October 22, 2011

Pumpkin Bread

A few years ago, a missionary friend talked me into volunteering to cook at a summer bible camp. I had visions of baking wonderful foods for the children who would, because of my culinary prowess, love and admire me. When I arrived with my truck load of organic vegetables, organic whole-grain flours of all sorts, and whole-grain pastas, I was shiny-faced and excited to prepare uber-healthful foods so the children would be healthy and thriving. Then, I cooked. This is what I learnt:
  1. Children hate foods that are healthful.
  2. Children have evil powers of persuasion (it looks a lot like mournful sadness).
  3. Children, especially female children, would rather starve themselves to death (yes, actual death) than eat anything that even vaguely looks like it might have nutritional value.
  4. Children do not like whole-wheat bread, no matter how carefully and lovingly it has been prepared.

By the end of the first week I was putting sugar in the spaghetti sauce. BUT! I did figure out a way to get them to eat healthful bread. Enter, pumpkin bread.*cues the angels* You, and even the very small controlling people who live with you, will love this bread. It is exquisitely moist, has a lovely thin crust, and the subtlest hint of pumpkin flavour.

  • 2 tbsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/2 c. warm water
  • 4 tbsp. butter, cut into small bits
  • 1-1/2 c. very hot water
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1-1/4 c. pureed pumpkin (bake and puree fresh pumpkin if possible, otherwise canned is ok, too)
  • 4 tbsp. packed brown sugar
  • 2 c. whole-wheat flour
  • 4-5 c. bread flour
  • 1 egg, beaten (for washing the loaves)
  • 2 tbsp. sunflower seeds

Mix together the yeast and 1/2 cup warm water; cover; set aside for approximately 10 minutes, until it is foamy. Place the hot water and butter in a large bowl; stir until the butter has melted. Add 1 cup of bread flour to the water/butter mixture; stir for 3-4 minutes. Add the salt, egg, pumpkin, brown sugar, yeast mixture, and whole-wheat flour. Stir for 2 minutes. Add bread flour, 1 cup at a time, until it forms a soft dough, which will be sticky, but not so soft that you can't pick it up. Turn out on lightly floured surface; knead, adding flour as needed, until the dough forms a soft ball that is smooth, soft, and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray; cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for about 40 minutes, until double in size. Turn the raised dough out onto a lightly floured surface, knead lightly to partially de-gas; divide the dough into two equal parts and shape each into a loaf. If you choose to use a loaf pan, a greased 9 x 5 x 3" pan works well, otherwise, use a greased cookie sheet. Let the loaves rise for another 30 minutes, or until double in size. Right before placing the loaves in the oven, brush them with the second beaten egg and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds. Slash each loaf on the diagonal. Place the loaves on the center rack of an oven that has been preheated to 400f. Mist the loaves with water then quickly close the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 350f and continue baking for 15-20 minutes, until the loaves are brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Nom nom nom!! Enjoy! :D


October 16, 2011

Purist Pumpkin Pie

Some things are so perfect, they shouldn't be messed with. Pumpkin pie is one of those things. Classic pumpkin pie trumps any of the 'improved' versions you might be tempted to try, and if you are a purist, you not only stick to a recipe that has been around for decades, you go to a field, pick a pumpkin, bake it, then puree it to make your pie. Making your own pastry is a given (using a store-bought crust would be sacrilegious and bring down upon you, and all of your descendants to the 7th generation, horribly bad karma). Do it old-school - the end product is worth it and you will impress the hell out of everyone, most of whom have never had a made-from-scratch pie. So send everyone away, put some good music on (this is a good place to start), assemble your pie, then sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the oven, watching your pie turn golden, feeling like a modern Julia Child, inhaling the warm aroma of tradition that seeps from your oven.

  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. packed brown sugar
  • 4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 c. baked pumpkin, squished to drain of excess moisture, then pureed (canned plain pumpkin may be used if you are not going for the Julia Child experience :)
  • 2 3/4 c. evaporated milk (I use evaporated milk because it is low-fat - use heavy cream instead if you like.)
  • 4 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 425f. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well. Pour into unbaked pie crust. Place in preheated oven; bake for 15 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 375f. Bake for an additional 45 - 60 minutes, until toothpick (or sharp, thin knife) inserted in middle comes out clean.

Pastry Crust
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2/3 c. shortening
  • 7 tbsp. ice water

Place flour in a medium bowl; add salt; stir. Using a pastry cutter, cut the shortening into the flour until it forms a coarse, crumbly mixture. Using a fork, gently stir in the cold water. Mix only until the dough forms a ball. Use your hands to squish it together a bit if needed, but do not knead! Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface; line a large pie plate (2 inches deep). Trim the excess from the edges of the pan if there is dough hanging over the edges. Use the excess to make pastry leaves for garnish.