Monday, September 20, 2010

The BEST Pumpkin Bread

Yes, that's right,  it's the BEST pumpkin bread.  Last year a student and her mom baked loaves of pumpkin bread for my team of teachers.  Typically, teachers never consume student created food for fear of accidental or intentional poisoning.  After a long day of smelling this delicious bread and dealing with parent teacher conferences...we caved.  We said a fond farewell to our loved ones (just in case) and ate it.  It was AMAZING!  It's moist, not too pumpkiny, and has this amazing cinnamon brown sugar crust.  Make it yourself and enjoy it without fear of death. :)  I baked this bread to take to work this weekend and took a picture of the bread in my new stoneware bread pans.  I planned on taking a picture of the remaining loaf when I got home but found some little mouse had eaten half of it. I'm looking in your direction Mr. Sprinkles...

The Best Pumpkin Bread
2 loaves or 4 mini loaves

  • 3 1/2 cups of flour
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup nuts (optional, I omit these)
  • 4 eggs beaten
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 15oz can of pumpkin
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
1. Mix wet ingredients.
2. Mix dry ingredients.
3. Gradually add dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
4. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans or 4 mini loaf pans.
5. Sprinkle with topping.
6. Bake for 1 hour at 350 degrees for 2 loaf pans (45 minutes for mini loaf pans).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sugar Cookies for Diane's Shower

My wonderful friend, Diane, who works with me at both of my jobs was recently engaged.  For the last show of our concert season we threw a potluck feast to celebrate.  I thought it was the perfect opportunity to use my engagement ring shaped cookie cutter.  I used white icing for the diamonds topped with clear sanding sugar and used black gel coloring to tint the remaining icing grey for the bands.  Often these sugar cookies look really pretty but are rock hard and flavorless.  Here is my tried and true recipe for chewy and flavorful sugar cookies.

Sugar Cookie Dough
Makes about 2 dozen
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons brandy, or milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar; mix until light and fluffy. With mixer running, add egg, brandy, and vanilla; mix until well combined. With the mixer on low, slowly add reserved flour mixture. Mix until just combined.
  2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape into 2 discs, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper; set aside.
  4. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes, and transfer to prepared baking sheets, leaving an inch in between. Leftover dough can be rolled and cut once more. Bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes; do not allow to brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool.
  5. Decorate with Royal Icing, optional.
Makes about 3 cups
  • 4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons meringue powder (found at specialty stores or Michael's)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (you can use any flavor you'd like)
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water
  • Food coloring (optional)
  1. In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the confectioners' sugar and meringue powder until combined.  
  2. Add the water and beat on medium to high speed until very glossy and stiff peaks form (5 to 7 minutes). If necessary, to get the right consistency, add more powdered sugar or water. To cover or 'flood' the entire surface of the cookie with icing, the proper consistency is when you lift the beater, the ribbon of icing that falls back into the bowl remains on the surface of the icing for a few seconds before disappearing.
  3. The icing needs to be used immediately or transferred to an airtight container as royal icing hardens when exposed to air. Cover with plastic wrap when not in use.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Strawberry Freezer Jam

I saw a posting on Not So Humble Pie for jam made in the freezer.  I've always wanted to try making my own jam.  A bit of a strange aspiration I realize, but it's something I've been wanting to do for awhile but was a bit intimidated by the whole canning process.  Freezer jam sounded easy and fool proof so I gave it a whirl with some strawberries that were on sale at my local grocery store.  The end result was a pretty easily crafted but very sweet jam.  I wanted to reduce the sugar but the recipe said altering it could cause issues with consistency.  Sure Jell makes a low sugar pectin that I'll definitely try next time as it reduces the sugar by 1 cup.  I like to use strawberry or raspberry jam in a brownie recipe that I make and think it will be pretty yummy in that recipe.   I did a double batch of the recipe below and filled up 7 of these 2 cup jars.

Sure Jell Freezer Jam
  • 2 cups crushed fresh strawberries
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 (1.75 ounce) package dry pectin
  • 3/4 cup water
  1. Mix crushed strawberries with sugar, and let stand for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the pectin into the water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and boil for 1 minute. Stir the boiling water into the strawberries. Allow to stand for 3 minutes before pouring into jars or other storage containers.
  2. Place tops on the containers, and leave for 24 hours. Place into freezer, and store frozen until ready to use. 
  3. Use jam within 30 days of opening.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Science Rockstar!

One of the only things I love more than baking is my job... 8th grade science teacher.  Yes, you read that correctly.  I LOVE teaching middle school science.  Recently, I applied for MSI Chicago's Month at the Museum program.  I filled out an application, wrote an essay, took a head shot, and created (with help) a 60 second DVD.  In the end I didn't make the semi-finalist cut but got an email from MSI today telling me that my video would be featured on MSI's facebook, twitter, and youtube account.  I shrieked like the middle school girls I teach and danced around my classroom.  Thank goodness I got the email after the kiddos left for the day! :)  So here it is...My Science Rockstar Moment!