Pumpkin brownies

Autumn is the best time of year. Good things happen when the leaves turn; including my birthday, Halloween, and the ripening of that most wondrous squash: the pumpkin.

As soon as I saw this recipe on the Globe & Mail today I had to try it.

Good to know before you start: This recipe needs pure pumpkin, which is not pumpkin pie filling. Look for a label that says either “100% pure pumpkin” or “pumpkin purée”, and  it should not contain any herbs or spices.

Time required: 3 hours

Yields: about 30 pieces

Cost per slice: $1.83

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $55.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 9″ x 13″
  • parchment paper
  • digital scale
  • Oster blender
  • KitchenAid mixer

Ingredients:

BASE

  • 2 C flour
  • ½ C icing sugar
  • 1 C unsalted butter, (cold and cubed)
  • 1 TSP fine sea salt

FILLING

  • 3 eggs
  • 482 grams canned pumpkin (one 14 oz can)
  • ¾ C dark brown sugar, packed
  • ⅓ C corn syrup
  • ½ C heavy cream
  • 2 TSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 TSP pure vanilla extract
  • 1 TSP ground cinnamon
  • ½ TSP allspice
  • ½ TSP ground ginger
  • ¼ TSP fine sea salt

TOPPING

  • 2 TBSP butter, softened
  • 2 TBSP (28.6 grams) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ C icing sugar
  • 1 TBSP milk

Instructions:

1.Pre-heat oven to 177°C / 350°F. Line baking pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl mix: flour, icing sugar, butter and salt. I used a pastry blender, then switched to doing it by hand. The mixture should be crumbly, don’t form it into a ball.

3. Pat into pan.

4. Bake 25 min, and place on cooling rack.

5. Beat eggs in blender.

6. Weigh out the amount of pumpkin you need and add to egg. Don’t forget to adjust for the weight of the container.

7. Then add: brown sugar, corn syrup, heavy cream, lemon juice, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and salt. Blend until well mixed, scrape sides, then blend a little longer.

Did you know brown sugar could float? Neither did I.

8. Pour liquid over base and bake for 40 min, then place on cooling rack.

9. Meanwhile make your frosting. Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in icing sugar and milk.

10. The recipe suggested drizzling the frosting over the pan, which I tried, but the amount of icing nearly covered the entire surface anyway so I spread it evenly instead.

11. Chill at least 2 hours, and cut into squares.

Verdict:

In this town, we call home, everyone hail to the pumpkin song!

These were really good. Boyfriend says, “They are awesome baby. I could eat the whole pan.”

Playlist: The Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack

Patty’s peppermint chocolate cups

I challenge you to find a Patty who doesn’t like peppermint. She does not exist! And if she does, I don’t want to meet her. Tonight I’m trying a new method of making candy, and we’ll see if it works out. I am making this recipe up as I go so let’s hope it turns out.

I based this idea off my chocolate peanut butter cups, and used my favourite Belgian chocolate, to make delicious candies with a bold peppermint flavour. I tried to use a new technique to coat the chocolate but you’ll have to wait and see if it was worth it.

Time required: 1 hr

Yields: 10 (ten!) candies

Cost per portion: $3.60

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $36.00 with Belgian chocolate, about $14.00 with generic

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • digital scale
  • serrated knife
  • mini baking cups
  • large container with lid

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
  • 3 oz white chocolate
  • 3 oz mint semi-sweet Chipits
  • 1-2 drops peppermint extract

Instructions:

1. Used a serrated blade to chop the semi-sweet chocolate and set it aside.  Chop and weigh the white chocolate and place that into a separate container with the peppermint chocolate Chipits.

2. Transfer chocolate to microwave-safe bowls.  Microwave the semi-sweet for 2.5 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

3. Spoon the chocolate into the mini muffin liners, the 3 on the left are the new technique I tried.

For the first three cups, I used a pastry brush to paint the chocolate over the bottom and sides, planning to fill the middle with the white-peppermint chocolate, then top with another layer of semi-sweet. But I realized I didn’t have enough chocolate, so after painting three I gave up, and just put a dollop of chocolate into the others.

Remember to gently shake each cup so the chocolate settles smoothly.

4. Chill for 20 min.

5. Melt the white chocolate and peppermint Chipits on High for 3.5 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds. Stir until evenly combined.

6. Stir in peppermint extract.

7. Spoon melted mixture on top of chilled cups.

8. Refrigerate another 30 minutes.

Remove wrapper and…

Can you see the thin layer of semi-sweet at the bottom of the cup?

Verdict:

OMG yum. Really loving these. Wish I had made more. Will do this again with triple the quantities.

Boyfriend said, “Heaven. I live in Heaven. It smells like Heaven, it tastes like Heaven. If I could picture in my mind what it’s like to be in Heaven, that is it.”

And what happened to the three painted cups?

Yeesh, that idea was a wash! I think would have worked better with a thicker coating of chocolate and a top layer.

Playlist: grumbling Boyfriend

Patty’s turtle brownies

Ah, turtles. Despite the fact that I hate nuts, I thoroughly enjoy Nestlé Turtles, and I really enjoy turtle brownies (sans nuts). I haven’t baked much lately because I AM SUPER STRESSED OUT, and today I was in the mood for something simple. I decided to make half with nuts for Boyfriend because I am a really nice person.

Good to know before you start:

This process involves caramelizing sugar, which I have written about before, so let me sum up: caramelizing can be rather dangerous and lead to hideous scarring. Try not to maim yourself.

Time required: 2 hours (40 min prep, 20 min bake, 1 hr chill)

Yields: about 30 pieces

Cost per piece: $1.66

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $18.00

Kitchen implements I used:

  • baking pan: 9″ x 13″
  • parchment paper
  • pastry blender

Ingredients:

  • 2 C flour
  • divided amounts of brown sugar, 1 C and ¾ C
  • divided amounts of margarine, ½ C and ¾ C
  • 1½ C chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 2 C milk chocolate chips

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 176° C / 350°F. Line baking pan with parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, mix 1 C of sugar with the flour, and cut in ½ C margarine. with a pastry blender, blending until coarse crumbs form.

You can do this the smart way and use pre-measured blocks of margarine, or you can do it the foolish way. Anyway, moving right along…

3. Pat mixture into baking pan.

4. Sprinkle nuts onto crust. Ugh, disgusting. I’m only doing this for Boyfriend’s sake so I’ll put nuts on half. Or… one third. Yup looks like half to me!

5. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, melt the remaining amounts of sugar and margarine (¾ C of each), and stir constantly. Once mixture is boiling, let it boil for 1 minute, then immediately pour onto crust.

Use a spatula to carefully spread the caramel, work quickly because as the caramel cools it will firm and start to tear up the crust.

6. Bake in the oven for 20 min.

7. Sprinkle chocolate chips over hot crust. Wait 3 minutes, giving the chocolate time to melt.

8. Use spatula to gently spread chocolate.

9. Chill for at least one hour and cut into squares.

His and hers! No nuts for me. Seriously, why would anybody want to spoil turtles with nuts? Reptiles lay eggs anyway.

Verdict: Delicious! I love turtle brownies, they are cheap, they are quick, and they are easy to make.

Playlist: Lacuna Coil

What is your favourite stress-free dessert to fall back on?

My Little Pony cupcakes

Is it moon mist ice cream turned into cake? Is it an ode to Jem & the Holograms? Is it a tribute to Moosel and Eleroo? No!! It’s BLUE BELLE!

You may be ignorant unaware of who Blue Belle is. She was the blue and lavender My Little Pony.

I give you… “the Blue Belle”.

Totally by accident.

You may be wondering, “What the hell is that??”

It’s a white velvet cake batter, augmented with blueberry juice, and topped with blueberry frosting, and a few other tweaks. Originally I was planning to make blue velvet batter, but that really isn’t going to work until I get my hands on some concentrated gel colours. I wondered if adding real blueberry juice would darken it. It did not.

Good to know before you start:

My batter was oddly dry today, and the cupcakes overdone.  I baked the first batch for 20 minutes, and the second batch for 19 minutes, and all of them browned. Unsure why.

I ran out of icing sugar and my icing was really watery tonight.

Time required: 1.5 hrs

Yields: 24 medium cupcakes

Cost per cupcake: $2.17

Total cost if you have none of the ingredients: $52.00

Special kitchen implements I used:

  • KitchenAid
  • muffin tin

Cupcake ingredients:

  • 3 egg whites, room temp
  • 3 TBSP of 2% milk
  • ⅓C + 3 TBSP buttermilk (all together, not divided)
  • 1½ TSP vanilla extract
  • 2 C self-rising cake flour
  • 1 C granulated white sugar
  • 2½ TSP baking powder
  • ½ C butter, room temp
  • 4-5 TBSP of juice from a thawed package of frozen blueberries
  • 16 drops blue food colouring

Frosting ingredients:

  • 5 TBSP butter, room temp
  • 3 C icing sugar
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
  • 1 TBSP milk
  • 2 TBSP thawed blueberry juice

Instructions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 175°C / 347°F. Use rack that is third from the top.

2. Separate the egg whites into a medium bowl, and save the yolks for something else. Stir in the vanilla and the 2% milk. Whisk until just combined and set aside.

3. In your mixer, with a flat beater attachment, add: cake flour, white sugar, and baking powder. Beat on Low for 30 seconds.

4. Add butter and the buttermilk. Beat on Low until combined, and then beat on Medium for 90 seconds.

5. Add the food colouring and blueberry juice. Fabulous!

6. Add half the egg white mixture and continue on Medium speed for 30 seconds.  Add the remaining egg whites, beat another 30 seconds.

7. Spoon into muffin tins.  Bake 19 min or less. Immediately transfer to cooling rack for at least one hour before frosting.

This is the first time in my life I’ve gotten exactly 24 cupcakes. I’m so excited!!

8. Make your frosting and beat until smooth.

Ooh, that’s going to be delish. I can tell.

Verdict:

Not at all what I set out to make, yet totally worthwhile. Despite their bizarre appearance, and the slightly burnt factor, these had a wonderful flavour and I’ll definitely retry after tweaking the recipe a bit.

“I know they look funny but I think they’ll be good. What do you think?” I asked.

“”Hmmm.” said Boyfriend. “They look like Ompa-Loompas, in the negative.I’m game.”

“They most certainly do not look like Ompa-Loompas! They’re… My Little Pony cupcakes!!”

(chew…. chew…)

“What do you think? I find them a bit dry.”

“The icing is really good, very blueberryish. They kind of reminded me of your white velvet cake, but not. They’re… interesting. I liked them.”

Playlist: Final Fantasy VI – Terra’s theme

Vanilla review

I’m going to talk about vanilla. Partly to educate you, and partly (okay mostly), because I love the sound of my own voice. Narcissistic baker is narcissistic.

One of the most valuable spices in the world, with outrageous pricing, vanilla adds that je ne sais quoi to your baked goods. A good artist needs good tools, and the quality of your vanilla can be tasted in the finished product. Arranged from left to right in order of my favourites:

  • Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans, by Rodelle
  • pure Tahitian vanilla extract 120 mL, by Vanilla, Saffron Imports
  • pure vanilla paste, 60 mL, by Saffron Imports
  • pure Madagascar vanilla extract 59 mL, by McCormick Gourmet Organic
  • pure vanilla extract 46 mL, by Club House
  • artificial vanilla extract 235 mL or 1L, by No Name

What is vanilla?

The tiny vials of vanilla extract found in stores are a flavouring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, a vine native to Central America.  It takes around 3 years before a vine bears fruit, and the beans take 9-10 months to ripen.  Beans are picked before they ripen.

The beans are cured in 4 steps: killing, sweating, slow-drying, and conditioning. Afterwards they are sorted by grade, commercial value is determined by the length of the bean, the highest quality are over 15cm in length, and as the beans get shorter, their worth drops.

Vanilla is classified by cultivar: Madagascar, Bourbon-Madagascar, Tahitian, Mexican,  and West Indian are the major ones I know of.

Review & price comparison

Before you buy a vanilla product check the label. Organic and pure may not mean what you think they mean. A good vanilla will not contain added sugars, caramel colouring, synthetic vanillin (a byproduct of the pulp industry), or corn syrup.
 

Product: Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans, by Rodelle
Price: 10 beans for $11.99 at Moncton Costco, (2 tubes of 5, or $1.20 per bean), purchased winter 2011
Review: My sister sent these to me in the mail. These are the best beans I have found so far. The label reads Kirkland Signature (Costco house brand), and also Rodelle, who is a supplier of premium vanilla. The label does not specify the cultivar but Rodelle’s website says “the majority” of their products are Bourbon-Madagascar beans. I’ve noticed that Tahitian beans are thinner and shorter than Madagascar, and these Rodelle beans are long and plump, so I am willing to bet they are from Madagascar.
 

Product: Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla beans, by Tosca
Price: 2 beans at Loblaws / Superstore for $7.99 (in 1 tube, or $4.00 per bean), purchased Jan 2011
Review: These were decent. Tosca products are imported by National Importers and you will get a much better deal buying one case (24 beans, 2 per tube) for $59.88 which is $2.50 per bean from the supplier instead of the store. The beans were okay length, a little on the thin side, with a pleasant flavour and aroma. Tosca sells premium (grade A) beans from Papua New Guinea, but the packaging does not classify the cultivar. However, their extract is made from Bourbon-Madagascar so I assume the beans are too.
 

Product: “organic” vanilla beans and Tahitian vanilla beans, supplier unknown
Price: approx. $6.00 for one organic bean, $2.00 for one Tahitian, at Domino’s Foods, St. Lawrence Market, purchased Nov 2010
Review: I have mixed feelings on these. I was excited when I bought them because I love buying stuff at the market, and they were priced better than the grocery store. The Tahitians were really skinny. The organics were a bit plumper. They both dried out quickly. I recall that my impression after using them for the first time was that considering how long it takes to get down to the market, and the cost of the beans, it’s not really worth it for me.
 

Product: pure organic Madagascar vanilla beans, by Sun Rise Brand
Price: 2 beans for $5.99 at No Frills, summer 2011
Review: Haven’t tried these. Noticed the bottom of the gold label says puresaffron@rogers.com and that seems weird.
 

Product: 120 mL of pure Tahitian vanilla extract by Vanilla, Saffron Imports
Label: vanilla bean extractives, alcohol 35%, water, no sugar
Price: $11.99 at Domino’s Foods, St. Lawrence Market, purchased Nov 2010
Review: Don’t be fooled by the plain packaging. This is amazing. Out of all the extracts I have tried, this has the best flavour and is well-worth the money. Unfortunately they will only ship products to Canada if there is no alcohol, and this contains alcohol, so you’ll have to find a re-seller which gets pricey. :[
 

Product: pure vanilla paste, 60 mL by Vanilla, Saffron Imports
Label: contains vanilla beans
Price: $6.99 at Domino’s Foods, St. Lawrence Market, purchased Nov 2010
Review: Flavourful and interesting product, a nice change from using a liquid extract. Difficult to extract from the bottle, the paste is thick.
 


Product: pure Madagascar vanilla extract 59 mL, by McCormick Gourmet Organic
Label: water, organic alcohol, extractives of organic vanilla beans, organic corn syrup
Price: $8.38 at Toronto Wal-mart, purchased Aug 2010
Review: I am a little confused, what is organic alcohol? What is so “pure” about adding corn syrup to vanilla? Their product info says this is “the highest quality” and I have to disagree. The flavour was not to my liking.
 

Product: pure vanilla extract 46 mL, by Club House
Contains: water, alcohol, sugar, vanilla bean extractives
Price: $3.94 at Toronto Wal-mart (also at $3.93 at No Frills), purchased Aug 2011
Review: This is okay but I wouldn’t buy it again.
 

Product: artificial vanilla extract 235 mL and 1L, by No Name
Contains: water, alchohol, caramel colour, artificial flavour
Price: $2.89 for 235 mL at No Frills ($3.49 at Loblaws), and 1L for $6.99 at No Frills, summer 2011
Review: I only use this stuff when I make cookies. My inner snob did not want to admit that.
 

Conclusion:

The beans are cheapest at Costco, $1.20 per bean to get a package of 10 is pretty awesome. Very nice quality. Hopefully you have a relative with a membership that you can harass.

I would love to find a cheaper source for the extracts from the Vanilla, Saffron Imports company.  Hey there, you guys at Vanilla, Saffron! If you have any extra 32 oz. bottles I would be happy to take them off your hands.

I’m not sure why my favourite extract is Tahitian when my favourite beans are Madagascaran.

What is your favourite vanilla product?

Playlist: Beethoven – Moonlight Sonata