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Pumpkin Muffins

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While trying desperately to find some paper scraps I had hidden from myself so I could complete a handmade box order, I stumbled across a page I had torn out of an issue of Gourmet a few years ago.  A habit I have adopted from my mother (I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve “organized” her recipes), sometimes I tear things out of magazines and squirrel them away.  Anyway, this recipe for Pumpkin Muffins provided me with the perfect opportunity to use the cups and cups of pumpkin puree I have leftover from my sugar pie pumpkin experiment.  This recipe is very easy, and very low maintenance.  So, that leaves me plenty of time to tell my favorite muffin-related story.

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In college I was required to take color photography, and the semester I took it, the head of the department (who usually teaches the class) was on sabbatical.  So I got a fresh-out-of-grad-school MICA alum, who was well… stuck up.  And she hated me.  I’ll admit that I tend to be outspoken, I make too many jokes, and I have a tendency to go on tyrants, but I don’t know that I deserved all the hate she threw my way.  Except for this one day.  So we’re sitting in class, in the middle of a critique.  It was a morning class, so it was about 9.30 in the morning, and she was sitting on the opposite side of the room from me.  And I was (unbeknownst to me) suffering from keratitis at the time, so my vision was blurry.

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I glanced over at her and it looked like her nose was bleeding, she hae this giant dark red spot on her face right below her nose.  I thought, if my nose was bleeding, I’d want someone to tell me, so I said “Oh my god, Corrine, your nose is bleeding!”  She reached her hand up to her face, touched the spot and glared at me before she said “it’s a sore.”

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Oops.  I felt really bad.  As much as I hated her, pointing out a gaping sore on her face in front of everyone was especially cruel, even if it was an accident.  So the next week, I decided to bring her a peace offering.  The cafe near campus, On the Hill, has delicious muffins.  So before class, I stopped by and got two muffins, a blueberry and a cranberry.  I will preface this by saying that of the two, I would have preferred the cranberry.  I walked into class, and walked up to her and said “Corrine, would you like a peace muffin?”  Not so much.  She glanced up at me, and said “I don’t like muffins.”  So I told her that because it was a PEACE muffin, she couldn’t refuse it, to which she replied that she guessed she’d take the cranberry.  So she took the muffin that I wanted, and then didn’t eat it.  A delicious, $3 muffin brimming with cranberries and sparkly sugar, to waste.

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That pretty much sums up my college experience.  Or my life experience…

Pumpkin Muffins
Source: Gourmet Magazine

1 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1 cup pumpkin puree

1/3 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp sugar (for sprinkling)

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp cinnamon (for sprinkling)

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

Preheat to 350*.  Whisk together flour and baking powder.  In another bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, vegetable oil, sugar, baking soda, and salt.  Once it’s smooth, add in the flour mixture.  Pour into muffin pan.  Mix cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle ontop.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  Schmear with a little butter, and remember that even though pumpkins will be out of season soon, eventually it will be spring.

Makes 10-12 muffins.


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Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I made two pumpkin pies this past week.  The first pumpkin pie I made had NO flavor.  Something about the pumpkins I used (organic sugar pie pumpkins), just made the pie taste like… well, nothing.  It was gross.  Thankfully my family is very nice and pretended like it still tasted okay.  So I delved into the world of pumpkins to try and learn what makes a pumpkin taste good, and what makes it have no flavor.

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After my experiment (see Pumpkins 101), I had to figure out what to do with the pumpkin puree.  I certainly wasn’t going to waste it.  I also needed to figure out what dish to bring to Pennsylvania to celebrate with my future in-laws.  Recently, Dan’s father had mentioned how much he liked bread pudding.  And since I was making a pumpkin pie for my family, I figured I’d branch out a little and make pumpkin bread pudding.

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I started with my traditional bread pudding recipe.  Now, bread pudding is not something that my family is huge on.  So really, I don’t often have the opportunity to make it.  A few years ago, while I was in AmeriCorps, I was working in a full time office building, catering to the Baltimore AIDS community.  When my coworkers had birthdays, I would bring them in the cake of their choice, because I like making cakes and I like the attention of people enjoying my cakes.  I did, however, have one coworker who didn’t like cake.  He only ate pumpkin pie and bread pudding.  He also called me Misselenious (It started as Miss Elena and digressed), so he was one of my favorite coworkers.

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For his birthday, which was well past pumpkin season, he requested bread pudding.  So, I learned how to make it, which left me with a wonderful recipe that I never use.  So now I have a new opportunity.  I did make some tweaks to my recipe.  I swapped the whole grain bread I normally use for a loaf of french bread.  In order to make it pumpkin bread pudding, I simply whisked the pumpkin puree in with the milk and other ingredients.  Sort of like baking honey into a pie crust, infusing one ingredient with a flavor enhancer makes it pretty easy.

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I also left out the raisins.  For two reasons.  Frankly, I don’t like raisins.  And I didn’t think that it would be that much of a compliment to the pumpkin.  And I really don’t like raisins.

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding

1 loaf french bread, cubed (or broken into 1 inch pieces)

2 tbsp butter, melted

4 eggs

2 cups milk

2 cups pumpkin puree

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp nutmeg

Sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice

Preheat your oven to 350*.  Break bread into small pieces and place in pan.  Drizzle butter over.  In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, puree, sugar, spices, and vanilla.  Beat until well incorporated. Pour over bread.  Do not stir.  Bake for 45 minutes and serve warm.

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Pumpkins 101

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So, this isn’t a recipe so much as a tutorial.  And it is inspired by the fact that recently I served one of the most tasteless pumpkin pies I’ve ever made.  And I don’t mean tasteless as in not so classy, I mean flavorless.  It was horrible.  And I didn’t do anything differently to my recipe, the only variable was the pumpkin that I pureed.  Which led me on my current quest to know more about identifying pumpkins for baking.  (The whipped cream I made was also bad because I forgot to add sugar, but I was distracted by my soon to be niece Meredith and her spice-adding skills).  

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So through meticulous internet and library research, I’ve learned a few things about pumpkins.  I’ve learned even more about pumpkins that are appropriate for baking.  

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1. The best varieties of pumpkins to chose for baking are cinderella, sugar pie, pink banana (actually a squash), baby pam, cheese pumpkins, and lumina.  You can also use butternut squash.

2. Pumpkins that are smaller and have darker skin tend to have more flavor.

3. The stringier the pumpkin, the less suitable for the pie.

4. Absolutely do not use your standard jack o’ lantern pumpkin.

5. Buy a few pumpkins, so you have plenty of pulp.

6. Just in case, you might want to grab a can of pumpkin puree.  Worst case scenario you can go halfsies and mix the Libby’s in with your hard work.

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I also did an experiment with four different sugar pie pumpkins, two larger and two smaller.  They all had the same color skin, but one had much darker pulp.  I used a can of Libby’s (100% pumpkin) canned pumpkin as a comparison.  

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Pumpkin #1:  Small, light pulp.  Smooth texture.  Medium flavor.

Pumpkin #2: Small, light pulp.  Kind of chunky.  Tasted like nothing.

Pumpkin #3: Large, dark pulp.  Very smooth texture.  Flavor close to that of the Libby’s pumpkin.  Incidentally, this is also the pumpkin I bought last week.

Pumpkin #4: Large, light pulp.  Smooth texture.  Medium to a lot of flavor.

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So, based on my experiment, here are the conclusions I came to:

1. When it comes to sugar pie pumpkins, medium-large size have more flavor.

2. The darker the pulp, the more flavor.

3. There is no correlation between skin color and pulp color.

4. Pumpkins with smoother texture have more flavor.

5. Older pumpkins may have more flavor

6. I need a new can opener.  

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I hope that, in some way, this helped with your quest to make the perfect pumpkin pie, from a fresh pumpkin.  I don’t think what I learned will necessarily help me in the grocery store, but, we’ll see.  Good luck!

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