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Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Pumpkin pie is a wonderful dessert, but it isn’t the only treat that you can make with pumpkin during the fall baking season. Pumpkin can be incorporated into a wide variety of muffins, breads and cakes. It can also work its way into fall versions of even more classic desserts, such as …

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Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Creme Brulee

Pumpkin pie is a wonderful dessert, but it isn’t the only treat that you can make with pumpkin during the fall baking season. Pumpkin can be incorporated into a wide variety of muffins, breads and cakes. It can also work its way into fall versions of even more classic desserts, such as a creme brulee. My Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Creme Brulee puts a seasonal twist on a timeless classic, adding pumpkin puree and a bit of spice for a dessert that captures the fall flavors you love in an elegant way.

This creme brulee is flavored with vanilla bean and a little bit of nutmeg, but also contains pumpkin puree. Vanilla bean really gives a beautiful flavor to any milk or cream based dessert, and it uplifts the pumpkin puree, keeping the dessert feeling rich but light. Nutmeg enhances the vanilla bean without making the custard to spice-heavy. As much as I enjoy pumpkin pie spice, creme brulee isn’t a dessert that you want to turn into a spice-bomb.

Be sure to use pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling, which may contain additional sweeteners in it. Pumpkin puree should be nothing more than pure pumpkin! Most commercially made pumpkin purees will be quite smooth, but the custard should be strained before baking just to ensure it doesn’t contain any lumps.

The custards can be prepared a day or so in advance and stored in the refrigerator, but they should be bruleed just before serving. For the brulee, a generous amount of sugar should be added to the top of the custard and spread (or shaken) until it is even. Then, the sugar can be caramelized with a kitchen torch until it is golden. If you don’t have a kitchen torch, you can pop the custards until a hot broiler for a minute to caramelize them.

Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Creme Brulee

And if you love the idea of a brulee, but you just can’t help yourself from sticking with a pumpkin pie for your next pumpkin dessert, let me point you in the direction of my Bruleed Pumpkin Pie, which features a caramelized topping exactly like the one you would find on a creme brulee. It’s an easy variation on a traditional pie and one that will make your dessert a little bit more memorable!

Vanilla Bean Pumpkin Creme Brulee
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 300F. Arrange six, shallow 6-oz ramekins in a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Split vanilla bean and use the back of a knife or a spoon to scrape out the vanilla bean seeds. Add vanilla bean seeds and pod to heavy cream and milk. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and let steep for 30 minutes.
After vanilla has finished steeping, remove vanilla bean pod, then bring back to a simmer
In a medium bowl, whisk together sugars, egg yolks, pumpkin and nutmeg.
Slowly stream the hot milk mixture into the pumpkin mixture, while whisking continuously to temper the eggs without cooking them. Strain pumpkin custard through a fine strainer into a large measuring cup to remove any lumps.
Divide the pumpkin mixture evenly between the prepared ramekins. Fill the baking dish containing ramekins with hot water, until the water reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the custards are set. (if using deeper ramekins, baking time will be slightly longer and yield will be one less). Allow them to cool in the water bath, then refrigerate until cold (at least 2 hours). Custards can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.
Just before serving, top each custard 1-2 tsp of sugar, turning the ramekin to coat the surface of the custard.
Caramelize sugar with a kitchen torch or by putting ramekins under the broiler for about 1 minute, watching closely.

Serves 6

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Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch

Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch

Who doesn’t enjoy a cocktail during the holidays? I know that we like to toast to the holidays with a cocktail when we’re celebrating with friends and family. And I always like to make sure that our cocktails fit the holiday. This Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch is a cocktail that is perfect …

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Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch

Who doesn’t enjoy a cocktail during the holidays? I know that we like to toast to the holidays with a cocktail when we’re celebrating with friends and family. And I always like to make sure that our cocktails fit the holiday. This Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch is a cocktail that is perfect for fall and winter entertaining. It’s creamy, slightly sweet and has plenty of warm pumpkin spice in each sip.

Milk punch is an old fashioned cocktail that originated sometime in the 17th century. Fans of eggnog will note that it is similar to the classic holiday drink, but it doesn’t include any eggs. It uses brandy (or bourbon or rum), a bit of sugar and milk to make a cocktail that is rich and creamy without being too heavy.

Since it is such a simple drink, it is easy to use it as a blank canvas on which to add a few additional flavors. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with my homemade Pumpkin Spice Extract over the last couple of weeks and added it to a milk punch recipe to create a very seasonal Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch.

The cocktail is a bit like drinking a milkshake – albeit a much boozier milkshake than you’re likely to find at your favorite burger stand. It has a generous dose of pumpkin spice to it, spice which blends very well with the brandy and rum that make this a very adult drink. I used half and half in my recipe with good results. You can substitute whole milk, but I recommend sticking with a higher fat dairy product for the best results. This recipe makes two reasonably-sized servings and can easily be doubled to serve a small crowd.

Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch

You will want to use a dark rum to get the best results in this milk punch. Dark rums have a rich molasses flavor that blends very well with the spices in the extract. A light rum will still make a drinkable punch, but you won’t get the same depth of flavor as you will with dark rum. I used both maple syrup and simple syrup (an easy to make sweetener for all drinks that is made by dissolving sugar in an equal amount of water) to sweeten the drink, using less maple syrup because I didn’t want it to overwhelm the pumpkin spices. You can adjust the sweeteners to your taste if you prefer you drinks to be sweeter or have a more brandy-forward finish.

Garnish the punch with freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg, both of which will give the drink a wonderful aroma as you sip!

Pumpkin Spice Milk Punch
2 oz brandy
1 oz dark rum
2 tsp pumpkin spice extract
1/4 oz maple syrup
1/4 oz simple syrup
3 oz half and half
whole cinnamon sticks and nutmeg, for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake vigorously until well-chilled, about 20 seconds. Strain into two ice-filled glasses. Using a microplane, grate some cinnamon and nutmeg over the top of each glass.

Serves 2.

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Maple Syrup Pumpkin Bundt Cake

Maple Syrup Pumpkin Bundt Cake

I use lots of pumpkin puree during the fall, making old classics like Pumpkin Pie and new favorites like Churro Pumpkin Blondies. I come back to the classics time and again, of course, but I’m always on the lookout for recipes to add to the …

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Maple Syrup Pumpkin Bundt Cake

I use lots of pumpkin puree during the fall, making old classics like Pumpkin Pie and new favorites like Churro Pumpkin Blondies. I come back to the classics time and again, of course, but I’m always on the lookout for recipes to add to the new favorites list. This Maple Syrup Pumpkin Bundt Cake is a recipe that recently became a repeat in my kitchen. The bundt cake uses plenty of pumpkin puree and real maple syrup, along with a generous dose of pumpkin pie spices, for a wonderfully moist cake that is packed with fall flavors.

Pumpkin has a natural sweetness that works well with a variety of sweeteners. Molasses, either in the form of brown sugar or liquid molasses, is one of the most commonly added pumpkin flavors. Molasses is delicious, but can overpower the more delicate flavor of pumpkin. Maple syrup brings a wonderfully light, sweet maple flavor to the cake and still lets the pumpkin shine through. A maple syrup glaze on top of the cake highlights the maple flavor even more.

When it comes to baking with maple syrup – especially in a recipe like this one, where pumpkin and spices are also prominent flavors – the maple flavor is more subtle than when you use a maple extract in a cake. Maple extract adds a big dose of strong, praline-like maple flavor and will really put it at the forefront of the cake. I prefer to stick with pure maple syrup, opting for a darker syrup (dark amber/robust) that has a relatively intense flavor, rather than using the extract, but you can add in a 1/2 teaspoon to the cake batter if you really want to up the overall maple flavor. Maple extract tends to be very strong, so use a light touch if you decide to include it!

The cake is dense and moist, with a great pumpkin flavor. It’s not overly sweet, so the glaze is a nice finishing touch for the recipe to add an extra touch of maple. The cake could be served for dessert, or alongside a fall brunch, as it is excellent with coffee. If you want to change things up, you can fold in up to 3/4 cup of finely chopped, toasted nuts to add some texture to the cake. Both pecans and walnuts go very well with maple and pumpkin. The cake will keep for several days after baking, so feel free to either nibble on it in tiny slices over the course of the day or indulge in a big slice all at once!

Maple Pumpkin Bundt Cake
2 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/3 cup maple syrup (not pancake syrup)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup milk
1 15-oz can (approx 1 1/4 cups) pumpkin puree

Glaze
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tbsp maple syrup
1-2 tbsp heavy cream
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and pumpkin pie spice.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by the vegetable oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract.
Whisk together milk and pumpkin puree in a small bowl or measuring cup.
Stir about 1/3 of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, followed by half of the pumpkin mix. Stir in another 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining pumpkin and the remaining flour. Mix only until ingredients are just combined and no streaks of dry ingredients remain visible. Pour into prepared pan and spread into an even layer
Bake for about 45 min, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the top springs back when lightly touched.
Cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Once cake is cooled, whisk together all glaze ingredients in a small bowl, adding heavy cream until glaze reaches a pourable consistency, and drizzle over the top of the cake.

Makes 1 bundt cake; serves 10-12

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Angostura Cherry Cobblers

Angostura Cherry Cobblers
Cherry cobblers are one of my favorite “comfort food” desserts, and I bake them up on a regular basis. That said, I’m always looking to put a new twist on them to make them memorable and these Angostura Cherry Cobblers are one of my very favorite variations. The cobblers have a jammy cherry …

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Angostura Cherry Cobblers
Cherry cobblers are one of my favorite “comfort food” desserts, and I bake them up on a regular basis. That said, I’m always looking to put a new twist on them to make them memorable and these Angostura Cherry Cobblers are one of my very favorite variations. The cobblers have a jammy cherry filling that is flavored with the potent spices of Angostura bitters, an ingredient used in cocktails all the time, but rarely in baking. It’s a delicious take on this classic and I just can’t get enough!

Bitters are an alcoholic extract that are typically used as a cocktail flavoring. Originally developed as medicines and purported to have many curative effects, they made their way from the pharmacy to the bar when the term “cocktail” came into common use in the beginning of the 19th century, where cocktail was defined as a beverage which used a combination of spirits, sugar, water and bitters. Like vanilla extract, bitters use alcohol to extract the flavors from the botanicals that go into them. They’re typically made with a wide variety of spices, herbs, roots and other ingredients, which come together to form a very intensely flavored extract that is intended to be used only a few dashes at a time. As the name suggests, many bitters have a distinctly bitter note to them, but they can use dozens of ingredients and actually have very complex and layered flavor profiles.

These days, not all cocktails include bitters and, similarly, not all bitters need to be confined to the bar. These individual Angostura Cherry Cobblers are just one of many examples of how bitters can shine in the kitchen because I added a generous dash of Angostura bitters to my cobbler filling!

Angostura is one of the most widely recognized brands of bitters. The secret recipe for the brand’s aromatic was developed around 1820 and has remained unchanged ever since. You’ll pick up notes of allspice or clove and cinnamon in the bitters, along with many other flavors. These warm spices add a lot of depth to cocktails and they also add a lot to the cherries in this cobbler. The cherries are lush, spicy and much more complex than you would expect the cherries in an ordinary cobbler to be. The bitter notes of the bitters don’t overshadow the cherries, so don’t worry about that if you’re not very familiar with bitters!

The cobbler topping is a buttermilk and vanilla biscuit topping that would be delicious with almost any cobbler filling. By keeping the topping simple, the flavors in the filling stand out even more. I baked these as individual cobblers, dividing the cherries and topping equally between four ramekins. I didn’t quite use all the topping because I wanted to see a bit of the cherry bubbling up underneath it, but there is enough to completely cover all four servings. These cobblers are best when served slightly warm from the oven. You can serve them as-is or top them with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Angostura Cherry Cobblers

Angostura Cherry Cobblers
Filling
16-oz cherries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sugar
8 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 tbsp cornstarch

Topping
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
coarse sugar, for topping

Preheat oven to 375F. Place four 8-oz ramekins on a baking sheet.
In a medium bowl, stir together all filling ingredients.
In a large bowl, prepare the topping. Stir together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add in melted butter, buttermilk and vanilla extract and stir until dough comes together.
Divide cherry mixture evenly into prepared ramekins. Dollop topping (or use your fingers, if you don’t mind getting messy) mixture over the cherries. Sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cherry filling is bubbling and topping is golden brown.
Allow cobblers to cool slightly before serving.

Serves 4.

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Mini Apple Spice Cakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

Apple Spice Bread with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s tough to choose between pumpkin and apple desserts when it comes to fall baking. I say why not bake up one of each? These Mini Apple Spice Cakes, topped with a rich Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, are the perfect addition to any fall breakfast or brunch. They are loaded with apple …

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Apple Spice Bread with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting

It’s tough to choose between pumpkin and apple desserts when it comes to fall baking. I say why not bake up one of each? These Mini Apple Spice Cakes, topped with a rich Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting, are the perfect addition to any fall breakfast or brunch. They are loaded with apple and warm spices, sure to be a hit on a cool fall morning.

The Mini Apple Spice Cakes are easy to make quick breads that only take a few minutes to put together. The batter includes both brown and white sugar, along with a generous amount of cinnamon, ginger and cloves to spice it up. I used shredded apple – not apple sauce – because it gives the breads a great texture, while helping keep them moist. You don’t need to peel your apples before shredding them, as any bits of peel will be small enough that you won’t notice them in the finished cake.

The cream cheese frosting is an optional topping for these cakes, but I really recommend it. The tangy cream cheese pairs very well with apples in all kinds of cakes, not just this one, and the cinnamon ties in nicely with those apple spices. You can add on a thin layer if you want to keep things simple, or dress them up with a swirling design like I did above to make these loaves particularly eye catching.

These loaf cakes are perfect for a fall weekend brunch or holiday breakfast. They smell amazing when they’re baking and are really packed with fall flavors. The mini loaves are big enough to stand out in a sea of muffins on a brunch platter, too. They’re big enough to share – but you can treat yourself to a whole one with a big mug of coffee or tea if you feel like treating yourself.

This is one recipe where I’ll whip up a double (or triple) batch to hand out as holiday treats to family who come over to visit – a great take home treat size. If you plan to give them away, look for single-use mini loaf pans that you can bake directly in, wrap up and pass out!

Mini Apple Spice Cakes with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup shredded apple (not applesauce)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease three 3×5-inch mini loaf pans.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, followed by shredded apple and vanilla extract. Stir in half of the flour mixture, followed by the buttermilk. Stir in the remaining flour mixture and mix until no streaks of flour remain.
Divide batter evenly into prepared mini loaf pans.
Bake for 35 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Allow loaves to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely before frosting with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting.

Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
6 oz cream cheese, room temperature
5 tbsp butter, room temperature
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp milk
1 – 1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

In a medium bowl, beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Blend in cinnamon, vanilla extract and milk. Gradually add in confectioners’ sugar until frosting is thick and spreadable.
Apply to cooled cakes.

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Trader Joe’s 12 Cranberry Orange Bars, reviewed

Trader Joe's 12 Cranberry Orange Bars, reviewed
If you’re looking for an eye-catching and easy holiday dessert this year, you don’t have to look much further than the Trader Joe’s 12 Cranberry Orange Bars. These jewel-tone desserts are in the freezer section of your local TJ’s. The Cranberry Orange Bars are already sliced and ready to serve at your holiday …

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Trader Joe's 12 Cranberry Orange Bars, reviewed
If you’re looking for an eye-catching and easy holiday dessert this year, you don’t have to look much further than the Trader Joe’s 12 Cranberry Orange Bars. These jewel-tone desserts are in the freezer section of your local TJ’s. The Cranberry Orange Bars are already sliced and ready to serve at your holiday gathering. All you need to do is defrost them, plate them and you’re ready to eat!

As a fan of cranberry desserts, I couldn’t resist giving these easy treats a try. The bars remind me of jellied cranberry sauce in a very pleasant way. The cranberry curd is very smooth and stiff enough to slice easily without running down into the crust or onto your serving plate. The velvety and not-too-sweet curd has a good, slightly tart cranberry flavor and a hint of orange. The shortbread-like crust is buttery, tender and provides a nice contrast to the filling on top of it. If you like cranberries in general and are looking for an easy cranberry treat or dessert option, this one is going to be tough to beat because they don’t get much easier.

That said, I personally could have done with a little bit more flavor impact overall. The orange is subtle enough that I wish they had bumped it up with some more zest to make the bars punchier. To dress these up, I would serve them with a small dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, garnished with some fresh orange zest.

The bars are sold frozen and only need to be defrosted before serving. The packaging suggests defrosting them for 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving, but I found that they did fine after 24 hours in the refrigerator defrosting. This means that you can bring them home from Trader Joe’s and pop them in the fridge before serving them the next day – eliminating the need to set a 4 hour timer and saving space in the freezer. I found that the bars were best cold, so I would recommend taking them out no more than an hour before serving. The cranberry layer is sturdy enough that it won’t melt or become too soft, but it simply tastes best when still slightly chilled!

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