Spending Time Baking Tiny Yummy Things – Mini Maple Pumpkin Donuts

Bite-sized foods are irresistible. These mini beauties are packed with flavor and powered with protein. Enjoy one (a couple) (a few) today!

In short order, our COVID-19 status in the small village of Newhalen went from “mindfully wash your hands” and “don’t touch your face” to a full-on “shelter in place.” We could take this mandate like pouty kids who are grounded. Or we can view it as a golden opportunity. Outside, it’s slick, icy, and chilly: -10° F (-23° C) this morning. So going out for runs or hikes isn’t very appealing. Lately, our preferred together activity has been spending time cuddling up with a bowl of popcorn and watching favorite movies and new documentaries. Moving on to independent activities, Jack has been mastering more tunes on his guitar, while my solo fun, as you might have guessed, has been getting creative in my personal home bakery.

Most recently, several containers of puréed pumpkin and a cute mini donut pan was my “shut in” entertainment. There is something appealing about making diminutive treats. It reminds me of tea parties and Easy Bake ovens in an imagined perfect childhood. Really, the ingredients are pretty healthy. If you’re like me, it’s hard to stop at one, so, eating four of these is not a terrible thing. So go ahead and eat a few – they are a great protein-packed snack to power up for a long run, to refuel after a hard run, or just to get up from the sofa and start a new movie.

How are you keeping yourself occupied these day? What are you baking? Stay healthy everyone!

Mini Maple Pumpkin Donuts

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour, or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground ginger
  • pinch nutmeg, or mace
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbsp pumpkin purée
  • splash vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • 2 tbsp pecans, chopped

Glaze

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • drizzle of water if glaze needs to be thinned

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together sugars, egg, pumpkin, vanilla, and oil.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry.
  5. Fold in chopped pecans.
  6. Spoon mixture into donut pans. Fill them about 3/4 full.
  7. Bake 10 minutes. A wooden pick inserted into thickest part of donut should come out clean.
  8. Invert donuts onto a wire rack to cool.
  9. Mix glaze ingredients together.
  10. Drizzle glaze over cooled donuts.
  11. Serve immediately with a piping hot cup of French roast.

Delightfully Sweet and Delightfully Sour – Lingonberry Chess Pie

While baking, tangy lingonberries, also known as lowbush cranberries, rise to the top of a custard-like pie filling. The combination of the tart berries and the sweet, creamy filling all in a crispy pie shell is possibly the best reward for shoveling out a driveway’s worth of fresh snow.

It’s been endlessly snowing for the past day. Our Alaskan home now resembles the Alaska home I imagined before we moved to this famously frozen state. As I left home this morning for my very short walk to school, I was surrounded by blinding white. The trees were covered. Rooftops were blanketed and fringed with shimmering icicles. A splash of bright red peeked through two feet of snow where our ATVs are parked. My first-floor classroom windows have shoulder-high drifts piled a quarter of the way up. The plow crews can barely keep up, and Jack has become the John Henry of snow shovelers. Sitting on her trailer, Gillie is up to her gunwales in a sea of white. We’re socked in with snow like we have never before been socked in. I love it!

With only two months of school remaining (unbelievable!), we are at that time of year where we challenge ourselves to empty out our freezer and pantry. There is one lonely gallon-sized bag left from one of our treasured fall harvests – lingonberries. Most of the lingonberries we picked have been baked into muffins, upside down cake, and fruit breads or pressed into juice for hot lingonberry tea. The snow outside spurred me to action last night. Baking is not only entertaining but also has three wonderful outcomes – a warm house, a delightful aroma, and of course, the delicious results. This recipe was slightly adapted from my favorite baking book, The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. According to the recipe book, chess pies may be named such because they keep well in traditional storage cabinets, otherwise known as pie chests. Another explanation is that “chess” is a corruption of the word cheese, derived from a chess pie’s cheese-like filling. Whatever the etymological origins may be, the way the folded in lingonberries all rise to the top of the pie during baking is magical – and visually quite appealing. The effect when you eat the pie is interesting as well: The sweet and the sour are notably separate and in so become complementary flavors.

As to the shelf life of chess pie… It’s unlikely one has ever lasted long enough to tell!

Lingonberry Chess Pie

Ingredients

  • dough for a single crust pie
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all purpose four
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp orange zest, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh lingonberries

Directions

  1. Roll out pie dough to cover a 9-inch pie dish.
  2. Trim off excess. Leave plain or pinch edge to decorate.
  3. Chill dough-covered pie dish in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 375° F.
  5. Blind bake pie by covering it with foil, weighting down the foil with rice or pie beads and baking for about 20 minutes. Crust should be very lightly browned and no longer look wet.
  6. Leave oven on and slightly cool crust on a wire rack while making the filling.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, butter, salt, eggs, flour, yogurt and vinegar.
  8. Stir in orange zest.
  9. Fold in lingonberries.
  10. Pour the filling into the pie shell.
  11. Bake pie until top is golden brown and filling is firm, about 50 – 60 minutes.
  12. Cool on wire rack completely before serving.

A Lovely Pumpkin Genoise Cake for Two

It was fun to share this elegant sponge cake featuring layers of creamy pumpkin mousse with my best friend and still be able to walk away (instead of stagger away for a post-food coma nap). 

Hidden in the middle of my favorite baking book is a beautiful photo of a slice of golden layered cake. It draws my attention every time I peruse The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. The  recipe begins with “makes 10-12 servings.” As lovely as the image of that pumpkin mousse cake is, those words are where I stop reading and turn the page. But recently, I thought to myself that there has to be a way to scale this recipe down to create an intimate dessert for two. I thought my skills were up for the challenge.

The recipe lost nothing in pairing it down; the flavor is wonderful. My 6-inch springform helped turn out a decidedly cute cake, the perfect finale to our Thanksgiving meal for two. The mousse part of the recipe will make an extra cup, which we kept in two half-cup canning jars as a dessert for the next day.

Pumpkin Mousse Cake for Two

Ingredients for the Cake

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions for the Cake

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg and sugar by hand until combined. Place the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan and gently whisk until the mixture registers 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 3 minutes. Put the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and almost tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Sift 2 tablespoons of the flour over the egg mixture in two additions and carefully fold in with a large rubber spatula. Fold the third tablespoon of the flour into the melted butter, then fold back into the egg mixture.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top is browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Run a table knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a work surface. Turn the cake right side up.

Ingredients for Pumpkin Mousse

  • 1 1/4 tsp. (1/2 envelope) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • tiny pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tbsp good quality bourbon
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions for the Mousse and Assembling the Cake

  1. Cut the cake into 2 equal layers.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, stir and let soften until opaque, about 3 minutes.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine about 1/2 cup of the pumpkin purée, the granulated sugar and salt. Then heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
  4. Stir in the softened gelatin and let cool to room temperature.
  5. In a bowl, stir the pumpkin mixture into the remaining pumpkin purée. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and bourbon.
  6. Using a stand mixer, whip the whipping cream to soft peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the purée, then fold in the remaining whipped cream, making a mousse.
  7. Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom cake layer.
  8. Put the layer, cut side up, into the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan.
  9. Spread half of the mousse evenly over the cake. Trim 1/2 inch from the outside edge of the remaining layer. Center it, cut side down, on top of the mousse. Top with the additional mousse, pushing it between the cake and the pan and smoothing the top. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  10. Divide the remaining mousse into two containers and store, covered, in the refrigerator.
  11. To remove, run a small knife around the inside of the pan. Open the springform and remove the pan sides.
  12. Cut into two pieces and serve.

 

Pretzel Dogs – or Finally, a Food Post!

Chewy, soft pretzels with a not-so subtle just-right hit of salt, stuffed with your favorite hot dog – a recipe for a delicious lunch easy to take with or one to stay in with on a snowy spring day.

Many years ago, actually just approaching ten, we decided to move to Alaska. There are many different Alaskas within this beautiful state. The one we chose to move to was the Alaska Bush, a place we knew would be challenging, fascinating and exciting and a place where we knew we would need indoors hobbies to entertain us during cold and dark winters. One of my first goals was to become a baker. To set myself up for success, I sent out hundreds of pounds of different flours, sugars, flavorings, pans, cutters, and a beautiful tapered rolling pin with inlaid bamboo for inspiration (a lovely gift from Jack).

As my baking skills improved, I graduated from bread-in-a-rice-cooker to a a bonafide bread machine. As I continued to improve my baking, I ditched the machines and really dug into the whole process of baking. During my initial education, I enlisted the help of The Great Courses and chef Stephen Durfee from the Culinary Institute of America (via the online class). For six Sundays in a row, the three of us dutifully watched these classes and then baked – with feedback from countless taste-testers. We learned how to create lattice-crusted pies, ganache-topped éclairs, and mousse-filled many layered chocolate cakes. That was just the start. By the way, if you’ve ever wanted to really learn how to bake, I highly recommend the Baking Pastries & Desserts class from the Great Courses. I also highly recommend sharing the experience with friends. It was a lovely introduction into serious baking.

Of course, spending this much quality time with friends can only make friendships grow. After completing our class, my friend Reba and I continued to bake together, share recipes and swap tastes of new creations. Pretzel dogs always remind me of Reba and those baking days in Point Hope. This recipe produces an agreeably light, airy roll and is part of my permanent rotation. Thanks to Reba for the spiral wrapping style!

Pretzel Dogs

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 10 good quality hot dogs
  • coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 16 cups water

Directions

  1. Whisk milk and yeast together in a large bowl. Let stand for a few minutes until yeast starts to foam.
  2. Stir in oil.
  3. Stir in 1 cup flour and mix until well combined.
  4. Stir in salt.
  5. Mix in remaining 3 cups of flour.
  6. Turn dough out onto floured surface.
  7. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
  8. Place dough in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Cut dough into 10 equal pieces.
  11. Roll dough pieces into long snakes. Coil dough around each hot dog, pinching the end pieces of the dough to secure it.
  12. Let pretzel dogs rest while you prepare pretzel bath.
  13. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  14. In a large pot, boil 16 cups water and salt.
  15. When water is boiling, stir in baking soda.
  16. Place 2 pretzel dogs in boiling water for 30 seconds. Flip and continue to boil for 30 more seconds. Remove from water with slotted spoon and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  17. Repeat with remaining pretzel dogs.
  18. Sprinkle each pretzel dog with coarse salt.
  19. Bake for 20 minutes. Pretzel dogs are finished when they are a rich dark brown.
  20. Let cool for a couple of minutes on baking sheet. 
  21. Serve warm with Dijon or another good quality deli mustard and a delicious red ale.

Easy, healthy, but most importantly – Delicious Chocolate Cranberry Almond Oat Bites

Whether you are getting ready to get on the treadmill, go for a hike or maybe just need a little sweet, these are the cookies – a satisfying bite packed with flavor! Good-bye chocolate chip cookies, hello packed oat cookies!

There is something quite inspiring in completing a major fitness challenge. Jack and I returned home from our 1,300 mile bike trek in Hokkaido revved and looking ahead to The Next Big Thing. With roads outside often treacherously icy and the fact that wild animals in these parts make the whole village nervous if anyone is seen going for a run, we’ve pieced together a gym in our living room. (By the way, all ice is definitely not created equal. Chignik Lake has the slickest ice we’ve ever experienced).

Our gym which is comprised of a treadmill, a stationary spinning cycle, a set of Powerblock dumbbells, and a TRX resistance band. These four pieces of equipment take up very little space and gives us plenty of variety with which to accomplish our fitness goals. Plus, a spin on a bike or a run on a treadmill goes by fairly painlessly with a view of the lake out the window. (Yesterday a group of river otters was playing and fishing on the ice.)

Of course, when we work out, we have to eat – a golden opportunity to get in the kitchen and bake something. In Point Hope, I baked us batches of homemade granola bars to fuel us. During our bike training last year, I made little bites of tahini fudge speckled with coconut and chocolate chips. This time, I wanted to try a granola type creation that would be more like a cookie. These two-bite cookies are packed with oats, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and almonds -and no processed sugar. They have the texture of a soft cookie and tons of flavor. Better still, they are easy and super quick to make. I’ve been making batches and keeping them in the freezer. After they thaw, they have the same texture and flavor as when they’ve cooled out of the oven. Perfect!

Chocolate Cranberry Almond Oat Bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup coarse-chopped almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, vanilla and maple syrup.
  4. Pour maple syrup mixture into oat mixture. Stir until combined.
  5. Fold in cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds.
  6. Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop out dough and place balls on prepared baking sheet. The cookies will not spread much. Slightly flatten cookies.
  7. Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring them to wire cooling rack.
  8. Store cookies in airtight container for a few days. Cookies will freeze well.

 

 

Alaska Wild Blueberry Skillet Pies

For us, late summer in Alaska means harvest time. This is the time of year for berry picking and fishing for Sockeyes and Silver Salmon in the Chignik River system. Only a short walk away from our home, there is a lovely patch of feral raspberries with plenty of ripe berries. And not so far away in the other direction is a place we call the blueberry bog, where, as you’ve already guessed, we can pick low bush blueberries to our hearts’ content. 

Now that I’ve finally mastered the Buttery Flaky Pie Crust (a culinary goal checked off last winter), I am confident when Jack requests pie for dessert. Today’s request – Alaskan Wild Blueberry Pie.  Jack and our houseguest Isabel knew what they had to do while I was busy teaching my students. Armed with bear spray and berry collecting containers, they hiked the mile or so to the bog. Their efforts were rewarded with fresh slices of pie topped with scoops of extra rich homemade vanilla ice cream.

Alaska Wild Blueberry Skillet Pies

(Makes 2 6-inch skillet pies)

Ingredients

  • 1 double pie crust
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 5 cups fresh blueberries, divided
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, cornstarch, salt and water until smooth. Add 3 cups blueberries. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened and bubbly.
  2. Remove from the heat. Add butter, lemon juice and remaining berries; stir until butter is melted. Cool. 
  3. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Cut four circles out of of pie dough. Each dough circle should be about 1/2 inch larger than the mini skillet you’re using as your guide. Place the dough circle into the skillet, being careful not to stretch the dough. With a knife trim off any excess dough.
  5. Ball up all of the extra dough and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Cut out four more circles large enough to cover the top of a mini skillet.
  6. Next, evenly divide the blueberry filling among the skillets. Top each with approximately 1/2 tablespoon of cubed, cold butter.
  7. Cover each skillet with a piece of dough. Using your fingers, crimp the edge of dough all the way around to seal. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with sugar. Place skillets onto a cookie sheet for baking.
  8. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden and the filling is bubbly. (If the top crust starts to get brown before the inside is hot, cover with aluminum foil.)
  9. Cool before serving. Top with ice cream.

 

Raspberry Vanilla Custard Tart in a Swanky Almond Crust

Sixty-six days on a bike, 1,300 miles pedaled, more miles walked, hiked, climbed, and canoed. Before we knew it, we were back home with thousands of photos and a lifetime of stories to prepare for publication. What better way to transition back from the world of bicycle trekking to our home in Chignik Lake than baking? I can’t think of one.

I arrived back home to my patiently waiting, full, lovely pantry. Translucent jars of raspberry jam caught my eye on from the shelf where they’d been stored. With this year’s fruit quickly ripening, it’s time to use up last year’s stores. What a great excuse to bake with one of my favorite flavors – raspberry. Jack “I-don’t-have-a-sweet-tooth” Donachy’s secret weakness is custard desserts. For no better reason than pure love (of custard and raspberry), this little baby was created. Wait… I’m not saying that little baby Jack was created just to eat custard. I’m saying that this dessert… never mind.

A crust infused with almonds. Then a creamy vanilla custard topped with a smooth, delicious layer of homemade jam – I prefer raspberry. I set it out to photograph, and it was gone in a flash.

For those of you following along, we will have plenty of photos and stories coming from our bicycle trek around Hokkaido. Jack is up to is elbows in the sorting and editing process as well as catching the last of Chignik Lake’s migratory birds before they head south. Stay tuned. For now, sit back and enjoy a slice, or two, of this delicious tart.

Raspberry Vanilla Custard Tart

Crust

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped almonds
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • generous pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, almonds, and sugar.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk egg yolks and water.
  3. Grate butter into flour mixture. Toss butter so that it is fully coated. Use two sharp knives (I used steak knives) to chop the butter into smaller pea-sized pieces.
  4. Pour egg mixture into flour mixture. Stir with fork until dough comes together. It should be shaggy looking. If it’s too dry add tiny amounts of cold water until it comes together.
  5. Turn dough out into a 9-inch springform pan or tart pan with removable bottom.
  6. Press dough into bottom of pan and up the sides of pan (about 1 inch) with fingertips.
  7. Prick dough with fork. Freeze for 20 – 30 minutes.
  8. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  9. Bake crust for 35 minutes. It will be golden brown when finished.
  10. Let cool completely. You can store the crust at room temperature if it’s tightly wrapped in plastic.

Vanilla Custard Filling and Raspberry Topping

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tbsp cornstarch
  • pinch salt
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup homemade raspberry jam (here’s a good recipe for quick jam)

Directions

  1. Bring milk and vanilla to a simmer in a medium pot. Remove from heat.
  2. While heating milk mixture, thoroughly whisk together egg, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. Slowly, while whisking, pour milk mixture into egg mixture.
  4. Pour custard back into the medium pot.
  5. Continue whisking mixture over medium heat. Mixture should begin to bubble and become thick. Remove from heat.
  6. Whisk in butter, one tablespoon at a time.
  7. Transfer back to medium bowl. Cover with plastic wrap so that wrap is against surface of custard.
  8. Cool completely in refrigerator.
  9. To assemble, whisk cooled custard until smooth.
  10. Pour custard into cooled crust.
  11. Spread jam evenly on top of custard.
  12. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit  Magazine.