly dough into the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch ungreased baking pan.  Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until light golden brown.  Reduce the oven temperature to 325°.

While the shortbread cookie base is baking, prepare the lemon filling.  In a medium bowl, beat 4 eggs well.  Finely grate the rind of 4 lemons and add to the eggs.  You can use fine holes of a box grater for this, but a microplane grater is much more convenient if you have one.  Avoid getting the white pith of the lemon—you want just the yellow zest.  Squeeze the juice from the lemons and measure out ½ cup ( 4 lemons are usually enough for this).  Add the lemon juice, sugar, salt, flour and baking powder to the eggs and lemon rind and mix until thoroughly combined.  Pour the lemon mixture evenly over the baked cookie base and return the pan to the oven.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the lemon mixture is set and golden.

When done baking, let the pan cool completely on a wire rack.  Sift confectioners’ sugar over the top just before serving.  I usually cut 24 lemon bars from one 9 x 13 inch pan. The lemon bars will keep for a couple of days at room temperature, but are best on the same day.

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Lemon Tarragon Stuffed Eggs

Got hard boiled eggs that you dyed for Easter?  A great way to enjoy them after the hunt is to make them into stuffed eggs.  I have tried all kinds of recipes for stuffed (or “deviled”) eggs over the years, and this one, using lemon, tarragon and mustard, is our favorite.  The stuffing is quick to prepare, so we usually have these eggs for lunch on Easter Sunday.

Tarragon has a fresh, anise-like flavor that goes very well with lemon.  I grow tarragon as a perennial in the front flower bed, where it requires no care, and is not bothered by any pests.  There is not enough of the herb poking out of the ground yet at this time of year though, so I bought some tarragon for making these spring eggs.

One thing to keep in mind for stuffed eggs, or any other recipe using hard boiled eggs, is that older eggs are easier to peel than fresh eggs.  You want a nice smooth egg that comes cleanly out of the shell, so it is best to buy your eggs a week or so ahead of boiling them, particularly if you are buying fresh from a farm.  I forgot to buy the eggs ahead of time this year, but had no problem—perhaps the supermarket eggs that I used had been in the store for a few days.

To prepare hard-cooked eggs that have a nice yellow yolk, with no green at the edge, I cook them by the following method:  Put the eggs in a pan of cool water, with the water covering the eggs by an inch or so.  Bring to a full boil over high heat.  Then reduce the heat to a lower boil for 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the heat and pour out the hot water, then refill with cold water to cool the eggs.  Continue running cold water over the eggs until they are no longer hot.  Put the eggs in a bowl in the refrigerator until ready to use.  Quickly cooling the eggs after cooking keeps the yolks a nice bright yellow. When ready to peel the eggs, crack the shell all over, rolling the eggs around on a hard surface.  This seems to help with clean removal of the eggshell.

I like to use medium, instead of large, eggs for stuffed eggs, because they are easier to pick up and eat.   But you can use any size egg that you like. Out of the dozen eggs that I boiled, 2 cracked, leaving me with 10 eggs good-looking enough to stuff.  I used five of them for this recipe, and will use the other five to make curried stuffed eggs tomorrow!  The recipe for Lemon Tarragon Stuffed Eggs comes from the April 1995 issue of Gourmet.  Because I used fewer eggs, I reduced the amount of mayonnaise and shallot, but I kept the original amount of mustard, lemon and tarragon.

Lemon Tarragon Stuffed Eggs

5 hard-cooked medium eggs
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
1 medium shallot, very finely minced
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon freshly grated zest from an organic lemon
¾ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves + additional for garnish

Slice the eggs in half lengthwise.  Remove the yolks and mash them with a fork in a small bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients to the yolks, and salt and pepper to taste.  Mix well with the fork.   If the yolk mixture seems too dry, add a little more mayonnaise or lemon juice until it is a consistency that you like.  Using two spoons, gently place a spoonful of the mixture to each hard-cooked egg half.  Sprinkle each stuffed egg with a bit of minced tarragon leaves.  These eggs can be made ahead of time and kept covered in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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Hot Cross Buns

These yeast buns are such a delicious pre-Easter treat.  Flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg and studded with currants, they are slightly sweet. We especially enjoy them for breakfast.

Hot Cross Buns may date back to celebrations of the vernal equinox in Pagan Britain, with the cross on top representing the four seasons.  According to British writer Elizabeth David in her comprehensive English Bread and Yeast Cookery, it was during the reign of Elizabeth I that sales of Hot Cross Buns became restricted by law to Good Friday among a very few other occasions.  In 1592, the London Clerk of Markets decreed “That no bakers, etc at any time or times hereafter make, utter, or sell by retail, within or without their houses, unto any of the Queen’s subjects any spice cakes, buns , biscuits, or other spice bread … except it be at burials, or on Friday before Easter, or at Christmas, upon pain of forfeiture of all such spiced bread to the poor.”  Since then, the buns have been associated with Good Friday.

I started making Hot Cross Buns before Easter each year when my children were very young, to go along with the old rhyme “one-a-penny, two-a-penny, Hot Cross Buns” and was very pleased with the both the flavor and the texture of the buns.  Sometimes I make them with candied orange peel, but more recently I have switched to using orange rind that I have removed from fresh oranges with a zester.  This gives them a subtle orange flavor without adding more sweetness.  The recipe below makes about 15 buns.

Hot Cross Buns

1 cup milk
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup sugar
¼ cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with a fork in a small bowl
4 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
thin strips of peel from 1 ½ oranges (removed with a zester)
2/3 cup dried currants

Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it is scalded (hot, but not boiling, with small bubbles at the edge of the pan).   Scalding the milk inactivates a protein in the whey that can inhibit bread dough from rising, so for yeast breads made with milk, I generally scald the milk before adding it to the other ingredients.

Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl, pour the hot milk over, and stir until the butter is melted and the sugar dissolved.  Let the milk-butter-sugar mixture cool to lukewarm.  Dissolve the yeast in ¼ cup of lukewarm water and stir it into the milk mixture along with the eggs.

Chop the orange zest into small pieces and place it in a bowl with the currants.  Dust the currants and orange zest with a little of the flour so that they won’t stick together.  Add the flour gradually to the milk-yeast mixture, stirring to combine.  Add the fruits and spices before you have added the last of the flour.  When the dough is still somewhat sticky, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead in just enough remaining flour to make a light, elastic dough the kneads easily.  Knead it for about 6 to 7 minutes (a good forearm exercise).  Place the dough in a buttered bowl and cover it with a cotton towel.
Let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ hours.

Punch the dough down and shape into about 15-16 buns, by rolling pieces of dough around in your hands.  Place the buns on parchment paper-lined baking sheets (or you can butter the sheets).  Cover the buns with a towel and let rise for about a half hour.  Use a sharp knife to very carefully cut the shape of a cross into each bun.  You don’t need to go very deep, especially if you will be using icing to put a cross on each bun later.

Bake the buns at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until brown.  Remove the buns from the sheets to cool on a wire rack.

While the buns are cooling, you can mix up a simple confectioner’s sugar icing.  You may have your own favorite glaze for this.  This time I simply stirred together a little cream with powdered sugar until it was a consistency that I liked, then added a squeeze of lemon juice for flavoring.  Added a bit more powdered sugar to thicken it back up and then used a knife to slowly drip the icing onto the warm buns.  You could also put the icing into a small plastic bag with a tiny hole cut in the corner, and squeeze out the lines onto the buns that way. The buns are also very good without any icing at all!

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Salad with Pear, Pomegranate and Pumpkin Seeds

I was given some beautiful pears last week. (Thanks, Carol!)  We have mostly been enjoying them “straight up”, eaten out of hand.  But I’ve also been putting them in salads.

I came up with a new salad combining pears and of some our other favorite flavors that is worth sharing.  Pear, avocado and fried pumpkin seeds are combined with baby salad greens, then ruby-red pomegranate seeds are sprinkled over it for a festive look and little bursts of sweet-tart juice. Parmesan shavings add another complementary flavor and the whole thing is just delicious.  This is easy enough for an everyday salad, but is also worthy of the fanciest celebration dinner.

The salad looks prettiest before the pomegranate seeds are mixed in with the larger salad components; you may wish to sprinkle the pomegranate seeds on top after tossing the rest of the salad with the vinaigrette.

Salad with Pear, Pomegranate and Pumpkin Seeds

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
¼ cup olive oil
7 cups baby salad greens
1 avocado
1 ripe pear
1/3 cup parmesan shavings (use a vegetable peeler to make these from a block of    parmigiano reggiano cheese)
½ pomegranate

1½ tablespoons Sherry vinegar (or other vinegar)
salt and pepper

Pour the olive oil into a skillet and heat over medium-high heat.  Add the pumpkin seeds to the skillet and fry until the seeds puff up and begin to make popping noises.  Use a slotted spoon to remove the seeds to a paper towel-lined plate.  Pour off the oil from the skillet into a small bowl. (This oil will be used to make a vinaigrette).

Wash the salad greens, spin dry and put into a large salad bowl.  Remove the skin and pit of the avocado, cut it into quarters and cut each quarter into slices.  Add the avocado to the salad greens.  Peel the pear, core and quarter it, and cut each quarter into slices.  Add the pear slices and parmesan shavings to the salad.

Score the skin of the pomegranate with a knife at intervals so that the skin is easy to invert for removing the seeds.   Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds over the salad (or toss the salad with the dressing before adding the pomegranate seeds).

Make the vinaigrette:
To the small bowl of olive oil from frying the pumpkin seeds, add 1½ tablespoons Sherry vinegar (or other vinegar) and whisk together.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Dress the salad just before serving.

Makes approximately six servings.

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Cardamom Braid

Cardamom is one of my favorite spices.  I love it in Indian cooking, but I also like to add cardamom to cakes, cookies, pies and breads.  (Maybe this is my half-Norwegian heritage coming through, as cardamom is a common flavor in Scandinavian baking).  At this time of year, I especially enjoy baking this braided yeast bread flavored with cardamom.  I always make at least two loaves, since it disappears quickly and a braided loaf also makes a great gift.  The recipe comes from a ‘70’s cookbook called Cooking with Gourmet Grains, published by the Stone-Buhr Milling Company of Seattle to encourage home cooks to use their stone-ground flours and whole grains.  Many of the recipes are quite good, and I still use them.   I especially like this cardamom bread recipe, and the pumpkin bread recipe (I’ll add that one another time).

Cardamom Braid, adapted from Cooking with Gourmet Grains, by Charlene Martinsen

2 packages active dry yeast
1 ½ cup milk
½  cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cardamom
5-6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

(Makes two braided loaves).

Warm the milk to lukewarm (about 105°).  Dissolve the yeast in the milk by stirring with a fork.  In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together.  Beat in the eggs, then slowly beat in the yeast mixture.  Add the salt and cardamom, then gradually mix in the flour.  I use a stand mixer for this, though you can also do it by hand.  Add just enough flour to make a moderately soft dough, then knead on a floured surface for 6-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.  Place the dough in a warm bowl that has been buttered, cover with a dish towel, and let rise until doubled, about 1 ¼ hours.  Punch the dough down, divide it in half, and then divide each half into thirds, so that you have 6 sections of dough.  Form the dough into 6 balls and let rest for 10 minutes or so.

Butter two cookie sheets.  Roll each ball into a 16-inch long rope (about the length of a cookie sheet), and place 3 ropes, about an inch apart, on each baking sheet.  Beginning in the middle, braid the dough loosely toward the ends.  Pinch the ends of the 3 strands together and tuck under the loaves.  Cover and let rise about 45 minutes, until almost double in size.  Preheat the oven to 375°.

I have had better luck baking the loaves individually in our small-ish oven instead of at the same time.  For sequential baking, brush a little milk over the loaf that you will bake first, and then sprinkle with sugar (up to one tablespoon).  Put the bread on the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes, or until deeply brown.  Check the bottom of the loaf to make sure that it has browned.  Cool the bread on a wire rack and bake the second loaf, (brushing with milk and sprinkling with sugar first).  If you decide to bake the loaves at the same time, switch their positions after 10 minutes.

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