Ultimate, Everything Pumpkin Bread (with cherries, nuts, sunflower seeds and cream cheese)

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Yesterday, Colorado was cool, misty and alive with Fall color.  I snapped this picture out my upstairs bedroom window . Through the window pane and the mist, the photo came out looking like a painting, so beautiful it seemed almost unreal.
Room with an Autumn View

On a day like that, what else is there to do but curl up with a book and a blanket, take a long nap, then wake up, pad to the kitchen and bake pumpkin bread?

I searched for what I hoped would be the perfect recipe for pumpkin bread: I wanted it to be moist, spicy and full of tasty surprises.  I narrowed it down to six recipes.  In the end,  I threw elements from all six recipes into the bowl and pans, adding special tweaks of my own. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I’d doubled the spices, used both brown and white sugar plus a tad of maple syrup, folded chopped pecans and dried cherries into the batter.  Then I thought, “Why not?”  as I plopped dollops of whipped cream cheese in the middle of the batter. Then I wondered, “What could make a nice sweet n’ salty crunchy top crust?” I reached for brown sugar and roasted salted sunflower seed kernels.  Then I popped the loaves into the oven and waited.  I had created either a masterpiece, or disaster.  I worried I might  have tweaked this recipe to death.

Well, I am pleased to announce the results are in and they are a 10.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is the BEST pumpkin bread I have ever tasted, moist with deep flavor and so many treats-to-the-senses per bite: the sweet tartness of the cherries, the smooth bits of cream cheese and satisfying chew of baked-in-pecans.  The crunchy crust… with a hint of salt and sugar..oh. my.

But don’t just take my word for it. Try it yourself next time the baking mood hits you on one of these cool fall days that beckon you to the kitchen. And feel free to tweak away and make the recipe even more your own– switch out the dried cherries for any dried fruit you like, or use chocolate chips (hmmm… white chocolate chips? Butterscotch chips?).  Use nuts you prefer or have on hand.  I never let what’s not in my pantry keep me from making a recipe.  Go with what you’ve got,  what sounds good… and most of all,have fun.

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Becky’s Epic Pumpkin Bread

(Makes 2 loaves)

3 cups flour 

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 t. cinnamon

1/2 t. ginger

1/2 t. cloves

1 t. nutmeg

1 t. almond extract (optional)

1 1/2 t. salt 

3 t. baking powder

1 t. baking soda

4 eggs

2 T. maple syrup

2 cans (16 oz each) pumpkin 

2/3 cup light oil  (I used olive oil as it was all I had on hand.  Worked beautifully.) 

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (can use up to 2/3 cup if you love nuts)

1/2 cup roughly dried cherries or cranberries  (can use up to 2/3 cup if you prefer more dried-fruit-per-bite)

whipped cream cheese ( I used a light variety that comes in a tub)…  about 1/2  to 2/3 cup

For Topping:  

1/4 to 1/3 cup brown or turbinado sugar 

1/3 to 1/2  cup roasted, salted sunflower seed kernels  (If you can find fresh roasted pumpkin seeds this are also delicious instead of the sunflower seed kernels,  as are sliced almonds.)

 

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl with a whisk. Create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add eggs, syrup, pumpkin, oil.  Whisk the wet ingredients together as you slowly incorporate the dry ingredients as well.  Finish stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula, slowly folding in pecans and dried cherries.  

Grease and flour two loaf pans.  Pour (or spoon) 1/4 of the batter into each pan, and spread evenly.  Then dollop heaping teaspoons of whipped cream cheese across the surface of the batter in both pans.  Pour the remaining batter over the top of the cream cheese, dividing it evenly between the two pans. Smooth with spatula.

Sprinkle the tops of the batter with brown or turbinado sugar and sunflower seeds.  

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until top is golden and a toothpick in the middle comes out clean. 

Cool thoroughly before serving.  I think the flavors of this bread get better as it sits and cools.   Freezes beautifully. 

Note: I made this at high altitude with no problem.  Many quick breads use more baking soda, but I just hate the after-taste of baking soda. This option rises perfectly, but without that funky  soda aftertaste…

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Double Chocolate Berry Nut Muffins

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(Becky, the Mama.)

Food memoirist Alyssa Shelasky described her mother as being a strict health-nut (who’d never eat anything that would “tick off Michael Pollan”), before being green and organic was cool. Alyssa’s school lunches were healthy leftovers like chicken salad and fruit, with notes of hand-written inspiration tucked into the brown bag. Nary a Dorito or Slim Jim in site.  And yet, even this Whole Foods Mama had a daily vice.  Every morning alongside with her cup of milky white tea, she ate a chocolate packaged snack cake filled with goopy marshmallow cream. Yes, she ate a Devil Dog.

In her defense she ate one and only one.  Every single day.  For  sixty years.  Without guilt.

Later in the day, Alyssa’s mom would  walk to the Farmer’s Market, loaded down with fresh veggies, enjoying every antioxidant-filled bite.

Now that Hostess has gone out of business, a box of Devil Dogs can be found on the internet for about $35.00 a box.  “Freshness guaranteed.”   (Presumably because they are so rich in chemicals, they are guaranteed to last forever.)

Though I draw the line at Twinkies and Devil Dogs for breakfast (even if I could afford such luxuries), I’m all in favor of making Chocolate a breakfast food.

To that end, I offer you this recipe for  Double Chocolate Berry Nut Muffins.  If I’d had blueberries or dark cherries on hand, I would have used those in this muffin. What I did have on hand was strawberries and kiwis, so improviser that I am… into the bowl they went. I’ve never let lack of correct ingredients stop me from whipping up a recipe.  I once made a carrot cake without any carrots, subbing zucchini and crushed pineapple.  It was delicious.

The result of my experiment was a just-right sweet muffin made moist from the coconut oil, Greek yogurt and fruit, chocolaty from cocoa and chocolate chips, with a nice crunch from chopped pecans.  I used white whole wheat flour  (which has the same nutritional value as whole wheat flour, but is made from white instead of red wheat);  and organic unprocessed sugar to ease my conscience even more.

So, okay, I’m not ready to declare these chocolate muffins a “health food.”  But hey, they are no Devil Dogs.

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Double Chocolate Berry Muffins

Makes 2 dozen regular muffins, and one pan of miniature muffins

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Ingredients

2 ¼ c whole wheat white flour ( I used King Arthur brand)

1 ¼ c.  organic sugar

½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder (if you like extra dark chocolate use dark chocolate cocoa)

2 t. baking power

1 t. baking soda

¾ t. salt

1 cup Greek Yogurt, plain

½ cup milk or almond milk

1/3 cup coconut oil, melted if it is solidified

2 eggs

1 t. vanilla or almond extract

1 cup berries (blueberries don’t need chopped, but strawberries, cherries, raspberries or blackberries will need to be diced into about ¼ inch pieces.)

1 cup chocolate chips

½ c. to 1 c. chopped nuts

Directions

Sift and stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a separate large bowl, and make a well in the center; set aside.

Whisk together the yogurt, milk, coconut oil, eggs, and almond or vanilla extract in a bowl until evenly blended. Pour the yogurt mixture into the well, then stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the berries, nuts, and chocolate chips. Spoon into prepared muffin cups, filling half full. (I used cupcake liners.)

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Bake until a toothpick inserted into centers comes out clean, about 20 minutes.

Try with a little smear of Nutella;  or a slice of banana and peanut butter, or a spoon of cherry or strawberry preserves.  Heaven….

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This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title:Double Chocolate Berry Muffins
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This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook


Quick Buttery Coffee Cake (made with Pancake Mix)

(Becky, the Mama.)

This is our second week of condo living in regions of the U.S. where the sun is shining, the grass is green, the birds are singing and this week, in Oceanside, California, the ocean is waving.   


The sentence (and scene) above is brought to you by our much younger selves, when we each bought Time Share, never dreaming that someday we’d end up married to each another, with four vacation weeks to use up, per year, between us.  (And it is a use it or lose it proposition. So what can we do but go play?)

Neither of us would say that Time Shares are great financial investments; but man oh man, they have been AWESOME investments in terms of fun, extended get-aways  for our marriage. We’re both blessed with jobs we can do anywhere, as long as we have laptops and cell phones.

Some ways that we save money and also get business done while we’re away:

1) We drive instead of flying whenever possible, getting crazy good deals on hotels using Hotwire.com or Priceline.com.  I stock up on books on tape from the library (Greg listens with earphones while driving),  and we have wifi – via his cell phone– and a plug for my lap top (goes in the cigarette lighter)  in the car, creating a roving office-on-wheels. I get some of my best writing done on the road, my feet up on the dash, computer on lap, pillow behind my head. Greg also sees clients everywhere we go.

2) We always look for places to stay that have a full kitchen, bringing along a couple of boxes of kitchen essentials so that I can cook “on location” rather than eating out.

For whatever reason, cooking is an enormous treat for me, and especially when on vacation. I like the challenge of creating good meals from whatever supplies I bring, plus fresh local meats and produce.

It has been a long time since I’ve baked something sweet, at home or “abroad,” but today  after a nice long walk through an artsy Farmer’s Market with Greg, I began thinking that a warm coffee cake with a crunchy, buttery, cinnamon topping sure sounded good. 

Coffee cakes are one of my favorite treats to make because they typically aren’t overly sweet, they whip up and cook quickly, and it makes its own topping while baking.  If you have a good basic recipe, you can swing it a dozen ways!   Add blueberries or chopped apples, a variety of nuts, a little citrus zest, or even chocolate chips and you can dress up a basic cake anyway you want to go.  The added bonus: you get to eat cake for breakfast.  What’s not to love?

I didn’t bring baking powder or soda with me, however (a HA!) I brought some pancake mix.  Sure enough, I sleuthed up a recipe online for coffee cake made with pancake mix that got some lovely reviews.  I used it as a starting point, played with it a bit, and within 30 minutes… from stir to cut and serve…I was eating a fluffy, moist, perfectly balanced coffee cake.  So good, this will be my Go-To Coffee Cake Recipe from now on.  This recipe makes a small cake (perfect for a couple),  so I plan to double the recipe when I get home and make this for our big family next week, arriving for what we call “Thanksgiving Camp.”

Quick Buttery Coffee Cake (with Pancake Mix)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

1 c. pancake mix, any kind (I want to try Trader Joe’s pumpkin pancake mix! Vegans use an egg & dairy-free mix)

1/3 c. sugar

1 egg  (vegans can use fave egg substitute)

1/3 c. almond milk (or any kind of milk you like)

¼ c. butter, melted  (I used ½ olive oil, ½ butter, Or use your favorite vegan butter.)

Topping:

2 T. softened butter (or vegan butter)

¼ c. brown sugar

2 T. pancake mix (or flour)

2 T. oatmeal (or mixture of oatmeal, hemp seeds, chia seeds)

1/3 c. chopped pecans (almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts)
Instructions:

In a medium sized bowl whisk pancake mix and sugar together.  Add egg, milk, butter and stir until smooth.

Butter a small pan, such as a round cake pan.  (I found a small broiler pan in the condo that worked well. It’s smaller than it looks in the pictures, only about 8 by 10 inches. )

Mix topping in another small bowl and crumble on top of batter.  

Bake for 20 minutes.  It will look a bit like the surface of a crater, but with each “dent” there’s the yumminess of melted butter and cinnamon going through the cake. Sooo delicious.  Serve warm and crumbly!!  (Or if I serve it later, I’ll zap a piece for just a few seconds in microwave.)

 This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook
The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The title: Quick Buttery Coffee Cake
The URL: http://wp.me/p1UwM9-Nt
This was printed from: We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook