Monday, December 30, 2013

Pumpkin Cheesecake


I know I've been slacking, but between the holidays and a new job I recently started, my cooking has taken a back seat to the rest of my life. My sincerest apologies! I'm still here with more yummy recipes perfect for the season. In honor of week 9 of 12 Weeks of Winter Squash, I'm sharing another pumpkin recipe.

This pumpkin cheesecake graced my Christmas table last week and it was a popular twist on a traditional pumpkin pie. Creamy, tangy, and decadent with a perfect blend of spices, this cheesecake is an excellent alternative to other pumpkin desserts. It features a crushed gingersnap cookie crust which is an excellent foil to the cheesecake itself.

I can't think of a better way to showcase pumpkin in a dessert while stepping outside of the box. If you love cheesecake and pumpkin, this dessert has it all! It's also super easy to make and the results speak for themselves. Adding this pumpkin cheesecake to a seasonal dessert repertoire is a no-brainer.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Makes 1 (9-inch) cheesecake
(From Brown Eyed Baker)

2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs (about a 14-oz package of cookies)
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

32 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 cups (about a 15-oz can) canned pumpkin
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 1/2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Double-wrap the bottom and outside of a 9-inch springform pan with heavy duty foil. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into the bottom of the springform pan. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F.

Bring a pot of water to a boil for a water bath.

Beat together the cream cheese and the sugars on medium speed until smooth and creamy, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin and mix on low until completely incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well until fully incorporated and scraping down the sides of the bowl between each addition. Add the heavy cream and vanilla and beat until well combined, about 1 minute. Add the cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, cloves and allspice and mix on low to incorporate.

Pour the batter into the prepared crust. Tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles. Place the pan into a larger pan (a roasting pan is great for this) and pour the boiling water into the larger pan until it is about halfway up the springform pan.

Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until the edges are set, but the middle still jiggles a little. Keeping the oven door closed, turn off the oven and let the cheesecake rest in the oven for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove the cheesecake from the oven, carefully remove it from the water bath, remove the foil and place the cheesecake on a wire rack to cool completely, about an additional 2 hours. Once completely cool, refrigerate for at least 6 hours (preferably overnight).

Cover any leftover cheesecake with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Wrapped, the cheesecake can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Creamy Pumpkin Soup


I have a confession to make. The real reason I made this pumpkin soup for 12 Weeks of Winter Squash was so I could serve it in my Jack Skellington (aka the Pumpkin King) mug because, let's be honest, it's pretty awesome.

That said, the contents of said mug can also hold its own when it comes to awesomeness. This recipe is based on a simpler pumpkin soup recipe I made years ago, but I recently decided to kick it up a notch by added a few more layers of flavor. Some garlic and crushed Urfa chili were my main additions, along with some fresh sage.

I recently made my own pumpkin puree, which I used for the fabulous Pumpkin-Pecan Scones with Maple Glaze I shared a week ago. In preparing the puree, one of the steps was to strain off excess liquid to help the puree thicken to the right consistency.

This pumpkin juice, if you will, was hanging out in my fridge when I decided to make this soup, and it seemed like the perfect occasion to use it! You can easily replace that 1/2 cup with more broth or stock, but I'm including it here in case anyone else decides to make their own pumpkin puree!

This soup is creamy and flavorful, without being too heavy. It has a bit of a kick from the Urfa chili, but not so much as to label this a spicy pumpkin soup. I garnished it with a fresh sage leaf, but in retrospect frying up that bad boy would have been a smarter decision, adding a tiny crunch. Either way, this is winter comfort at its best.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup
Serves 6

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed Urfa chili
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
3 cups chicken broth or stock
1/2 cup pumpkin juice (from making fresh pumpkin puree) or chicken broth or stock
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 cup heavy cream

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, garlic, crushed chili, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add the pumpkin puree, broth, pumpkin juice, chopped sage and thyme and raise the heat to bring the mixture to a simmer. Once it starts to bubble, lower the heat slightly and simmer for 10 minutes.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender until smooth, or alternatively use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the saucepan. Stir in the heavy cream and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper, as desired. Serve hot.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Four & Twenty Blackbirds: Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie


Sing a song of sixpence, 
A pocket full of rye. 
Four and twenty blackbirds, 
Baked in a pie.

As a baker, I can honestly say that one of my favorite things to make is pie crust. There's something so organic and delicate about cutting butter into flour and then saturating it with just enough ice-cold water to form the perfect lump of dough for making pie. It's a skill that dates back to our very roots, but sadly all too many people are taking shortcuts these days, purchasing store-bought crust, and oftentimes not even bothering to make rustic pies from scratch anymore.

I enjoy making anything from scratch, but there is definitely a special place in my heart for pie. It's comforting to its core, whether it begins with a traditional crust, or perhaps one made of crushed graham crackers or cookies. It's universally satisfying, whether filled with chunks of fruit or custard. There is a pie for every occasion and every craving. Pie should be celebrated (actually, it is on March 14th!).

I recently received a copy of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book from the generous folks at Grand Central Life & Style. It features "Uncommon Recipes from the Celebrated Brooklyn Pie Shop" owned and operated by sisters Emily and Melissa Elsen. With pie recipes appropriately separated by season, the book begins with look at the history of the shop, and many tips and techniques (and step-by-step photos) for assembling and baking the perfect pies.

In fact the illustrations for cutting and weaving a lattice crust is one of the most comprehensive I've seen. My only qualm about this section is that although it's very thorough, it does not discuss any of the special crimps or braids that are used to decorate many of the pies in the book's photos. The pie recipes simply state to  "arrange the lattice or pastry round on top and crimp as desired" without any further details for thinking outside of the box. One can mimic the photos, but a little direction wouldn't hurt.

For a book that prides itself on it's unique pie recipes, and includes gorgeous photographs, I really wish they had included a few extra notes about additional crimping techniques. Lucky for us, my friend Libbie Summers has shared some of her favorite pie crust designs in a recent post on Relish, including a great video too.

With that aside, I think this is a great book featuring pies in all their glory! Even the most simple pies are elevated with little secrets that set them apart from all the rest. The book starts with Spring and includes delicious twists like Strawberry Balsamic Pie and Chamomile Buttermilk Custard Pie. Spring makes way too Summer with treats like Sweet Corn Custard Pie and Lavender Blueberry Pie.

Fall may be one of my favorite chapters, featuring creations such as Salted Caramel Apple Pie, Maple Buttermilk Custard Pie, and Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie (three of my many considerations for Thanksgiving this year). Some others that peaked my interest for the holiday come from the Winter chapter: Cranberry Sage Pie, Junipear Pie, and Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie, among so many others.

Streaks of butter, baby!

I was intrigued by the crust recipes in this book, because unlike others I have tried in the past they include a bit of cider vinegar. The crust I typically make is a neutral all-butter crust that doesn't contain any sugar. It's great for sweet and savory pies alike.

Homemade caramel for the Salted Caramel Apple Pie

I recently made a lovely apple pie from Gramercy Tavern with a butter and shortening crust and it was super flaky as well. I have heard that vinegar helps create tenderness and a bit of tang in the dough. The crusts in this book also include a bit of sugar, which is different from my norm, so my curious nature was excited to try something new and see how it compares.

In a perfect world, I would really need to create several of the same pies using all different crusts to really determine side-by-side which I prefer. I must say, I found it a lot easier to roll out the dough containing vinegar compared to those without. The dough seemed to crack less and simply rolled out more smoothly, and I didn't have to let it sit out to soften before I did so. The flavor was fantastic (I do love all-butter crusts, not gonna lie) and it was every bit as flaky as I'd hoped.

My selection of pies for Thanksgiving included the Salted Caramel Apple Pie and the Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie, both twists on classic Thanksgiving staples. The Salted Caramel Apple Pie certainly required more of my time, between making the caramel, peeling, coring, and thinly slicing the apples, dredging the slices individually in lemon juice, straining, mixing, layering apple slices one by one, and then finally taking the time to create a beautiful lattice on top.

It was a lot of work, but the result was quite lovely. The appearance of the pie with the thinly sliced apples layered oh so perfectly is beautiful compared to a more haphazard look of other pies. Along with the lattice crust, it is one of the prettiest pies I've made.

I have to say though, that even after drizzling tons of caramel in there and sprinkling with sea salt (I used Fleur de Sel), I didn't taste as much "salted caramel" as I had envisioned. There is a definite tartness to the pie (certainly due to all the lemon juice in which the apple slices were dredged), but it lacks the pop of sweet and salty flavors I expected.

This is not to say whatsoever that the pie was a disappointment. It is incredibly delicious! It was the most popular dessert on the Thanksgiving table! It just didn't scream with the salted caramel flavors I expected. Regardless, I found it to be a stunning dessert, even after all the effort getting the apples just right.

What actually turned out to be my favorite pie of the evening (surprisingly) was the Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie. Whereas a typical pecan pie is cloyingly sweet with a sticky and gooey texture, this one is revolutionary. It has a much softer and somewhat creamy bite to it with a bit of tanginess from sour cream, and a great background flavor from the bittersweet chocolate. Pecans are aplenty and give this pie a toothsome bite. It almost reminds me of a not-too-chocolatey, softer and creamier brownie pie.

I only have one 9-inch pie dish (which I used for the apple pie), so I ended up using a 9 1/2-inch pie dish for the pecan pie, giving the filling just a touch too much headroom. The pie dish also lacks a wide rim, so the crimping of my crust became somewhat difficult and basically dissolved over the edges when I pre-baked my shell. Regardless of these minor aesthetic issues, the flavor and texture of this pie is fantastic. And to top it all off, it's really quite simple to make. It requires very little effort compared to the more tedious apple.

Either of these pies would be perfect for any occasion, especially seasonally. They were fantastic for Thanksgiving, and they would be equally welcome as sweet endings to a Christmas meal. I'm happy to see that these recipes yielded fantastic pies.

I'm anxious to try more from this book, especially as the seasons begin to change and new pie-making escapades become easily plausible with fresh, seasonal ingredients. I would happily recommend this cookbook to anyone who enjoys making pies from scratch. The recipes are creative and mouthwatering! This definitely isn't your grandmother's pie book!

Malted Chocolate Pecan Pie
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie; serves 8 to 10
(Adapted from The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book)

1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/4 pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup cold water
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup ice

Pre-baking Crust:
1 large egg white
1 teaspoon water

1 1/2 cups pecan pieces
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (55% cocoa)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup barley malt syrup
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup sour cream
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk

For the crust: Stir the flour, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl. Add the butter pieces and coat with the flour mixture using a bench scraper or spatula. With a pastry blender (or your fingers), cut the butter into the flour mixture, working quickly until mostly pea-size pieces of butter remain (a few larger pieces are okay; be careful not to overblend).

Combine the water, cider vinegar, and ice in a large measuring cup or bowl. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture over the flour mixture, and mix and cut it in with a bench scraper or spatula until it is fully incorporated. Add more of the ice water mixture, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, using the bench scraper or your hands (or both) to mix until the dough comes together in a ball, with some dry bits remaining. Squeeze and pinch with your fingertips to bring all the dough together, sprinkling dry bits with more small drops of the ice water mixture, if necessary, to combine.

Shape the dough into a flat disc, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight, to give the crust time to mellow. Wrapped tightly, the dough can be refrigerated for 3 days or frozen for 1 month.

To partially pre-bake the crust, preheat the oven to 425°F and place baking sheet on a rack on the lowest position. Roll out the dough to 1/8-inch thickness and carefully lay it into a 9-inch pie pan or dish, being careful not to stretch the dough. Trim the edges and crimp as desired. Refrigerate the crust for about 30 minutes to allow it to set. Prick all over the bottom and sides with a fork about 15 to 20 times. Line the crust with a piece of parchment paper and fill it with pie weights or dry beans. Place the pie on the preheated baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, until the crimped edges are set but not browned.

Remove the pan and the baking sheet from the oven, lift out the parchment and the pie weights and let the crust cool for a minute. Beat together the egg white and water. Use a pastry brush to coat the bottom and sides with a thin layer of egg white glaze to moistureproof the crust. Return the pan, on the baking sheet, to the oven's middle rack and continue baking for 3 more minutes. Remove and cool completely before filling.

For the pie: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. To toast the pecans, spread them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the nuts are fragrant, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.

Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Combine the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl large enough to rest on the rim of the saucepan, above the water. Melt the butter and chocolate over this double boiler, whisking occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat. Add the brown sugar, barley malt syrup, salt, cinnamon, and ginger, and stir well. Mix in the sour cream, then the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, stirring briskly after each addition. Stir in the cooled toasted pecan pieces.

Place the pre-baked pie shell on a rimmed baking sheet and pour in the filling. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 52 to 57 minutes, rotating 180 degrees when the edges start to set, about 35 minutes through baking (if the crust browns too quickly, tend the edges with a ring of aluminum foil). The pie is finished when the edges are set and puffed slightly and the center is slightly firm to the touch but still has some wobble (like gelatin). Be careful not to over-bake or the custard can separate; the filling will continue to cook and set after the pie is removed from the oven. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, 2 to 3 hours. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. The pie will keep refrigerated for 3 days or at room temperature for 2 days.

*Disclaimer* I received no compensation to write this review other than a free copy of the book. My opinions are always my own.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pumpkin-Pecan Scones with Maple Glaze


Ready for another week of winter squash love? I hope you're not pumpkin-ed out after Thanksgiving because I have a really great pumpkin scone recipe for you today!

I actually roasted and pureed my own pumpkin puree from a nearly 6 pound sugar pumpkin I recently picked up at a local farm. I used these instructions for roasting that bad boy and turning its flesh into silky orange puree. You can certainly used canned puree as well, so don't fret either way!

I only used some of the puree for these deliciously tender and spiced scones, so the rest of the puree will be featured in an upcoming post for 12 Weeks of Winter Squash.

These scones are incredibly fragrant from an intense mixture of seasonal spices. They are studded with bites of pecan and complimented with a sweet maple-infused glaze. They are perfect with a cup of tea or coffee in the morning, afternoon, or even as an after-dinner sweet.

I make all my scones by hand, using my tried and true formula, tweaking it occasionally for the variety of flavor profiles I choose to infuse into the pastries. Just like all the other scones I've made over the years, these feature an utterly tender crumb with a mild sweetness. The glaze really adds a bit of a sugar rush whereas the scones themselves are elegantly restrained.

Pumpkin-Pecan Scones with Maple Glaze
Makes 12

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup chopped toasted pecans
3/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg, beaten
2 to 4 tablespoons milk, buttermilk, or heavy cream, plus more for brushing

Maple Glaze:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and set the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Add cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and work the butter into the flour mixture, using your fingers or a pastry cutter, until the mixture resembles coarse pea or dime-size crumbs. Be careful not to overwork the mixture or the butter will soften too much and the resulting scones will not be flaky. Add the pecans and toss well.

Stir together the pumpkin puree, egg, and a couple tablespoons of milk. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until just combined, kneading lightly (but don't overwork it). Add more milk if needed to create a soft, slightly sticky dough.

Scrape dough onto a nicely floured large wooden cutting board or work surface. The dough may be sticky, so take extra care flouring your hands and the sides and top of the dough as well. Divide the dough in half and pat each portion into a 3/4-to-1-inch thick circle. Don't overwork the dough, as you want the butter inside to stay as cold as possible until the scones head into the oven.

Use a bench/dough scraper or knife to cut 6 wedges (like a pizza) from each round. Flip each cut scone over and place upside down on the parchment lined baking sheet (the bottoms are flatter and will look prettier as the tops of the scones), spacing a couple inches apart. Lightly brush on top of the scones (but not the sides) with a little milk or heavy cream. Bake scones for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly golden on top. Remove from the oven and allow the scones to cool on the pan while you prepare the glaze.

Stir together the confectioners' sugar, milk, and maple syrup until smooth. If the glaze is too thin, add a sprinkle more confectioners' sugar. Too thick, add a drizzle of milk. When scones are cool, drizzle the glaze over the tops. Allow the glaze to set briefly and then serve the scones at room temperature.


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