When September rolls around, I drop berries and stone fruits like a hot potato and move right on over to apples and pears for fruit desserts. I taught this cake last year and then proceeded to make it for the Jewish holidays and every time we had people over in the fall. Then all my friends who ate it asked me for the recipe and I told them, “sorry, it’s exclusive to my online cooking class!” Little did they know I tweaked an Ottolenghi recipe. LOL. This cake reminds me of a better version of the Silver Palate chunky apple walnut cake that I made 100 times when I was in college. Continue reading
Mr. Picky asked me the other day if I would make cookies with him and I was this close to saying “Not today, sweetie. I’m too busy.” That would have been absolutely true. We’re all so busy. I don’t know anyone whom I have asked lately “How are you?” that hasn’t responded, “Really busy! How are you?” It’s not just this time of year either. I feel like we’re running around at 90 miles an hour all year long.
In my classes and on my blog, I try to emphasize balance and moderation, yet I’m not so sure I practice what I preach with respect to finding downtime. And as I had that thought, my daughters came home from school. That is to say, they pulled into the garage in a car driven by Daughter #1 who turned 16 two months ago. They walked in and all I could see was a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. I used to hate it when people told me kids grow up so fast, but the cliché couldn’t be more true. It goes by in a nanosecond. I can’t say my daughters have asked me recently to bake cookies with them, instead they invite their girlfriends over to stay up late and eat the cookie dough I keep in the freezer. Believe me, I’m thrilled they even hang out at our house! So last week I skipped writing a post that I thought would get published last Friday and instead baked cookies with my favorite little dude. Totally worth it.
Mr Picky is a funny kid. Some people joke with me that a boy who eats lentils and beans cannot be labeled “picky.” And every year he adds more and more foods to the still narrow “approved” list. But he doesn’t seem to like what most kids do such as buttered pasta, macaroni and cheese, pizza or sandwiches, not that I’m complaining. His favorite cookies don’t contain candy or sprinkles, but instead are gingerbread. And that’s what we decided to make last week.
Gingerbread cut-out cookies are a commitment. It’s not like make a batter and spooning drops of it onto a baking sheet. There’s chilling the dough, rolling it out, cutting it into shapes, decorating the cookies. It’s a fairly simple dough to make and I don’t hold back on the spices. But these cookies aren’t spicy, they’re just really flavorful. Whole wheat pastry flour can be substituted with a gluten-free flour blend such as the King Arthur Multi-purpose GF Flour plus the addition of 1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum per cup of flour. Mr. Picky’s favorite part is decorating which I always keep pretty simple with raw sugar, currants or mini-chocolate chips.
We had the best afternoon. It was so nice to have one-on-one time with him and chat about school, football and his favorite new book. We also talked about the mystery of Santa and that this was definitely going to be the year that he stayed awake to watch him leave gifts under my parents’ tree. Sweet. Spending time in the kitchen with my son was such a gift and a reminder to me that the biggest joys in life don’t come from checking off my to-do list.
a few grinds finely ground black pepper (optional)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅔ cup dark natural cane sugar (i.e. muscavado), or dark brown sugar, packed
2 large eggs
⅔ cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap unless you like that bitterness)
large grain sugar for decorating or mini-chocolate chips or currants
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Set aside.
In a bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or by hand), cream the butter until it is light and fluffy. Add the sugar and mix again until light and creamy, about 2-3 minutes. Blend in the eggs one at a time and then the molasses. Add the flour mixture in two additions either by hand or on low speed. Divide the dough in two pieces, wrap each in plastic and chill for at least an hour.*
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with unbleached parchment paper or Silpats.
Roll the dough out onto a lightly floured countertop to about ⅛-inch thick and cut with cookie cutters of your choice. ** Reroll the scraps and continue to cut additional cookies. Decorate with sugar crystals, dried fruit or chocolate chips before baking. For softer cookies, roll out a little thicker. Transfer to baking sheets and bake for 10-12 minutes for 3-4-inch cookies (less for smaller cookies, more for larger.) I like to see a little tinge of golden color around the edges of the cookies. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking sheets for 2 minutes and then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
*Dough can be prepared up to 2 days in advance.
**If you are not comfortable rolling on your countertop, roll the cookies out on a piece of parchment cut to fit the baking sheet. Remove scraps. Then transfer the parchment and cookies to the sheet and bake.
Nothing says “holiday” to me like the smell of gingerbread baking in the oven. I am crazy about that combination of molasses and fragrant spices that are quintessential to gingerbread. I have made lots of different baked goods with this characteristic flavor — gingerbread pancakes, waffles, cookies, biscotti, and of course, the classic gingerbread cake, my most favorite of all. I even make a pan of gingerbread for Thanksgiving as my official signal that the holidays have begun. But my feeling is if you’re going to make gingerbread, you really need to go for it. I use a heavy hand with the spices, especially, you guessed it, GINGER. This recipe, I have to admit, is DELICIOUS. It’s exactly what I want it to be — high-quality ingredients like whole wheat pastry flour, coconut oil, maple syrup and molasses that come together to make a moist, dense, intensely flavorful cake. Daughter #1 said to me recently, “who knew gingerbread could be this good?” Love her.
Actually, my whole family loooves this cake, even Mr. Picky whom I have caught more than once in the last month in the pantry with the door closed sneaking extra gingerbread. The cake always gets eaten rather quickly at our house. In fact, I should really adapt the recipe to fit a much larger pan. The only time my kids didn’t like this was when I used blackstrap molasses. I wanted to see if they could taste the difference which they did and said, “no, thank you!” Molasses is the by-product of refining sugar and is sold in grades according to how much it as been boiled. “Blackstrap” molasses is the result of the last boiling and thus has the most intense flavor and the highest mineral content. I figured this was a good thing, but molasses is rather bitter and blackstrap molasses is way too bitter for my kids. So I gave up a little extra iron and potassium for “regular” unsulphured molasses that would taste good to them.
During the holidays, I’m in the business of making people happy, which in turn makes me happy. And this gingerbread does both. Enjoy!
½ cup melted unrefined coconut oil or unsalted butter
2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour*
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) ground ginger
3 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon) ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup hot water
1 teaspoon powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners or grease and flour an 8-inch square baking dish.
In a blender, combine the molasses, maple syrup, applesauce and coconut oil. Blend until smooth.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, sea salt and spices.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix until just combined. Stir in the hot water. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake 20-25 minutes for muffins or 35-50 minutes (ovens vary wildly) for an 8-inch cake, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving. Sift powdered sugar over cake, if desired.
*Gluten-free version, substitute the following for the 2 ½ cups of wheat flour:
1⅞ cups brown rice flour (measure 2 cups, then take out 2 Tablespoons)
7 Tablespoons potato starch (measure ½ cup, then take out 1 Tablespoon)
There are very few recipes that debuted on my first Thanksgiving menu 16 years ago that are still going strong today. Roast turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes are staples year after year, as is a traditional pumpkin pie. Despite all my rantings about how destructive sugar is to your health, I honestly can’t imagine Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie. I wouldn’t even care if no one liked it, I would still make two of them. I remember the first pumpkin pie I ever made when I was in high school. I followed the recipe on the can of Libby’s pumpkin puree and poured it into a store-bought pie crust. Heaven.
Since then I have adjusted the recipe to be much more wholesome, and dare I say, much more delicious. I traded in store-bought piecrust for homemade, canned pumpkin (bye-bye BPA) for freshly roasted (hello yummy rich pumpkin flavor), refined sugar for maple syrup (and much less of it), and canned evaporated milk for heavy cream. Sure, heavy cream is rich in saturated fat, but I would rather eat a couple of spoonfuls of a high quality organic cream than canned milk. Would you ever drink canned milk or feed it to your kids? I didn’t think so. I use organic raw cream when I can get it, or I buy a nonhomogenized, but pasteurized organic cream from Straus Family Creamery. I have made a dairy-free version of this pie using coconut milk and it’s just as delicious (it does not taste like coconut, either.) Of course there’s still lots of butter in the crust. Last year, I made one pie with a white flour-based crust and another with a whole wheat pastry flour-based crust. Only my sister-in-law and I liked the whole wheat one. As my mother-in-law says, “You two like anything that you know is good for you.” Partially true. This year I will go back to all white flour pie crusts and the wholesomeness comes to an end right there.
Speaking of which, I am quite conscientious about consuming very little sugar during the year, but come Thanksgiving I feel like I have earned a piece of pie (or two) and I don’t feel bad about enjoying it. The problem comes the next day when I’m looking for that sugar fix again at 4:00 in the afternoon. And the next day. And the day after that. Guess what? I’m not alone. Thanksgiving starts not only the beginning of the holiday season, but a time when lots of people pack on a few extra pounds from overindulging too often. I love celebrating just as much as the next person, but I definitely don’t love trying to lose weight (it’s not as easy as it used to be!) I look forward to Thanksgiving dinner and dessert, especially after I’ve worked so hard to make it special and delicious, but this year I’m going to be a little more mindful the next day. At least until Christmas.
1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose white flour or spelt flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup (1stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2-4 Tablespoons ice water
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream or coconut milk (not light)
1¾ cups fresh or canned pumpkin puree (1 15-ounce can)
3 large eggs
6 Tablespoons pure maple syrup or brown sugar
Make the crust: Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Add the butter and pulse 10 times.
Turn the food processor on and slowly pour in 2 Tablespoons ice water. Stop the machine and carefully (watch the blade!) grab a small handful of dough and squeeze it in your hand. If it holds together well, you’re done. If it’s crumbly, add another tablespoon of ice water and blend. The goal is that when you squeeze the mixture in your hand that it forms a moist, but not sticky ball of dough. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap and shape into a disc. Wrap well and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, flour a rolling pin and roll dough into a 12-inch round. While you’re rolling out the pastry, you should always be able to move it easily around the work surface without sticking. Add additional dustings of flour as needed. Fit the circle into a 9-inch pie plate and crimp edges. Refrigerate if it feels too soft.
Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Line the crust with a piece of parchment (like the one the dough was wrapped in), and fill it with pie weights or dried beans (the ones in the photo I've had since college!). Bake until lightly golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Remove parchment and weights. Return crust to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes until light golden all over. Cool completely on a wire rack (this can take up to an hour so you may want to turn the oven off.)
Preheat the oven again to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the salt and spices (if you are using brown sugar instead of syrup, add the sugar now.)
In a large bowl or with a mixer, whisk together cream, pumpkin puree, eggs and maple syrup. Add spice mixture and combine thoroughly.
Pour mixture into the cooled crust and bake until filling is set (it will jiggle like gelatin, but it will be a little soft in the center), about 50-60 minutes. The filling will firm up as it cools. This can be made the day before. I like to keep it refrigerated.
Now that my daughters are teenagers (sigh), I encourage them to invite their girlfriends to have sleepovers at our house on the weekends. I don’t always get my wish, but I do like having them home so I can keep an eye on everyone and then I don’t worry so much. Not only that, but the girls’ friends give me more gossip than they do, and enquiring moms want to know! Last weekend, my husband and Mr. Picky were away on a guy’s trip and I had 6 girls keeping me company. I used to dread sleepovers because there would always be one early bird that would wake everyone up at 5:00 am and then you had a Miss Cranky Pants to deal with the rest of the day. Let me tell you, some sleep mechanism kicks in when the kids hit middle school and then you can’t wake them before noon if your life depended on it.
Last Sunday, I was able to get in a workout and shower before I heard the first signs of life at 10:30 am. Still foggy and misty out, I wanted to make a cozy breakfast for everyone. I had cooked some fresh pumpkin puree the day before with pumpkin pancakes in mind — my absolute favorite! Before I even got started, the 13-year-olds were mumbling something about not being hungry. I would not be discouraged. I noticed two sad-looking Golden Delicious apples on the counter that I knew no one would ever eat. I decided to peel and slice those and gently saute them in a little butter while I preheated the griddle and assembled the pancake batter.
This is just a twist on the classic buttermilk pancake recipe that is a weekly staple in our house. The pumpkin puree adds a beautiful copper color to the batter as well as a little Beta-carotene. And then all those fantastic warming spices add the flavor that says Fall! If you have pumpkin pie spice, I’m sure that would work fine here, too. Just like my standard pancake recipe, you can make this batter the night before. I have taught my girls how to cook their own pancakes, so very often I will leave the batter on the counter for them to cook with their friends at whatever time they saunter downstairs and I’m free to get my day going.
I normally just serve these pancakes with a little maple syrup or with this incredible apple cider syrup we picked up at a roadside farm in the Hamptons this summer. The girls like to add chopped pecans to the pancakes when they’re cooking on the griddle, but the sauteed apples were a special treat and ridiculously simple to make. When they were tender I drizzled on them the tiniest amount of syrup and a dash of cinnamon. Crazy good! I made a plate to photograph and then said to the girls, “Look how pretty this is.” Their eyes bugged out and someone said, “Yum! Like that actually looks good.” Actually?? Like, whatever.
½ cup fresh or canned pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
1 Tablespoon pure maple syrup
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Coconut oil for brushing the griddle
Sauteed apples as accompaniment, optional:
2-3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil
1 teaspoon maple syrup
a dash of cinnamon
Preheat a griddle to 400 degrees or medium heat. (On some stovetops, 350 or 375 degrees is fine.)
If you are making the sautéed apples, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter and add the apples. Lower the heat slightly and gently sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon maple syrup and a dash of cinnamon and toss to combine. Remove from heat.
Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a large mixing bowl.
In a blender or medium mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs, pumpkin puree, maple syrup and melted butter until well blended.
Pour the wet mixture into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Brush the griddle with coconut oil and spoon about ¼ cup of batter onto the griddle. Add chopped pecans or walnuts to the surface, if desired. When bubbles start to form on the surface of the pancake and the edges turn slightly dry, flip it over and cook until done. Serve warm with sautéed apples or maple syrup.
To make the pancakes gluten-free, substitute 1 ½ cups of Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free Baking Mix + 1 ¼ teaspoons of xanthan gum or substitute ¾ cup brown rice or GF oat flour and ¾ cup buckwheat flour.
**You can also substitute half yogurt and half regular milk for the buttermilk. Or, use 1 ½ cups milk, omit the baking soda, and use 2 teaspoons baking powder instead.