Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pumpkin, chili, rum, Cocteau Twins

Man, what a busy week. Work's been insane. I lost $332,000 from our shoot budget and only just finished finding most of it today, after four days of high-stress hell. But for now, all seems ok on that front.

For now.

Last weekend upstate was so nice. We all had such a great time. We had a variety of weather - sun, gray, snow, rain, cold, and then a bit of warmth. There was even still some color left on the trees.
Still some color left

And the house was just so gorgeous. Thanks to John and Susie for letting us take over for the weekend!
Dining room, from the living room

It was such a treat to stay in a cozy old house, have a beer, and curl up in front of a fire while it snowed outside. Especially surrounded by such good friends.

A handsome group

Equally as delightful was cooking breakfast and dinner for eight in such a spacious kitchen. Having a kitchen island really makes a big difference in how you work. Well, maybe it just felt good to have so much more elbow room. Granted, I do have a pretty big kitchen by New York City standards, but maybe I need to rethink the layout. Here are a couple of poorly-lit photos of:


Pasta sauce (for lasagna)
Sauce for lasagna


Cheesecake brownies

Red flannel hash
Red Flannel hash

Ugh, I shouldn't even post such bad photos. Kind of defeats the purpose of having a photo-food blog, doesn't it?

This next treat was made for my company's Thanksgiving lunch party today. I knew I wanted to make something very autumnal, so I decided to try Pumpkin chili cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, topped with a shard of pumpkin seed brittle. These did NOT disappoint! This ranks in the very top level of my favorite baked things.

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With the requisite boxes of Entenman's Chemical Cakes on the lunch table, I was proud to set these down as my contribution. They disappeared immediately and I got endless compliments.

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I just love how they came out. Have I said that enough yet? First off, the batter was thick and fluffy and very easy to work with. Secondly, they baked into consistent, perfect domes. The ancho chili powder and cayenne pepper added such a nice, subtle warmth. The spicy cake went perfectly well with the cream cheese frosting, to which I added a shot of dark rum. Now, this time around, I learned two important things regarding frosting:

1. Rum gives cream cheese frosting a perfect balance, and in my opinion, a better taste than lemon juice (which I'd alwsys used till now). Not too heavy or rich, but still sweet and tangy.
2. Do not overbeat your frosting. This is a mistake I'd been making for years, until last night. I'd always wondered why my frostings were always so soft and near-runny. I was just overbeating it. After adding the sugar to the fat in 3 batches, I mixed the last addition just until it was incorporated, then I forced myself to turned the machine off.

It seriously made all the difference. The icing was smooth and easy to spread, but it had enough structure to stay in place and hold it's shape. Perfect.

I got started with some music. It's been really gray and misty and gloomy here in the city lately - my favorite baking weather. I cranked up two albums:
(Inspired by Dean from the previous weekend)

(Actually Dean's choice, as he came over a bit early for America's Next Top Model last night)

Both albums are perfect for when you feel crazy from your day, and you want to hear someone that sounds so overly crazy that you feel normal again.

The recipe I used is adapted from a recipe from The Pastry Princess Blog. But honestly, I linked to her from an experimental baker in San Francisco that I like. Her blog, Chocklit, is here, and it's definitely worth some time if you are interested in baking with bizarre ingredients. I'm always surprised with what she uses.

Chili Pumpkin Cupcakes
2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon of salt
3 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon ancho chili powder (from Whole Foods, or grind your own from whole anchos)
2 pinches cayanne pepper
1/2 cup of packed dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups of sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
15 ounces pumpkin puree
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

-Beat together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices. Set aside.
-Beat together the sugars, butter, and eggs.
-Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and slowly beat together.
-Slowly beat in pumpkin puree. Taste batter and adjust spices.
-Fill cupcake papers about about 2/3 full. Bake until they spring back to touch and a cake tester comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

You won't be sorry for trying these. I think I'm going to make this into a cake next week when I'm home for Thanksgiving in Florida. I'm sure my family expects a pie, so I might make a pie, too.

I have been modifying a basic cream cheese frosting recipe for a while through trial and error. Here's what I've come up with (this is my first recipe, by the way, and I think it'll knock your socks off and your teeth out):

Cream Cheese Frosting
(For 24 cupcakes or one two-layer cake)
1 8 oz. package room temp. cream cheese
10T (1 1/4 sticks) room temp. butter
4 - 5 cups powdered sugar (measured, then sifted three times)
3/4t vanilla
3/4t dark rum

-Beat butter and cream cheese together until smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes (a stand mixer with the paddle attachment makes this really easy).
-Beat in vanilla and rum.
-In three batches, slowly beat in sifted sugar.
-After last addition, beat only for about 7 - 10 seconds, or just until sugar is wet.

Adjust the amount of sugar to your taste. I like things less sweet, so I generally stop at 4 cups. However, I've never heard any complaints when I've used more to hold up in higher humidity.

Lastly, for the pumpkikn seed brittle, I used some good old Sherry Yard caramel knowledge. I made a double batch of her Master Caramel, but heated it to the hard crack stage (325 degrees), then whisked in 4 tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon and a half of ancho chili powder, a teaspoon of vanilla, and about a cup of pumpkin seeds that I roasted and salted. Then I just poured it out onto a parchment-lined, heated cookie tray, spread it out, and let it harden. Breaking it up was fun!

Seriously, these cupcakes disappeared like crazy (that's Beth, a coworker).
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Whew, long entry today. I guess I had some time to make up for. More baking to come!

Oh, and lastly, my good pal Jesse in San Francisco saw Jens Lekman in concert recently (my suggestion - ahem...). I saw his show here in NY and loved it, but Jesse thankfully one-upped me and has posted videos of Jens singing A Postcard to Nina. Check it out!

Pie for now, and happy Thanksgiving!!


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