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.

Another $8 Cookie, Please

The best chocolate chip cookie on the planet? There’s one way to find out!

Break out all the best ingredients you’ve been hoarding and make yourself a batch of these…now!

A couple of years ago, I read about a cookie that really sells for $8. Could I create a cookie worth such a price? Oh boy, yes! The secret to this cookie is not gold flecks or a butler to serve it, but fine ingredients and an investment of some time. The recipe demands high quality chocolates, browned butter, toasted almonds, and vanilla paste. Serving them slightly cooled from the oven is a key to the experience. I make a batch of dough, cookie scoop out portions and freeze them. When we are in the mood for these decadent beauties, I pop a couple in the oven while we are eating dinner in order to serve them as a perfectly warm $8 dessert.

The $8 Cookie

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, browned
  • 2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds, chopped
  • 1/3 cup good quality milk chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup good quality white chocolate, chopped

Directions

  1. Mix the sugars and the egg well.
  2. Add in the browned butter.
  3. Mix in vanilla paste and almond extract.
  4. Stir flour, baking soda and salt into the mixture.
  5. Fold in the almonds and chocolate pieces.
  6. Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
  7. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  8. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C).
  9. Scoop tablespoon-sized balls using a small ice cream scoop onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
  10. Let the cookies set on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes before removing them to a wire cooling rack.
  11. Continue to cool for another two minutes on the wire rack.
  12. Serve cookies while still warm.

Makes 12 cookies.

Hope you’re sitting down for this one! Chocolate Tahini Overnight French Toast

Overnight chocolate tahini french toast – Sunday brunch is served.

If you have been following along, you’ll know that we get most of our groceries delivered via the United State Postal Service. The majority of our food mail comes from either Amazon or our “local” Fred Meyer grocery store 466 roadless miles away in Anchorage. The same goes for our co-workers here at the Lake. Once in a while, one of my colleagues receives a wrong order or too much of something and I become the recipient of some kind of random ingredient. When that happens, I like to imagine that I’m a contestant on one of those cooking shows that presents the competitors with a basket of ingredients – usually showcasing something foreign or little-known to the chef. Of course, I have the luxury of time and the Internet to compliment my culinary imagination.

My last “gift,” a jar of tahini, has been sitting on my shelf for a few weeks. Tahini is best described as a peanut-butter style condiment made from sesame seeds. It has a nutty flavor. But is has a sharpness to it, in my opinion, that can overtake the flavor. My first experience with tahini was as an ingredient in hummus. I actually prefer making hummus without tahini (see my recipe here).

So, the jar had been sitting, waiting for inspiration, until last Sunday. While perusing the culinary blogs I follow, I came across an article for chocolate tahini challah buns from Smitten Kitchen. The buns were beautiful. The idea of chocolate and tahini together evoked memories of a delicious treat I used to regularly enjoy – chocolate halvah – a rich Middle Eastern confection made of sesame flour and honey. Eggy challah bread is something I enjoy making and we both enjoy eating. This seemed like the perfect recipe to try on a baking Sunday.

We opted to drizzle a lemony glaze atop our buns and absolutely loved them. Yum! They were were loaded with complimentary flavors and weren’t overly sweet, making them worth the investment of time they required. (Be ready for hours to let the dough rise.) An abject lack of willpower had us eating half the buns on the day they were baked. But that meant more than half the buns were left over the next day. They were already partially dried out and had lost their appeal. How to resurrect them? A stroke of brilliance followed. A great way to revitalize day old bread is to turn it into overnight French toast.

Our review? Holy smokes! Forget eating the buns on the first day and go straight to the overnight French toast! The challah soaked up the creamy, eggy mixture and puffed up to a golden brown when baked. The swirled flavors of the chocolate and tahini couldn’t be beat. The presentation of lovely chocolate stripes sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with a lemony glaze is a guaranteed home run for your next Sunday brunch, or Monday breakfast, or Tuesday dinner. 😉

Chocolate Tahini Overnight French Toast

Ingredients

  • 4 or 5 chocolate tahini challah buns, enough to fill the baking dish (see recipe below)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp granulated sugar

Directions

  1. Lightly grease an 8 x 8 inch glass baking dish.
  2. Cut buns into 9 pieces, 3 slices in one direction and then 3 slices in the other (think tic-tac-toe.
  3. Spread the bun cubes evenly in baking dish.
  4. Mix together eggs, milk, cream, vanilla, and sugar.
  5. Pour egg mixture over cubes. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Remove the baking dish from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).
  8. Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Uncover and continue baking for 25 – 30 minutes. Surface should be lightly browned and the center will be firm.

Chocolate tahini bun

Chocolate Tahini Challah Buns

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

Dough

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the counter
  • 1 packet instant yeast
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • Butter for baking pan

Filling

  • 3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup tahini, well-stirred
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Sesame seeds

Glaze

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons juice

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, whisk eggs, yolk, sugar, oil and milk.
  2. Add flour, yeast and salt.
  3. Mix until it comes together. Continue to knead dough for 5 to 7 minutes.
  4. Oil a large bowl and let dough rise at room temperature for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, until slightly shy of doubled.
  5. Butter a 9×13-inch or equivalent size baking dish, or coat it with nonstick spray.
  6. Melt butter and chocolate together until smooth.
  7. Stir in powdered sugar, cocoa and tahini. Mixture should be a spreadable consistency.
  8. Assemble buns. On a very well-floured counter, roll out dough into a rectangle about 18 inches wide (side facing you) and as far away from you (i.e. length) as it comfortably goes, usually 12 to 15 inches.
  9. Dollop chocolate mixture over and spread it over dough evenly.
  10. Roll dough in a tight spiral.
  11. Cut log very gently — it’s going to be a soft mess, use a sharp serrated knife, sewing thread works well here too — into 1 1/2-inch to 2-inch segments.
  12. Arrange cut side up in prepared pan.
  13. Beat egg in small bowl. Brush tops of buns and tops of sides with egg and cover with plastic wrap.
  14. Leave it at room temperature to proof for another 60 to 90 minutes, until puffed a bit.
  15. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
  16. Gently brush tops and sides with egg wash again and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden-bronzed.
  17. Let cool slightly.
  18. Whisk glaze ingredients until smooth.
  19. Drizzle this over the buns right before serving.