Orange You Glad You Made This Pumpkin Bread

Side View - Pumpkin Bundt

This recipe is based upon my desire to bring a pumpkin dessert to Thanksgiving dinner that covers four bases:

  1. Tastes great,
  2. Looks impressive,
  3. Is easy to make,
  4. Isn’t pumpkin pie.

This bread is in the spirit of autumn and all its pumpkin spice greatness; the cheesecake layer adds an element of tart richness people appreciate around the holidays. Bonus: it really is easy to make, and it’s delicious with coffee (breakfast, anyone?)

Ingredients

Step 1: Cheesecake Layer

  • 1 package (8 oz) of cream cheese or Neufchatel cheese, softened
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbls all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp orange extract

Don’t be intimidated by the orange extract. It adds a mild hint of flavor that gives depth to the cheesecake layer.

Step 2: Pumpkin Layer

  • 1 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups of granulated sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not ready-made pie filling)
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp of cinnamon
  • ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice

Step 3: Orange Glaze

  • 1 ½ cups powdered (confectioners) sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons orange juice

Directions

Preheat oven to 325º. Grease a Bundt (standard 12 cup) or standard (9″ x 5″) loaf pan.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients of Step 1: cream cheese, ½ cup sugar, egg, 1 tablespoon flour, and orange extract. Using a hand mixer, beat at medium speed until smooth and set aside.

Using the ingredients in Step 2: Sift flour, baking soda, cinnamon, pie spice, and salt into a medium bowl, set aside.

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, and sugar, beat on medium speed until well blended. Fold in the spiced flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture until just combined.

batterAdd approximately half of the pumpkin batter to the pan, gently smooth the surface of the batter to ensure an even layer. Top the pumpkin batter with dollops of the cream cheese mixture, using a spoon or small scoop; again smoothing to ensure there’s a cheesechake layer throughout the bread. Top the cream cheese layer with the remaining pumpkin batter.

No need to swirl the layers – the idea is to have a yummy, creamy layer of cheesecake in the middle!

Bake for approximately 60 minutes (slightly less time for the Bundt pan, slightly more for the loaf pan) until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to slightly cool. If using a Bundt pan, invert to a wire rack to continue cooling after about 10 minutes cooling in the pan.

For Step 3, the orange glaze: Sift the powdered sugar into a small mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of orange juice, mix well. Slowly add additional orange juice until the glaze is a thick, yet pourable consistency. Drizzle atop the cooled pumpkin bread, add sprinkles if desired. (Tip: if cooling on a wire rack, set the bread, on the rack, in your sink, then drizzle with glaze. The extra glaze will drip into the sink, allowing easy clean up!)

Store loosely covered at room temperature – if chilled, allow to warm slightly to ensure the cheesecake layer softens.

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“Better Than The Box” Chocolate Brownies

Baked brownies
This could be on your plate in about 45 minutes. 

I have a baking confession: for a long time, I had trouble finding a brownie recipe that was better than your standard boxed recipe. There’s something too easy about adding egg, oil and water to a mix and pulling rich, gooey deliciousness out of the oven 30 minutes later. Then comes the guilt: not because of the calories, but because… well, there’s a lot of “stuff” in those boxed mixes. Artificial flavor. Partially hydrogenated oils. I’ve tried lots of brownie recipes, but they’re all so much work for such a slightly better brownie. (Did I ever mention I’m lazy?)

Then I found this recipe, which I’ve modified slightly from Baking Illustrated(P.S. Buy the book, its awesome). It’s the perfect combo of delicious, without a lot of work.

You can alter the intensity of these brownies by using a slightly darker or lighter chocolate.

  • 5 oz of 70% dark chocolate, chopped/broken into chunks. (That’s one whole 3.5 oz bar (10 squares), plus 4 squares, if you don’t have a scale)
  • 2 oz of unsweetened chocolate, chopped into chunks. (Half box of Baker’s Unsweetened)
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons cocoa powder, such as Hersey’s Special Dark.
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 8 inch square baking pan.

cut and panIn a small, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the chopped chocolates and stir continuously until the chocolate is melted. Remove from heat, and whisk in the cocoa powder. Set aside to cool slightly.

Mix eggs, sugar, vanilla extract and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the melted chocolate mixture until well blended. Add the flour, stir until combined. Spread into the pan, top with toasted pecans. Bake 35 – 40 minutes.

Allow to cool until room temperature (if you can wait). These brownies supposedly last “up to 5 days in the refrigerator” but how did they figure this out? Mine never last that long!

 

 

 

“SO GOOD” Chocolate Almond Cupcakes

Finished From Above

It doesn’t take much for me to be inspired. I wanted to try to create a chocolate almond cupcake because I had a whole bunch of chocolate covered almonds sitting on my counter and thought, well those two flavors should be in a cupcake.

And here we are.

These are named “SO GOOD” because that’s what people kept saying when they tried them. (Thanks, everyone that tried one!) They are also “SO GOOD” because they’re really pretty easy to make. Win/win.

This is a marble cupcake – part chocolate, part almond, with a chocolate almond frosting.

For the Chocolate Cake Batter
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup of cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk (I used 1%)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot coffee (I used instant coffee added to boiling water, or use your favorite brand)

For the Almond Cake Batter
2/3 cups all-purpose flour, or 1/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup almond meal (I used almond meal for added texture/flavor)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2½ tablespoons canola oil
1 egg
2½ tablespoons milk
1 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350º. Line a cupcake pan with paper cups, or grease each cup. This recipe makes 20 – 24 cupcakes, which I made in 2 batches of 12.

For the chocolate batter:

  1. Sift flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add sugar and blend well. Using an electric mixer on low, mix in canola oil. Mixture will be relatively dry and crumbly at this point.
  2. Again on low speed, mix in eggs, milk, and vanilla extract. Add hot coffee and mix until just blended.  Set aside.

For the almond batter:

  1. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk in almond flour, if using, and sugar. Using an electric mixer, mix in canola oil, same as described in the chocolate batter steps.
  2. Mix in egg, milk, and almond extract. Carefully add the boiling water and mix until blended.

Prep for baking:

This cupcake is approximately 2/3 chocolate cake and 1/3 almond cake. I used a medium sized cookie scoop (holds about 2 tablespoons) to prep.

  • Fill 12 lined cups about 1/2 full with chocolate batter. (This is about 2 scoops worth of batter. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, please consider buying one because they’re great for prepping desserts other than cookies!)
  • Add one heaping scoop of almond batter right on top of the chocolate batter. Repeat for each cupcake. Each cupcake gets one almond batter scoop (two heaping tablespoons).
  • Using a clean butter knife, gently swirl the almond batter into the chocolate batter. Use a light touch – the almond batter is slightly heavier than the chocolate, if you’re using the almond meal, and we don’t want it all to sink to the bottom!
  • If you have extra batter, make an all-almond or all chocolate cupcake – don’t waste the batter! 🙂

Bake the cupcakes for 25-27 minutes. Check for doneness at about the 22 minute mark – a toothpick inserted into the middle should come out clean.

Don’t overbake cupcakes! Time will vary depending on the type of pan, amount of batter in each cup, and oven variations. Trust the toothpick method to get it right.

While the cupcakes bake, make the frosting (recipe below).

Pre-Frosted Cupcakes
Cupcakes, Unfrosted

When finished baking, let the cupcakes rest in the pan for a couple of minutes to set. Remove and place on a cooling rack.

Chocolate Almond Frosting

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening (I used regular Crisco)
3 – 4 cups confectioners (powdered) sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used Hersey’s Special Dark)
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Chocolate covered almonds for decoration

Sift together 3 cups of confectioners sugar and cocoa powder. Using an electric mixer on medium speed, blend the butter and vegetable shortening until well blended.  Add almond extract, mix well. About 1/2 cup at a time, add the confectioners sugar/cocoa powder blend. If frosting isn’t sweet enough for your taste, or if you like a firmer icing, add the additional confectioners sugar and blend on medium-high speed, until light and well mixed.

Frost cupcakes once they are cooled completely.

I topped half of the cupcakes with crushed chocolate covered almonds. I froze them for about 30 minutes and chopped them in a food processor. Or, feel free to add one whole chocolate covered almond to the top of each cupcake. The other half I topped with a piece of salted almond chocolate bar.

Cover to store. Refrigerate finished cupcakes if not eaten within a day or so, but bring to room temperature before serving (or the frosting will be stiff). Enjoy!

Finished Close

Brown Sugar Chocolate Chip Bars: AKA Congo Squares

Congo Bars Closeup
Damon Lee Fowler’s “Aunt Margaret’s Congo Squares”

When I make a version of chocolate chip cookies, and there’s no vanilla in the recipe, I’m immediately weary. Why? I’m an amateur  baker – shouldn’t I trust the professionals?

This time, I do. I trust Damon Lee Fowler and his guide New Southern Baking. 

These prep in no time. Ok, maybe 5-10 minutes. No recipe modifications or adjustments needed.

Why is this recipe beautiful?

  • The bars are delicious.
  • You don’t have to remember to take butter out of the fridge (“softened”); it uses melted butter.
  • In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven, the bars are prepped and ready to go in.

Fortunately, Mr. Fowler’s recipe is not only available in his book (buy it on Amazon), but it’s posted online, thanks to the Savannah Morning News.

I should stress that these are not your standard “chocolate chip cookie bars”. They have rich, brownie-like texture and a depth of flavor from brown sugar/toasted pecan combination that’s not found in a basic toll-house.

Try these! You probably have everything you need in your cupboard, right now…

Congo Bars Plated
This plate was full for 30 seconds. 

Snicker DO doodles

image

The cool thing about cooking bloggers is we do the research so you don’t have to, right?

Tonight’s super quick recipe is a homemade batch of snickerdoodles. Butter, shortening,  sugar, flour… The only thing you may need to swing by the store for is Cream of Tartar. But it’s essential! Oh, and you’ll need to log in to a (free!) account to America’s Test Kitchen. The recipe is here, it’s great, and I promise you won’t mess it up. Just one Drunken Cookie tip:

If you have a choice between a regular cookie baking sheet and an insulated sheet, use the regular sheet. You want the crinkle top characteristic of a classic snickerdoodle, and my cookies on the insulated sheet didn’t “fall” as they cooled. (Still delicious, of course.)

image

Trust me, this recipe is worth the free registration. Your kitchen will smell amazing, and your friends will think you deserve your own baking blog.

Campfire-free S’mores Bars

Dark Chocolate Smores
S’mores Bars with Milk Chocolate

I’ve done my research. I like chocolate, marshmallows, graham crackers… but making s’mores the old fashioned way is messy. Time consuming. Requires open flame and results in sticky fingers. What if it’s raining? What if you’re knee-deep in snow? Are you to be denied S’mores?

Good news! You can make these delicious bars fast, with no bonfire needed.

Special thanks to CoffeeMom for posting this on the web. I’ve doubled her original recipe, which is found here: S’mores Bars, if you’re looking for a smaller serving size (8 x 8 pan).

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 TBS vanilla extract
  • 2 2cups flour
  • 1 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs (I used ready-made crumbs, but you could crush your own)
  • 1 TEA baking powder
  • ½ TEA salt
  • 4 (3.5 oz bars) milk OR dark chocolate candy bars (I prefer dark chocolate, such as Lindt 70% Dark, but feel free to use Hershey’s, etc.)
  • 6 cups miniature marshmallows

Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Line a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly grease. I like to use non-stick foil, if that’s available near you, and spray it lightly with non-stick spray. This makes the bars easier to cut once they’re cooled.

Bottom layer

Smores MixingMix together flour, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt, set aside.

In a second large bowl, beat butter and sugar until fluffy.
Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add vanilla; mix well.
Add flour mixture to butter mixture, about a cup at a time, stir until blended. Mixture will be stiff, feel free to use your fingers to knead in the last bit of the flour mixture.

Separate dough into two equal halves. Press half the dough into the prepared pan (Hint, if you spray your hands with non-stick spray, the batter won’t stick to your fingers!).
Bake 20 minutes, remove to add top layer.

Top layer

Smores Pre BakedUnwrap chocolate bars; separate into squares and arrange evenly over baked layer. It’s OK if there’s gaps between the chocolate squares, the chocolate will melt quickly and cover the bottom layer.

Cover the chocolate squares with the mini-marshmallows.

Using your fingers, break off small chunks of the remaining dough (about the size of a grape) and scatter over the top. It’s fine (and even preferred) if you can see marshmallows poking through the top layer.

Bake 25 minutes or until the marshmallows are gooey and lightly browned.

Cool completely before cutting.
Simply lift cooled bars from the pan by the foil edge and cut to desired size. Enjoy with a few ghost stories and your favorite campfire beverage, such as red wine. That’s a campfire beverage, right?

Smores Finishes
S’mores Bars with Dark Chocolate

Coconut Walnut Dreambars

Dreambar Finished 1This recipe is for those that claim to dislike coconut. It’s also for anyone that really loves coconut. Basically…

This recipe is for everyone.

These bars are rich, gooey, buttery… dreamy. And, they’re easy to make, done in under an hour.

Dreambar Crust

Cookie Layer
8 TBS Butter (one stick)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 TEA salt

Topping
2 cups brown sugar
1 TBS flour
1/4 TEA baking powder
2 large eggs
1 cup shredded coconut (toasted or untoasted, your choice)
1 cup walnuts

Dreambar Mix InsBake the bottom layer:

Preheat oven to 300°.
Lightly grease 9 x 13 inch pan.
Cream butter and brown sugar until fluffy, stir in flour and salt. Mixture will be crumbly.
Pat into bottom of prepared pan.
Bake for 10 minutes and remove from oven to add top layer.

Increase temp to 325°.

Dreambar PreBakedWhile bottom layer is baking, prep the top layer:

Combine brown sugar, flour and baking powder.
Mix in eggs till smooth.
Add coconut and walnuts.
Dollop coconut mixture on top of pre-baked cookie layer, spread evenly.
Bake for an additional 30 minutes.

Cool. Dust with powdered sugar if desired.

I like to cut these in 2-inch squares, because they’re rich, and also because it’s easier to two or three 🙂

Enjoy!

Dreambar Finished 1 (2)

 

What Should A Baker Buy?

Quick post:

My friends and family know I love to bake, of course. So it’s not uncommon for me to get gift cards to various cooking/baking stores – but I have a hard time spending the money.

Seems silly, I know, since it’s a gift and I should be excited to spend them… but I spend too much time looking for a really great deal on something that I will, for sure, use over and over again.

If only there were gift cards for someone that uploads and edits my food pics… I’d post far more often!

With that said, here’s what I’m thinking.

But what I’m really looking for is a knife that doesn’t scratch pans… something needed when I recently made a batch of Coconut Walnut Dreambars… (to be posted soon!), or a basic pan of brownies, for instance. Any suggestions?

 

(Little Drunken Cookie’s) Oatmeal Cream Pies

Oatmeal Cream Pies (2)I’m sure you’re all familiar with Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies. They were a favorite of mine growing up, so I thought I’d try my best to make a homemade version.

I have tried to make them in the past with just a standard oatmeal cookie recipe, but found it wasn’t quite the same.Then I read through the ingredients list on the genuine Creme Pie, and found molasses. Hmmm.

Maybe molasses is the “key” to making them a little more authentic…

I tweaked several recipes to come up with this one. It’s a Drunken Cookie Original. The creme, however, is from my tried and true binder of internet recipes. Look for Holland Cream on the Allrecipes website. Note: You only need half of the recipe to make the cream pies.

Ingredients

Oatmeal Cream Pies (7)Makes about 60 (2.5 inch) cookies, or 30 Little Drunken Cookie Oatmeal Cream Pies. Total time: about  15 minutes to prep, 3 hours total including cooling and assembly.

  • 2 ½ cups oats (traditional, not quick)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup butter (one stick)
  • ½ cup margarine (one stick)
  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons molasses
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Combine oats, flour, cinnamon, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set a side.
  2. Beat the butter, margarine and sugars on medium/medium high speed with an electric mixer until well blended. Add molasses and mix well.
  3. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then vanilla, mixing thoroughly (medium speed) after each addition. Batter should be smooth and the color of peanut butter.
  4. Add the oat mixture, one cup at a time, on low speed until incorporated.
  5. Bake teaspoon-sized scoops of dough on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 12-13 minutes, or until just browned on the edges. Don’t overbake. Leave the cookies to sit on the cookie sheet about a minute before removing. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Make the Holland Cream while the cookies are baking. Once the cream is ready and the cookies are cool, fill a piping bag with the cream filling. There’s no need to rush, the cream won’t go “flat”. Use the largest round tip you have, or no tip at all, to place a dollop of creme in the middle of the cookie. Hold the piping bag straight and just above the cookie, and steadily squeeze the filling until it’s about a ¼ inch from the sides of the cookie. If you overfill, it’ll ooze out the sides; if you under fill simply add more, to your liking. (You can use a plastic sandwich bag with the corner cut if you don’t have piping bags and tips!)

Hints/Special Tools

  • I recommend parchment paper to line the cookie sheet, a small cookie scoop to distribute the batter (to make sure your cookies are round and even-sized), and carefully removing them from the sheet with a thin spatula.
  • Cookies will be soft when you remove them from the sheet, but they set well. Scrape off any gooey cookie crumbs from your spatula after removing a cookie or two, and they will lift more easily.
  • If you have a cookie that isn’t as round as you like once they’re baked, gently take the edge of your spatula and push the errant edge of the cookie toward the center. No one will know your cookies were misshapen. 🙂
  • Match up cookies of even size and shape before you start to add the filling, so you have even little sandwiches in the end.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. I have to give them away or I’ll eat the whole batch!