Friday, October 18, 2013

Perfect Pumpkin Apple Bread

This Perfect Pumpkin Apple Bread recipe is an autumn orchard’s dream come true. Utilizing the whole hog (aka both the apple trees and the pumpkin patch), this bread combines the best fall has to offer. Whether or not you bake this bread after a day at the orchard, fall will feel ubiquitously present in every bite.
I’m excited to share my photos from last weekend’s apple picking excursion with you. The day was so sunny and beautiful, fall foliage was (almost) at its peak, and the smell of cinnamon spiced apple cider donuts permeated the gentle breeze in the air. It couldn’t be more perfect. Like this bread!
The reason I added the qualifier “perfect” to this recipe is not because its the best pumpkin bread you’ll EVER have in your life. Rather, this recipe is simply reliable. A quick Google search for “pumpkin bread” will yield so many varying results that it’s impossible to avoid option overload and it’s ensuing anxiety. Which one to make?!? Make this one. It’s great.

While clearly more of a cook than a baker, I’ve made this bread more times than I can count. (Someone I like happens to like it very much.) Hailing from Ruth Reichl’s Gourmet, its credentials speak for itself, but I’ll point out the highlights. A simple strudel topping adds a cake-like feel to the bread, which is richly spiced with delicious hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. Dotted cooked apples will create a melt-in-your-mouth effect when you catch one in a bite, but these little gems serve a second purpose in addition to gustatory pleasure: they make the bread’s interior extremely moist, erasing the always-disapointing possibility of a dry pumpkin loaf. (To ensure uniform moistness, you can try grating the apples into the batter rather than adding cubes.)

I have adjusted some of the ingredient amounts from the original recipe. After baking this bread dozens of times, I can assuredly say that there’s WAY too much sugar in the printed version, whole-wheat flour can substitute white to add health without compromising the taste, and up to half of the oil can easily be substituted for applesauce. Maintaining the bread’s integrity but adding some nutrition—a pretty good upgrade for this lovable autumn loaf. 

Perfect Pumpkin Apple Bread (adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook)
Makes 2 Loaves


For topping:
1 Tbs all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
For bread:
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour
¾  tsp salt
2 tsps baking soda
1 ½ tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground allspice
1 (15-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin
½  cup canola oil
¼ cup apple sauce
1 ¼ cups sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 McIntosh or Empire apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (2 cups)

  1. Make the topping. Blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter in a small bowl with fingertips.
  2. Make the bread. Preheat oven to 350, and butter two 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice into a medium bowl. Whisk together pumpkin, oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add flour mixture, stirring until well combined. Fold in apples.
  3. Divide batter between buttered loaf pans. Sprinkle half of topping evenly on each loaf. Bake until a toothpick comes out clean, for about 50-60 minutes. Cool loaves in pans on a rack for 45 minutes.

Friday, October 11, 2013

White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew

Our dear friend the pumpkin is out and about in two ways during Fall.  You can find him whole and squat in the pumpkin patch, surrounded by the obligatory farm fare, hayrides and apple trees prior to meeting his jack-o-latern fate. Or whipped neatly into a can of puree, where a spatula will cleanly scoop out his fleshy goodness in prep for the bread, muffin or pie of his namesake.
Somewhere in between carving pumpkins on the floor over newspapers and scooping puree out of a can is this White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew. Rarely do we see pumpkin peeled, seeded and cubed in the grocery store the way we do butternut squash, and I think this unfamiliarity makes the prospect of buying your own whole pumpkin (no it doesn't need to be 20 lbs), removing the seeds and flesh by hand (but I don't own a machete), and cooking and pureeing in the kitchen (ahhhh is this a Halloween prank) so scary and daunting.

But do not fear the portly pumpkin! You can buy these tots at any grocery store—aim for one the size of a large acorn squash. Even I was surprised at the soft flesh once I cut inside; spongy and soft rather than hardened and dense. I've provided detailed instructions on how to cut, scoop and skin the pumpkin below—I don't think the whole process took more than 10 minutes. (Oh, and then you get to roast the pumpkin seeds—the best part!)

I've been a huge fan of pumpkin stews ever since posting my Moroccan Pumpkin Stew recipe. I loved how the rich savory notes lent themselves to spices like cumin and coriander, but how the innate sweetness (it is called a sugar pumpkin, after all) blended harmoniously with cinnamon and cloves.
Shifting continents, today's pumpkin stew recipe is all about spice. Embodying more of a Latin American flavor, it utilizes fresh cilantro, spicy serrano pepper and of course, smoked paprika. Savory or sweet flavors notice you will not; rather it's that spicy note beneath every bite that rounds out each simmering, flavorful pot. Even before I prepared the pumpkin, I could tell this dish was going to be a hit: the fragrant flavors of stewed tomatoes, onion, garlic, broth and cilantro were just that aromatic. The sugar pumpkin and beans transform the chili-like cognizance of the base into an emboldened fall stew with a lovely texture, and a generous squeeze of fresh lime rounds out the dish at its finale.

White Bean and Smoked Paprika Sugar Pumpkin Stew (adapted from Whole Living)
Serves 4

1 15 oz can white kidney beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, sliced
Kosher salt
¼ teaspoon hot or sweet paprika
1 ½ tablespoon tomato paste
3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
15 sprigs cilantro
1 small sugar pumpkin (peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks)
Juice of ½ lime

1. In a stockpot over medium-high heat, warm olive oil. Add onion, garlic, serrano chile, and ¼ tsp. kosher salt. Saute until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in hot or sweet paprika and tomato paste; cook for 1 minute. Add beans, chicken broth and cilantro. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes.

2. Peel, seed, and cut the sugar pumpkin. (See below for detailed instructions. Remember to save the seeds for roasting!) Add pumpkin to bean mixture, plus additional broth to cover, and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 15 minutes more. Remove and discard cilantro. Sprinkle soup with limejuice, and add more salt if needed. Serve immediately.

How to cube a whole pumpkin in under 10 minutes:

Here is your sugar pumpkin. Be nice to it! It's very cute.
Apologize for your previous bias towards the canned version
 in the kitchen.
Chop off the stem and split the pumpkin down the middle. 
With a spoon, scrape out the flesh and seeds. (Strain seeds in a colander
 if reserving for roasting, which you definitely should.) 
When you are done flesh-and-seed-scraping it should look like this.
Cut each pumpkin half in half (so you have four even quarters.)
With a vegetable peeler,  peel off the skin, securing the pumpkin with
 your thumb and peeling away from you in even strokes.

Yay, you did it! Now time to roast the seeds. 
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray the surface with a light mist of olive oil.
3. Place the cleaned seeds in a single lawyer on the foil, and sprinkle with salt (and cinnamon & cayenne peper if desired.) Top off with another layer of misted olive oil.
4. Toast for 15 minutes, flip and toast for another 15 minutes, or until seeds are slightly browned on the edges.