Recipe Tasting: Pumpkin White Chocolate Cupcakes

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Fall flavors in all their glory.

Fall always makes me smile. It isn’t the ubiquitous PSL or the obscenely early holiday decor, but the crispness in the air, the rainy days sitting on the heating grate on my mother’s floor, looking out the window, and the overall snuggly, safe feeling that sweaters, scarves, and a mug of something warm bring. Fall is a little less about adventure and a little more about security, love, home.

But I also love the little kids that are somehow out in DROVES this time of year. Kids racing through, over, and around hay mazes of all shapes and sizes. Kids in costume on Halloween parade. Kids picking out pumpkins in pumpkin patches. Ah, yes. This is where I was going when I got swamped by fall nostalgia. Pumpkins.

Quite simply, pumpkins are delicious – that’s why we’re here at this blog post right now! Most people start and end with pumpkin pie. Some people go the extra mile and make pumpkin soup. Marcus Samuelsson makes an insanely good salsa that features pepitas. But most of the time, you look at a pumpkin and think, “that is way too much work.” But actually, it isn’t all that bad! So, I would like to introduce you to fresh pumpkin cupcakes – a new adventure that doesn’t take too much extra effort.

To start, you have to have the right type of pumpkin. All pumpkin varieties are edible, but different varieties have different qualities. If you’re headed to the grocery store, stick with “sugar pie,” “sugar baby,” or just “pie” pumpkins. This variety is bred for tasting great, particularly in baked goods. I wouldn’t go for one of those big Jack O’Lanterns or pretty decoratives – they are bred for their stability or good looks, respectively, over their taste. Their flesh is stringy, slightly bitter, and watery and requires a lot more sieving and, really, weren’t we just talking about reducing the workload of pumpkins? If you’re headed to a farmers’ market, I would just go ahead and ask your farmer – there are definitely more cool and delicious varieties than I can name.

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Stick a fork in me – I’m ready to be eaten!

Once you’ve picked your pumpkin, the rest is a pretty simple cake. I’ve indicated below that you should whisk, stir and fold everything by hand for this recipe. As it is already a pretty dense cake and the pumpkin adds a good amount of the total volume after you combine the first set of ingredients, beating it with a mixer will surely cause too much gluten formation. Gluten makes your final product chewy, which is good for pizza, but bad for cupcakes.

So, after finding the right pumpkin and treading lightly with regards to the whole gluten situation, you should be able to get through this recipe without much trouble. Then, you’ll be able to experience how delicious pumpkin can be. And you can wrap yourself in the cozy, warm, safe love of fall, too.

Fresh Pumpkin Cupcakes with White Chocolate Chunks
(Original recipe from CupcakeBlog.com)
Makes approximately 24 regular cupcakes

Ingredients
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups shredded fresh pumpkin
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

Preparation
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cut open a pumpkin, take out the seeds and inner flesh, then chop into manageable chunks.
3. Grate the pumpkin chunks, skin and all, with a box grater until you have four cups of grated pumpkin. You’ll use about half your pie pumpkin, so save the rest for some delicious, homemade pumpkin purée that you can make later.
4. Measure the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg into a medium sized bowl and whisk to combine.
5. Measure the sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla into a large size bowl and whisk together.
6. Add about a fourth of the dry mixture to the wet and fold together. By hand. Seriously. (“Folding” means you cut straight down the middle, scrape the bottom of the bowl, lift the batter, and sprinkle the dry flour across the top. Spin the bowl a quarter turn, then start again. Here’s a good demo with a bonus lemon pancake recipe!)
7. Continue adding in fourths until all the dry is incorporated. The result with be a very thick batter and a tired arm.
8. Fold the pumpkin and chocolate chunks into the batter.
9. Scoop into cupcake papers about two-thirds full.
10. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. There are a lot of methods to tell if a cupcake is done. The most obvious way is a cake tester or toothpick. But what if you can’t find a toothpick? My favorite is by touch – if you press down lightly on top of the cupcake with your finger, it should spring back nicely. If your finger leaves an imprint, it needs a little more time.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(Original from SmittenKitchen.com)

Ingredients
8oz Cream Cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation
1. Cream the butter and the cream cheese in a stand mixer for 2 minutes at medium speed (4ish). Yes, that sounds excessive. No, it isn’t.
2. Add in the confectioner’s sugar in two batches. Start the stand mixer slowly or it will cause the sugar to explode all over you!
3. Add in the vanilla and beat for a few more seconds.
NOTE: this frosting is a little sweet, but that is the trade that you make for increased stability. More sugar means better shape. Less sugar means softer and it could be melty at room temperature.
NOTE NO. 2: I pretty much consistently use 1.5 to 2 times the frosting this recipe makes. Everyone works differently, but I would at least make 1.5 times the frosting on your first try of this recipe.

Assembly
1. Fit a pastry bag with a big tip. I like to use the biggest circle tip I can find.
2. Fill the pastry bag with frosting and pipe fabulous designs onto your cupcake. I go with one big swirl.
3. EAT!

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Recipe Testing: Amor, Familia y Sopa – Green Pozole with Chicken

Green Pozole with Chicken

The radish, avocado, cilantro and lime toppings take this sopa to the next level!

There is a reason soups fall in the “comfort food” category. Soup just screams warmth, comfort and family. Which is why maybe soup in the heat of August is a little weird. But bear with me. Last week, my grandfather passed away quite suddenly. Heartbreak, grief, and exhaustion set in and stiffened all of us to the core. So what did I do? I cleaned my mom’s house and made pozole.

I didn’t get much home-cooked pozole growing up. I became a tried and true pozole addict at Consuelo Mexican Bistro at Santana Row in San Jose, CA (seriously. If you can, #gotothere). So, I had to do a little digging to find a recipe that wouldn’t take all day, but would still be full of well-built flavors. I found this one at Epicurious.com and, while a little involved, it only takes about 2 hours from whipping out the chef’s knife to digging in.

This recipe creates a really robust, spicy pozole with lots of “stuff.” As my husband might say, “There is a high stuff to broth ratio.” There are a lot of types of pozole out there, so you might be looking for a milder or more brothy version. For milder, shoot for the smaller jalepeños that have less time to age and build up capsaicin, or choose a still-flavorful, less spicy pepper, like Poblano or Anaheim. Remove all the seeds and the VEINS, which is where all the spice really builds up in a pepper, before tossing it into the blender. For a version with more broth, save some of that shredded chicken for a ridiculously amazing barbecue pulled chicken sandwich later in the week, and/or reduce the amount of hominy. You could go all the way down to half the amount of hominy and still have a meaningful pozole. Don’t just add more broth – that dilutes the flavor you just built up in the first part of the recipe.

Me and Papa

My grandfather at my wedding

A couple other things to note about this recipe are about pumpkin seeds (pepitas), step 10, and pans. Let’s start with pepitas. You can usually find these in the “Mexican” section of the grocery store. Get the green ones with lots of meat. Don’t let the “roasted” and “salted” ones fool you – those are more for chewing and spitting at the ballpark than this recipe. Not only are they too salty, but they are lacking the meat that gives your soup base the delicious body it deserves.

Now, your warning about Step 10. When the recipe says “it will splatter and steam,” it really means it. Invest in a splatter guard, wear an apron, and perhaps consider long sleeves. But when you are tempted to turn the heat down to protect yourself, just remember – it is supposed to be doing that! You’re ok – go with it. I acquired this cooking zen moment when making dry caramel, but that is another recipe for another time.

Finally, pans. This called for 3 separate pots of different sizes and a little pan. I already make more dishes than anyone I’ve ever met, so I scratched that and just used my 6-quart Dutch oven the whole time (except the little pan part), wiping down when appropriate.

This pozole warmed my heart with all sorts of good memories of my grandfather, of family, and of togetherness. Hopefully, when you need a tasty hug, a warm embrace (from the inside), or just want to pass a little familia to your loved ones, you can turn here.

Green Pozole with Chicken

Gourmet Magazine, February 2003 and Epicurious.com

Ingredients
9 cups water
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
1 large white onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 lb skinless boneless chicken thighs
1/2 cup hulled (green) pumpkin seeds (not roasted; 2 1/4 ounce)
1 lb tomatillos, husked and scrubbed
2 fresh jalapeño chiles, quartered (including seeds)
3/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon dried epazote or oregano (preferably Mexican), crumbled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 (15-oz) cans white hominy, rinsed and drained

Accompaniments: diced radish; cubed avocado tossed with lime juice; shredded romaine; chopped white onion; lime wedges; dried oregano; cilantro

Special equipment: an electric coffee/spice grinder

Preparation
Cook the Chicken
1. Bring 8 cups water, bay leaf, half of onion, half of garlic, and 1 teaspoon salt to a boil, covered, in a 6-quart heavy pot
2. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes
3. Add chicken and poach at a bare simmer, uncovered, skimming off any foam, until just cooked through, about 20 minutes.
4. Transfer chicken to a cutting board to cool. When chicken is cool enough to handle, coarsely shred with your fingers or two forks.
5. Pour broth through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl, discarding solids, and reserve.

Roast the Pumpkin Seeds
6. Cook pumpkin seeds in a dry small skillet over low heat, stirring occasionally, until puffed but not browned (seeds will pop as they puff), 6 to 7 minutes.
7. Transfer pumpkins seeds to a bowl to cool completely, then finely grind in coffee/spice grinder.

Make the Sauce
8. Simmer tomatillos and remaining onion in remaining cup water in the original 6-quart heavy pot, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes.
9. Drain vegetables and purée in a blender with jalapeños, 1/4 cup cilantro, epazote, remaining garlic, and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.

Put Everything Together
10. Again using the original 6-quart heavy pot, heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then add purée (use caution as it will splatter and steam).
11. Cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 10 minutes.
12. Stir in pumpkin seeds and 1 cup reserved broth and simmer 5 minutes.
13. Stir in shredded chicken, hominy, and 3 more cups reserved broth and simmer, partially covered, 20 minutes.

Eat!
Serve pozole in deep bowls with accompaniments.