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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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.
Enjoy.
*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.

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.

Warm Red Cabbage Salad

The cold weather has officially hit, and I find myself craving more hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food; salads aren’t typically included in this category.  However, one of my coworkers brought this salad for lunch last week, and the scent wafting across the table motivated me to buy a 3-pound red cabbage at the farmer’s market this past weekend.

The recipe comes from one of my favorite sites, 101 Cookbooks.  I love Heidi’s food philosophy, her photography, and her delicious creations.  I have yet to be disappointed by one of her recipes, and this warm red cabbage salad was no exception.

The dish can be whipped up in a mere 30 minutes, making it perfect for a quick, light dinner.  However, if you’re anything like me, you may enjoy this salad so much that you find yourself eating it at all times of the day.  Believe me, it’s really that good.

Warm Red Cabbage Salad
(Adapted from 101 Cookbooks)
If you go to Heidi’s site, you’ll notice that she coats the sunflower seeds with sugar.  However, as advised by my coworker, the salad is already quite sweet due to the raisins, so I chose to omit this step.  Also, although this salad is wonderful alone, it is very tasty if accompanied by wild rice.  Makes 4-6 servings.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 shallot, diced
1 pound red cabbage, thinly shredded
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/2 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup raisins
1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
lemon juice (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, and sauté the onion, garlic, and shallot until soft.  Stir in the cabbage, and add a few pinches of salt.  Cook for 1 minute.  Add the rosemary, sunflower seeds, raisins, and vinegar.  Stir and cook until the cabbage softens a bit, but still has crunch.  Fold in the feta cheese and lemon juice (if desired).  Season with more salt if needed.
Enjoy.