The Legend of Sleepy Challah

Last weekend my friends Jennie and Zander came over for brunch. Jennie and I met over thirteen years ago, and some of our best memories have been shared over a good meal. But when we were younger, I thought Jennie’s food tastes were crazy. A life without meat or chocolate? The thought nearly knocked my head off.

But now that some time has passed, I’ve broadened my own tastes and realized that some of the best flavors on earth involve neither meat nor chocolate. In fact, one can live a perfectly pleasant existence without what I consider to be culinary staples. Take this autumnal french toast recipe: it has both sweetness and substance.

After over a decade of friendship, Jennie and I can still happily coexist with our varying palates. With the warm, hearty flavors of a satisfying brunch like this, who couldn’t love the month of October? (Except perhaps poor Ichabod Crane…)

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Pumpkin French Toast:

8 slices challah bread

4 egg yolks

2 cups milk

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 tbsp vanilla extract

2 tbsp brown sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Instruction:

  1. On parchment paper-lined baking sheet, toast bread in 300 degree oven for about five minutes on each side. Turn off oven and let bread cool.
  2. Whisk together all ingredients (when they have all been brought to room temperature) except for bread.
  3. Soak challah slices in wet mixture for twenty seconds on each side. Allow excess moisture to drip off and immediately put in buttered frying pan over medium heat. Let toast cook on each side for about three minutes, adding more butter if the pan becomes too dry.
  4. Transfer to oven (still warm from step 1) until ready to serve!

Wet Spiced Maple Pecans:

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 cup maple syrup

1 tbsp milk

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup pecans

Instruction:

  1. Bring corn syrup, maple syrup, milk, brown sugar, and vanilla extract to a boil, whisking until smooth. Reduce to simmer and keep on heat for about five minutes.
  2. Toss pecans in spices. Pour syrup mixture over the pecans and toss until evenly coating.

Enjoy pumpkin french toast and wet maple spiced pecans with Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews.

Grimm’s Dairy Tales

This week I’ve been working on a freelance piece about avoiding surface cracks in cheesecakes. Blessedly, the life of a food writer requires testing subject matter at home. And while this prospect seemed very appealing at the start, heaps of batter and billions of calories later have left me feeling a bit worse off than when I started. This same fate befalls anyone who reads “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Those who are looking for a breezy encounter (as these tales are portrayed in Disney films) end up feeling very weighed down.

Like the tales of these Brothers Grimm, cheesecake – despite its unfailing heaviness – has endured the test of time. But by portioning into these individual ramekins, you will serve up something closer to the Disney versions – sweet, light, and always a happy ending.

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(Pumpkin Cheesecake Terrines)

Crust:

3 ounces chocolate graham crackers

4 tbsp. salted butter, melted

Instruction:

1. Pulse graham crackers in food processor until fine crumbs. Remove blade and add melted butter, mixing until mixture has “wet sand” consistency.

2. Pack even amount of mixture into ramekins, pressing down with fingers to make an even and compact layer.

3. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Cheesecake filling:

12 oz. cream cheese

3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

2 whole eggs and 1 additional yolk

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1/2 cup heavy cream

Instruction:

*Note: All ingredients should be brought to room temperature before beginning!

1. In standing mixer, beat cream cheese, gradually adding in sugar. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and salt, and eggs (all gradually, and at medium-low speed). Finally, add heavy cream and beat until mixture is completely smooth. (You may need to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a silicon spatula.)

2. Pour mixture evenly into ramekins with cooled crust. Create water bath by placing ramekins in roasting pan and pouring boiling water halfway up the sides.

3. Bake for about 45 minutes at 325 degrees – centers should still wobble slightly. Pull out of the oven and leave in water bath on stovetop for about 45 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and cool for another 45 minutes. Finally, transfer ramekins to refrigerator to chill for about two hours. (At this point, you can optionally add your mousse layer – see below.)

(Optional)

Bailey’s cream cheese mousse:

8 oz. cream cheese

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

1/2 packet gelatin

1/4 cup water

1/4 Bailey’s

Instruction:

1. Whisk together sugar, salt, and gelatin. Bring water and Bailey’s to a boil and pour immediately over dry ingredients, whisking until dissolved.

2. In standing mixer, beat cream cheese and pumpkin puree. Until smooth. Gradually add gelatin mixture in on medium-low speed. Pour over cheesecake right before the refrigeration phase. Chill cheesecake ramekins for several hours, allowing gelatin to solidify.

Enjoy individual pumpkin cheesecakes with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Life of Pie

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If your family is anything like mine, the pie to human ratio on the Thanksgiving table is appallingly equal. In fact, there’s usually also at least one cake present as well to celebrate my Grammie’s late November birthday. Every year, by 6pm, everyone is ready to sink faster than the ship in Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. We are all so stuffed that, like the title character in the novel, our reality and fantasy blend together, and we cannot think straight until well into Friday morning.

The real trouble is that we are spoiled for choice. If we commit ourselves to only one slice of pie, we miss out on the other glorious flavors. If we favor apple, we deprive ourselves of pecan, cherry, and pumpkin. Instead of sacrificing pie in the interest of saving our stomachs, perhaps the solution is to shrink the portions. Miniature pies allow for the same variety of flavors but prevent the heaping helpings that bend even the sturdiest of paper plates.

To get a sense of scale:

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Pumpkin Tartlets

Pastry measurements are pretty constant, so I just used Martha Stewart’s pie dough recipe plus an extra pinch of sea salt. Click on the link for ingredients and method!

Filling:

1 can pumpkin puree

1/2 pint evaporated milk

1 egg

1/2 tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

Instruction:

1. Roll out dough to about half centimeter thickness, then fit into tartlet dishes (I found mine at Whole Foods). Blind bake (using ceramic beads) in 375 degree oven for about 10 minutes, until edges start to turn golden. Remove beads and cook for an additional 7-10 minutes, until entire crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool.

2. To make filling: whisk all ingredients together. When crusts have cooled, pipe in pumpkin filling to the top of each, leaving a few millimeters so the tartlets don’t overflow.

3. Bake in oven for 25 or so minutes – until a toothpick comes clean out of the middle of the filling.

Enjoy pumpkin tartlets with Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, and check in at http://warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Scone

I associate several things with autumn: flannel, pumpkins, Mumford and Sons, Sunday afternoon football, snuggling, and Harry Potter. Although the series isn’t season-specific, the descriptions of Hogwarts fireplaces and Quidditch matches are so cozy. Plus, the premise of witches and wizards, learning how to cast spells, and ghosts floating around the grounds has an unmistakable “October” feel to it. (Peeves was always my favorite. It was a crime that the filmmakers left him out.)

I decided to develop a recipe that would incorporate all my favorite autumnal flavors. The spiced pumpkin flavor brings a warmth to a previously simple recipe that will cast a spell on all of you Muggles and aspiring bakers.

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Pumpkin scones:

2 cups flour

3 tbsp sugar

1 tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1/ 2tsp. ground cloves

1 tsp. ground ginger

7 tbsp butter, cubed and cold

1 tbsp skim milk

1 egg

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

3 oz. block chocolate, chopped (milk or dark)

Instruction:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. In food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices.

3. Pulse cold, cubed butter until mixture has course, sand-like consistency. Add egg, pumpkin, and milk and pulse until  mixture is just combined.

4. Dump dough onto floured surface and knead several times, incorporating chocolate as you do so. Using a floured cookie cutter, cut out six circles and transfer to baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

5. Bake for 12-15 minutes in oven or until scones are light brown and pass the toothpick test (insert toothpick into center of scone and it should come out clean or with only a few crumbs). Let cool for a few minutes before tasting!

I’m still working on my butterbeer recipe, but in the meantime, enjoy a pumpkin scone with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (Not to brag, but my copy is signed by J.K. Rowling…) And check in at warandpeach.com for future recipes and book reviews!