Pumpkin Bread with Golden Sultanas – an Awesome Fall Dessert!

Pumpkin Bread with Sultanas

Contrary to what you might think from the outrageously yellow color, there is none, nada, zero food coloring of any sort in this recipe.  Unless you count the naturally occurring Vitamin A in the pumpkin (in the form of carotenoids which are well, orange in color), and then you are obviously right.  There is loads of that in this bread.  Not that it makes this dessert a health food of any possible description (unless you are suffering from a specific Vitamin A deficiency, and then you can totally eat this as your medication!), but in the age of too much color dumped into too many desserts, I felt like I should say a few words before people run away screaming.  So yeah, pumpkin bread turns out that color, and it’s a great thing, because not only is it awesomely and amazingly delicious, it even matches the fall decor.

Pumpkin bread, for those of you unfamiliar with the food (I am not assuming here, I’ve had lots of people in Europe look at me funny when I mentioned it like they’ve never heard of it – which they hadn’t), is banana bread’s better, tastier, prettier and all-round awesomer classy cousin.  (Unless you just love bananas and their flavor, or if it’s potassium you are after, and then stick with banana bread or just plain bananas.)  It’s happily orange to the brown of banana bread, and I think we can all agree that orange is a better color than brown.  …What, you disagree?!  Ok, you can go sit in that there brown corner.  On this blog I am all in favor of all things orange, so the statement stands.

How is it better than banana bread other than the color and Vit A vs. potassium content?  Well, it also tastes better, in my totally-biased-in-favor-of-pumpkin opinion.  The pumpkin adds a fresh and delicate note, almost melon-like in quality, but with a heartier finish, and the spices (I use the holy-quadrinity of Pumpkin Pie Spice here – real cinnamon (non-bitter), freshly-grated nutmeg, ginger, and cloves) combine so wonderfully well and add the heavenly fragrance that is the very epitome of fall.  And not only does this keep well cooled and wrapped in plastic film, but in fact, it actually both smells and tastes even better the next day.

Pumpkin and Sultana Bread

It also looks just the same the next day – so if you wanted a make-ahead dessert, this ticks that box as well.  No, I don’t actually know if it keeps longer than a day (some sources say pumpkin helps keep it fresh for a few), because I’ve never had it survive longer than two days at my place.  If it ever does, I’ll 1. wonder if I had messed up the recipe and 2. report back on the freshness.

Plus, if you really wanted to go to town with this, you could wait till it cools and make an orange or lemon glaze for it out of a bit of powdered sugar, a tablespoon or so of the juice and the grated zest of the citrus you fancy, and drizzle it over the top, leaving it to set.  I’ve done this before and it’s amazing.  And makes it look even more festive.

Have I convinced you that this American-food staple is not your average piece of McGarbage yet?  I sure hope so.  (Yes, I keep having to tell my European friends that American food is, in fact, amazing, and that no, it’s not all McCrap.  I think I am succeeding, one pulled pork feast, pumpkin soup and shrimp scampi at a time…)

And if you’ve gotten this far, I will also tell you yet another awesome thing about this – it’s easy.  And I mean, easier than easy.  It’s easy even by my already fairly low standards.  It is mixed in one bowl, glopped into greased loaf pans and baked.  This is how easy it is.  The entire thing takes about an hour and that includes 50 minutes or so of baking time.  Do I have your attention?

If yes, here’s what you need – makes 2 average-sized loaf pans:

  • 1 can of Libby’s 100% Pumpkin Puree (NOT the pie filling, yuck, no, ew!) or 425g of steamed and mashed winter squash of your choice (butternut squash works fine – weigh the squash puree after steaming and mashing, since it’ll lose water in cooking).
  • 225g salted butter, melted and cooled so you don’t cook the egg with it.  If using unsalted butter, add 1/4 tsp salt.
  • 3.5 cups (8dl) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (5dl) sugar – I use a mix of white and medium-dark brown sugar at about 2:1 or 1:1 here
  • 3 large eggs or enough egg substitute prepared according to package directions (My sig. other is allergic to egg whites.  This works beautifully with Orgran’s No-Egg – turns out tender and fluffy, with a good rise.  Good-bye Bob’s Red Mill egg substitute…)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaping tsp ground ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 heaping tsp ground ginger
  • 1 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract (entirely optional but toss it in if you have some and like it)
  • 1 cup (2.5dl) golden sultanas (or other raisins but they won’t be as pretty or taste the same – nuts work well, too, but obviously the flavor will be entirely different.)

What to do:

  • Preheat your oven to 175C.  Set a rack in the middle.
  • Butter or spray 2 loaf pans, set aside.
  • In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients except the sultanas (raisins) with a whisk to distribute the baking powder and spices.
  • Add the pumpkin, then the butter and vanilla extract (if using).  Add the eggs.  I actually pre-mix all the wet ingredients in another bowl, and you can do that if you think it’s easier.  I do – but it isn’t necessary if you don’t want to get another bowl dirty.
  • Stir the batter a little (I use a wooden spoon to mix this, there is zero need for even a handheld mixer), and add the raisins.  Mix until just combined and no dry flour is visible.  Some lumps are ok, it is important to not overmix this.
  • Scrape into 2 loaf pans and level the top with a spatula.
  • Place on the rack in the middle of the oven and set a timer for 40 minutes.  Ovens vary – generally these bake for about 50 minutes, but I recommend checking with a toothpick starting from 40 minutes.  Pumpkin bread is done when a skewer comes out clean without wet batter stuck to it.
  • Cool in pans on a rack for 15 minutes, unmold and cool on a rack out of pans until entirely cool, if you can wait that long.  Which you must if you plan to make the glaze and glaze them.  Otherwise, up to you!

Slice, serve with coffee or tea, and enjoy – it’s like all the colors of autumn in your mouth.  Well, not the brown mud color, but you know what I mean!

An Autumn Love Story: Golden Nectarine Cake

As it is no news to those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while, my other half is allergic to egg whites.  And while, at first it doesn’t seem like a huge deal – I mean, egg whites aren’t the most exciting foodstuff on their own, it is also an incredibly annoying allergy – because, among other things, it tends to deprive him of cake.

Now, do you understand the depth of misery that this sort of allergy is?!  I mean, no real birthday cakes when growing up, no nice slice of chocolate cake at the cafe, no brownies, no… combine this with his pretty wide nut allergy and you get the full scope of the sadness of a food-allergic dessertless existence.

Till he met me, that is.  Now, I am a persistent creature and for a while now I’ve been trying, really trying to make him a good, non-dry simple cake.  The sort that we, non-allergic types, able to eat anything in a random coffee shop without a second’s hesitation (other than perhaps wondering what this amount of sugar will do to my waistline), and certainly without any fear for our life, take for granted.  Well, I take my ability to eat whatever and not fear for my life for granted no longer – it’s amazing how quickly acquiring a significant person with an allergy adjusts one’s perspective!

The search took me through alternatives such as milk-and-hot-water cake (which turns out pretty lovely with saffron and which I should write about at some point too), and the coconut and orange cake with egg yolks (which was also lovely but not very moist so required good frosting to make it really work), and after a while I nearly gave up on real cake – until I stumbled across a cheaty shortcut which I feel the desire to share with you, along with the recipe for this easy, gorgeous and absolutely delicious cake somewhat adapted to said cheat from a recipe found on Gourmet Magazine website.

And let me tell you – if you only make one autumnal dessert this year, please, do make it this cake!  It’s aromatic with orange flower water and cardamom, it’s moist (even with the egg substitute), and the nectarines dry and caramelize under their coat of sugar and spice into a stained-glass-like beauty.  The smell as it bakes is like the very essence of Fall, the sort of thing you’d dream of when imagining yourself on a swing with a mug of hot coffee or tea, wrapped in a thick sweater and a blanket and looking out over the colors of the turning leaves.  Well, I don’t know about you, but to me, that is how it is.

The cheat in question is a vegetarian egg substitute by Bob’s Red Mill (purveyors of high-quality grains and flours and the like).  I have chosen it after reading about a lot of different egg substitutes, and checking their ingredients to find the least objectionable one.  This one is made from wheat, soy and algin (extract from seaweed), and while I am not a huge fan of soy, the small amount of soy this would add to our diet is not something I will quibble with when it allows me to simply mix and substitute this in any baking recipe where beaten eggs are called for – and have it work so wonderfully.

To top it, the cake transports without falling apart (great when you want to bring a dessert to a party!), and it keeps very well in the fridge wrapped in cling film (plastic wrap) for 1-2 days.  I can’t say if it would keep any longer as I simply don’t know – it’s not survived longer than till the morning of the day after the day it was made here.  And that was with me avoiding helping with the eating of it, too.

What you need to make it:

A bowl, a handheld (or stand) mixer or a wooden spoon, some baking paper and a standard-sized springform cake pan.  Oven doesn’t hurt either.

  • 2.4dl (1 US cup) all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1g (1/5 of a teaspoon) salt
  • 125g (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small bits and softened
  • 180ml (3/4 US cup) sugar + 1 tablespoon sugar (divided)
  • 2 large eggs (lightly beaten) or 2 tablespoons of egg replacer whisked with 6 tablespoons room-temperature water
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon orange flower water
  • Zest of 1 lemon or orange (optional but very recommended!)
  • 2 nectarines, pitted and sliced into wedges.  I used a golden and a white one in the cake pictured, but the golden ones have a better flavor (more acidic), so the second cake (that got devoured without getting a photoshoot) only used golden and I liked it better.
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

What you do:

  • Preheat oven to 175C.
  • Butter the cake pan lightly and line the bottom with a round piece of baking paper (you’ll thank me later!).
  • Mix the egg substitute with water in a small bowl and set aside to stand.  It will thicken a little, but it’s not essential that it does.
  • Whisk together flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder, salt and citrus zest (if using).
  • In a separate small bowl, mix the cardamom and the remaining tablespoon of sugar, set aside.
  • Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then pour in the egg substitute (or beaten eggs) slowly in 2 stages, beating well after each addition.
  • Beat in vanilla and orange flower water.
  • Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until just combined.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and level the top with a butterknife or a spatula.
  • Push nectarine slices into the top of the batter in a circular (or any other) pattern, and sprinkle the top of the cake (batter and fruit slices) with the sugar-cardamom mixture.
  • Place on a middle rack of preheated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes (ovens may vary so check after 40 minutes and keep an eye on the cake afterwards), until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Cool in the pan on wire rack for 20-30 minutes, then remove the sides of the pan, and cool completely.
  • Carefully loosen the bottom of the cake with the parchment paper off the bottom of the pan with a spatula, and slide the cake onto the serving platter.  The parchment bottom will help avoid screeching noises when cutting the cake on the platter, and the cake slices come off it effortlessly.

Slice, pour up your hot drink, grab that blanket and go sit on the balcony in the chill wind watching the leaves turn.  Happy Autumn!

Two-Ingredient, Five-Minute Ice Cream

WARNING:  This post contains information that will come perilously close to ruining your relationship with your jeans.  And/or the mirror.  Read at your own risk!

Anyone who knows me, knows that of all sweets, ice cream is the one I have least resistance for.  Which, as it happens, does not at all mean that I’ll eat any sort of bad ice cream whenever.  Oh no.  The above only applies to exceptionally good, ice-cream-shop ice cream, or at the very least something like Häagen-Dazs. Or, preferably, the homemade stuff.

Like this.

Because really, if we could make ice cream at home without an ice-cream maker (some of us who have tiny kitchens can’t own every kitchen gadget we want because of space issues if nothing else!), of course we’d make it as amazing as we want it to be, and without anything questionable of remotely icky on the horizon.

I have made no-churn ice creams with fresh or frozen fruit before, and they turned out amazing – but when I came across this recipe, I simply had to try it.  Because it was promised that it would deliver (and boy, did it!) an even creamier version without any, any iciness at all!  And don’t color me boring, but I love vanilla ice cream.  By that, I don’t mean the plain oversugared white stuff you can find in any supermarket, no – I mean the heavily vanilla-perfumed rich and creamy vanilla ice cream that vanilla fanatics (like me) seek like the holy grail.

Personally, I think it’s sad that the word “vanilla” has come to signify in common slang something boring and uninventive.  I blame the aforementioned tasteless concoctions labeled “vanilla” that line the supermarket shelves, and the cheapening of this queen of flavors that inevitably followed – but I digress as usual, and this is a story for another time (yes, that other time is being planned… just need to take photos!).

Back to ice cream.  This ice cream is by no conceivable definition boring, unless you hate vanilla and/or ice cream with a passion (in which case I am not sure why you are reading this post).  It is lush, it is incredibly creamy and full of that rich, perfumey goodness that we expect of vanilla ice cream.  And best of all, it is very, very easy to make!

Now, like the original writer of the recipe, I cheat.  I use more than 2 ingredients, because while I imagine this ice cream would taste wonderful even without it, I have added real vanilla extract to it.  Why?  Because of all the above and how I adore vanilla.  And because I have real vanilla extract at home, made by yours truly (like I said, vanilla talk another day), and so I could.

So, what do you need for this?  (Makes just under 2L of ice cream.)

  • 2 plastic buckets or freezer-safe boxes that will hold a bit over 1L each.
  • Freezer that goes to -12C or below (Two-star or preferably more rated).  I am serious here.  Mine goes to -24C and that is how high I crank it, but those little (one-star) iceboxes in some fridges that don’t really freeze food solid won’t work.
  • Mixer.  I would not try this with a hand whisk although I have a friend who is scary with that thing and can whip cream or egg whites or whatever you want by hand.  I am not so gifted or exercised!
  • Bowl
  • 0.5L (5dl) heavy whipping cream (I used 36% one because that is what I had in the fridge, but I imagine 40% will work even better.)
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk (397g one which is apparently standard … who the heck came up with that amount?!)
  • 1 tablespoon real vanilla extract (and some seeds out of the vanilla pod if you want those black specks in your ice cream)

Method:  (This takes approximately 5 minutes.  After which there is a freezing period but really, you can just go to sleep like I did and wake up to ice cream!)

  • Put your cream in a bowl (add vanilla seeds now if using), and whip it to soft peak stage.
  • Add vanilla extract and whip to stiff peak stage.
  • Add condensed milk and whip to combine.  Mixture will be somewhat softer than stiff-peaks but that is ok.
  • Pour into your boxes and freeze overnight.

Serve.  If your freezer is a mean machine like mine, take the ice cream out for a few minutes before scooping, but to be honest, with a bit of arm power, I managed to scoop this even straight from the freezer – it does not go icy and it does not go terribly solid either.  It is creamy and gorgeous and, for all of you vanilla freaks, incredibly vanilla-satisfactory.  So much, in fact, that even I tend to have a little and then feel it is enough.

Like the original author says, this is very versatile.  Next time I will make my salted caramel sauce and swirl it into a semi-frozen mixture.  Or mix in some smashed cookies like she did.  Or… the imagination is the limit, I suspect, and I really do think that adding some chocolate to the whipping cream would work wonders as well.

Now that I have this recipe, the ice cream is always, always within my reach… my jeans may think this is not such a great idea.  I may have to, you know, compromise with them and feed most of the ice cream to skinny Scandinavian friends.  Yesss… ;)

P.S.  While I make none, zero, nada claims regarding the health value of this (it has none except for those who really need to gain weight, and maybe not even then), it does have some virtues which are hard to come by in shop-bought ice cream:  It has zero food additives, stabilizers, colors or artificial flavors.  It contains no eggs at all, and so is suitable for egg allergy sufferers and vegetarians who avoid eggs.  And well… if you count your mental health, it does have a health benefit.  Like, you know, keeping you from throwing objects or crying when you have PMS.  For that, it works wonders, even in small doses.  (Yes, I’ve tried it for that.)  Oh and – for this sort of quality, it’s also really inexpensive to make, so it makes your wallet – and you – happier.  Beat that!

Gorgeous, Egg-Free Chocolate Mousse with Bourbon

Some days bring you a culinary epiphany.

Several weeks ago I had such a day.  I was lamenting in conversation with a friend, about how my boyfriend is allergic to egg whites, and how that deprives him of chocolate mousse.  My friend Nils replied incredulously: “… but why would you ever need eggs for chocolate mousse?  You only need…”

And there it was, my chocolate mousse epiphany.

Because, apparently (to me now!), when it is stripped down, chocolate mousse only has two ingredients.  Four if you want it to be luxurious.  I did – it was made for Valentine’s Day, and T deserves all there is wonderful in the world.  Every day, actually.  But, I digress.

This mousse has no eggs.  But despite that, it really does have it all – it’s light (in texture, people!), it sets beautifully, it is easy to make, it literally melts on your tongue into a whisper and a kiss of chocolatey bliss – and it can be made with anything from milk to 70% dark chocolate, with brilliant results.  I imagine you could go darker if you are a serious chocaholic!  I have not tried it with white, but that should definitely be attempted!  It can be dressed up with vanilla and a tablespoon or two of your favorite booze, or orange zest or – your imagination is the limit here, but understand this – it does not need these adornments.  It is perfectly perfect on its own, with its two ingredients: whipping quality cream (36-40% fat), and good quality chocolate.  Everything else is frills.

If you want the mousse stiffer and chocolatier, use more chocolate (though I think the 100g specified for 70% cocoa chocolate is pretty chocolatey!), and if you want it softer and silkier, go with a bit more cream.  Incidentally, if you use the darker chocolate, this is also fairly (for a luxury dessert!) LCHF-friendly and low-GI, and so also diabetic-friendly!  Not much sugar in the dark chocolate, and little or none (depends on vanilla sugar) gets added in the making!

The recipe and method could not be simpler.  (You will need an electric mixer with whipping blades unless you are really, really pro with a whisk and have strong arms!)

This will fill two large ramekins, or 2.5 of the non-standard sized ones pictured.

  • 2 dl whipping cream
  • 100g chocolate of your choice – the mousse in the photo was made using 70% cocoa, but if you like milk chocolate, go for it!  Just buy the good dessert-quality stuff!
  • 1 tsp vanilla sugar (the stuff with real vanilla) – optional!
  • 1 tablespoon of your favorite liqueur or alcohol – I used Jack Daniels here.  Entirely optional as well.

How to do it – you will need to do this 3-4 hours to allow the mousse to set properly.  It may do so faster or slower depending on the fat content of your cream and chocolate.

  • Put chocolate into a bowl over a water bath (double boiler), so that it does not touch the water.  Bring water to low simmer and stir chocolate occasionally till it has nearly melted.  Take off heat and allow to melt completely and cool slightly.
  • In the meantime, whip the cream.  Add vanilla sugar mid-whipping (before it is in soft peaks), and alcohol once the cream reaches the soft peak stage. Mix a few seconds more to incorporate.
  • Pour the melted chocolate in while whipping the cream further.  The mixture will thicken quickly – beat until it is in stiff peaks.
  • Scoop or pipe into ramekins.  I simply scooped it in, and smoothed the top with the back of a teaspoon.
  • Cover with cling film and put in the fridge to set.

Decorate with fresh berries, a dollop of whipped cream, or whatever floats your boat.  This is amazing with a glass of port wine, if that is to your liking.