Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Cake

Close your eyes. Now imagine warm cinnamon rolls loaded with brown sugar and cinnamon, and smothered in icing. Makes your mouth water, doesn't it? I love cinnamon rolls but I don't make them very often because they take a fair amount of time. Then I ran across a recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Cake from Nicole at Baking Bites. This is what she says:
I love cinnamon buns, but homemade buns can be a bit time consuming to make from scratch when the craving hits. I'm not one to run out and buy a cinnamon bun in a situation like this. Instead, I made a batch of Quick and Easy Cinnamon Bun Bread, a yeast bread that tastes just like a cinnamon bun, complete with brown sugar and cinnamon filling, and comes together without kneading, shaping or waiting for the bread to rise! The original will always be a favorite of mine, but for a fall twist I turned it into a Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Cake.
Several things about this recipe immediately grabbed my attention: 1. it comes together fast (no waiting for rising or shaping); 2. it tastes like a cinnamon roll, complete with that wonderful yeasty flavor that comes from, well, yeast; 3. it has pumpkin in it--I give anything baked with pumpkin an A+; 4. she uses a lot of yeast to compensate for the short rising time.

I've now made this three times. The first time I made it exactly to the instructions (doubled so I could make a 9x13 pan). I thought it was really good, but a tad dense. The recipe calls for resting (basically a cold rise) for 15 minutes before putting the cake in a cold oven. I wondered if increasing the resting time from 15 minutes to 30 minutes would result in a cake that was less dense. I also wondered if I could get away with using less yeast; 2 tablespoons (less even, than doubling the original amount) just seemed like so much. I wasn't especially worried about time, so needing to let it rest longer wasn't an issue. And I substituted bread flour for the all-purpose flour called for in the recipe. Bread flour has more gluten (that's what's developed when you knead bread--it gives bread it's characteristic chew and softness), and I thought it might be even more yeast-bread like with the substitution.

The second pan was even better than the first pan (if that was even possible). The longer rest time made for a less-dense cake, and I liked the change in texture from the bread flour. And using less yeast worked great. For my third pan I pushed the yeast envelope even more and decreased the amount to just 2 1/4 teaspoons (the amount in a standard packet), and let it rest even longer--45 minutes. Even with this long of a rest the cake was ready in much less time than traditional cinnamon rolls. Oh, and as always, I didn't have pumpkin pie spice, so I used my usual substitution. And I left out the pecans.

Dare I say it was heavenly? I think I will. I'll also say I think I gained 5 pounds from testing the three different pans of cake. All in the name of science, right?

Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Cake (as I made it. Go here for the original recipe)
printable recipe

for the dough
1/2 cup warm milk (100-110 deg)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons dry yeast
3 cups bread flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup pumpkin puree
6 tablespoons canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the filling/topping
6 tablespoons butter, melted
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

for the icing
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (I like to sift mine)
2-3 tablespoons milk or cream, depending on how thin you want your icing

1. Lightly spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with non-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl (I used a 2-cup glass measuring cup), whisk together the warm milk, 1 teaspoon sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl combine the flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, and spices; mix well and set aside.

4. In a medium bowl (I used another 2-cup glass measuring cup), whisk together the pumpkin puree, oil, eggs, and vanilla.

5. Add the milk mixture and the pumpkin mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well (the dough should be pretty thick). Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and spread it in an even layer. Cover the pan with paper towels and let rest for 45 minutes.

6. Meanwhile, combine the topping ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. After the dough has rested, sprinkle the topping evenly over the top and use your fingers to press it down into the dough. Don't be shy here; pressing the topping into the dough gives you that marbly goodness that makes this cake so, so scrumptious. You can also use a knife or spatula to swirl the topping into the dough, but I think fingers work better.

7. Put the pan in a cold oven, set a timer for 30 minutes, and set the oven to 350. Bake until the bread springs back when touched, and the edges are just barely starting to brown, 30-35 minutes. The topping will still be bubbling at the end of cooking; as it cools it will sink down into the craggy top of the cake.

8. While the cake cools whisk together the icing ingredients until smooth. Use a spoon to drizzle the icing over the cake--make sure it sinks down into the craggy top, too. Gracious, this is so good!

Makes 18 servings.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Roasted Pumpkin Puree

Making my own pumpkin puree is something that's been on my list, and I finally bought some pie pumpkins this year to try it. First thing I noticed? Pie pumpkins are not cheap, at least not at my grocery stores. They were .79/pound, which made them between $5-$6 each. I was surprised (and there was some having-a-cow), but I was determined to make my own puree so I kept going.

I started with 7 pie pumpkins. To roast my pumpkins I cut them in half (through the stem and blossom-end), scooped out the seeds and stringy stuff (not an easy task), and placed them--cut side down--on a rimmed baking sheet. Some people say to add water to the pan, but I decided I didn't want to add any moisture, since I would already need to press out pumpkin liquid anyway.

Then I roasted them at 400 deg for 40 minutes or so, until the flesh of the pumpkins was fork-tender.

After they were cool enough to handle, I scooped out the cooked flesh and processed it in my food processor until it was very smooth, about 2 minutes. It took me 4 batches to do all 7 pumpkins.

I wanted to press out the extra liquid so the puree would be thick like canned puree; I figured it would work better in recipes that way. I lined a large colander with a flour sack towl, put it over a bowl, and put the puree in the colander.

At first I just let the weight of the puree press out the liquid. When the dripping slowed considerably, I folded the towel up over the puree, put a plate on top of it, and a large glass measuring cup on top of the plate. When the dripping slowed again, I took away the measuring cup and put my giant, 23-pound Hubbard squash on the plate. That got things going again! I pressed out a total of (almost) 10 cups of liquid. Pretty amazing, huh?

When the dripping stopped again, I had a puree that was very thick, much like canned pumpkin.

The whole process took up much of the day, and when I was done I considered my homemade puree. I considered the cost of the pie pumpkins and the time and trouble it took to make; I considered the amount of puree I ended up with, about 12 cups from my 7 pumpkins.

And then I considered the reasons why I make things from scratch:
  1. Making things from scratch saves me money. 1 29-oz can of pumpkin contains 3 1/2 cups puree. I can get a 29-oz can for about $2.50. I bought 7 pie pumpkins, we'll say at an average of $5 each--that's $35 on pumpkins--and got 12 cups puree. That works out to $2.91 per cup. The canned puree works out to less than .75 per cup. This definitely did not save me money.

  2. Things made from scratch taste better, are better quality, or help me rotate my food storage. While my homemade puree smelled really good (though not terribly different than canned), it cooked up the same way as canned puree in some Pumpkin Cinnamon Bun Cake. I'm going to try it in pumpkin pie, too, but I imagine my results will be similar. And making the puree didn't do anything to help me rotate my food storage.

  3. I make things from scratch because I enjoy it. I did not enjoy making this puree. It was quite a let-down, actually. Is it because I made so much at one time? Could be. But I'm not going to make small amounts; it's too much work and I use too much pumpkin puree in my cooking and baking.

All in all, I don't imagine I'll make homemade pumpkin puree again (unless I grow some pie pumpkins in my garden next year, but that's a different deal). I'm glad I did it this time for the experience, but the cost and work involved just isn't worth it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Quick Chicken Enchiladas

One of my favorite meals I remember from growing up was chicken enchiladas. My mom would heat oil in her electric skillet and give each corn tortilla a quick fry (like 2 seconds--just in and out) before filling them with a mixture of chicken, sauce, cheese, green chiles, olives, and sour cream. I still prefer them that way (sans the olives and I add black beans), but it takes extra time, and often, extra time is not what I have. So I changed the assembly to layering instead of rolling, and turned the dish into a super-fast dinner--on the table in less than 45 minutes.

Unless I happen to have cooked chicken on hand, I use canned, which is one of the reasons it's so fast (and it also helps rotate my food storage). I've used both canned chicken and beef for these, and both work equally well.

Note: my favorite enchilada sauce (and the same one my mom used) is Las Palmas. I'd love to find a from-scratch recipe, but for now it's Las Palmas for me.

Quick Chicken Enchiladas
printable recipe

1 13-oz can chicken, drained
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 4.5-oz can chopped green chiles, drained
1 10-oz can red enchilada sauce, (I use mild) divided (1 1/2 cups)
1/3 cup sour cream (I use light)
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
9 corn tortillas
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1. Heat your oven to 375, and spray an 8x8-inch glass baking dish with non-stick spray.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, black beans, green chiles, 1/3 cup enchilada sauce, sour cream, 1/2 cup cheese; mix well.

3. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the sauce onto the bottom of the prepared pan and swirl it around to coat. Lay down two tortillas diagonally, and then tear one in half to fill in the other corners (see the picture below). Spoon and spread 1/2 chicken mixture on top of the tortillas. Drizzle about 1/3 cup sauce on top of the mixture. Repeat with 3 more tortillas, remaining chicken mixture, and another 1/3 cup sauce.

4. Top with remaining 3 tortillas and sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake 30-35 minutes, or until bubbly and hot in the center. Remove foil, sprinkle with cheese, and let sit until cheese melts.

You can easily double the recipe and make it in a 9x13-inch pan.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My birthday present: Cooking for Geeks

My birthday was last week, and my sweet husband bought me Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter. I have Harold McGee's books, On Food and Cooking and The Curious Cook (and his new book, Keys to Good Cooking, is on my Amazon wish list), and Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For The Food, so he knew Cooking for Geeks would be right up my alley.

OK, fine, I helped a little. When he showed it to me on the electronics website he was shopping I said, "Ooo, I want that." He may have ordered it for me regardless, but it was handy for him that it happened to be around my birthday ;)

Cooking for Geeks is awesome for the same reason why these other books are awesome: science! There is science behind what happens in the kitchen and I love to learn about it. I know how to cook, and I know (usually...) what will happen when I put A and B together in a pan, but I love to learn why it happens. Does that make me a food nerd? That's OK. I can own it.

This book has information about food and equipment, ideas on how to organizing your kitchen, recipes, and even directions for doing things like how to hack your slow cooker. Why on earth would you want to do that? You'll have to get the book! ;)

Thanks to Jeff for a great book, and thanks to my sweetheart for the birthday present :)
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