Tuesday, January 17, 2012

baked pumpkin custards

So I have felt, for quite some time now, that I need (need) a set of ramekins--you know, those fancy little white dishes that you use to make individual creme brûlées or little molten chocolate cakes? Not that I am necessarily interested in being fancy, or even actually like molten chocolate cakes (I really don't think I do), but rather I think I am drawn to the idea of creating and baking small things, meant for one person at a time. Cute desserts, possibly.

Which means small.

If you know me well, you've probably heard this before, but I was informed by a friend of mine once, of an important difference between women and men, regarding the topic of using the word "cute."
"When men see something small," he told me, "they say 'look, that's small.' But when women see small things, they exclaim, 'oh look, that's so cute!'

So I thought about that, and have decided it is true. Women call small things cute. It's a fact. Women think little pumpkins are cute, they think small boxes and packages are cute, and although I don't necessarily agree, many women believe miniature dogs are cute. 

cats asleep in baskets are also cute...this is different
Anyway, back to what I was going to say.

I have been wanting ramekins so I can bake cute things in them (...maybe more just small, delicious things that I don't have to share?), but had recently found myself wondering whether little mason jars would work in just the same way...and look cooler, maybe? Plus, I happened to have some extras after Christmas, so it seemed like a good experiment, right?

Well, I did it, and it was a good experiment. Especially since it involved pumpkin and cream and ginger and maple syrup...i.e.some of the best things in life. And never mind that it is no longer fall, or really pumpkin season--I tend to believe that there is no such thing as a bad time for pumpkin. These are very delicious, yes. Oh, and definitely breakfast-worthy. Yogurt?

(little) Baked Pumpkin Custards
There are infinite ways to adapt these, it's a very forgiving recipe. I added some of the changes or subs I would make if I tried them again...which I will most definitely be doing. There are also two ways to go about making these--one way is quicker and more straightforward, and the other takes a bit more time, but results in a creamier custard...your choice, they'll be good no matter what.

1 15 oz. can pumpkin puree
1/4 cup brown sugar (or less, depending how sweet you want them--you can also use good maple syrup here)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger (actual fresh, minced ginger might also be really good)
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
pinch of cayenne (optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup whole milk (1 1/2 cups of coconut milk would also be really fabulous here instead of the dairy)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs, slightly beaten

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (F)

Easy method:  In a bowl, whisk together all ingredients

For the extra-creamy version:  Combine the pumpkin, salt, and spices in a saucepan and heat over medium-high. When the mixture comes to a simmer, continue cooking and stirring for another 5 minutes or so. It will thicken a bit and get darker in color. Reduce the heat and stir in the milk and cream. Take the pan off the heat and whisk in the vanilla and the eggs.

For both methods:  Divide the pumpkin mixture between 8 or 9 small 1-cup mason jars or ramekins, place together on a baking sheet, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until they only jiggle slightly and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove the custards from the oven and allow to cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until cold, and then devour at all times of the day, especially late at night or for breakfast!

Gingery whipped cream or plain yogurt make excellent accompaniments as well...just saying.

Oh, and this book is excellent. Like the kind that makes you laugh out loud when you're alone. Read it.


Friday, January 6, 2012

dark chocolate cupcakes with orange cream

Let's talk chocolate. It's a wonderful thing, yes it is. People swoon over chocolate, they desire it, they need it. Chocolate is sexy. Especially the dark kind...what is it about dark things?

Honestly, chocolate is even good for you, as in healthy. Like I'm sure you've heard of all the antioxidants you can get from chocolate, right? It is, of course, good for the mind as well as the body--I think I might have read somewhere that eating chocolate actually triggers the release of endorphins, you know, those feel-good chemicals that are associated with runner's high and love? Hah. Chocolate. It does that.

So since chocolate itself is so popular, of course people have dreamed up all kinds of interesting ways to use it. Odd ones, like mexican mole and chocolate-covered grasshoppers, and more reasonable uses, like pretty much everything else.

There have also been countless foods and flavors paired with chocolate--as if it isn't good enough on it's own, we've thought of so many things to combine with it. And oh, there have been some incredible successes--chocolate and peanut butter? Ooh. Yes. Chocolate and...caramel, mint, coffee, chipotle, hazelnuts, raspberries...this is where it gets sketchy for me though, as far as these combinations go. When we start pairing chocolate with fruit...I just don't know about this one. Chocolate-covered strawberries? Yuck. Do not like. Chocolate-covered pineapple (yes, they do that)? Nope. Ick. And oh my goodness, those chocolate-covered cherries with the white stuff inside? Disgusting. Disgraceful to the name of chocolate, if you ask me. Dark chocolate cake and raspberries is acceptable. Sometimes. But that's as far as I'll go.

I am writing all of this because you need to know that I have been suspicious of this orange and chocolate combination for some time. Fruit + chocolate does not equal fabulous to me, and I've never found this pairing to be any different. So I've never thought to play around with it myself. I somehow got it in my head the other day though, that maybe I could make it work...why? Don't know. Maybe it was because the cupcakes I was dreaming up weren't actually meant for me, but for others. Does this mean I take chances on my baking and experiment on unsuspecting victims? That is exactly what it means, yes.

But really, I think I actually liked the combination a little bit. Maybe. Hm, I think so. The cupcakes are a variation of my very favorite recipe for chocolate cake--called Black Magic Cake, and the orange cream/frosting was a product of the following:  deep-set dislike of the usual butter/sugar frosting, a love of tangy, creamy things (read: yogurt), and a lack of the cream cheese I was originally picturing. You'll like these especially if you like things that aren't too sweet--the flavors really come through. I think it worked. And my victims? They were pleased. It turned out to be a good experiment.

Black Magic Cake


  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups white sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup strong brewed coffee
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour two 9 inch round cake pans or one 9x13 inch pan. 

  • In large bowl combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Make a well in the center. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, oil and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pans.

  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, then remove from pans and finish cooling on a wire rack. 

  • **I split the batter into cupcakes, and they took around 20 minutes to bake, since they were so much smaller. 

  • Orange Cream

  • Ingredients:
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3-4 tablespoons buttermilk (or whole milk)
  • zest of one orange (all of it)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4-5 spoonfuls of powdered sugar...or honey--make it as sweet as you want

  • Mix everything together, try to resist the urge to eat it by the spoonful, and spread on your cupcakes. Or whatever else you fancy. Enjoy!

 So these extra pictures are my best attempt at catching the small glimpse of winter we've had here in Minnesota this season. I'm not going to say I'm wishing for large amounts of snow, but it is very pretty, especially when it is new and untouched, and especially when

Ooh, and I have a gift for you, in the form of a stunning picture. This is Alaska. Gorgeous. I wish I could have been along to take this picture. I have nothing more to say.

  • --ginger