Pumpkin Spice Muffins

In a desperate attempt to recreate the Autumn Spice muffins from Tim Horton’s, I have come up with this recipe.  I know the best part of the Tim’s muffin is the sweet cream cheese filling…I haven’t quite figured out how to make that happen without the filling melting into the muffins as they bake and becoming a nasty, soggy centre.  I’ll keep trying, though.  I’m no quitter!  In the mean time, this is a pretty darn good pumpkin muffin.

Ingredients:

  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree (canned or homemade*)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 baking soda
  • 1 tsp  salt
  • [optional] pumpkin seeds, to garnish
  • [optional] coarse sugar, to garnish

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray or line with paper baking cups.
  2. In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, oil and sugar.
  3. Add the pumpkin, molasses and vanilla.  Stir until just combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until combined.
  5. If desired, top muffins with a few pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of coarse sugar.
  6. Bake for 22-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in centre of a muffin comes out clean.

Yield: 14 large muffins.

*To make your own pumpkin puree: Preheat oven to 350F. Remove stem, cut pumpkin in half and scoop out seeds and pulp. Place pumpkin, flesh side down, on an oiled baking sheet. Bake for one hour. Let roasted pumpkin cool completely before spooning out flesh and pureeing in a blender. Pumpkin puree can be stored in the freezer for several months. I like to divide it into one-cup portions and store it in freezer bags.

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Oatmeal Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies

Everyone needs a solid peanut butter cookie recipe in their baking arsenal and this is my favourite. The inspiration for these sandwich cookies are those delicious-looking Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies my mom would never let us get at the grocery store when we were kids. We weren’t allowed to have Kool-Aid either. To create these cookies, I took my oatmeal cookie recipe and rejigged it to include peanut butter. The result is a dense, chewy cookie that’s packed with peanut butter flavour. These cookies taste great on their own; but if you want to get fancy, you can turn them into sandwich cookies stuffed with a creamy peanut butter filling.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 1/4 cups oats

Filling:

  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and spray baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and soda.
  3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs, vanilla and peanut butter. Mix until fully combined.
  5. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in the flour mixture.
  6. Add in the oats and mix until fully incoprorated.
  7. Use an ice cream scoop to shape dough into equal sized balls and place on prepared cookie sheet.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes. Cool cookies completely before adding filling.
  9. For the filling: Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter and peanut butter until light and fluffy.  This should take about 5 minutes.
  10. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in the powdered sugar. Mix until fully incorporated and smooth.
  11. Using an offset spatula, spread about 2 tbsps filling onto a cookie and top with a second cookie.

*Yield: 10 sandwich cookies or 20 cookies

 

 

 


Pumpkin Tart

Growing up in an Italian-Canadian family, Thanksgiving was never really a huge holiday in our home. My mom would maybe make a turkey — but there was no delicious stuffing or pumpkin anything on our table. I remember watching American movies and TV shows with their Thanksgiving tables laden with platters of delicious-looking food and wishing we could have some of that. We eventually introduced some canned cranberry sauce and grocery store pumpkin pie to the menu. Over the years, Thanksgiving has become somewhat of a family tradition for us; there’s turkey, stuffing, homemade cranberry sauce and this delicious pumpkin tart. The only thing missing from our table is that sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top. Haven’t tried that yet.  Maybe next year?

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/2 cups pecans
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp ice water

For the filling:

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 300ml can condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease a nine-inch tart pan with cooking spray.
  2. Using a food processor, pulse the pecans, flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon together.
  3. Add in the butter, one cube at a time, until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs.
  4. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough just comes together. Be careful not to add too much water or your crust will be soggy.
  5. Press the dough into the prepared tart pan. Bake crust for 12 minutes. Allow crust to cool while you prepare the filling.
  6. Increase oven temperature to 425F.
  7. Make the filling: In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and brown sugar until smooth.
  8. Next, add the pumpkin puree, condensed milk, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and salt.
  9. Pour the filling into the tart shell and bake for 15 minutes. Lower oven temperature to 350F and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes.
  10. Allow tart to cool completely before removing from pan.

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Apple Streusel Muffins

When I was a kid, apple picking was one of my favourite school field trips. I remember jumping off the yellow school bus, wearing an ill-fitting, bright-coloured pinny so everyone knew which group we were with, and running into the orchard, trees laden with bright red apples. You were allowed to fill up your bag and eat as many apples as you liked while you were there. McIntosh were my favourite, until I overdid it one year. Nothing tastes better than a sweet, crisp, just-picked apple — until you eat 6 or 7 in a row. It was not a pleasant bus ride back.

I got a crash course in apples a few years back, when I was working as a journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corportaion (CBC). It was a slow news day and my producer, Nathalie, sent me to a nearby apple orchard to do live reports for Homerun, the CBC Radio afternoon show in Montreal (88.5FM — a shameless plug for my CBC friends, who are awesome!) While there, I learned that McIntosh apples are not the best apples to bake with because they tend to break down pretty quickly when cooked — which makes them perfect for applesauce. Cortland apples, on the other hand, are a great apple to bake with because they do not brown when they’re cut and hold their shape really well. The Lobo variety is also great for cooking and baking. I almost always use Cortland and Lobo apples when I bake because they are a little tart and really hold up well in recipes.

This apple muffin is moist and flavoured with all the traditional autumn spices — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. But, the best part of this muffin is the streusel topping. Don’t skip it — it’s crunchy and delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 apples, peeled and grated  (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup sour cream or plain Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups oats
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp flax seeds (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a muffin tin with paper baking cups.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, butter, sour cream, vanilla and brown sugar. Stir in the grated apples. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  5. Spoon the batter into the paper-lined muffin tin.
  6. For the topping: In a small bowl, stir together all the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.
  7. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 12 large muffins


Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Cookies

I think salt is one of the most under-appreciated ingredients in baking. It serves several purposes in recipes — but its most magical function is its ability to enhance the depth and flavour of the other ingredients in your mixing bowl. Salt is especially important in sugar-heavy recipes, such as frostings, because it really helps to balance the sweetness; I almost exclusively use salted butter when making icing for my cupcakes. I also like to sprinkle a little sea salt on my chocolate chip cookies. It’s amazing how the sea salt flakes make all the other flavours pop. These Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate cookies use salted butter and are sprinkled with a finishing touch of sea salt flakes. Don’t worry about ending up with a too salty cookie; the sea salt flakes are quite delicate and really enhance the sweetness of the caramel and smoky dark chocolate.

 Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup salted butter, softened
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1 cup caramel bits
  • Maldon or sea salt flakes, for sprinkling

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, cream the butter and brown sugar until well combined.
  3. Add the egg, maple syrup, and vanilla and mix until smooth.
  4. Add the flour, baking soda and salt. Stir together until almost fully combined. Add the chocolate chips and caramel bits and stir until blended.
  5. Shape spoonfuls of dough into balls and place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet. You can press a few chocolate chips and caramel bits into the top of each cookie — it just makes them look prettier. Sprinkle a little sea salt over the cookie dough balls.
  6. Bake for 12 minutes. Don’t overbake if you want them to be soft and chewy!

*Yield: Approximately 20-22 cookies

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Nonna Maria’s Apple Cake

People often ask me who my biggest baking influences are. Of course, Julia Child and Martha Stewart figure pretty prominently on the list. But I think the person who inspired my love of baking the most was my nonna Maria. I grew up hearing stories from my mother, aunts and cousins about what a fabulous cook and baker my grandmother was.  How she would make pizza every Sunday and homemade cavatelli or gnocchi. I never really got to taste any of my nonna’s food; my grandmother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was relatively young, so by the time I came along she was too sick to cook. I wish I could have asked her the secret to her perfect pizza dough, or to share her many simple Italian recipes with me.  I think it is her absence that has inspired me to write down my recipes so that they may be shared.

This apple cake is my nonna Maria’s recipe. She would often make it as a dessert following Sunday lunch. My mom tells me that during apple picking season, my grandmother would buy big crates of apples and store them in the cantina. The apples were cheap and would last for months in the cold room. One day, she decided to toss some leftover apples into a simple cake recipe she had on hand. Like many women of that generation, my nonna never wrote down her recipes.  But, thankfully, my grandmother’s sister, Zia Lucia, did write this one down. The handwritten, yellowed recipe card she gave me consisted of a list of ingredients, few measurements and no method. Armed with that, and the memories I have of my mother making this cake for us growing up, I have recreated a cake that, I hope, comes close to the one my nonna Maria would make on Sunday afternoons.

Ingredients:

  • 1 apple, sliced
  • 5 large apples, chopped
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • juice and rind from one lemon
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F and grease a nine inch tube pan with non-stick spray.
  2. Sprinkle the brown sugar on the bottom of the prepared pan and arrange the apple slices on top of the sugar.
  3. In a bowl, combine the chopped apples with the lemon juice and cinnamon.  Stir until the apples are completely coated. Set aside.
  4. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the vanilla and grated lemon rind.
  6. Reduce mixer speed to low and add in the flour, baking powder and salt.
  7. Using a wooden spoon, fold in the chopped apple mixture. Stir until combined.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in centre of cake comes out clean.
  9. Cool completely before removing from pan. Dust cooled cake with powdered sugar, if desired.
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Nonna Maria making cavatelli on Sunday morning, c.1970.


Banana Muffins

I don’t know about you guys, but the struggle for me to get my kids to eat anything but toast with Nutella or sugary cereals for breakfast is very real. I’ve tried to be that perfect mom who makes stacks of pancakes and scrambled eggs, but the challenge to figure out what to put in their lunch boxes five days a week usually trumps breakfast. These banana muffins are a cross between a moist banana bread and coffee cake. They’re loaded with ripe bananas and chocolate chips and sprinkled with a delicious, crunchy streusel topping. My kids never complain when banana muffins are for breakfast! Plus, these muffins freeze extremely well and will keep for up to three months in the freezer.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 6 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup Greek yoghurt or sour cream
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 cups all-purpose or whole-wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chocolate chips

For the topping:

  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2/3 cups oats
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F and line a muffin tin with paper baking cups.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, bananas, butter, yoghurt and vanilla. Set aside.
  3. In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  6. Spoon the batter into the paper-lined muffin tin.
  7. For the topping: In a small bowl, stir together all the topping ingredients. Sprinkle the topping over the muffins.
  8. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the centre of a muffin comes out clean.

*Yield: 18 large muffins.