Pumpkin Spice Couronne

Pumpkin Spice Couronne – a French sweet dough ring filled with pumpkin, warming spices and toasted pecans – just in time for autumn.

A ring of pumpkin spice couronne glazed with icing

“I have Pumpkin Kringle at my desk,” she confided conspiratorially. All I could envision was an obscene mishmash of holidays that somehow culminated with a roundly obese Santa Claus in a pumpkin costume shacked underneath her desk. “Who exactly,” I wondered, “is Pumpkin Kringle?”

“You know what pumpkin kringle is, don’t you?” she inquired when I responded with a blank stare. (Ah, thank goodness, she said “what” rather than “who.” Pumpkin kringle, whatever it was, wasn’t a person at all!)

A kringle, I discovered that day, is a ring of Danish pastry dough filled with nuts or fruit, in this case pumpkin, which is baked and then iced. Racine, Wisconsin is the mecca of kringles and, hers, thanks to Trader Joe’s, was an ideal specimen of Racine’s baking prowess.

Now please don’t be confused, the recipe below is decidedly NOT a kringle. The recipe below is a Couronne, a French filled sweet bread. I only mention the kringle because it was the impetus for my foray into couronne baking this weekend. After I nibbled a bit of the kringle…okay, full confession, after I devoured two thick slices, I started dreaming about enriched yeast doughs, I started dreaming about breakfast sweet breads, I started dreaming about Paul Hollywood’s apricot couronne (which I’ve been meaning to make!), I started dreaming about pumpkin spice season (now!) and well…this just happened.

There’s really nothing more lovely than hand-kneading a supple enriched yeast dough.  I love the texture of it under the heel of my hand, which is a good thing since my Kitchen Aid Pro Mixer died last week.


Pumpkin Spice Couronne

  • Servings: One Couronne
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A rich French sweet bread filled with pumpkin, spices and toasted pecans.


Ingredients

    Dough
  • 2 cups strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 ½ teaspoons fast-rising yeast
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon full-fat milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Filling
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup lightly-packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1 Tablespoon white bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground clove
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • Zest from ½ of an orange
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ cup toasted chopped pecans, plus more for topping
  • Glaze
  • ⅓ cup apricot jam
  • ½ cup powdered sugar

Directions


1. Place the flour in a large bowl. Add the salt to one side and the yeast on the other (salt can slow yeasts reaction so keep them separate in the beginning). Add the butter, milk and egg and stir to combine.
2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for about 6-7 minutes until the dough is smooth and supple. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and let rise until at least doubled in size (1-2 hours).
3. Meanwhile, make the filling. In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and heat over medium heat until melted. Add puree, flour, cinnamon, ginger nutmeg, clove and salt and stir over medium heat until mixture is thick and sticks to the spoon. Remove from heat; add orange zest, vanilla and pecans. Set aside.
4. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll the dough into a rectangle, 13” x 10”. Spread the pumpkin filling evenly over the dough to the edges. From the long end, roll up the dough tightly, jelly-roll style. Roll it back and forth lightly to seal the edge.
5. Cut the dough in half lengthwise, leaving it joined just at one end – like a pair of legs. Twist the two dough lengths together, somewhat tightly and then join the ends together to form a circle. Transfer to a baking tray and cover with plastic wrap or a plastic baking bag.
6. Let proof for at least an hour or until the dough has doubled in size. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 25 minutes (internal temperature 185). Place on a wire rack to cool.
7. Heat apricot jam in the microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, sieve and brush over the couronne to glaze. Mix the powdered sugar with enough water to make an icing. Drizzle over the couronne and sprinkle with remaining pecans.

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Cavatappi with Pork Sugo

A long simmer turns cubes of pork fork-tender in this rich sugo.

A bowl of Cavatappi with Pork Sugo
The other night, my friend, Pam, and I ventured into the city for dinner and Portugual. The man at the Shrine Auditorium. We ended up at Josef Centeno’s Bäco Mercat in the old bank district for the meal. His Spanish-fusion fare was the ideal aperitif before anything with “Portugual” in the name and his flavors did not disappoint. My favorite dish of the evening was a pork sugo on maltaglianti with soujouk sausage, raisins, kale and pine nuts.

This version, although very different than the dish I had that night,  is a take on this Bon Appetit recipe, but using some of the ingredients from my beloved Bäco Mercat dish.


Cavatappi with Pork Sugo

A long simmer turns cubes of pork fork-tender in this rich sauce.


Ingredients

  • Ingredients here
  • 1½ lbs. boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1½” cubes
  • ½ cup pepperoni, finely chopped
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14-oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ⅓ cup dried golden raisins soaked in hot water then drained
  • 1 bunch Tuscan kale, ribs removed, torn into 2” pieces
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving-
  • 1 lb. cavatappi, cavatelli or other short pasta, cooked al dente and drained

Directions

  1. Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over high heat. Working in batches, cook meat, turning occasionally, until browned; transfer to a large plate.
  2. Add pepperoni to pot and cook until beginning to brown. Add onion, carrot, and celery to pepperoni and cook until golden. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Deglaze pan with red wine, scraping up any browned bits. Tie rosemary, oregano, and bay leaf into a bouquet garni with kitchen twine; add to pot along with pork and any accumulated juices, tomatoes, pepper, nutmeg, and clove. Add water just to cover meat (about 1 ½ tomato can’s full) and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until meat is very tender, about1½ hours.
  3. Discard bouquet garni. Using 2 forks, shred meat in pot; cook, uncovered, over high heat until sauce is thickened but still saucy, about 8 minutes.
  4. Cook pine nuts in butter until golden watching closely so they don’t burn. Reserve butter and pine nuts.
  5. 5.Add golden raisins and kale to sugo; cook until kale is soft, about 4 minutes. Mix in ½ cup Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Serve sugo over pasta; drizzle with pine nuts, browned butter, and top with more Parmesan.

Q. Why not use a can of diced tomatoes? Canned diced tomatoes usually have added calcium chloride, which helps them hold their shape through cooking – exactly what I don’t want when making a sauce. I use canned whole San Marzano tomatoes and chop them myself so they melt into the sauce.

Favorite Banana Bread

Years ago, I stopped searching for a better banana bread.  This recipe ticks all the boxes: easy, packed with bananas, and exceptionally moist.

Sliced Banana Bread with melting butter

It’s no secret I’m an Anglophile, especially in my choice of TV programmes (I couldn’t resist). My current favorite, to no one’s surprise, is the Great British Baking Show. Saturday mornings, before getting my own bake on, I treat myself to an hour of Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, a tent-full of amateur bakers and those classic only-in-Britain colloquialisms, such as “scrummy” and “oh my giddy aunt,” that I’m dying to introduce into the common American lexicon.

Before bed, when I’m brain-dead and in need of mindless comfort, nothing beats Escape to the Country; Brits house-hunting for their perfect “chocolate box” countryside cottage. I’ve picked up a few British idioms during my viewing of this show as well – like the aforementioned “chocolate box” as well as “homely.” “Homely” to the Brits doesn’t mean the same as “homely” in the states. It’s their term for homey, comforting, cozy. “The snug with wood-burner is quite homely.”

Combining the two shows leads me to this recipe, which can only be described as “homely baking” – I can almost imagine pulling freshly- baked tins of quick bread from my “range cooker” in my exposed-beamed Yorkshire kitchen, thatching optional.

Years ago, I stopped searching for a better banana bread. This recipe from Saveur ticks all the boxes – easy, packed with bananas, and exceptionally moist.


Favorite Banana Bread

  • Servings: One 9” x 5” loaf pan
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This moist banana bread is quick to make, packed with flavor and my go-to recipe when overripe bananas are on hand.


Ingredients

  • Butter for greasing pan
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 1 cup flour, plus more for pan
  • ¾ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg plus 1 egg yolk
  • ⅔ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9” x 5” loaf pan with butter and dust with flour; set aside. In a small bowl, combine milk and white vinegar and set aside
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, curdled milk, vanilla, egg and egg yolk. Pour wet ingredients over dry and whisk until just combined. Fold in nuts and mashed bananas.
  4. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the loaf comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.

Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Myriad spices and preserved lemon come together in this exotically flavored chicken dish with minimal hands-on time, making Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon an ideal recipe for entertaining.

A platter mounded with Moroccan Chicken

Looking back at one of my old blog posts feels like pulling out an old high school yearbook from a dusty closet shelf. I first prepared this recipe in February 2014. At the time I hit “post,” I was feeling reasonably accomplished and proud to post both recipe and photograph. Four plus years later, I cringe – at the poorly lit and composed image and appallingly written recipe, for starters. What. Was. I. Thinking. In the future, when I’m exasperated by my lack of noticeable improvement, I’ll revisit a post from 2014 to remind myself how far I’ve truly come. Oh, the horror.

Inspired by Epicurious’s Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons.


Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon

Myriad spices and preserved lemon come together in this exotically flavored chicken dish with minimal hands-on time, making Moroccan Chicken with Preserved Lemon an ideal recipe for entertaining.


Ingredients

  • 1 head garlic, peeled
  • Handful Italian parsley
  • Handful cilantro
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 2 Tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ¼ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 8 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs (about 3.5 – 4 lbs.)
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1” slices
  • ¾ cup pitted oil-cured black olives
  • 1 ½ preserved lemons, sliced (or one fresh lemon very thinly sliced)

Directions

  1. In a food processor, process first 12 ingredients through saffron to make a marinade. Arrange chicken, carrots, olives and lemon in a 13×9” pan and pour marinade over and around ingredients. Cover with foil and refrigerate at least two hours and up to one day.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place dish, covered with foil, in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 30 additional minutes until chicken is cooked through. If desired, broil for an additional 5 minutes to crisp skin on chicken.
  3. To serve, arrange chicken, carrots, olives and lemon on a platter. Degrease sauce and pour over chicken and vegetables. Serve with aromatic rice.

The author in a photo from highschool

Speaking of school years…yep, gloves, a walking stick, and check out those shoulder pads!

 

Caramel Banana Cream Pie

Layers of buttery caramel gild the lily on my mom’s original recipe for Banana Cream Pie.

Banana Cream Pie with Caramel

My Book Club is currently reading “Life of Pi” for our August discussion. Every time I write or type it, it comes out as “Life of Pie.” I’m a baker, after all, not a mathematician. The only ratio I’m concerned about is the amount of fruit filling to flaky pastry crust. I’ve posted club announcements, emailed reminders and sent confirmations to my fellow bibliophiles – and each time it’s “Life of P-I-E.”

If one has pie on the brain, one might as well embrace it. A few of my coworkers have been asking for one of the Banana Cream variety. I decided to appease them – and gild the lily yet again by adding layers of buttery caramel.


Caramel Banana Cream Pie

  • Servings: One 9” Pie
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Based on my mom’s Banana Cream Pie recipe, a pie of my childhood, I’ve updated the method slightly and added layers of buttery caramel.


Ingredients

  • 1 baked 9” pie shell, cooled (I use this one)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3-4 bananas, sliced just before using
  • 1 cup caramel sauce (I use David Lebovitz’s Butter Caramel Sauce)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat milk, ¼ cup of sugar and salt over medium heat. Blend cornstarch, flour and remaining sugar in a bowl. Add yolks to sugar mixture. Pour hot milk over eggs slowly to temper. Pour mixture back into saucepan. Bring to a simmer while continuously whisking. Cook over low to medium low heat until thickened. Add vanilla and push through a sieve (to catch any lumps) into a shallow pan. Cover with plastic wrap touching surface and cool to room temperature.
  2. Swirl a small amount of filling on the bottom of the cooled pie shell. Add a layer of sliced bananas. Drizzle bananas with half the caramel. Cover caramel with half the filling, another layer of bananas and the remaining caramel. Top with the rest of the filling.
  3. Beat whipping cream and powdered sugar until stiff. Place in a piping bag and pipe rosettes over top of pie. Chill at least two hours before serving to allow flavors to meld and filling to fully set.