Chewy Molasses Squares

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These were a consolation prize the Pie found after the disastrous experiment with s’mores cookies last week.  And they turned out to be an excellent way of depleting our more esoteric baking supplies.

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Preheat your oven to 350°F and butter an 8″ baking dish.  I went with the extra precaution of lining it with parchment and buttering that, too.  Now I doubled my recipe and plopped it in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish because the recipe got its math wrong and there is no way that an 8″ square pan leaves you with forty 1 1/2″ squares.  It just ain’t so.  I only ended up with twenty-four, and that’s in the bigger pan.

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Anyway.  Don’t fret about the math for now, and whisk together 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and set that aside for now.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat together 1/3 cup unsalted butter (room temperature) and 3/4 cup granulated sugar until they’re pale and fluffy, a couple minutes.  I used half white and half brown sugar here because I ran out of molasses so  I needed to boost the flavour a bit.

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Separate out 4 egg whites and use the yolks for something else.  I’m sure you could get away with tossing them into this mix, but it would make for a much denser cake.  I might try it next time.  Huck those into the mixer and beat to combine.

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Grab yourself 1 cup molasses.  I ran out of molasses halfway through and discovered that my Golden Syrup had corroded the tin it was in, so my only recourse was lily white corn syrup, which made my squares quite a bit more pale than they were supposed to be.  Your squares will be much darker.

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Anyway, pour that in as well and give it a stir until it’s all combined.

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At this point, the Pie remarked that this was one of the grosser-looking things I had ever made, with maybe the exception of banana bread.  He has no appreciation for the science of things.  Then of course I added in the flour mixture and whipped that around and he was all like, “ooooh, it’s so pretty and smooth!”  Figures.

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Anyway, smooth that lovely pretty substance into your prepared pan and chuck it in the oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of it comes out clean.  For the doubled recipe, this took about an hour.

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Allow the cake to cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then tip it out and cut it into as many squares as you like.

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Grab a bowl and dump in about 1/2 cup icing sugar, and roll each square in that just before serving (if you do it in advance then the icing sugar will be absorbed into the square and it won’t look as pretty).

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Then you eat them!

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English Muffins: easier to make than you think

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I have a recipe for real, old-fashioned English muffins in my Peter Reinhart.  And some day, I totally plan to make them the way he says to (because he’s a genius).  Until then, I’m too darned lazy.  But I found this version by the Foodess (also a genius) that seems to be more up my alley in terms of ability and time.  It’s nice to finally have a decent English muffin in the morning, full of all those wee holes designed simply to hold melted butter and honey.  The Newfoundland version of the English muffin is just … WRONG.  It’s more like a hamburger bun or something.  It’s not right.

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Anyway.  Start with 1 1/2 cups milk, and plop that in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, and microwave for 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 minutes, until the milk begins to simmer around the edges.

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While that’s on the go, cube up 1/4 cup cold butter.  The coldness of the butter will help to cool your milk down.

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Stir the butter into the milk and swirl it around until it’s all melted.  Leave the milk aside for a bit to cool down.

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Beat up 1 large egg and add to it 1/4 cup plain yogurt (I used Balkan style).

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When the milk mixture has cooled to just warm, you can mix the egg/yogurt in.

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In the bowl of a stand mixer, add 4 cups flour to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons fine salt, and 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast.

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Put that sucker on low (use a shield around the top if you’ve got one), and slowly pour in your dairy mixture.  Keep going until it’s all in there, and then beat (again, on low) for another full minute.

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You can see that although the dough is still really sticky it’s starting to become stringy as well.  Gluten in action, folks.  SCIENCE.

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Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula, cover the top with plastic wrap, and put it in a warm place for an hour to rise.

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When it’s ready to go, lightly flour a clean work surface.  Find yourself a 3″ biscuit cutter or use the opening to a large drinking glass (mine was about 2 1/2″).

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Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface and sprinkle the top of it with flour as well.  Use your floured hands to pat the dough down until it’s about 1/2″ thick.

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Using your cutter or glass, get busy cutting out little disks of dough.  Fold all your scraps together and repeat the process until you’ve used all your dough.  I ended up with 19 muffins in my batch.

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Use a floured spatula to transfer them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and set those somewhere warm to rise for another 20 minutes.

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Now, preheat your oven to 400°F and plop a large cast iron skillet (or two) on your elements.  Heat those up to medium heat and dust them lightly with corn flour.  Do not use a non-stick pan for this; it will not work.  If you don’t have an iron skillet, use a steel, non-non-stick pan instead.

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Plop some of your dough disks into the dusted, heated pan and let them cook on one side for about 3-4 minutes, or until the bottoms start to brown.

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Flip them over and do it again to the other side.  Keep dusting the pan with more flour as needed, and keep in mind that the flour may start to smoke after a while.  As your pan heats up you will find it takes a shorter amount of time for your muffins to brown so keep an eye on them.

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You can see how they are starting to rise up with the cooking and look more like real English muffins.  The reason you cook the tops and the bottoms is so that when the muffins are baking in the oven they don’t get all round and puffy like a dinner roll.

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Transfer the browned muffins back to the parchment-lined baking sheets.

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When you’re all ready to go and they’re all browned, pop them in the oven for 7-10 minutes, until the muffins sound hollow when you tap on them.

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When you are ready to eat them, pierce the middle with a fork several times to break the muffin open.  If you cut them with a knife you won’t get the benefit of all the perfect little bubbles.

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Look at those perfect little bubbles.

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Then you can do whatever you’re going to do with them.  Toast them, use them as sandwich material (the Pie loves making his own version of the Egg McMuffin), eat them as a base for Eggs Benedict … whatever floats your boat.  They freeze well, too — just make sure to wrap them up really tightly.

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I caved for Kale Chips

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Yup.  I’m behind the times on this one, I know.  Wayyyy behind.  You are all probably like, kale chips?  Been there, done that, b’y! (although probably without the “b’y” part, unless you’re in Newfoundland).

Thing is, kale is something you can get locally grown here.  Other thing is, it comes in a huge 5kg bag.  Having not tried this dark green super food before, the Pie and I were a little leery of purchasing such a huge amount of it at once.  Then recently I saw these wee bunches of a frizzy kind of kale that were just the right size for two people.  I could finally see what all the fuss was about.

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Start by preheating your oven to 350°F.

Wash the kale well (as you should with any vegetable — it’s amazing what can get stuck in those leafy greens).  You want the kale to be as dry as possible.  If you have a salad spinner, give it a whaz in that for a while and see how that goes.  My kale was pretty rigid so I gave it a hefty shake and then bashed it against a tea towel for a while until I’d shaken most of the water drops off.

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Now you want to cut or tear your kale into chip-sized pieces.  The stems on mine were pretty tough so I make sure to get rid of that.

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Lay your pieces out on a baking sheet in a single layer and drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil.  Because I’m lazy (and I care about accuracy), I used my Misto oil sprayer, which pressurizes your own brand of oil and lets you spray it like an aerosol, minus all the gross things that come with aerosols.

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This allowed me to get a thin layer of oil on every leaf, rather than huge gobs somewhere and none somewhere else.  Anyway, then you use your fingers to massage the oil into the surface of every leaf.  If it’s not covered with oil it won’t get as crispy when you bake it.

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Sprinkle with salt and pepper (though less salt than you’d think, as kale is naturally a bit salty), or with any other toppings you like, such as cumin, chipotle, or even cheese, and toss, making sure the leaves are once again in a single layer.

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Bake for about 8-12 minutes, checking to make sure the leaves aren’t burning.  The cooked leaves are dark, even slightly brownish, and crisp like chips.  Allow them to cool (or don’t) and crunch away on this easy peasy snack!

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Pretzels Are My Kryptonite

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There’s a certain fast food establishment at the mall to which I am inevitably drawn, every time.  And they make glorious sweet and salty pretzels, fresh all day.  The fact that if you buy three you get one free does not help.

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A few years ago, before I started this blog, I tried my hand at recreating the pretzel I knew and loved.  The result was rather a disaster, but, undaunted, I figured I’d try again, seeing as it’s too cold to walk to the mall at present.

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So I did my research, and the results below are a combination of about four or five different internet sources.  In addition to that, the amount I made was half what I will present to you now, because most batches make twelve pretzels and it was a huge feat for the Pie and myself to eat three each.

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This is the recipe for 12 soft pretzels.  BEWARE: results may be habit-forming.

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Start with a wee bowl, and plop in 1 1/4 cups warm water (I use the hot water from my tap, which is pretty hot, and it seems to serve me well, especially in a frigid kitchen where everything cools down mighty fast. Plus yeast is a much more forgiving organism than many realize). Dissolve into that 1 teaspoon granulated sugar.  Sprinkle over that 4 teaspoons active dry yeast, give it a stir, and leave it for 10 minutes to get all foamy.

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At one point mine started trying to be the Thing from the Black Lagoon and went all BLOOP!  BLOOP!  BLOOP!  I tried to get a picture but it didn’t work out.

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Nevertheless it’s fun to watch science (biology!) in action.

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In a larger bowl, stir together 5 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup granulated sugar (more if you like your pretzels sweet, less if you like ’em saltier), and 2 teaspoons salt (again with the more or less business, but reversed — though don’t go too crazy).

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Make a well in that flour and pour in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, followed by all the yeasty water.

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Stir and stir and stir until you form a rough, shaggy dough and most of the flour is incorporated into this stuff.

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I find that when you halve bread recipes, for some reason the moisture amount never turns out quite right.  So if your dough is too dry and refuses to stick to itself, like this:

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Then simply add a few tablespoons of warm water until it gets to the desired consistency.

If your dough ends up too sticky, like this:

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Then it’s a simple matter to add more flour by kneading it in on a clean and lightly floured work surface.

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Do your kneading for about 8 minutes, until you have a sturdy little ball.  It will feel quite dense.

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Oil a bowl and plop the ball of dough into it, turning it once to coat the whole surface of the ball in oil.  Cover that loosely with plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm for about an hour, until it’s doubled in size.

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When it’s all ready to rock and roll, preheat your oven to 450°F, line several baking sheets with parchment paper, and set a pot on the stove.  Into that pot pour 4 cups water and 4 tablespoons baking soda and bring it to a low boil.

Boiling the pretzel is key to the browning process, or so the internet told me.  The last time I did this, I ended up with pretzels that tasted so heavily of baking soda that they were inedible.  So this time I used a relatively small amount of the stuff.  Some of the sources I read suggested adding sugar to the boiling water as well, and I think that might countermand some of the saltiness of the baking soda, though it would definitely make the pretzels a little stickier.  I will have to try it next time.

Cut your dough into a dozen separate pieces (mine is six, remember, because I halved it).

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Using no flour this time, roll out each section into a snake measuring about 24 inches.

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Form the snake into a pretzel by bringing the ends together, twisting twice, and smooshing the tips into the body of the pretzel.  The Pie and I tried to do it the fancy lift-and-twist-and-magically-it-all-works-out but obviously that didn’t work.  Amateurs.

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Working one or two at a time,  slide your formed pretzels into the boiling water and submerge them for about 30 seconds.

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It was kind of hard to remove them with tongs, so we plopped each one on this deep-frying spoon and did it that way and it was way easier.

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Let those pretzels drip a bit before laying them on the parchment-lined baking sheets.

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For a taste comparison, I left one of my six pretzels unboiled, just to see what would happen.  It’s the one on the left in both of these shots.

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Bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown, but still soft to the touch.

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You can see that the unboiled one didn’t brown at all.  It still tasted just fine.  You could always do an egg wash on the unbaked pretzels if you’re not keen on the distinctive pretzel-y taste that the boiling in baking soda brings.

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Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, and then make sure to eat them all while they’re still warm.

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You can put whatever kind of stuff you like on your pretzels.  People seem to like mustard (blech) and barbecue sauce (blech), but our favourite is a brush of melted butter

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… and a sprinkling of sea salt.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go lie down.  I might be dying.  Or at least gravely weakened.

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Root Beer Bundt Cake

Potluck
Potluck insanity. Too many tall friends.

Every year during the winter holidays we get together with our Ottawa friends and have a potluck.  We started doing this when we were all students because it was the one day we could guarantee that we were all in town at the same time and we could spend some time together.  We even get fancy with the planning, starting with a Doodle scheduler to pick the right date (if you’ve never used their free software to make an appointment, check it out).  Then we set up a Google spreadsheet to figure out who is bringing what, to ensure that not everyone arrives with chips and dip and that the people who are bringing appetizers don’t show up just as we’re starting dessert.  Inevitably the spreadsheet gets hacked by someone (or everyone) and chaos ensues.  Graphs and pie charts and graffiti abound.  It’s madness.  But fun.  This year the Pie and I decided to host, and as each person brings a dish, this was the Pie’s contribution to the festivities: Baked’s Root Beer Bundt Cake.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

He’s made it before, for my birthday, and it’s always a favourite.  Anything Baked does is a favourite with us.  The problem is that because I was busy doing my own thing and making a superb leek and leftover turkey pie (which I will save as a post until the next turkey-related holiday), I didn’t actually get a chance to photograph the finished product.  So you’ll just have to guess as to what it looked like.  Sorry.

Now, the recipe calls for 2 cups root beer to go into the batter.  Don’t you dare use diet root beer — you’ll regret it enormously.  Use a stronger-tasting brew like Dad’s or Stewart’s or even Barq’s to get the best flavour, and feel free to replace some of the liquid with a root beer schnapps or even a tablespoon or two of root beer extract.  Not having any of these things, however, the Pie decided to make himself a root beer concentrate.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

He started by pouring two cans of root beer into a pot. Then he simmered it for about half an hour to boil off the water and reduce the liquid.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

The resulting fluid is dark and opaque, and we hoped it would enhance the flavour of the cake when added to the regular root beer.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

While you’re doing that, preheat your oven to 325°F.  Generously butter a large bundt cake pan.  Dust the inside with flour and knock out the excess.  If you don’t have a bundt pan you can make this in an angel food pan.  If you have to make it in a pan that doesn’t have a hole in the middle you will need to cook it a bit longer and keep an eye on it so the bottom doesn’t burn.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In a small saucepan, melt together 2 cups root beer, 1 cup cocoa, and 1/2 cup butter and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Add in 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar and 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar and whisk that until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Remove that from the heat and allow to cool a little bit. You want it to cool a bit (enough that you can poke your finger in it and it will be nice and warm but not hot) because you’re about to add in 2 lightly beaten eggs. And if you add the eggs in while it’s still hot they will cook on their own and that will be super gross.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Add the eggs in and whisk thoroughly.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In a big bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour with 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Gently pour the chocolate mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

You don’t want pockets of flour or anything but you want the batter to still be a mite lumpy.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

Pour that into your prepared bundt pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until you can stick a skewer into it and it comes out clean.

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Set that puppy on a rack to cool completely.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

In the meantime, you can make your root beer fudge frosting. In another bowl, whisk together 2oz melted dark chocolate and 1/2 cup room temperature butter. Add in as well 1/4 cup root beer, 2/3 cup cocoa, and 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s (icing) sugar and beat until smooth.

Root Beer Bundt Cake

When you cake is cooled, plaster on that icing in a haphazardly charming manner and eat it all up. Cover what’s left over in plastic wrap and keep up to a week at room temperature.  Sorry again that I have no pictures.  It disappeared! Instead you can have a picture of Gren in the Christmas hat that he hates.

Gren on Couch

Pumpkin Creme Brulee

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Because we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters this year (or any year), I was able to take the pumpkins from our pumpkin-off and cut them up shortly after we carved them in order to make use of all that lovely pumpkin flesh.  And I ended up, after hacking and cutting and boiling and puréeing, with 14 cups of usable pumpkin goo.  So you’re going to get a lot of pumpkin recipes.  I hope you like pumpkin.

I have never made crème brulée before.  But for many years, the Pie and I were in possession of a tiny butane brulée torch.  Then about two years ago I decided we were never going to make crème brulée and I got rid of it.  And THEN, after doing that, I discovered how freaking easy they were to make.  Yes, I did kick myself a little.  Not to fret, though: you can do the bruléeing with the help of your broiler.  It doesn’t do as even a job as a torch, so you have to rotate your ramekins while you’re doing it, but it does work.  And this pumpkin crème brûlée from The Foodess looks too easy and too lovely to resist.  In fact, way easier than regular crème brûlée.  So we’re doing it.

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Preheat your oven to 325°F and set a kettle of water on the boil.  Find a large baking dish and eight 3/4 cup ramekins.  You’ll note here I used four ~1 1/3 cup ramekins.  You may need two baking dishes.

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In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups whipping cream to a simmer.

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In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups pumpkin purée (the plain stuff, not the pie filling), 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 5 egg yolks (save the whites for something awesome), 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract, a sprinkle of salt, and 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice.

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Ever so slowly, dribble the hot cream into the pumpkin mixture and whisk it up.

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Divide the mixture among your ramekins and place them in the baking dishes.  Pour boiling water into the dishes until it comes about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

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Then pop that in the oven, middle rack, and bake for about 35 minutes (with my larger ramekins I baked mine for 55 minutes), until the centres of the puddings are just set.

Transfer the puddings to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes, then chuck them in the fridge for at least two hours.  You can make these the day ahead, and you can even freeze the chilled ramekins to eat later.  Just wrap them up carefully before freezing.

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Just before serving, you can take the puddings out of the fridge (or freezer) and sprinkle the tops of each with about 1 teaspoon granulated sugar (the plain white stuff works best for caramelizing).  If you’ve got one, use a brûlée torch to quickly and evenly caramelize the sugar and then serve immediately.

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I didn’t have a brûlée torch (see above(, so I used my broiler.  Thing is, even if you move the puddings around under the broiler (easier said than done), they still don’t caramelize evenly.  So I had some charred spots and some spots that were hard and crackly, but not brown.  Not to mention that all that time under the broiler heated up the pudding itself, which is supposed to be served cold.  Alas.  But they were still super tasty, with a nice crackly top, despite what this picture may be telling you.

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Carrot Zucchini Bran Muffins

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

I’ve been craving baked goods recently but with the food-heavy holidays coming up I don’t want to overdo it this early in the season.  The answer to my delicious dilemma?  These hearty food-filled muffins from Sweet Mama.

Preheat your oven to 400°F and spray a muffin tin with cooking spray.

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Grate up 1 small zucchini and 1 medium carrot — you’re trying for 1 cup of each.

Mash up 2 small bananas with a fork — again, you’re looking for 1 cup banana.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

In a medium-sized bowl, beat together 2 eggs, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup canola oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Add in the mashed banana and the grated carrot and zucchini.  Add in as well 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut.  Mix it up well.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

In another bowl, mix together 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup bran, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoons each ground cinnamon and ground nutmeg.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Spoon into the muffin tins.  I sprinkled mine with a wee bit of cinnamon sugar that I had on hand.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the muffins are brown and a toothpick inserted in the centre of the centre muffin comes out clean.

Carrot Zucchini Muffins

Leave in the pan for a few minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Or eat still hot with butter.  MMMMMMMM!

Carrot Zucchini Muffins