Halloween Loaves

multigran pumpkin seed bread

I‘ve already lost track of how many loaves of bread I’ve baked this school year.   Maybe next year I’ll keep a list, but for now it’s enough that I’m well ahead of my goal of baking bread at least once a week for my daughters’ school lunches.

Since I usually squeeze bread-baking in between various family or work responsibilities, I tend to make the same recipes over and over again.  A couple of weeks ago while I prepared to make some multigrain loaves, I eyed the large container of pumpkin seeds that we’ve enjoyed so much in these Pumpkin Millet Muffins.  On a whim, I toasted some seeds and tossed them in the with the rest of the ingredients.

The next morning, as my husband cut into one of the deep golden loaves to make sandwiches, I eyed a slice eagerly;  the pale green pumpkin seed cross-sections dappling its surface prompted me to slather it with butter  and indulge in a second breakfast.  The seeds added a toasted nuttiness and pleasant crunch to the tender, flavorful bread.

multigran pumpkin seed bread

My husband enthusiastically suggested that we use the seeds from our Jack O’ Lanterns in the next batch of bread.  I thought this was a fantastic idea, so long as he agreed to hull all the seeds for me.   I’m sorry to report that he didn’t go for it, but I can hardly blame him.

Eliza loves this bread with peanut butter and jelly, and I love it grilled with ham and cheese.  And while my house may not look festive for Halloween, at least my bread does.

Multigrain Pumpkin Seed Bread

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  Makes two 9-by-5-inch loaves.

Sponge
1 cup uncooked multigrain cereal
1 1/2 cups warm water (105° to 115° F)
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1 cup whole wheat flour

Dough
3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose or bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sunflower seed oil, plus extra for glazing
1 cup hulled pumpkin seeds, toasted and cooled

Combine the ingredients for the sponge in the bowl of a standing electric mixer.   Beat hard for about two minutes.  Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let the sponge rest at room temperature until foamy and doubled in bulk, about an 1 hour.

Add 2 cups of flour to the bowl, along with the salt, oil, and seeds.  Mix until combined.  Continue adding flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough clears the sides of the bowl.  Change to the dough hook and knead until the dough is supple but still tacky.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead briefly by hand, adding flour only to keep it from sticking.   Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Grease two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans.  Turn the dough out on a lightly floured work surface.  Divide into 2 equal portions.   Shape each portion into a rectangle and roll it up into a loaf, pinching the seams together.  Place loaves, seam sides down, in loaf pans.  Let rise until almost doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F.  Brush the loaves with extra sunflower seed oil.  Bake in the lower half of the oven until the loaves are deep golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped with your finger, about 40 to 45 minutes.

multigran pumpkin seed bread
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Pie in the Sky

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

During a recent kids’ soccer game, my friend Laurie mentioned that she was making a lemon meringue pie for a catering event that evening.   Instantly, I began obsessing as I described to her an amazing version that I hadn’t made in years.  I vaguely recalled it as a somewhat unconventional recipe;  one that used brown sugar rather than white and involved heating the egg white mixture before spreading it onto the pie.

What I remembered distinctly was how impressive the pie looked — something about precooking the egg and sugar allows you to get some serious height on the meringue.  And as far as taste,  I’m pretty sure I always licked the filling bowl whenever I made it.

At the end of the soccer game, Laurie left the field to go bake her pie;  I left on a mission to track down my coveted recipe with the hope of making it again as soon as I possibly could.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

When I read through the recipe in my Mustards Grill Cookbook, I remembered why I’d stopped making it:  it called for a pre-baked pie crust.

Almost without exception (a certain chocolate crust being the exception), I hate pre-baking pie crusts.   As far as I’m concerned, whoever coined the phrase “easy as pie” never intended it to apply to desserts requiring pre-baked pastry.   I have no patience for freezing pastry dough in a pie dish before topping it with foil and adding beans or pie weights  or some other crap to help keep it ship-shape during baking.  Plus, I have had several crusts slump and sag even when I took these tedious precautions.  Just thinking about all this work gives me a headache.

The fact that, years ago, I made this particular recipe — more than once even — pre-baked crust and all, tells you something about how good it must be.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

While I loved eating this show-stopping pie, the serious crust fails I endured while making it eventually caused me to give up on it.

Since my last disastrous attempt, I’ve baked a pie or two.  Now I just ignore directions instructing me to pre-bake a crust.   As long as a pie goes into the oven at a relatively high temperature to start and cooks for enough time for the crust to turn golden, all is usually well.

The time had clearly come to revisit this spectacular pie, and I jumped on the opportunity to bake it for a lemon-loving friend’s surprise birthday party.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

Without the hassle of pre-baking the crust, the pie came together easily on a Friday afternoon after work. While its combination of tangy and sweet flavors mingled deliciously,  the tidy, glorious slices I remembered serving (at least when the crust cooperated) proved impossible to produce.

Fortunately, I had promised my daughter Eliza, who helped me make the pie, that we’d make it again soon.  She felt rightly cheated that she didn’t get a single slice.  This gave me a good excuse to make the pie again the next day to figure out how to produce a firmer meringue.

The recipe calls for boiling brown sugar over high heat, and then pouring the molten sugar into the eggs as they whip in the bowl of a standing electric mixer.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

Heating the brown sugar about five degrees higher than the original recipe called for, and then beating the eggs until they were quite firm, rather than firm with soft peaks, resulted in a more solid, sliceable meringue.

To help get cleaner-looking slices with my improved meringue, I also heated the knife under hot water before cutting into the pie.  This helped produce crisp-looking wedges that looked much prettier on a plate than the soppy mess of the night before.

Two indulgent days of eating this pie have convinced me that I will never tire of it.  The pie portion, with its creamy, tart lemon-lime filling could really stand alone, and the addition of a sweet billowing mass of meringue transforms a simple, delicious pie into a festive extravagance.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

Now that I’ve worked out the kinks, I owe the birthday girl another lemon-lime meringue pie.  I feel a pie-by coming on;  hopefully when I show up at her house with a pie, she’ll let me come in and eat it with her.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie

Adapted from Mustards Grill Cookbook.  Serves 10 to 12.

Crust
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
¾ teaspoon salt
¾ cup unsalted butter, sliced
2 ½ tablespoons ice water, strained
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Filling
6 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 to 6 limes)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
(about 2 lemons, zested before juicing)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

Meringue
¾ cup egg whites (from about 6 large)
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
1 ½ cups firmly packed brown sugar

To make the crust, whirl the first four ingredients in the bowl of a food processor until the pine nuts are chopped into smallish crumbs.  Add about 4 tablespoons butter and process until you no longer see chunks.  Add remaining butter and process briefly, leaving chunks the size of peanuts.  Working quickly, turn on the food processor and pour the ice water and vanilla through the feed tube, stopping before the dough comes together.  Pinch a bit of the dough between your fingers.  If it does not stick together, add a couple of teaspoons more water and whirl briefly.  Turn out the dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap.  Use the plastic wrap to help you create a large, flat disk:  fold the edges of the dough toward the center and press down to smooth out the roughness.   Refrigerate dough for at least 30 minutes.

For the filling, whisk the eggs and granulated sugar together in a large bowl until smooth.  Add the lime and lemon juices, whisking until smooth.  Add cream and whisk until combined.  Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup.  Stir in the lemon zest.  Set aside.

Roll out dough into a large circle of 1/8-inch thickness.  Transfer dough carefully into an 11-inch tart pan.  Trim edges to leave a 1-inch overhang all the way around the pan.  Fold overhanging edge down inside the tart pan, pressing gently to help it adhere.  Prick the bottom of the crust five times with the tines of a fork.

Place tart pan on a baking sheet and place it in an oven heated to 450° F.  Working quickly, pour the filling into the crust and close the oven (the very liquid filling makes the uncooked tart difficult to transfer from counter to oven).  Reduce the oven temperature to 425° F and bake for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350° F and continue baking until the center is just set, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the pie on a rack, and then refrigerate until cold.

To prepare the meringue, place the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment.   Measure brown sugar into a small, heavy saucepan.  Add water to cover the sugar, attach a candy thermometer to the pan, and turn the burner on high heat.  When the sugar reaches about 240° F, start beating the egg whites on high speed (they should be foamy and starting to thicken before you add the sugar). When the sugar reaches 245° F to 250° F, remove the thermometer from the sugar and, with the mixer still running, pour the sugar into the egg whites in a thin, steady stream. When steam starts to come off the whites, add the sugar more quickly.  When finished adding sugar, continue whipping until stiff peaks form. The meringue should still be quite warm.  Spread the meringue atop the pie, shaping it with a rubber spatula into a high, smooth dome.  Make decorative waves, working quickly for the meringue becomes difficult to work with as it cools and stiffens.  Use a kitchen torch to brown the meringue, or place the pie on a lower oven rack with the broiler on, turning every few seconds to brown the meringue evenly.  Store the finished pie in the refrigerator.  Serve  within 3 to 5 hours, as the meringue may start to weep.

Lemon-Lime Meringue Pie
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Pie O’ Lantern

Catalogs seem to multiply in my mailbox these days.  You know what I’m talking about –  that endless supply of glossy pages parading seasonal items like bronze pumpkins vases and decorative metal skulls, not to mention berry-and-pine cone-topiary Christmas trees and reindeer-Santa-and-sleigh stitched throw pillows.

I try not to think about the trees that sacrificed their lives for this visual onslaught.   A visual onslaught that, without fail,  portrays its melange of holiday items in spacious and spotless living spaces about as far from my reality as life can get.

Maybe someday I’ll live in a house like that, but it’s not likely, at least not any time in the near future.  While I wouldn’t mind the spaciousness or spotlessness, for some reason, I’ve never felt a great need to accumulate holiday knickknacks to strew artfully about my house.

Since I currently live in a 900-square-foot cottage with my family of four, I feel grateful that I’m not pining to decorate this cramped space with holiday items.   Even if I was, and miraculously found the requisite space needed to display spooky aspen branches for Halloween, I’d never find a place to store all those fluttering black leaves once Thanksgiving arrived.

While I may not decorate seasonally, I still wholeheartedly embrace the holidays.  I love to stomp around our small-town pumpkin patch with my family.

I will happily spend an entire rainy Saturday reading  Halloween stories with my daughters.

And, of course, I can’t help but head to the kitchen in an effort to transform some of my seasonal enthusiasm into food.

In Halloween’s past, I’ve made meringue bones and pumpkin-shaped cupcakes and even a three-tiered ghost cake.  This year, I channeled my Halloween spirit into little Jack ‘O Lantern pies.  Savory ones.

These pies deliver their thyme-laced pumpkin, Gruyere, and leek filling in a tidy, hand-size package that’s almost too cute to eat.

My kids enjoyed creating faces on the rounds of pastry with miniature cookie cutters, as well as the ends of frosting decorating tips.

And just like faces on real Jack ‘O Lanterns, each pie came to life with its own, unique character.

Despite their cuteness, these Halloween pies don’t stick around long enough to clutter up my house.   That brings me infinitely more cheer than any punched ceramic pumpkin luminary ever could.  Take that, Pottery Barn.

Savory Pumpkin Hand Pies

Makes eight 4-inch pies.

Pastry
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup grated Gruyere Cheese (about 1 ounce)
1/2 teaspoon powdered sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, cut in slices
1 egg yolk
1/3 to 1/2 cup ice water, strained

Filling
6 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound chopped pie pumpkin or other winter squash, cut in 1/4-inch cubes (about three cups)
3/4 teaspoons salt, divided, plus more to taste
pepper, to taste
fresh thyme sprigs, to taste
1 large leek, white part only, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3/4 cup grated Gruyere Cheese (about 2.5 ounces)

Egg wash
1 egg
2 tablespoons cream

To make pastry dough, combine flour, sugar, salt, and cheese in the bowl of a food processor.  Whirl to combine.  Add butter slices and pulse until butter looks pea-sized.  Add egg yolk while pulsing, and then add most of the water, pulsing, in a slow, steady stream.  If the mixture seems dry and doesn’t stick together, add the remaining water while pulsing. Divide dough into two portions.  Flatten each one into a disk.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400° F.  Toss garlic, cubed pumpkin, 2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and thyme sprigs in a baking dish.  Bake until squash is tender but still holds its shape, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove thyme sprigs.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet.  Add the leeks, 1/4 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and dried thyme.   Saute over medium heat until the leeks begin to soften, about 2 minutes.  Cover the pan, reduce heat to medium-low,  and allow the leeks to steam until tender, about 8 minutes.  Add wine and cook, uncovered, over medium heat until the pan is nearly dry.

Toss the squash and leeks together with fresh thyme.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.   Allow filling to cool slightly before tossing with Gruyere cheese.

Preheat oven to 375º F.  Whisk together egg yolk and cream and set aside.

Remove one of the chilled pastry disks from the refrigerator and roll the dough to 1/8-inch thickness.  With the first batch, cut eight 4-inch circles, re-rolling scraps as needed.  Roll out remaining dough and cut eight 4 1/2-inch circles, re-rolling as necessary.  The larger circles are the tops.

On the tops, using a sharp knife, score shallow lines that radiate from a center point near the upper edge of the rounds (later, you will place stems atop the center point).   Create faces on each scored round using miniature cookie cutters, the pointed ends of decorating tips, or free handing with a sharp knife.  Set aside.

Use scraps of dough to shape eight small rectangles to use as stems.  Set aside.

Place the bottom rounds on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Add about 1/3 cup filling to each round, leaving a 1/4-inch margin around the edge.  With a clean fingertip, spread egg wash along the exposed edge.   Gently place a prepared top over the filling, lining up the edges carefully.  Using the back side of a fork, press firmly to seal edges together.  Add a dab of egg wash where the scored lines meet near the top of the round and attach a prepared stem.  Apply egg wash lightly to the entire surface of the the pie.  Repeat with remaining rounds of dough.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Cinnamon-Spice and Everything Nice

Now that it’s October, I’m ready to embrace fall.  It’s hard to pretend it’s summer when the leaves are turning colors and falling from the trees.

For our jaunts to the beach, we’ve traded our flip flops for XtraTuf boots and our juice boxes for a thermos of hot cocoa.

And since cucumber slices or grapes seem silly to nibble on while sipping hot cocoa, I’ve started making muffins to bring along.

These Pumpkin Millet Muffins taste like fall –  cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and sweet pumpkin combine in a comforting blend of flavors.  Millet and pumpkin seeds add texture and a satisfying crunch to these moist, rich muffins.

The first time I made them, my daughter and her friend ate three each in quick succession.  I won’t tell you how many I ate, but I had to send a good portion of the remaining muffins to a friend to stop myself from eating all of them.

A text from my friend greeted me early the next morning: “I need that muffin recipe.  We inhaled them.”  I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one inhaling muffins.

Pumpkin Millet Muffins

Adapted from Rebar Modern Food Cookbook.  Makes 24 muffins.  I have made these muffins with both Farmer’s Market Organic and Libby’s unsweetened pumpkin purees;  the muffins baked with Libby’s turned out sweeter.  Next time I use the organic brand, I am inclined to add a bit more brown sugar.

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
15 ounces pumpkin puree
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup millet
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350° F.   Grease or insert liners into the cups of two standard-size muffin pans.  Set aside.

Toast millet seeds in a hot dry skillet until they start to crackle and pop.  Set aside to cool.  Add pumpkin seeds to the skillet and toast until lightly browned and fragrant.  Set aside to cool.

Combine eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar, vanilla, and pumpkin in a large bowl.  Mix well, making sure no lumps of brown sugar remain.  Stir in the oats, millet, and pumpkin seeds.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients together and mix well.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture. Gently stir to combine, taking care not to over-mix.

Fill muffin cups generously and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.  Remove pans from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before removing muffins to a cooling rack.

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