Baked Pumpkin Doughnuts with Spiced Chocolate Glaze

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Clearly, I’m a little late with my first October recipe. We were out of town for three weeks in September and the early part of October, which is a crazy time to be away from your bed (and your kitchen). We’re back now, though, just in time for the chilly weather, which means more incentive for staying in and baking! Also, even though the cold weather is hitting a little early this year, October is still my absolute favorite month for a lot of reasons: 1) It’s family history month 2) Our anniversary is this month! 3) Halloween!!! and 4) Pumpkin everything!!!

Obviously, we have PSLs now, but pumpkins themselves have been an important part of the North American diet for much longer. Pumpkins are a fruit native to the Americas. Seeds of the pumpkin family dating back to between 7000 and 5500 BC have been found in Mexico. In the beginning they were probably used to store items, due to their hearty exterior, but the pumpkin’s high nutritional value and the edibleness of the entire fruit (even the stem) meant it became an important food source. It is thought that about 10,000 years ago, pumpkins, as well as other varieties of squash, were on the verge of extinction. Luckily, the people of the time valued pumpkins enough to domesticate them, which likely led to their survival. Pumpkin, calabeza in Spanish, is still important ingredient in Mexican cuisine too, with dishes from mole to calabeza en tacha, or candied pumpkin, being created using every part of the pumpkin from the flower, to the pepitas, to the flesh.

The name pumpkin is derived from the Greek word for “large melon,” pepon. This changed to “pompon” in French (France became early importers of pumpkins from North America), then into “pumpion” in England, which eventually became the modern word “pumpkin”.

For us in the U.S., pumpkins are associated with autumn, and particularly Thanksgiving. They were likely part of the first Thanksgiving dinner, but probably as a savory dish, instead of the pumpkin pie we are used to today.  Pumpkins, already a staple in the diets of the Wampanoag at the time, were vital to the colonists, who likely wouldn’t have survived winter without them (and many didn’t–by the time of the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621, more than half of the original colonists had died of starvation or disease).

Sweet pumpkin pies were likely first made in England with pumpkins imported from the States, then adopted by the colonists. France was an early importer of the fruit and recipes for sweet pies date to as early as the 1650’s in France. The earliest recipe for “pumpion pye” in England dates to Hannah Woolley’s The Gentlewoman’s Companion, from 1675.

In the United States, more than 50 million pumpkin pies are consumed during the Thanksgiving holiday, and there is a good chance that the pumpkin you’re eating is from Illinois. Illinois is the top grower of pumpkins in the United States. My friend Jennifer wrote a fascinating piece for Slow Food last year about the Dickinson squash, the heirloom variety of squash that is used by Libby’s, located in Morton, Illinois, for their canned pumpkin puree.

For my recipe today, I decided not to go with a traditional pumpkin pie, but to make pumpkin doughnuts instead. I love doughnuts. LOVE them. But I have noticed, in my early thirties, that I can no longer chow down on fried foods the way that I once did because I get heartburn. (Hi, I’m 100 years old.) With that in mind, these doughnuts are baked, which does mean you have to buy a doughnut pan, but also means you don’t have to deal with doughnut frying clean-up so… win?

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Baked Spiced Pumpkin Donuts with Cinnamon Chocolate Glaze
Makes 12 doughnuts.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground clove
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp unsalted butter, browned

For chocolate glaze:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz. chopped semi-sweet chocolate
1 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp cayenne powder, optional

Instructions:

Move a rack to the top 2/3 of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, coriander, and clove. Set aside.

In a small skillet or saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter until browned. You’ll know it’s done when it’s changed in color, it smells nutty, and it has stopped “popping”. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, beat the buttermilk and egg together thoroughly. Stir in the pumpkin puree. Stir in only 2 tablespoons of the browned butter.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until everything is just combined. Don’t overmix, or your doughnuts could come out chewy.

Lightly grease two 6-doughnut pan, fill each indentation 3/4 of the way full. Bake for 4 minutes, turn pan 180 degrees, and continue to bake for 4 more minutes.

Allow the doughnuts to rest in the pan for about 5 minutes, before removing to a cooling rack. Repeat with additional batter.

To make glaze, heat the whipping cream until it’s just starting to steam, but not yet boil.

Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl, and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then mix the chocolate into the cream until full combined.

Add the cinnamon, and cayenne if you don’t mind a little spice.

Dip the bottom half of each doughnut into the bowl, twisting until it is covered by chocolate.

Enjoy!

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Warning: You will be tempted to eat all of these doughnuts straight from the oven, before they’ve properly cooled, and before you glaze them. While you won’t be disappointed because the doughnuts are pretty great on their own, I highly suggest you try them with the glaze. Pumpkin-chocolate is a genius combination, maybe because both ingredients originated from the same area? On top of that, these doughnuts are not only scrumptious, they are essentially Halloween-colored. And I’m a big proponent of delicious foods, color-coordinated with my favorite holidays. I hope you are too. Happy October, and happy baking!

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Pear and Walnut Ozark Pudding

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Welcome to September! It’s been a doozy so far. We were planning to spend last week in New Orleans, searching for a new apartment. Instead, we ended up cancelling because of Tropical Storm Gordon. We were super-bummed and were sort of at a loss for what to do next. Instead of sticking around Chicago, since Alex had the time off, we took a quick train trip to Milwaukee for a few days. It was a bit of a mind-shift, but we had a really nice time! Anyway, it looks like a move back to New Orleans is not going to happen right now, but our lease is up in February, so we’ll reassess then.

While we were in Milwaukee, the temperature briefly turned chilly and there was a definite feel of fall in the air. It actually made me excited for cooler weather (even though it was back in the 80’s yesterday). Mostly, it made me excited about cooking with heat again. It also made me crave slightly richer desserts than I am interested in in the summer, which led me to Ozark Pudding.

The Ozark region surrounds the Ozark mountains, encompassing a large part of Missouri and Arkansas, as well as parts of Kansas and Oklahoma. To be honest, before I saw Winter’s Bone, I knew nothing about the area (and what I learned after watching the movie terrified me), and even less about the food. Even when seeking out Ozark-specific recipes, I came up almost entirely empty-handed. Some of that may be explained by this Vice article, published several years ago. Many of the families that settled in the Ozarks have remained there for generations and the area is notoriously mysterious, and is often considered somewhat isolationist. However, I did find one dessert recipe, so specific to the Ozarks that it has it in the name: Ozark Pudding. It’s likely we wouldn’t know the name Ozark Pudding if it weren’t for the fact that it was one of Harry Truman’s favorite dishes, who was from the region.

Many sources say that the first recipes for Ozark Pudding were printed in the 1950’s. We know that it existed before then, because Bess Truman had it on the dinner menu in 1946 when Winston Churchill visited, before giving his “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, the Trumans’ home state. (Harry and Bess Truman both grew up nearby, hailing from Independence, Missouri.)

Ozark Pudding also has a genealogy on its own. It shares similarities with a South Carolina favorite called Huguenot Torte, and most agree that the dishes have some relation. There are two stories about that relation. The less likely, and less accepted, explanation credits the French with the creation of the recipe. This story claims that a version of this dessert, originally called Gateau aux Noisettes and made with hazelnuts, arrived with the Huguenots, persecuted French Protestants, who sought asylum in Charleston, South Carolina, in the 1600’s. After arriving in Charleston, the nuts changed from hazelnuts to pecans, which were more accessible. Then, as the recipe moved west, its choice of nuts changed to walnuts, which are found in the Ozark area.

However, the more accepted story is that the pudding originated in the Ozarks and then traveled to South Carolina, where it was embraced. It was renamed Huguenot Torte because the recipe was first printed in 1950 and attributed to Evelyn Florance, who recreated the Ozark recipe at the Huguenot Tavern in Charleston. (Florance claimed that she first had the dessert in Texas in the 1930s.)

Either way, the recipes for the torte and the pudding are nearly identical, both containing equal parts fruit and nuts, mixed with sugar, egg and a bit of flour to bind it together.

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Pear and Walnut Ozark Pudding
Slightly altered from Bess Truman’s original recipe.

Ingredients:
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup pear, peeled and chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoon vanilla
4 tbsp flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional

Instructions: 

Butter the inside of a nine-inch pie pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the eggs and sugar. Stir in pear and walnuts. Then fold in the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom, until no streaks remain.

Bake for 35 minutes.

Remove and cool slightly, before serving warm with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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This is a rich, almost decadent, dessert–read: it’s sweet. There is a bit of crust that develops at the edges, and the inside is almost like pecan pie filling. Next time I make it, I would cut down the sugar at least 1/4 cup. I used pears, instead of the traditional apples, and I added a few spices that could easily be omitted, if they don’t appeal to you. Other in-season fruits, or nuts, could be used, too.

Are any of my readers out there from the Ozark region? Can you tell me a little more about your food culture and history? Or better yet, write a book. I’d buy it.

 

Hot Cross Buns

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This Sunday is Easter. I myself did not grow up in a particularly religious household, though occasionally I would put on a (very) ruffly pink dress and go to Easter service with my grandpa. Mostly Easter in my house was a day for finding plastic eggs full of candy hidden in Kleenex boxes and shoes; a day for making myself sick on Cadbury Eggs; and a day for my mom to tell me about the Palm Sunday tornadoes of 1965, which might explain why I was such an anxious child.

Hot cross buns were also not a part of my Easter celebration growing up. In fact, prior to experimenting with them this week, I had never eaten them and, perhaps like you, I only really knew about them from the “Hot Cross Buns” nursery rhyme.

An English tradition, the buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter). Lent of course began with semlor, to use up sugar and fats in the house, which are forbidden during Lent. The other delicious bookend are these slightly different spiced buns.

While there is no documentation that shows exactly when the buns were invented, every one of their many origin stories start with a monk. Some theories put their creation back as early as the 12th century. Others say it was a monk in St. Albans in the 14th century.

Like many of the recipes I have researched that have a religious link, hot cross bun ingredients are meant to symbolize historical events. Remember Hannah Spiegelman’s haroset? And, sometimes they’re a little dark. The cross on top of the bun, of course, recalls the cross that Jesus died on. The various spices inside symbolize the spices used to embalm Jesus’ body after the crucifixion (see what I mean?), and the dried fruit is meant to remind Christians they no longer have to eat plain food, because the resurrection is at hand.

The buns have had a life beyond Good Friday as well. In the past, the buns were sometimes grated up and used for medicinal purposes. Superstition also states that buns baked on Good Friday will never spoil. In earlier times, they were sometimes hung from the rafters for a whole year for good luck, which hints at their… ahem… hardiness. Those buns would be replaced every Good Friday. They were also said to protect from evil spirits and prevent shipwrecks when taken on sea voyages.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, laws were passed to keep people from selling hot cross buns on any day other than Good Friday, Christmas, or during burials, because they were too sacred for any other day. Bun fans were able to prepare their own in their homes to get around the law, but if they were caught, this apparently benevolent law required them to give up their buns to the poor. Luckily, we are allowed to bake hot cross buns any time we want.

For this recipe, I essentially used a variation of the cinnamon roll recipe I used for my mom’s pecan rolls. (And I want to apologize for my shaky glaze job. I’m not a hot cross buns pro yet!)

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Hot Cross Buns
Makes 9 buns.

Ingredients:
6 tbsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup milk, warmed to 115-125 degrees
1 large egg
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 cup (4 tbsp) unsalted butter, very soft
For egg wash: 1 egg, plus 1 tbsp milk, whisked together
For glaze: 1 cup confectioners sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 1/2 tsp cardamom (optional), and 4 tsp milk, whisked together

Instructions:

Combine the sugar, yeast, raisins, and warm milk in a large bowl. Whisk to combine and allow to sit for about five minutes to allow the yeast to activate.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine.

Once the yeast mixture has become frothy, whisk in one egg until combined. Then add the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly combined. It will look quite shaggy and dry at this point. Add the butter and continue stirring just until the dough begins to form a ball.

Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for a few minutes, until the the ball forms a little more. The surface will not be smooth, but a ball should be well-formed.

Place the dough into a large clean bowl, cover with a dishtowel, and allow to sit in warm place for an hour. (Note: I always had a little trouble with yeast doughs in my house, I think because it’s so dry. However, I have started raising my dough by covering it and placing it into the oven, with a pot of boiled water on the lower rack. Yeast loves warm dry places, so this gives it a nice spa where it can grow. It works for me every time now.)

Either grease an 8×8-inch pan, or line it with parchment. After an hour, pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut into 9 equal parts and roll each into a ball with your hands. Place each ball into the pan. It’s OK if they are touching. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise for another 45 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together your egg wash. In a larger bowl, whisk together your glaze ingredients. (The glaze will be fairly thick, which is good). Spoon the glaze into a plastic baggie.

Brush the egg wash over the buns. Bake for about 20-22 minutes, until lightly golden brown on top.

Remove and allow to cool. Snip a very tiny corner off the baggie filled with glaze. Place a cross of glaze across the top of each bun.

They are best enjoyed the same day that you bake them. (Unless you take them with you to sea, in which case…)

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If you don’t like raisins, skip them! Or, you could use currants or other dried fruit. As for glazing, I’m a fan of adding the crosses before the buns go into the oven. These crosses are supposed to be hot, right?! Jk. But you can absolutely wait until the buns cool and add the glaze then. I did… both, as you can see. I really like glaze. Especially this cardamom glaze situation right here.

If you are celebrating Easter this Sunday, happy Easter! If not, you should make these buns anyway!

Semlor (Swedish Cardamom Cream Buns)

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Happy Mardi Gras!

If we were still living in New Orleans, this day would have looked much different. I still can’t believe that Chicago hasn’t discovered Mardi Gras: 1) a huge party, 2) costumes, 3) parades, 4) drinking! We like all of those things! I mean, I guess the parade part is the biggest hindrance. We got a foot of snow here in Chicago last week. Most of the cars on my street are still buried. No parades or floats here. And I almost miss getting hit in the head with beads–almost. Because I would always, always, once a year, get hit in the head with beads. For me, it was a Mardi Gras tradition.

Anyway, the snow has kept us indoors for the most part and it has us both going stir-crazy. But the good part of being snowed in is the baking! I never feel like baking more than when it’s cold and snowy outside. And, since it’s Mardi Gras, I thought I would celebrate with the baked goods of the season!

Last year, I made King Cake Paczkis, with moderate success. This year, I took my inspiration from the Swedes and made semlor: Cardamom-scented buns, filled with sweetened almond paste and whipped cream.

Semlor are eaten in Sweden (and throughout Scandinavia) to celebrate Shrove Tuesday (a.k.a. Mardi Gras), known to the Swedes as Fettisdagen, or “fat day”, the last day before Lent. Like king cake and paczskis, the dish was originally created as a way to use up fats and sugar in the house, before the fasting that accompanies Lent. However, you can now find the buns on bakery shelves from January through Easter. It’s estimated that 20 million semlor (the plural of semla) are eaten in Sweden every year. Semlor are sometimes eaten in a bowl of hot milk, which is known as “hetvägg” or “hot wall.” And, though this might be rumor, it is even said that the Swedish king, Adolph Frederick, died in 1771 of digestion problems after eating, in addition to many other things, 14 semlor!

I tried to make these semlor several times. I used a few different recipes from around the internet. My friend Rasmus said that the most important part was that each semla should be light and airy, rather than bread-like and hard. And my first two tries did come out more like bread. Then I thought of the lightest and airiest rolls that I ever made: A Cozy Kitchen’s Everything Cloverleaf Rolls! Even though these rolls aren’t meant to be dessert, I used the base of that recipe to create the bun for the semlor. The result was super soft semlor buns, obviously a little sweeter and spiced with cardamom, ready to be filled with almond paste and cream! Semlor

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Semlor
Makes 8-10 buns.

Ingredients:
For buns:
5 tbsp sugar
3 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk, warmed to 115-120 degrees
1 egg yolk, beaten
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened, plus another 1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 1/2 cups, all-purpose flour, plus another 1/2 cup for kneading
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp-1 tbsp vegetable oil for oiling the bowl
For filling:
3/4 cup almond paste, sweetened
1/3 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream

Confectioner’s sugar, optional, for sprinkling over the top

Instructions:

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, yeast, and warm milk. Allow to sit for 10-15 minutes to activate.

In a small bowl, whisk together 1 cup of flour, the salt, and the cardamom.

Stir the beaten egg and melted butter into the yeast mixture. Add the flour mixture and stir until completely combined, then add an additional cup of flour and stir until combined, then add one half a cup of flour and stir.

Lightly flour a surface and scrape the dough out onto the flour. Knead the remaining half cup of flour into the dough, for about 5 minutes.

Oil a large bowl with vegetable oil and add the dough, turning over in the oil to coat.

Cover with dishtowel and place in a warm area for an hour and a half, until double in size.

Divide the dough into 8-10 balls and place at least 1-inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover with a dishtowel and allow to rise for another 30 to 60 minutes. The dough should double in size again.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush the top of the buns with a little cream, or a beaten egg, before baking for 15-20 minutes, until slightly golden brown.

Remove from oven and allow to cool.

As the buns are cooling, whip the remaining whipping cream with 1 tsp vanilla extract.

Mix 3/4 cup of almond paste with 1/4 cup whole milk.

Cut a tiny cone shape in the top of each bun. Fill the space with about 2 tbsp of the almond mixture, then top with whipped cream. Place the lid of the bun back on top of the whipped cream and dust with powdered sugar.

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With their little powdered sugar party hats, they look a lot like every single round, snow-covered surface in Chicago right now, and they were a big hit in this house. I don’t know where to acquire a semla in the city of Chicago. There is stiff competition with paczkis and king cake here. I assume the old Swedish Bakery used to make them, but, alas, the Swedish Bakery is no more. If you find them, please let me know!

Spicy Hermit Cookie Bars

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How is everyone settling into 2018? The beginning of the year is hectic, but every year I forget that because of the lazy dream that is the end of December. For some, the holidays are chaotic, but for me, they’re slow. The end of my year, every year, is just eating, drinking, and going to Christmas parties, where you bring gifts of wine that you bought based solely on how much you like the label. But then January shows up and all the holiday decorations come down, everyone is eating Whole30, it’s freezing, and I’m expected to go outside? Of my house?!

The only good thing about January is that I switch from holiday movies back onto my regularly scheduled program of foreign ghost movies. (We watched a really terrifying Iranian one on Netflix the other day called Under the Shadow. Whoa.) I only recognize two seasons: Christmas and Halloween.

But let’s get to the matter at hand here: Cookies. My favorite cookie (excluding my Christmas go-to, the Chocolate Crinkle) is oatmeal raisin. Some might say I have bad taste in cookies. Some might even say that the humble oatmeal raisin is barely a cookie. But I won’t die on this hill–I’m not even a huge fan of cookies in general. Cake? Pie? Yes. Cookies… eh, sometimes. I know this might be dangerous to admit online, for the whole world to see. I have the same fear when I tell people I don’t really like wine (except for the labels). People stare at me like I’ve never even seen those “Rosé All Day” t-shirts.

I tried a new kind of cookie this week that might seem old-fashioned, too savory, and to have too many raisins. But it’s a winner. The Spicy Hermit cookie.

Very similar to a chewy gingerbread, recipes for the spicy hermit cookie was first printed as far back as the 1870’s, showing up in Midwestern newspapers. The earliest mentions of the cookie in the Northeast show up around 1896 in Buffalo, New York. Even though the recipe made it into Midwestern newspapers first, this particular recipe likely has its origins with the English-Scottish colonists in New England, as it is very similar to English plumb cakes and gingerbread recipes from Medieval times, which use molasses as an ingredient (instead of honey, a traditional ingredient in German gingerbread).

Where the name of the cookie comes from is also a mystery. It may have been chosen to describe the cookie’s lumpy, brown appearance, like a hermit’s robe. Another possibility for the name comes from the idea that these cookies would keep longer than others, because of their high fat and sugar content, and could be stored away, like hermits. In some recipes, the cookies are referred to as Harwich Hermits, which suggests they may have been created, or at least popularized, in Harwich, Massachusetts. In the cookbook, 250 Treasured Country Desserts, it’s said that because of their ability to keep for long periods, sailors on the New England coast would take the cookies out to sea with them.

There are thousands of recipes for hermit cookies. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re crisp. Sometimes they are made as a drop cookie (in the 50’s and 60’s they seemed to be a popular addition to children’s packed lunches), and sometimes as a bar. For this post, I made them into bars, because why should round cookies get to have all the fun? And also, it was a test to see if I like cookies better if they’re in bar form. Spoiler: I do.

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Spicy Hermit Cookie Bars
Makes approximately 16 bars. This recipe is a variation of Ina Garten’s, changing the ingredients slightly, and using this article about the science of cookies to tweak the recipe for a more cake-like bar.

Ingredients:
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and browned
1/4 cup dark molasses
2/3 cup golden raisins, minced
1/2 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg white
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For glaze:
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
3-4 tbsp heavy cream

Instructions:

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves, ground nutmeg, and salt.

In a pan, melt the butter until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. You will know it’s done when it begins to smell nutty, and stops popping. Allow to cool.

In a bowl, combine the egg and egg white. Beat briefly until scrambled. Add in half of the brown sugar mixture and beat until smooth. Add the remaining brown sugar and beat until smooth and light brown in appearance. Stir in the molasses.

Pour the browned butter into the flour mixture and stir to combine. Next add the egg and molasses mixture, and the raisins and orange zest. Stir until combined. The mixture will be quite craggy and sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour, but overnight is best.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two small, or one large, cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Pour the dough out onto a floured surface. Shape into a disc, cut it in half, and roll each half into a log about one foot in length.

Place each log on the cookie sheet, at least three inches apart.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 18-20 minutes, turning the pan about halfway through.

Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the glaze. To make glaze, stir together the confectioner’s sugar and the heavy cream until smooth. Drizzle the mixture back and forth over the still-warm bars.

Allow to cool completely, cut into 1 1/2-inch bars, and enjoy!

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A soft and chewy cookie bar, spiced with ginger, clove and nutmeg, rich with molasses–and of course, studded with raisins–is my kind of cookie. You might like it too, even if you prefer to drink your grapes instead of bake with them.

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

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All the signs of the holidays are here: Last Friday, we walked over to the local hardware store and picked out our Christmas tree, as we have done for the last four years. And the next morning we woke up to a beautiful snow-covered city. For the record, this is Phase 1 of winter, where I say I love snow, and I talk about how magical the city is when it snows. One month from now, though, I will be downtown, standing on the sidewalk too close to the street, and get annihilated by gray slushy splash from a large truck. Or I’ll step off the sidewalk into what appears to be a shallow snow pile that is actually knee-deep, and have cold, wet feet for the rest of the day. Phase 2 of winter is called, “Snow in the city is a disgusting dirty mess.” Welcome to Chicago.

After the tree and the snow, the third sign of the holidays is all the baking. Pies, cookies, breads, you name it. When it’s cold outside, one of my favorite things in the world is waking up early, making myself some coffee, and baking while I’m still in my robe. A dream of mine is to one day make a gingerbread house from scratch. (Last year, Alex and I got the bright idea to make a gingerbread house, so we bought little decorations, like gumdrops and tiny rock-shaped candy-covered chocolates. Then we realized that making a complete gingerbread house from scratch cannot be done in the hour that we wanted to devote to it, so we just ate the candy decorations while we watched It’s a Wonderful Life and Barbershop. That’s a true story.)

Anyway, while I’m in the mood to bake I’ve been trying out some new recipes that I found throughout the year and put aside until, you know, I felt like it. One of those recipes was persimmon pudding.

I had my first persimmon well after I left Indiana for college. And, even when I had it, I figured it was some exotic fruit that I would never have seen on the produce shelves at Kroger. So didn’t I feel like a dope when I found out that the persimmon is native to the eastern United States, and grows wild Indiana (mostly southern Indiana, but still!), among other places. In fact, persimmons are kind of a big deal in southern Indiana, with a Persimmon Festival held every year in early fall in Mitchell, Indiana, for the last 71 years.

The word persimmon comes from the Powhatan language, and means “dry fruit”. Tasty, huh? Before they ripen, persimmons have a high number of tannins, like a very dry red wine, but about 1000 times worse. If you bite into an unripe persimmon, dry fruit is exactly what comes to mind. All of a sudden it feels like you have a mouth full of bitter gauze. It’s not great. I read somewhere that a ripe Hachiya should feel to the fingers like a full water balloon. And, as revolting as that analogy is, it is correct. If you let them ripen fully, you have a sweet and juicy fruit, the perfect base for this pudding.

I found references to persimmon pudding in Indiana as early as the 1890’s. In one paper from Richmond, there is a reference to using native Indiana persimmons in “one of those good old North Carolina persimmon puddings.” So perhaps persimmon pudding, famous in Indiana, is actually a dish that traveled through North Carolina, before making its way to Indiana, similar to the Hoosier sugar cream pie I made earlier this year.

And, when I say pudding, I’m not talking about Snack Packs. What I mean is the typical English pudding style, which is often steamed or baked, and results in something between a custard and a cake. These dishes used to be extremely popular in the Eastern United States. In fact, last year, I made Indian pudding, a recipe from colonial times, which is a similar texture to this pudding but is made with cornmeal and is less sweet. This dessert has just the right amount of sweetness, along with the cinnamon and nutmeg, to make you think, “Oh, yeah, that’s the taste of the holidays right there.”

Indiana Persimmon Pudding

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Indiana Persimmon Pudding
This recipe is a slight variation on this recipe, the winner at the 2014 Persimmon Festival in Mitchell, Indiana. Makes 4-6 servings.

Ingredients: 
1 cup persimmon, processed and strained (about 2-3 medium-large Hachiya persimmons)
3/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp butter: 1 tbsp for greasing the dish, 2 tbsp for the mixture, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Grease at least a one quart baking dish with 1 tablespoon of butter and set aside.

In a small bowl, add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.

Take skin off of persimmons, roughly chop and blend in a food processor for about 10 seconds until smooth. Pour the processed persimmon through a mesh strainer and discard the pulp. Measure out one cup of the strained persimmon into a separate bowl.

Add the buttermilk to the persimmon and stir together.

In a separate bowl, using a mixer, cream together the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, with the sugar, until smooth. Stir this mixture into the persimmon-buttermilk mixture with a wooden spoon.

Sift the flour mixture into the persimmon mixture using a wooden spoon and stir to thoroughly combine. No flour streaks should remain, but the mixture will not be completely smooth, and there will be some lumps.

Pour into the greased baking dish and bake for 70-80 minutes. Begin checking for doneness at the 70-minute mark by sticking a knife in the center and closer to the edges. Once the knife comes out clean in each area, it’s done.

Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream and enjoy!

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Yes, this recipe takes a while to bake. Low and slow, beebs. But it takes almost no time to throw together. And when it’s done, you have a rich, warmly spiced pudding, with a caramelized exterior. It’s admittedly not much to look at, but it is delicious and is the definition of comfort food. And, as most things are, it’s best served warm, with ice cream or whipped cream on the side. Let me know what you think if you decide to whip up a batch!

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cinnamon Frosting

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Um, today is my birthday. My BIRTHDAY! From what I understand, there are people out there who hate celebrating their birthdays. I’m not one of those people. I can’t get enough birthdays. One a year just seems like… not enough. And, don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I like getting presents (which I actually hate), but because it’s positively the best excuse for a little self-indulgence. For example, I’m going out dancing with a group of friends tonight, if only to prove to myself that my hips still work in my 32nd year. AND, I made myself a cake. If you’ve read this blog at all, you know that my love of cake knows no bounds. I make myself a birthday cake every year. This year, it’s a Mexican hot chocolate cake with a cinnamon whipped cream frosting. I will go ahead and say that it’s now one of my favorite birthday cakes in the last 32 years. It’s not as good as when my mom made them for me. It’s not as good as the one I got when I was five that was shaped like Strawberry Shortcake. No one can top that cake for the rest of time. It’s pretty good, though.

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Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cinnamon Frosting
Makes 2 8-inch round cakes

Ingredients for Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake:
1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp espresso powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 large eggs
1 egg white
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup boiling water

Ingredients for Whipped Cinnamon Frosting:
Very slightly altered recipe from Food52
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp, powdered sugar

Instructions for Mexican Hot Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cinnamon Frosting:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease 2 8-inch by 2-inch round cake pans and cut out two parchment paper rounds to cover the bottom of the pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, brown sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cayenne, and cinnamon.

In a medium bowl, mix well the eggs and egg white, vanilla, buttermilk, vegetable oil. You want to mix until you see that the oil has been thoroughly mixed, but stop just after you no longer see droplets of oil and it is a uniform color of pale yellow.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix with a spatula until fully combined.

Quickly stir in the boiling water.

Fill each cake round slightly less than half full.

Bake for 22-25 minutes. Begin checking for doneness around 22 minutes by inserting a toothpick into the center of the cake. When the toothpick comes out clean the cake is done.

Allow the cakes to cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then remove from pans, peel off the parchment paper, and allow to completely cool on a wire rack before frosting.

While the cakes are cooling, place a deep bowl and metal beaters into the freezer to chill.

In a saucepan, combine the cornstarch and powdered sugar. Fully mix both of these dry ingredients before mixing in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Stirring constantly, place the saucepan over medium heat until the mixture begins to thicken, but not quite boil.

Remove the pan from heat and allow the mixture to cool in a separate bowl. It’s very important that the mixture is room temperature before you add to the other ingredients.

Remove the bowl and beaters from the freezer. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of whipping cream, along with the vanilla, cinnamon, and remaining 1 tbsp of powdered sugar, to the chilled bowl. Beat until the liquid begins to come together, but stop before it’s stiff.

Add in the completely cooled cornstarch mixture a little bit at a time, mixing in as you go. Stop beating when it is just combined.

Frost your completely cooled cake, as desired, immediately.

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Oh, gosh, this cake is dynamite. Warning: it is spicy. If you like a little less spice, use less cayenne. You could also forgo the cayenne altogether, and only use cinnamon. You’ll still have a super moist and quite chocolatey cake. Also, this whipped cream frosting is so killer. I am a whipped cream frosting fanatic, but I hate how weepy it gets after only a short time. The recipe I used here stabilizes it a bit, which makes it not only last longer, but easier to use when frosting your cake.

Also, I want to give a very special shout-out to my friends Kristina and Conrad who gifted me with this bad ass wooden table for my photographs. Conrad made it with his hands from an old piling from the Chicago River. Very cool, right? I have very cool friends.