Pumpkin Muffins with Mini Chocolate Chips

If you love fall as much as I do, you will find yourself making anything apple, pumpkin, cinnamon and squash related. I can’t help it. It’s basically automatic as soon as that first chill of Autumn is felt in the air. This pumpkin muffin recipe makes the most tender, moist and delicious muffins. I made pumpkin muffins before, but they more donut-y than muffin-like. If you’re looking for a breakfast pumpkin muffin, this is it.
Mini chocolate chips are better than regular chocolate chips. I don’t need to go into depth about this, they just are. I encourage those of you who bake often to keep whole wheat pastry flour in your pantry. It can be used in place of or with all-purpose flour, and you won’t be able to taste a difference, but you’ll be adding some whole wheat. I added some bran cereal as well because a little bran never hurt anybody.
If you aren’t looking for a breakfast muffin, add a little cream cheese frosting (or just add it anyway…). With some pumpkin pie spice. And a cup of hot cider alongside.
Ingredients:
  • Cooking spray
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/4 cup bran cereal
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons unsulphered molasses
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips (can also use regular chocolate chips)
How To:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a regular muffin tin with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose and whole wheat flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.

In a large bowl, whisk the sugar, molasses, oil and eggs until combined. Add the pumpkin and vanilla and whisk to combine. Stir in the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the buttermilk. Add mini chocolate chips. Do not over mix, just make sure everything is incorporated.

Spoon batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup to almost the top. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.

Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and remove from pan.

Peach Pie

My inner Southern bell wanted to make an appearance this week in the form of peach pie.  Although peaches are great on their own this time of year, peach pie is a fantastic way to use them as well. They soften and sweeten even more, and when blanketed in buttery crust they become dreamy.

This recipe incorporates a crumble, and I am not sure if anyone can turn down a crumble, consisting of flour, butter, sugar, and some spice. Everything nice.

A lattice crust seems like it might be a tough task, but it’s actually not bad. You just weave the pie crust strips. Crimping the edges…that takes practice and I am not a professional by any means. Just try your best because once you start eating the pie, you’ll forget about what it looks like, whether your crimping is perfect or slightly imperfect.

Ingredients:

for pie crust:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat flour, plus more for rolling
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, very cold and in a 1/2″ dice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 4 to 7 tablespoons water
for pie filling:
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • pinch salt
  • 6 to 8 large fresh peaches, pitted, peeled and sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • course sugar for topping

How To:

For pie crust, place flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor and pulse to mix. Add butter and mix until mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea size granules of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture begins to clump together. The dough will be ready if you pinch some and it holds together. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from processor and place in a mound on your work surface. Slightly knead dough into 2 disks, but do not over knead. Wrap disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

When ready to roll out dough, remove crusts from the refrigerator. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes in order to soften. Roll out on a lightly floured surface (with a lightly floured rolling pin) to fit a 9″ pie plate, about 1/8″ thick. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, in a medium bowl, use a fork to combine flour, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Mix until crumbly.

Mix almond extract with peaches gently to coat. Spoom half of the peaches into the pie crust. Top with half of the crumbly sugar mixture. Layer more peaches and more crumble mixture. Top the pie with second pie crust by making a lattice top. Roll out pie dough and create slices with a pastry wheel or knife (you can also roll out dough as a double crust, cut four slits and skip the lattice).  Weave slices on the top of the pie to create lattice and crimp edges to seal. To crimp edges, pinch thumb and index finger with index finger on opposite hand.

Combine the whisked egg and tablespoon water. Brush the top with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse or granulated sugar. Bake on the center rack in the oven for 40 minutes to 1 hour. Pie is done when crust is golden brown and peach pie filling is bubbling.  Allow to cool slightly. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Breakfast Cookies

You can have cookies for breakfast. They can be something you look forward to when you go to bed at night and still be nutritious.

They aren’t a guilty pleasure even though they kind of feel like it. With coconut, almonds, dried cherries and dried dates, these cookies are full of good stuff.

I love that they are chewy, crunchy, oat-y and yummy. You can grab one and be on your way. So I am telling you they are not only tasty and fairly healthy, but easy as well. Are you still thinking? You should just be baking.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups regular oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup chopped almonds
  • 1/4 cup sweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Melt the butter in the microwave, about 1 minute. Remove and add the brown sugar, stirring until smooth. Combine the flours, baking soda, oats and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter sugar mixture to the dry ingredients. Whisk the egg in a small bowl and add to the mixture. Add vanilla and mix to combine. Add the dates, almonds, coconut and cherries. Mix well. Place onto baking sheets, about a tablespoon per cookie. Bake for 12 minutes or until tops are lightly golden and dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Tomato Bean Salad

Tis the season for tomatoes. They are in the markets, super fresh and perfectly ripe. You can find them in all colors and shapes, which means it’s time to make colorful salads.

Multicolor cherry tomatoes with white beans is the base for this salad. You can add any other vegetables you choose. I decided on some diced crunchy green pepper. Add some herbs, fresh or dried, salt and pepper, and a little olive oil and vinegar (balsamic works great) and you have a terrific side. It could also be a main dish because you have so many nutrients coming just from the beans.

But what is really great about this salad? It’s incredibly tasty. The tomatoes are refreshing, the beans are creamy (and satisfying), the herbs make it fresh and the dressing brings it all together.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, multicolor if available (they’re prettier!!)
  • 1/2 green pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can Northern beans
  • 1 tablespoon fresh basil chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
How To:
Cut medium to large cherry tomatoes in half; leave small ones whole. Drain and rinse beans. Combine tomatoes, green pepper and beans in a medium bowl. Add herbs, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste. Stir, making sure every tomato and bean is coated. Serve room temperature or chilled.

Tomato Corn Pie

If you are going to bake one thing this summer, it should be this. It is that good.
The ingredients are simple and combine to make an awesome savory pie. Tomatoes, corn, cheese and some fresh herbs…nothing fancy, but it looks like you may have fussed over it for hours. Not the case.
The whole process can be done in an hour – including baking time. So really, you are only busy for 30 minutes. Seems like a small amount of time for something so delicious.
I think of this pie as a celebration of summer – it has all the best flavors and even though it may be hot, you still want to sit and enjoy it.
Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (can use a mix of whole wheat and all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 9 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus 2 teaspoons melted
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pounds beefsteak or heirloom tomatoes (2 large or 4 – 5 small)
  • 1 1/2 cups corn (from about 3 ears), coarsely chopped, divided
  • 3 tablespoons chopped basil, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, divided
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 cup grated sharp white cheddar, divided
  • 3/4 cup shredded asiago cheese, divided

How To:

Add flour, baking powder, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times to combine. Add cold butter several cubes at a time and pulse. It should resemble coarse meal. Add buttermilk and pulse until mixture forms a dough, but don’t over mix. Dump dough out onto a floured surface and gather into a ball.

Divide dough in half and roll out one half to fit a 9″ pie plate (1/8″ thick). Roll dough lightly over rolling pin and lift onto pie plate. Pat the dough down and trim to fit.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut an X in bottom of each tomato and place in a large pot of boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove with tongs and place in an ice bath.  Remove tomato skins – tomatoes should peel very easily. Slice crosswise to 1/4″ thickness and remove some, not all, seeds and extra juices (or you will end up with a lot of extra tomato water in the bottom of your pie). Place half of the sliced tomatoes in the bottom of the crust, overlapping, and sprinkle with half of the corn, half the basil and chives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper, 3/4 cup of grated cheddar cheese and half the asiago. Now layer with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, chives, salt, and pepper. Combine mayonnaise and lemon until smooth. Pour mixture over the filling and top with remaining cheese.

Roll out other half of dough to fit over filling, folding edges over the bottom crust, pinching in the most decorative way you know how or if you are like me, just make sure the two halves are sealed. Make vents on the top of the pie (to let steam out) and brush the surface with melted butter. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is golden. Let cool on a wire rack for a few minutes. Serve warm. This pie is also excellent chilled.

Mini Pies

Sometimes you want a pie that fits in your pocket. No? Just me then?
If it’s just me in this category then what will win you over is their cuteness. You’ll be forced to pick one up and call it your own.
Mini pies, filled with a creamy, cheesy, sweet fruit filling. The crust is buttery and light (yes, pie crust can and should be both) and the topping of nothing more than sugar gives them an added sweet crunch.
You can make the pie crust a few days in advance or use refrigerated pie crust. Just like a cupcake is meant for one person, a mini pie is meant for you and you only.
Ingredients:
for crusts: (can also use 2 9″ refrigerated pie crusts, bringing to room temperature before rolling out)
  • 2 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling (I used a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour)
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, very-cold, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • about 6 tablespoons ice water
for filling:
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup ricotta, can use non-fat or regular
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1/4 cup peeled, diced peach
  • 1 egg, beaten
*can also use diced strawberries, cherries, raspberries, etc. 

How To:

Combine flour, salt, and sugar in a food processor; pulse to mix. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal and there are pea size pieces of butter. Add ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, pulsing until mixture just begins to clump together. If the dough comes together when you pinch some, it’s ready. If the dough doesn’t hold together, add a little more water and pulse again.

Remove dough from machine and place in a mound on a work surface.  Knead the dough just enough to form 2 discs; do not over-knead. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. When ready to make pies, remove one crust disk from the refrigerator at a time to work with. Let it sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. This will allow the dough to soften for better rolling out.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the cheese, ricotta, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and lemon zest until smooth. Set aside.

Roll out pie dough with a floured rolling pin to 1/8″ thickness. Using a large (something like a 3 1/2″) round cookie cutter, cut the dough into as many circles as you can. I had about 20 circles. Place the dough circles on the prepared baking sheet. Using a pastry brush, brush the edges of the dough circles with the beaten egg. Place about 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cheese mixture in the middle of the dough. Top with 3 blueberries or 3 to 4 pieces of diced peach. Fold the dough in half, enclosing the filling and press down on the edges to seal. Using a fork, gently crimp the sealed edges. Bake for about 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Repeat process with the rest of the pie dough. Let cool slightly; serve warm. Or piping hot. Or cold. They are good at every temperature.

Almond Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Buttercream

Opposites attract. Sweet almond cupcakes with a salty, caramel buttercream…
I almost have no words, but that wouldn’t help you so I’ll make myself explain. These cupcakes are mind bogglingly delicious. The cake is light, moist and beautifully pure. The frosting is rich, complex with a caramel infusion and the salt (Fleur de Sel, French sea salt) brings out something that you would otherwise find missing. I’m not sure what that is, but you’ll just be thankful the salt is there.
If you think caramel is a daunting task…it isn’t. Consisting of water, sugar and cream, it takes minutes to make. The issue people have is they burn it – which is easy to do, but if that happens, try again.
After all those minutes of caramel preparation, you will find yourself with a perfect combination of salty and sweet. The cupcakes may have a bland, beige color, but their flavor is intricate and craveable. You’ll be happy you made a batch that might last you a week. You’ll be even more happy you perfected the caramel in order to make more batches.
Ingredients:
  • 2 large eggs, separated
  • 1 3/4 cup sifted cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

for the frosting:

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Fleur de Sel, plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar

How To:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line (12) muffin cups or mini cupcake pans with paper liners.

Separate eggs, placing yolks in one bowl and the whites in another. Cover both bowls with plastic wrap and allow eggs to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until soft. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar and beat until light and fluffy (about 2 to 3 minutes). Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl making sure everything is incorporated. Add vanilla and almond extracts; beat until combined.

With the mixer on a low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and milk in three additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Set aside.

To prepare the egg whites, beat on medium speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase speed to high and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. This is when the eggs really hold a shape, like a bird’s beak.

With a rubber spatula, gently fold a little of the whites in the batter. Then fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Over-mixing will cause the batter to deflate, which you definitely want to avoid.

Pour or scoop the batter into cupcake pans until they are 2/3 full. Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pans and let cool on a wire rack.

Combine water and sugar for frosting in a small saucepan, swirling to combine. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, watching closely. Continue cooking without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6 to 7 minutes. It will turn this color VERY fast, so as soon as you see this color remove it from the stovetop. It can burn if you leave it for even seconds too long. Slowly and carefully add in cream as mixture will bubble and steam up (and can burn you).  Stir with a wooden spoon until completely smooth; add salt. You may need to place it back on the stove over low heat to ensure sugar and cream are combined (and that sugar is not just hardened in the bottom). Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes. Add vanilla and stir.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat butter on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low and add powdered sugar. Mix until completely incorporated. Add caramel. Beat frosting on low to combine, then increase to medium-high and beat until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Immediately frost cooled cupcakes with piping bag fitted with a large round tip. Garnish each cupcake with a small pinch of Fleur de Sel. Refrigerate until ready to use, taking out about 30 minutes before eating.