Dark Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding

As the leaves start to fall and the air becomes a bit chilly, my craving for pumpkin-flavored food starts to appear.  My belly craves warmth, comforting food–dessert.  And, to me, nothing screams comfort like bread pudding.

I’ve found that bread pudding either evokes intense excitement or scrunched-up noses when mentioned.  Sometimes described as “soggy bread,” I wouldn’t find the dessert that enticing either.  But, after having worked in an Irish Pub for over three years, I’ve discovered the truth.  Soggy bread, as some call it, is delicious. Just look at that picture and tell me you wouldn’t want a sample.

I came across this recipe in Gourmet years back and it has stuck in my mind ever since.  Naturally, though, I found an excuse to add chocolate (like this pumpkin bread).  The result was extremely decadent, especially served warm with ice cream.  It makes a great breakfast as well!

Dark Chocolate-Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Adapted from Gourmet & Martha Stewart
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
5 cups cubed day-old bread (I used challah)
3/4 stick unsalted butter, melted
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into small chunks
1/4 cup pumpkin butter (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin, sugars, eggs, egg yolks, salt, and spices.
Toss bread cubes in melted butter in another bowl. Sprinkle in chocolate and mix again.  Transfer to a 8×8-inch square baking pan.  Pour the milk mixture over the bread and chocolate.  Dot with pumpkin butter.  Bake until the custard is set, 25-30 minutes.

Apple-Cranberry Pie

There are cake people and there are pie people.  Although I treat myself to a cupcake now and then, I am, when forced to choose, a pie person.  After all, how can you deny a plateful of just-from-the-oven apple pie topped with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream?

A good friend came over to bake yesterday, and I was thrilled when he revealed his intentions to make an apple-cranberry pie.  There’s something about the way those bouncy and bright little cranberries make the filling pop.  And the crust, OH THE CRUST, it’s perfectly buttery, with a hint of lemon and a little crunch.  Serve up a slice warm from the oven with a big scoop of ice cream, and you’ll never find it difficult to choose between pie and cake again.


Apple-Cranberry Pie
Makes 1 9-inch pie
Pie Crust:
1 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter, diced
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup ice water
Pie Filling:
3 pink lady apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
3/4 cup cranberries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 egg + 1 tablespoon water (optional)
turbinado sugar (optional)
For the pie crust:  Put the butter on a small plate and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.  In the meantime, combine the flour, salt, sugar, and lemon zest in a large bowl.  Mix well.  Cut in the semi-frozen butter until the butter chunks are about the size of peas (I flatten any big chunks of butter with my fingers).  Pour 1/4 cup of ice water over the mixture and mix, adding additional water if necessary.*  Form the dough into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
For the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Remove one disk of dough from the refrigerator.  Sprinkle flour on the countertop and the rolling pin.  Roll dough into an 11 inch circle, picking the dough up and rotating it 45 degrees after each stroke to prevent sticking.  Place the circle of dough into a pie pan and trim the overhang within 1 inch of the pan.  Pile the filling into the lined pie pan.  Roll out the remaining disk of dough and place over filling.  Trim edges to match bottom layer of dough.  Fold the edges under and crimp.  If desired, brush the egg wash on the top crust and sprinkle with sugar.  Cut slits in the top of the pie and place in the oven.  Bake for approximately 1 hour, or until the filling is bubbling.
*Hint: The pie dough has enough water when, after squeezing some dough in your hand, the ball of dough stays together.    If it does not, add more water by the tablespoon until it holds together.

Salted Caramel Apples

Over the years, I have discovered that apple desserts are always big crowd-pleasers.  Whether in pie, pancakes, or eaten plain, the fruit has large audience of devoted fans.  When fresh apples start to appear at the farmer’s market, I get excited.  Although these apples are often small and misshapen when compared to their supermarket cousins, they wow us with flavor.

Biting into the first fall apple forces your  lips to pucker, with juice running down your chin.  I always wonder why I eat apples during any other time of the year, as they just don’t taste the same.

When thinking of another dessert for the Thanksgiving table, I decided to feature the apple in a classic–caramel apples.  With Heidi’s homemade honey caramel, an extra pinch of sea salt, and a sprinkling of roasted peanuts, these were just as popular as the pumpkin pie.

Salted Caramel Apples
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
Extra caramel works perfectly for candy.  Simply pour the unused caramel into a greased, shallow pan and let cool at room temperature for about 1 hour.  Cut into small rectangles and wrap in waxed paper.
16 small apples, washed & dried
1 cup roasted peanuts, crushed
2 cups heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons sea salt
2 cups honey (I used clover honey)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Special Equipment: Candy Thermometer & Skewers
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Insert a skewer into the top of each apple and place on the baking sheet.  Place the peanuts in a small bowl and set aside.
In a large, thick-bottomed saucepan, heat the cream with the cinnamon stick and salt over medium heat until small bubbles start to appear around the rim of the pot.  Pour in the honey.  Bring the mixture to a boil.  Lower the heat and bring to a steady simmer, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or a heat-proof spatula.  Continue to stir until the mixture reaches 255-260 degrees on the candy thermometer.  Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool until the mixture starts to thicken.
When the caramel is thick enough to dip the apples (thin enough to coat the apples, but thick enough so it doesn’t run right off), dunk each apple in the caramel and let the excess run off for approximately 10 seconds.  Roll the apple in the peanuts and set on the baking sheet.  Repeat with the other apples.
*Note: if the caramel ever gets too thick to coat the apples, simply place the pot back on the stove for about 1 minute.

Silky Pumpkin Pie

You just can’t celebrate Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie.  And, if you have yet to find a recipe for this year’s festivities, I strongly recommend you to choose this one.

I made this pie for an early Thanksgiving celebration with a few friends, and let’s just say that it didn’t last long!  The filling is exceptionally creamy and perfectly spiced.  Add in a buttery homemade pie crust with a generous amount of ginger, and you just may be surprised by how delicious pumpkin pie can actually be.

Silky Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Crust
If you are short on time, you can opt for a store-bought pie crust.  However, I strongly recommend that you attempt to make your own.  You’ll be amazed by the taste and textural difference. Makes one 9-inch pie.
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground ginger
10 tablespoons cold butter, diced and frozen for 15 minutes
1/4 cup ice water
Filling (Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated):
2 cups half & half
3 large eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 15-oz can pumpkin purée
1 15-oz can sweet potato purée
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon sea salt
To Make Pie Crust:  In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and ground ginger.  Cut in the cold butter until the majority of butter pieces are about the size of peas.  Add the ice water and mix until the dough can be formed into a compact disk.  (If the mixture is still dry, add ice water by the tablespoon, until the mixture comes together.  If you are new to homemade pie dough, a slightly wetter dough will be easier for you to roll out.)  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  Can be made several days ahead.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Generously flour your workspace.  Roll the pie crust dough into a 12-inch circle.  Roll the dough around the rolling pin and set in the pie plate.  Gently push the dough to conform to the plate, without stretching.  Tuck the edges of the dough under and crimp.  Freeze for 15-25 minutes.
Remove the pan from the freezer.  Line the crust with a piece of foil and fill with pie weights (I use dried beans).  Bake the crust for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and pie weights.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
To Make Filling:  While the crust is baking, whisk the half & half, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla together in a large bowl.  Set aside.  In a large saucepan, mix together the pumpkin puree, sweet potato puree, brown sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.  Heat the mixture over medium heat until it begins to “sputter”, which should take less than 10 minutes.  Turn the heat down to medium-low, and continue to cook until the mixture is very thick, and semi-shiny, which will take another 15 minutes.
Add the pumpkin mixture to the cream mixture and whisk well.  Using a fine-mesh strainer and a rubber spatula, strain the warm filling into a bowl.  Mix the filling again, and add to the pre-baked pie crust.  Return the pie to the oven, and reduce the heat to 350 degrees.  Bake until the center of the pie registers 170 degrees, about 35-45 minutes.  Cool the pie on a wire rack for at least 1 1/2 hours.