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.
Enjoy.
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Morning Glory Muffins

Have I ever told you about my love for breakfast?  I’ve raved about granola and pear bread, and I’ve told you about my affection for avocado and whole wheat toast. But, I have to tell you a secret. There’s one breakfast treat that has never been on top of my favorite list: muffins.

I just really don’t like muffins.

Why, you ask?  Well, I’ve eaten a lot of muffins that are too gummy, too sweet, and, to be honest, not all that flavorful.  I want a muffin with substance, with pizzazz, with “oh my god, I just ate three of those muffins” power.  The morning glory is my muffin!

This muffin packs a big nutritional punch.  Carrots, apples, raisins, pears, and coconut all float in a sea of whole wheat and spelt flour.  Unlike your typical muffin, the morning glory will keep your stomach satisfied and your taste buds smiling.

Morning Glory Muffins
For some reason, I like these muffins even better the second day. I leave them on the counter for hungry hands to grab for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Variation: Omit the almond garnish, and toss in 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts with the raisins.  Makes 12 muffins.
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup spelt flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 medium carrots, grated
1 Granny Smith apple, grated (I kept the skin on for extra fiber)
1 ripe pear, peeled and grated
1 egg
1/4 cup plain yogurt (low-fat is fine)
1/2 cup melted butter or canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup shredded coconut
12 almonds, for a decorative kick! (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or line a 12-cup muffin pan.
Place raisins in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let the raisins sit in the water to plump for 15 minutes. Drain.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine the spelt flour, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, mix together the carrots, apple, pear, egg, yogurt, melted butter/oil, vanilla, raisins and coconut.
Add the carrot mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until combined, being careful not to overmix.  Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling to the top (the batter will not rise very much). Top each muffin with an almond, if using.  Bake 40-45 minutes, until the muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.  Remove from the pan, and let cool on a wire rack.
Enjoy.

The Best Lemon Bars

When signs of spring begin to pop up around town, I always make lemon bars.  Lemon has the power to wake you up from the cloudy fog of winter with one, slightly tart bite.  Quite the powerful fruit!

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that these lemon bars will be the best you’ll find.  I’ve adapted the recipe from the creator of my favorite brownies, Alice Medrich.  The bars are slightly more tart than a traditional lemon bar, but I think that’s the key to their success.

I always add a dash of ginger to any lemon sweet that I am making, convinced that the spice lets the lemon sing.  One day, I’ll experiment with earl gray or jasmine tea in the crust as well. For now though, get yourself ready for spring by whipping up a batch of these easy, and utterly delicious lemon bars.  Let me know what you think!

 
The Best (or at least my favorite) Lemon Bars
(adapted from Alice Medrich’s Very Tangy Lemon Bar recipe)
Makes 16 large or 24 small lemon bars.  The recipe can easily be doubled and prepared in a 9 x 13 inch pan.
For the crust:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
For the filling:
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with foil. Set aside.
To make the crust: in a medium-sized bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and ground ginger and mix until combined.*  Press the dough over the bottom of the pan. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is completely baked and golden brown.
To make the filling: While the crust is baking, stir together the sugar and flour in a large mixing bowl until well combined.  Whisk in the eggs. Add the lemon zest and juice and stir.
When the crust is fully baked, turn down the oven to 300 degrees. Pour the filling onto the hot crust and slide back into the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the topping doesn’t jiggle when the pan is moved. Cool completely before cutting.**
Enjoy.
*Note: the crust will seem too greasy, but it will come together in the oven. Don’t add more flour.
**Note 2: Store leftovers (if there are any) in the refrigerator.
 
 

Pear Bread

As you have probably been able to figure out, my true passion for food lies on the sweet side of the kitchen.  Although I am confident in my savory cooking abilities, an extra splurge of creativity and excitement arrives when I am baking.

One of my favorite things to make and to eat is banana bread.  Over the years, through much trial and error, I think I have (finally) created one of the tastiest banana bread recipes around.

I had at the huge pile of bananas on the kitchen counter for a while, assuming that my family could not possibly eat that many bananas, and that I would be able to make banana bread at the end of the week.  However, when I glanced at the pile yesterday, there was only one brown-speckled beauty ripe enough for baking.

Still having an itch to bake, and with four extremely ripe pears sitting in the fruit basket, I decided to try baking pear bread.  After all, the method has to be pretty similar to banana bread, doesn’t it?

Inspired, I remembered reading about pear bread on another one of my favorite food sites: Smitten Kitchen.  So, using her recipe as a starting point, I quickly whipped together the batter, poured it into a Bundt pan, and gently slid it into the oven.  One hour later the entire house smelled delightfully of spiced bread, and my craving for banana bread was quickly forgotten.  I promise that this bread will not disappoint!

 
  
Pear Bread
(Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
If you look at Deb’s site, you’ll notice that I decreased the amount of sugar quite a bit.  I still found the bread to be plenty sweet, however, and the texture remained perfectly moist.  The key, I think, is to use overly ripe pears.  Also, I imagine the bread would make a lovely dessert for a party if slathered with cream cheese frosting.  Makes 10 generous servings.

 
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
4 ripe pears, peeled and cored
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter and flour a Bundt pan.  Set aside.
Combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl.
Place the pears in a small bowl and mash.  Add the oil, eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract to the bowl and mix well.
Add the pear mixture to the flour mixture.  Fold the mixture until no specks of flour remain, being careful not to overmix.
Scrape the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for approximately 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the bread comes out clean.  Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes.  Turn the bread out on a wire rack and cool completely.
Enjoy.