November 20, 2012

Pumpkin Caramel Bundt Cake

This cake was a learning experience. I started with a vision of the perfect fall cake. I wanted pumpkin, preferably flavored with ginger and molasses. I wanted caramel, preferably with the deep flavor of browned butter and just a touch salty. And I wanted chocolate. I scoured my cookbooks. Nothing. I scoured the internet. Nothing.

I settled on a recipe for pumpkin cake with oat flour and set about making the necessary alterations. I chopped the sugar volume by a third and altered the spice ratios. Then I got distracted. I aimlessly scrolled down the page, and when I returned to the recipe, I was a few ingredients further along than I should have been. It wasn't until I poured the batter into the bundt pan and thought to myself, gosh, how strange that this cake didn't have either baking soda or baking powder, that I realized my mistake. I scraped the batter out of the pan back into the mix bowl, and whisked in the missing ingredients. Honestly, I'm not sure it made a difference. The cake was fairly flat, but so was the second one. That was mistake one.

I made mistake two with the caramel. Having already rejected the thin liquid caramel glaze the recipe called for in favor of a thicker spread, I got impatient (I was running late for an impromptu early thanksgiving potluck) and neglected to sift the powdered sugar. As you can see from the picture, the result was that my caramel was speckled with sugar pockets. Not bad to eat, but not great to look at either. That was my second mistake.

My third mistake is more subjective. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I am a huge chocolate fan. Almost every dessert I propose either has a chocolate bake or ends with, and then I'll drizzle on some melted chocolate. Any kind of ice cream or sorbet, add the chocolate. Ginger pudding? Add the chocolate. Gingerbread: douse it with chocolate. I took that approach here. I melted about 6 ounces of dark chocolate (70%) add a few tablespoons of butter and seriously doused the cake with it. Now, this liquid chocolate was delicious. And the cake tasted pretty great with it. There was one serious problem. The chocolate killed the caramel.

I started over the next day (having promised to bring in a cake to my office, as some of my coworkers had recently chipped in to a cake carrier replacement fund when my first cake carrier was stolen from office, thereby preventing me from bringing any more cake to the office). I added the baking soda and powder at the right time (no difference in height); I sifted the powdered sugar (nice smooth glaze, sorry I forgot to take any pictures of it), and, instead of the extra layer of chocolate, I melted a handful of dark chocolate (about an ounce) into the caramel. Perfect!

Because of the oats and the pumpkin, the cake itself is fairly hearty. Almost savory. The caramel is anything but. Next time I make it I might try it as the original recipe recommends, with a thin caramel glaze and candied pumpkin seed topping, which sounds delicious, but just wasn't what I was in the mood for this weekend. Or you could skip the caramel and serve this cake for breakfast. I bet it would be delicious dunked into hot chocolate!

Happy Thanksgiving!

- Franklin

Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Icing
Adapted from Blommi and Food52
Total Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Sweetness factor: 9 (frosting); 4 (cake); indulgence factor: 9 (frosting); 4 (cake); difficulty factor: 4; chance I'll make it again: 10.

For the cake:
1.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
dash cardamom
two eggs
1 fifteen ounce can pumpkin puree
healthy grating of fresh ginger (a few teaspoons)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the caramel:
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
1 ounce chopped dark chocolate
3/4 cup SIFTED powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350. Thoroughly butter bundt pan. Grind the oats in a food processor until they're as fine as you think they'll go. Add the flour and other dry ingredients and pulse to mix.

In a large mixing bowl, lightly whisk the eggs. Add the pumpkin, freshly grated ginger, oil, molasses, brown sugar, and vanilla. Note: if you use the same measuring cup for the oil and molasses and measure the oil first, the molasses should glide right out of the cup with none left behind. Whisk to combine. Slowly add the flour mix and whisk until well-combined. You'll now be able to see any of the large bits of oat that didn't grind down. Don't worry about these. Let the batter sit about ten minutes (so those bits of oat get saturated).

Pour into the prepared pan and bake about 35 minutes, until the tester comes out clean and the cake has started to pull away from the sides. Let cool in pan five minutes, then invert onto a rack and let cool completely.

Melt the butter in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Let the butter simmer for 4-5 minutes until it starts to brown and smell a but nutty. Add the brown sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Add the cream. Stir frequently. Let mixture come to a bowl, and bowl for one minute. Remove from heat. Add the chocolate. Stir to ensure the chocolate melts completely. Slowly add the powdered sugar until the mixture reaches a thick consistency (thin enough to poor, but not so thin it will all fall of the cake). Pour onto cake. Let set before transporting.

October 13, 2012

Millet Bake with Greens

Fall is the best season. With the best colors, the best smells, the best food. What about summer, you ask? With its glut of fresh produce, its salads, and berries, and cold tomato soups? Sure. Summer is great. But it's got nothing on autumn. On the first chilly days of the year, when you break back into your sweaters for the first time, the crisp smell of winter fills the air, you know it is time to turn the oven back on. Blame it on my New England roots, but I have always preferred bundling up in a cozy wool scarf to sweating it out in August.

It is time for apple crisps and hot chocolate. Shopping for this dish, I felt like I was actually purchasing fall: cranberries, butternut squash, and pumpkin seeds. Actually, at the Harris Teeter, they told me it was too early for cranberries, but I was skeptical. The Yes! Organic Market proved Harris Teeter's folly; it stocks cranberries only for Thanksgiving, as though they didn't have other delicious uses aside from sauce.

I tried this recipe first earlier this week, following it exactly. And it was great. The millet and squash smashed together and the cranberries provided a tart pop in every other bite. But it was missing something. I mulled it over for a few days, and determined it was missing several things: onions (preferably caramelized), garlic (preferably roasted), and greens (to make it a complete meal). Also fennel (because it seemed like just the thing to bridge the gap between cranberries and garlic).

Adding the onions and the garlic in particular turned this meal from a mostly one-pot, one-hour affair, to a many-pot nearly two-hour affair, but trust me, it's worth it. If you're going to take the time, you may want to double the recipe, make it on a Sunday afternoon, and eat it all week. If you want to keep it a simpler weeknight meal, you could forgo the onions and garlic.

Promising lots more fall favorites to come,


Millet Bake with Greens
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, via 101 Cookbooks
Total time: 1 hour 40 minutes
Sweetness Factor: 4; Indulgence Factor: 3; Difficulty Factor: 4; Chance I'll Make it Again: 10

1 head of garlic (separated into cloves and peeled)
1 onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup millet
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed, lightly crushed
1 bunch of kale, rinsed, destemmed, and broken into smallish pieces
1/2 medium size butternut squashed, in 1 inch cubes
1 cup fresh cranberries
1 tablespoon maple syrup
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup warm vegetable stock (plus up to another 1/4 cup)
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter a 8*8 glass baking dish. Put the garlic on a baking sheet, and put it in the oven (no need to wait for it to finish preheating). Thinly slice the onion. I recommend a mandolin, if you have one. Otherwise, make sure to use a very sharp knife. Saute the onions for about ten minutes on low-medium heat, lid on, stirring occasionally, until the onions start to get limp. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Continue to cook, lid on, stirring occasionally, until they are as caramelized as you want them to be, about a half hour, for me. When they are done, the garlic should be done as well. You know the garlic is done if you get a good waft of roasted garlic when you open the oven door, and the garlic is lightly browned.

In the meantime, prepare the squash and other ingredients. Toss together the squash, cranberries, and syrup. Add salt and pepper. Toss with the greens.
Remove the onions from the saute pan and pour in the millet and fennel seed along with a bit more olive oil. Saute, stirring frequently for about two minutes. Stir in the onions and garlic. I cut each garlic clove in half, to get better dispersion (there were only about 9 cloves altogether), but this is not necessary.

Spread the millet/onion/garlic mix over the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the greens/squash/cranberry mix over it. Slowly add the broth. Don't pour it all into one spot; instead try to pour it evenly over the whole dish.

Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven, take off the tin foil, and stir the two layers together. Check to see how close the millet is to do and how dry the dish is. You may want to add another splash of water (or stock) if the millet is still crunchy and the dish is getting dry. Bake another 10 minutes. Check the millet again. If it isn't done and is dry, add a little bit more water and bake another five minutes. Once the millet is done, remove the tin foil, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds on top, and bake another 10 minutes.

September 16, 2012

Sorghum Risotto with Greens

Count on me, when spending a long weekend on the Delaware shore, to stumble on Bethany Beach's lone health food store/tea shop. Like a moth to a flame. After drinking my cup of ginger tea and eating an incredibly delicious blueberry muffin, I browsed the aisles to see if there was anything I had to have. Of course there was. A few things. Waiting in line to check out, I eyed a small sale rack. That is where I found the sorghum.

As far as I know, I've never eaten sorghum before. But, since I was about to embark on a two-week gluten free experiment, I thought I should give it a try. And now that I've tried it, I definitely recommend it. It is hearty and nutty. A bit like quinoa in its flavor, but more substantial. Once cooked, it resembles israeli couscous. But it has much more flavor.

Be forewarned (as I would have been had I read the entire package or read the entire blog post that I got this recipe from) it takes a very long time to cook. Two plus hours. You can soak it overnight, which speeds up the cooking time to about forty minutes.

So it doesn't make a great last minute weeknight meal, but it is a fine substitute for other gluton-y grains, and, in fact, I think I prefer it to couscous (though probably not to barley).

- Franklin

Sorghum Risotto with Greens
Adapted from Eating Appalachia
Total Time: 2.5 hours
Difficulty factor: 4; Sweetness factor: 2; Indulgence Factor: 3; Chance I'll Make it Again: 7.

1 cup sorghum
6-8 cups vegetable broth
1 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cloves garlic (minced)
1 large onion (diced)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon thyme
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 large carrots
2 large portobello mushrooms
a bunch of chard (or kale)

Put half the onion in garlic in a medium sauce pan over low heat and sauté until the onions begin to wilt. Add half the olive oil. Saute another five or ten minutes until the onions are soft. Add the sorghum, stir, and cook for a minute or so. Add a cup of the veggie broth, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the broth is absorbed. Add another cup. Continue in this manner until the sorghum is nearly done (to your taste). For the last cut of liquid, use the coconut milk. This will take about forty minutes if you have pre-soaked. Otherwise, it will take about two hours. Possibly a bit more.

When there is about a half hour to go on the sorghum. Put the remaining onion and carrot in another pan. Saute until the onions begin to wilt. Add the oil and the garlic. Saute another five minutes or so. Add all the spices. And the mushrooms. Cook for 15-20 minutes, until the veggies are all soft. Carefully rinse and loosely chop the chard. Add to the veggies (with a splash of water if the mix is fairly dry), put the lid on and cook for about five minutes.

Toss the sorghum and the veggies together. Enjoy!