Pumpkin Oat Muffins

Getting back to basics for creating real pumpkin flavor in a breakfast staple

When I was a kid growing up in Michigan, going to the apple orchard was an annual fall tradition.  Among the obvious treats; cider, donuts and caramel apples, it was the warm, soft, pumpkin spice muffins that were always a favorite of mine. I remember the delicate hint of spices, the molasses aroma, and a steamy, sweet and moist interior with a toasted crust.  The problem I often find with pumpkin muffins or pumpkin baked goods alike is their actual lack of pumpkin flavor. It seems the idea of pumpkin flavor has been replaced with kicked up amount of sugar and spice to equate some seasonal desire of what pumpkin should taste like.  Pumpkin itself is not an overwhelming flavor; it is subtle, earthy, and slightly salty and sweet.  I typically find that muffins in general are usually too sweet for my tastes so I wanted to figure out a way to recreate my apple orchard food memory of the Pumpkin Oat Muffins I enjoyed as a kid but also get back to basics and stay away from the commercialized version of what we think Pumpkin flavor is.

I started first by testing pumpkin filling; both canned versions of high end brand names to low end brands, as well as roasting and pureeing a sugar pumpkin.  The results proved that using a good quality pumpkin canned puree was a better alternative to roasting and pureeing yourself.  The roasted sugar pumpkin version rendered similar results to canned puree however it was a bit more fibrous and bland plus it took me two hours to roast, then puree, so why bother with the hassle of pots and pans. Skip the homemade puree and go for a good quality canned puree.

Next I tested different flour options, during my first few tests using all purpose flour, the muffins were coming out consistent but the texture was more cake like than anything else. The muffin was moist but too dense; I opted to try using oat flour instead of all purpose flour. Grinding up oats in the food processor gave me more of a grainy flour that ended up helping solve my texture issue. The larger pieces of grain mixed with finer, flour like oat powder helped create a light and fluffy texture. Adding ½ cup of rolled oats to the flour mixture allowed this version to hold up better to the incredible moist pumpkin puree, making for a light and fluffy muffin full of nooks and crannies.

Having the basic muffin texture down, it was time to work on the flavor. Since Pumpkin is a very light flavor of earthy and nutty tones, adding just the right amount of spice can really draw out and enhance the pumpkin flavor.  Overload on the spice too much and you run the risk of muting the pumpkin flavor all together.  I needed to find just the right balance; I first used a store bought pumpkin pie spice blend, which is a combination of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice.  This manufactured combination wasn’t enough to hold up to the oat flour, it was too subtle and far too cinnamon tasting.  I was looking for spice and depth of flavor but Pumpkin Pie flavoring wasn’t what I was trying to achieve. Tasters agreed, even on varying levels of pumpkin pie spice that this was not hitting the right notes to balance the sugars or the pumpkin puree.  I opted to play around with other spices and create my own harmonious blend.  I used similar ingredients, but left out the allspice and replaced it for a hint of clove.  Ginger powder was helping me create a spice note without taking over the flavors of the rest of the muffin.  Cinnamon in a lesser intense amount added to the nutty sweetness of the pumpkin puree as well as brought out the oat flavor better. Using ¾ cup of light brown sugar as well as a tablespoon of molasses really gave this muffin the balance of sweetness it deserved.

For a finishing touch I added ½ cup of raisins to the muffin batter for a natural sweet burst, to my surprise it enhanced both the spices and pumpkin flavor separately as well as equally.

Pumpkin Oat Muffins- Makes 12 muffins

For best results use fresh ground oat flour from a food processor, pulverizing the oats yourself will give a better grainy texture the muffin needs to stand up, literally. Also, for a nice dome like muffin top, be sure to rest the batter for at least 20 minutes before scooping into the muffin tin cups.

2          cups whole rolled oats, reserve ½ cup
¾        cup light brown sugar
1          teaspoon baking soda
½        teaspoon baking powder
½        teaspoon salt
1          teaspoon cinnamon
½        teaspoon ginger
1/8      teaspoon ground cloves
1/8      teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2          egg whites
1          15 oz can high quality pumpkin puree
½        cup buttermilk
2          tablespoons canola oil
1          teaspoon vanilla
1          tablespoon Molasses
½        cup of raisins
  1. In a food processor add 1 ½ cups of good quality oats, grind for about 10 seconds or until a gritty flour has formed.
  2. Whisk oat flour, oats, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, clove, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until well combined. In a separate bowl combine the wet ingredients; egg whites, pumpkin puree, buttermilk, canola oil, vanilla, and molasses, whisk together until combined. Add dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and whisk until the mixture is together. Add ½ cup of Raisins and recombine.  Let the muffin mixture rest for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare muffin tin with paper muffin liners and spray the top of the muffin tin with baking spray. Gently spoon in batter just until it reaches the top of the liner, batter should be evenly distributed among all slots, do not leave any remaining batter in the bowl.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees 24-28 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Kitchen Tip! Using a tablespoon to measure out just the right amout of molasses can be tricky since so much of the molasses can stick and be left behind. To ensure you get exactly the amount of molasses the recipe calls for, measure out the canola oil first in this recipe and then measure out the molasses just following.  The molasses will slide right off your measuring spoon, ensuring you get the exact amount in the recipe.

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French Chocolate Macarons

I have wanted to make french macarons since I began culinary school. It just seems cliché, perfect, a responsibility of sorts for being in french cooking school.  But did we learn how to in Baking and Pastry?  Nope.  

It was time to take matters into my own hands.  I’ve got 5 weeks left of school and I have to work my remaining class time in Technique, the schools restaurant. So, I approached one of the chef’s about my macaron dilemma and he suggested I find a good recipe and test it out. Free rein and all the products at my finger tips?  OK!

Thank you David Lebovitz, this recipe is pretty darn amazing! (adapted with my own minor tweak from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz)

Macaron Batter
1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup almond flour, needs to be really fine
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons,  granulated sugar

Chocolate Filling
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup
4 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

**Special ingredient, optional. Get Ready….  Fleur de sel.  SEA SALT MACARONS.. I know, crazy. AND TDF (to die for)

Macaron Cookies

Preheat oven to 350*F

Prepare baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients;  powdered sugar, almond flour, and unsweetened cocoa powder, set aside. *If mix is clumpy, pulse in a food processor to get a smooth flour like mixture.

Whip egg whites in a mixer until white peaks begin to form, add granulated sugar and whip until peaks are firm.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients, in two batches, into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. When the mixture is just smooth and there are no streaks of egg white, stop folding and scrape the batter into the pastry bag (standing the bag in a tall glass helps if you’re alone).

Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined/silpat baking sheets in 1-inch (3 cm) circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch (3 cm) apart.

Bake for 9-11 minutes.  *Oven temps will vary so please test out a cookie or two before you bake.  The book recipe calls for 15-18 minutes, but I found in my commercial oven that 11 minutes dried them out completely, 10 minutes was ok, and 9 minutes was perfect for a crunchy outside and chewy inside.  It all depends on what texture you are looking for.

Dark Chocolate Ganache Filling

Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using. The chocolate will turn into a spreadable paste, but should not be runny.

Spread or pipe a bit of ganache on the inside of the macarons, sprinkle a pinch of coarse Fleur de sel, then sandwich them together. Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.

Since we perfected the recipe to our liking, I decided to make little drizzle cookies for my other classmates to try. All agreed David Lebovitz is the man.

Thanks for reading and have fun making these delicate treats! xo-G

Did I mention, I’ll be in PARIS IN THREE WEEKS!! Ever been? Please comment with suggestions to do/see/eat!!

Parmesan Artichoke Dip

Ready for another crowd pleaser? This is dangerously good, and on Superbowl Sunday, let’s be honest, eating healthy is usually not in the cards.   My mom use to make this dip for all sorts of occasions when we were kids.  Football parties,  New Years parties, family get-together’s, etc. and it has always been one of my favorite tastes. The smell of it just coming out of the oven brings back happy memories.  Whip this up in 10 minutes or less and you will find yourself the talk of the party.

Ingredients

1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 clove garlic, peeled
40 green chilies, drained (canned is fine)

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
Place the artichoke hearts in a food processor and process until smooth. (leave a few artichoke hearts out to rough chop and add at to the mixture just before baking –texture!) Process the cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, garlic and dill with the artichoke hearts until the mixture is smooth and well blended.  Stir in the chilies and chopped artichoke hearts, then transfer to a baking dish (the same dish you will be serving in so pick out something nice).
Bake in the preheated oven 15 minutes, or until bubbly and lightly brown.

Serve warm with toasted pita points or thinly sliced and toasted french bread, deeeelish! * For added flavor rub a garlic clove on the bread before toasting.

The best oven baked Ribs

A totally delicious accident.  I had never made oven baked ribs before, but with a fairly good idea of what to do, I started  throwing spices and liquids together.  I don’t see many rib recipes that incorporate Orange Juice, Espresso powder, and Ginger, but I did. Wanna wow your friends during your Superbowl party?  Give this recipe a shot.   I guarantee these won’t last longer than the first Doritos commercial.

INGREDIENTS:
2 whole slabs pork baby back ribs, silver skin removed

Dry Rub:

  • 8 tablespoons light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced

Orange Juice Syrup:

  • 2 cups Orange Juice, reduced by half
  • 2 tablespoons, ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS:

In a bowl, combine all dry ingredients and mix well. Place each slab of baby back ribs on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Pack each side of the ribs generously with the dry rub, then wrap the ribs tightly in the foil and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours or overnight and up to 48 hours.

When ready to bake the ribs, preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Place the ribs (still in the foil packets) on a foil lined baking sheet and bake the ribs in the oven for 2 hours.

Remove ribs from foil and  brush with your favorite BBQ sauce or lightly glaze with the reduced orange juice syrup mixture. Place ribs on a shallow baking rack with drip pan. Line the bottom of the drip-pan with 1 cup of orange juice.  Cover tightly with foil and return to the oven for another 2 hours. After 2 hours, check the moisture level and add more orange juice or a OJ/Water combo if needed. Continue to cook until level of personal done-ness is achieved.  During the last 15 minutes of cooking crank up the oven to 425*F and baste again with OJ Syrup or BBQ sauce to give the ribs a crispy crust.  I like them falling off the bone, so I cooked mine for 6.5 hours.  Oven levels will vary.

Slow and low is the name of the game.

Candied Ginger Pumpkin Spice Cookies

I have to give credit where credit is due.  A fellow bloggers Pumpkin cookies popped up on FoodBuzz yesterday and I immediately started jotting down a grocery list.  Pumpkin puree, clove, milk… the list was small since I’ve acquired so many baking products lately.   Kelly over at Eat Yourself Skinny  had a great recipe on her hands (adapted from allrecipes.com) and I thought it would be nice to bake these cookies for my office. It’s been a few weeks since baking class ended and I’ve been seeing my coworkers  sad faces enter the kitchen area each morning,  why isn’t the culinary school/food blogger bringing us anything anymore?  Sorry guys!  Anywho, with Kelly’s recipe in hand, plus a few alterations I thought I’d test out, I set up shop in my kitchen.  Portual.The Man is playing and I am starting to mix up the ingredients…  But wait! I don’t have regular sugar? what the heck!  Ugh, it was a torrential downpour outside and I did not feel like leaving the house.  After a few minutes of rummaging around I found a few sugar products; brown sugar, sugar in the raw packets, a few packets of splenda and some candied ginger, here’s how I improvised…

Ginger spiced pumpkin cookies, yield:  roughly 36 cookies

What you will need:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 cup light unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1.5 cups of sugar
OR
  • 1 cup of brown sugar (didn’t have regular sugar)
  • 1 splenda packet (what the heck)
  • 1 tbsp honey (another, what the heck, give it a shot decision)
  • 1/2 cup of  candied ginger, diced (aha! secret ingredient)
Glaze
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp milk
  • 1/2  tbsp melted light butter
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Method:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves and salt; set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup of butter and sugar combinations.  Add pumpkin, egg, and 1 tsp. vanilla to butter mixture, and beat until creamy.
  4. Mix in dry ingredients.
  5. Toss in the chopped candied ginger!
  6. Drop on cookie sheet by tablespoonfuls; flatten slightly, sprinkle with chunky sugar
  7. bake for 15-17 minutes at 350*F

They came out great!  All the sugars worked in harmony, I didn’t have to go out in the rain, and my apartment smelled scrumptious!  Truly a feat of innovation on my part, and perhaps a few less calories?..Maybe! After the cookies cool, drizzle with the icing and let sit for an hour or so to harden. This could also be a good time to adhere a small piece of chopped ginger to the top of each cookie for a garnish, but this depends on how much you like ginger.

These cookies are chewy, light and with just the right amount of pumpkin and spice.

My photo was published on America's Test Kitchen: The Feed