Kitchen Call: Pumpkin is nothing without the spice
By Linda Bassett
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By itself, pumpkin is bland, stringy. Brown sugar or maple syrup or molasses, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and clove, normally found on any kitchen shelf, bring the autumn flavor. The dried ground spices lend baked goods — and now coffee and even Oreo cookies and tortilla chips — their signature flavor. The same flavorings infiltrate apple — hot mulled cider, apple pie and oatmeal-apple crisp.
And I don’t need to combine every one of them to get the full effect. A combination of cinnamon and nutmeg whisked into muffin or quick-bread batter. A handful of ground ginger and allspice tossed with toasted walnuts and almonds sprinkled over yogurt or ice cream. A half-teaspoon or so of cinnamon and clove scattered over apples sliced to sauté with pork or stuff a turnover, or whip into French toast or pancake batter. A blend of any these mulling spices in a pot of gently simmering water makes the whole house smell delicious, like an apple or pumpkin pie without the calories. Sometimes I mix them myself; other times, I might find a prepared tin of them tucked away in some corner, a remnant from last year.
As for coffee drinks: Anyone can make their own spiced latte, cappuccino, or Americano by showering a few of these autumn spices into ground coffee beans before brewing or into homemade whipped cream for topping.
When buying canned pumpkin products, the label on the can specifies exactly what is inside. “Pumpkin pie filling” is already spiced. “Pumpkin puree” leaves the spicing to the cook.
The following recipes are sweetly spiced, but invite the cook to change them up to taste. No coffee drinks here.
Makes 2 loaves
Although many like this bread with a smooth texture, a half-cup of dried fruits or nuts are a good optional addition. Delicious spread with cream cheese. In this recipe, I often spoon out some of the canola oil from the measuring cup and replace it with maple syrup — only up to 2 tablespoonfuls.
4 whole eggs plus 1 egg white
3-1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 can pumpkin puree
1 cup canola oil
2/3 cup cold water
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two loaf pans.
2. Whisk together the dry ingredients in one bowl — flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, nutmeg,
cinnamon, and allspice. Beat the eggs until lightly frothy in a separate bowl. Stir together the pumpkin puree, water, and oil until blended. Gently fold the eggs into the pumpkin mixture.
3. Pour batter into the prepared loaf pans. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes.
4. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes until the bread pulls away from the sides of the
loaf pans. Turn out onto wire racks to finish cooling before slicing.
Makes about 1 cup, easily doubled
1 cup assorted nuts, e.g. almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons real maple syrup
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the nuts in a bowl; set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together sugar, salt, cinnamon, and ginger; set aside.
2. Toss the nuts and the maple syrup until evenly coated. Add the spice mixture and toss again until thoroughly coated.
3. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, until the nuts are golden and fragrant. Take them out of the oven to cool.
4. Transfer to a glass or plastic container with a tight cover. Cover and shake lightly. Place in a cool, dry place to keep for up to two weeks.
PUMPKIN-FREE SPICE COOKIES
Makes 40 to 50, about 2-inches in diameter
I found this Southern recipe tucked into the back of my recipe box. Shortening, not an everyday ingredient, is traditional and intended only for a rare treat, not a daily snack.
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon each ground cloves and ground nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2-1/2 tablespoons molasses
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
Small amount of powdered sugar, optional, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray 3 cookie sheets with nonstick vegetable spray.
2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together butter, shortening, brown sugar, molasses until fluffy. Add the egg and zest, beating until smooth. Add the flour mixture, gradually, beating until incorporated. Set the dough aside to rest for 5 minutes.
4. Shape portions of the dough into 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on cookie sheets, patting down tops lightly with a fork.
5. Bake only one sheet at a time, one after another, in the top third of the oven, for 8 to 12 minutes, until lightly browned at the edges. Turn cookie sheet on the shelf after 5 minutes so they bake evenly. Transfer cookie sheet to a wire rack for 2 minutes. Use a spatula to move cookies to a wire rack to finish cooling. Optionally, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.