Tag: baking

A Spiced Dessert for Halloween Parties

Halloween party hosts may want to have a variety of treats on hand to satisfy the assortment of sweet tooths in attendance. Candy might be the first thing people think of on Halloween, but cakes and cookies can make for delicious treats as well. Borrowing from the flavors of the season, including pumpkin, cinnamon and nutmeg, “Spiced Pumpkin Cake” from “Real Simple: Easy, Delicious Home Cooking (Time Home Entertainment)” from the editors of Real Simple can be a welcome addition to any Halloween spread.

Spice Pumpkin Cake (Serves 12)

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

3 cups all-purpose flour, spooned and leveled, plus more for the pan

5 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder

3⁄4 teaspoon baking soda

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt

11⁄2 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree

1⁄2 cup whole milk

1⁄4 cup molasses

11⁄4 cups confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour a 12-cup bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high heat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. One at a time, beat in the eggs. Beat in the pumpkin puree, milk, and molasses (the mixture may appear curdled). Reduce the mixer speed to low; gradually add the flour mixture and mix until just combined (do not overmix). Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 to 65 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to cool completely. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle over the cake. Let set before serving.

Tip: This cake can be baked and glazed up to one day in advance. Store, covered at room temperature.

A Quick and Delicious Holiday Dessert

The holiday season is synonymous with many things, including delicious foods. While Thanksgiving turkeys or Christmas geese will be found on many a table this holiday season, baked goods and desserts are what many people look forward to this time of year.

Holiday hosts with a lot on their plates might not have the time to prepare homemade baked goods for their guests. Thankfully, the following recipe for “Chocolate-Strawberry Pie” from Addie Gundry’s “No-Bake Desserts” (St. Martin’s Press) can be prepared in just 15 minutes, all without turning on the oven.

Chocolate-Strawberry Pie

Yields 1 pie

1 pint fresh strawberries, washed, trimmed and halved
1 store-bought (or homemade) chocolate cookie pie crust
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
6 large egg yolks
21/2 cups half-and-half
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 tablespoon rum extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Additional strawberries for garnish (optional)

1. Place the strawberry halves in a single layer in the bottom of the pie crust.
2. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over medium heat.
3. Whisk in the egg yolks to create a thick paste. Gradually whisk in the half-and-half until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
4. Add the chocolate and whisk until combined. Add the rum and vanilla extracts. Cool the mixture for 4 minutes.
5. Pour the filling over the strawberries and up to the top of the crust. Chill the pie for 2 hours or until set.
6. Garnish with additional strawberries, if desired.

Baking Shortcuts for Time-Pressed Entertainers

‘Tis the season for baking cookies, cakes and other treats. However, during the holiday rush, it’s easy to get side-tracked or tired, and perhaps even a little bit overwhelmed by all the things to do in such a short period of time. Holiday baking doesn’t have to add to seasonal stress. With these tips and shortcuts, there will be plenty of sweet treats for the family.

Stick with tested recipes

Although holiday bakers may want to branch out a bit with their culinary creativity, recipes that have previously been prepared with great success can take some of the work out of holiday baking. Preparing recipes you recall preparing in the past is much easier than trying something new. If you’d like, add sparkle to old standards, such as decorating oatmeal or chocolate chip cookies with colored sprinkles.

Cookies are fast-baking

Did you know that cookies were originally made to test oven temperatures? Culinary historians say that cookies were first made to test if an oven was hot enough to bake other goods. Today, cookies can be whipped up in mere minutes. Make a batch of dough and then freeze or refrigerate it, thawing it when the time comes to bake. Also, think about baking one day and decorating the next if pressed for time.

Embrace colored candy melts

Icing can be tricky to master. Simply heating colored candy melts and pouring over cakes or painting onto cookies can add festive appeal to desserts. Candy melts even come in many different colors and can be combined to achieve the tint desired.

Keep ingredients in top form

Don’t let poorly performing ingredients or a lack of supplies be your undoing. Butter can be softened quickly in the microwave when needed for recipes. Eggs can be brought to room temperature by allowing them to sit in a bowl of warm water. Ensure that brown sugar stays soft by putting a piece of sliced bread in the container. Don’t forget to stock up on other baking staples, such as vanilla and almond extracts, baking powder/soda, molasses, and confectioner’s sugar.

Don’t bake from scratch

Not all recipes need to be made from scratch. Boxed cake mixes can be embellished and turned into delicious desserts without much fuss. Substitute melted butter for oil, buttermilk for water, and add an extra egg for a rich cake. Mix in chocolate chips or nuts or experiment with garnishes for a festive look.

Parchment paper is key

Line cookie sheets or cake pans with parchment paper for easy dessert release and quick cleanup. Parchment paper and even foil can help lift cakes or cookie bars out of pans so they look neat and do not stick.

Holiday baking can be made much easier by employing a few tricks of the trade.

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Various Ways You Can Put Pumpkins to Use

Few items signal the fall harvest season more than the bright, orange pumpkins that dot fields and liven up displays outside of homes and businesses. Come fall, many pumpkins are turned into grinning jack-o-lanterns just in time for Halloween. But there are many other uses for pumpkins as well.

Pumpkins are believed to have originated in North America. Early Native Americans relied on pumpkins as a source of food that helped them survive long winters. Pumpkins could be roasted, baked, boiled, and dried, and they were eaten and used as medicine. Pumpkin blossoms were added to stews. The shells of the pumpkins could be dried and used as eating and storage vessels.

While pumpkins may now be symbolic of Halloween, the following are a handful of additional ways this versatile fruit can be put to use.

Beauty regimen

Pumpkins contain a number of essential vitamins and minerals that can help replenish the skin. Pumpkin purée can be mixed with honey, aloe vera gel, olive oil, and a bit of cornmeal to create an exfoliating mask for the face or body. Pumpkin also can be used to rejuvenate dry or tired skin from cold weather.

Honey, pumpkin and yogurt can be mixed together and used to condition hair. Let the mixture sit for 15 to 20 minutes, and then wash it out and shampoo.

Foods and beverages

Pumpkin purée is the basis for many tasty, pumpkin-infused treats. Purée can be used in pies, cakes, muffins, breads, and many additional foods. Pumpkin purée also may be found in certain beverages, such as smoothies and shakes. A bit of spiced purée may appear as flavoring in teas and coffees.

Roasted pumpkin seeds make a healthy treat. Foodies suggest using the seeds from “sugar pumpkins” or the ones best for making pies. Boil the seeds for a few minutes before draining. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick spray and put the seeds in a single layer. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes. Allow to cool and serve.

Pumpkin wines and beers are popular as well. There are many recipes for developing sweet, fermented beverages, which tend to be especially popular in the fall.

The “guts” of the pumpkin can be simmered along with aromatics and other vegetables to create a vegetable stock perfect for soups and broths.

Decorations

Pumpkins can also add to one’s home décor during the fall. Pumpkins can be carved for Halloween displays, hollowed-out to hold tealights or simply left on tables and used as centerpieces. Larger pumpkins may be used as natural flower pots for mums or other seasonal floral displays. As the Native Americans once did, pumpkins can be hollowed-out and used as bowls to serve favorite soups and dips.

Use a hollowed, small pumpkin as a natural aromatic candle holder. Cut holes in the sides to vent the exhaust. Rub aromatic spices, such as cloves, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, and vanilla bean, on the inside of the pumpkin. Insert a beeswax candle in the bottom of the pumpkin and let it send inviting aromas into the air.

Pumpkins are a versatile fruit that can serve many purposes beyond just jack-o-lanterns and pies.

Enjoy An Eco-Friendly Autumn

Autumn arrives with cool breezes, awe-inspiring foliage and the hint of holidays on the horizon. Fall is a favorite time of year for many people because the crisp weather motivates people of all ages to enjoy the great outdoors.

Individuals conscious of their carbon footprints can use fall as a time to take inventory of their behaviors and make changes where necessary. The following are some steps to take right now that fit perfectly with the harvest season.

· Shop at a local farm stand. Take advantage of the many roadside stands that crop up this time of year where you can find bushels of apples, pumpkins, gourds, and late-summer vegetables. After a day of sightseeing, visit a farm stand for warm cider and freshly baked doughnuts. Buying local produce reduces reliance on foreign-shipped foods and other products, while also cutting back on the fuel consumed to get foods from the farm to the table.

· Use nature to decorate. Skip plastic, mass-produced decorations and rely on nature to dress up your home. Fill vases with leaves and berries. Place small pumpkins on mantles, and enrich the landscape of your home with vibrantly hued mums and other cool-weather plants. Corn husks and stalks can add harvest flair to front porches. Twigs nestled and tied together can make interesting table centerpieces.

· Create a composting pile. Outdoor chores are easier in cool weather than they are when the mercury rises. Set aside a place in the yard for composting. A healthy compost pile should have roughly two-thirds carbon (brown) materials and one-third nitrogen (green) materials, says EarthEasy.com. Use those lawn clippings and raked leaves to make compost for spring plantings.

· Visit a corn maze. After corn has been harvested, farm owners often use their land for supplemental income. Corn mazes can be simple or complex depending on visitors’ ages. Engage in family bonding outside and turn off electronics in the process.

· Bake your own pie. After a fun-filled day picking apples at a nearby orchard, head home and use those locally sourced apples to whip up a delicious pie.

· Recycle old clothes to dress your scarecrow. Clothing that is not worthy of donation can be transformed into a festive scarecrow just in time for Halloween hijinks. Fill out the body of the scarecrow with newspaper and then add some pieces of straw around the neck, hands and feet.

· Host a football party. Watch the game on television or have a pickup game in the yard. Serve finger foods to cut down on the need for plastic or paper plates and flatware. Purchase a keg of beer from a local brewery to eliminate individual beer cans and bottles. Set out a nonalcoholic punch bowl so the kids can enjoy refreshments, too.

Autumn can be a great time of year to embrace some eco-friendly practices.

How to Bake Healthier Treats

Baking can be a relaxing and rewarding pastime that parents can share with their children. Baking promotes a variety of skills, including the ability to follow instructions and make measurements. Baking also employs mathematics, making baking a rather delicious science experiment. Perhaps one of the few pitfalls of baking is indulging in too many sweet treats when taste testing and then enjoying the fruits of your labors.

But bakers concerned about their health can substitute healthy ingredients when recipes call for foods bakers would prefer to avoid. The following ingredients can make healthy additions to baked-good recipes without sacrificing flavor.

· Whole wheat flour: Flour is at the heart of many baking recipes, including those for cakes, cookies and pies. Refined white flour may not be the healthiest ingredient, so try whole wheat flour, which is full of nutrients and an extra dose of fiber. Fiber can help lower the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Try slightly less than one cup of whole wheat flour for regular flour as a swap if a recipe calls for one cup of flour.

· Fruit puree: When a recipe calls for oil, margarine, butter or shortening, consider replacing such ingredients with fruit purees, which often add moisture and texture just as well but without the same amount of calories. Applesauce and prunes can be helpful in chocolate dishes. Pumpkin or sweet potato are other purees that can add a nutritional boost as well.

· Greek yogurt: Greek yogurt is a powerhouse of protein and flavor with relatively few calories per serving. It can make a super substitution in recipes for things like sour cream, buttermilk or even cream cheese.

· Applesauce: Believe it or not, unsweetened applesauce also can replace some or all of the sugar in a recipe. When doing a 1:1 ratio swap, reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 1/4 cup.

· Marshmallow or meringue: Ever check the nutritional information for many store-bought cake frostings? They pack a considerable amount of calories, sugar and fat. Some also are made with hydrogenated oils. Consider using a marshmallow fluff or homemade meringue to top cupcakes or decorate cookies.

· Stevia: Stevia is an herbal plant that grows primarily in South America. Stevia has a long history as a sweetener in that area, and now has become a popular sugar substitute elsewhere. Stevia is an all-natural, no-calorie, no-carbohydrate sweetener. The FDA approved only the purified form of stevia, called stevioside. Remember to check each brand’s sugar-to-stevia ratio to make sure you get the right measurements for your recipe.

· Egg whites: Replace a whole egg in a recipe with two egg whites or 1/4 cup of egg substitute.

· Chocolate nibs: Nibs are processed morsels that do not have the same amount of added sugar as many chocolate chips. Dark chocolate nibs can provide a healthy dose of antioxidants as well.

· Evaporated skim milk: Try evaporated skim milk in place of heavy cream to make whipped cream for a low-fat option.

Baking brings family together, and the treats prepare can make an enjoyable finale to a great meal. With healthy substitutions, any recipe can be altered for the better.


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