Pumpkin-Spice Granola

pumpkin-spice granola recipe

When I was little, my brother used to joke that a box of Christmas candy would probably go through so many regiftings that it’d make its way back to its original owner. I don’t think the candy was junk per se, but it carried an air of fatigue, that it was the 124th instance of unbridled sugar. Even when I give gifts, I wonder if the other person begrudgingly eats my stuff.

So this year, I decided to give something healthy yet festive. It also has a long shelf life, so you don’t have to eat it all now, though I hope you do. The idea came to me when I made a care package for a friend who’s spending the holidays abroad. If she couldn’t come here, I’d bring the holidays to her. This is my condensed version of Thanksgiving and Christmas: granola with spices, cranberries, and pecans.

The basic granola recipe is from Alton Brown; I’ve dialed down the sugar and oil for my tastes, and you can create endless variations by adding your favorites fruits, nuts, and spices. For example, Alton’s original recipe calls for coconut, but I like to substitute flax seed or toasted okara (leftover soy bean pulp from homemade soy milk).

Related Link: more edible holiday gifts

Pumpkin-Spice Granola

Rating: 41

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 10 servings

Serving Size: 1/2 cup granola

Pumpkin-Spice Granola

Inspired by Good Eats


1 cup raw pecans
3 cups oats, rolled or quick cooking
3/4 cup ground flax seed
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup dried cranberries


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Toast pecans for about 10 min., or until lightly colored and fragrant. Chop coarsely. Lower oven temperature to 250° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the oats, pecans, flax seed, spices, and brown sugar.
  3. In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, oil, and salt.
  4. Add maple syrup mixture to the oats, stir, and spread on two sheet pans. Cook for 1 hour and 15 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes for even browning.
  5. Remove from oven and mix dried cranberries till distributed evenly.

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New Amano and Gail Ambrosius Truffles

When New York was still buried under snow, two chocolatiers sent me some new truffles to try. They were phenomenal, but I got sidetracked with independent projects, writing about strange chocolates and wildlife spotting for Travelandleiusure.com (a third piece is on the way) and editing materials for The Guggenheim Museum (the exhibition, stillspotting nyc, runs in Brooklyn till this weekend).

Even though these chocolates aren’t so new anymore and require extra care in the summer, they’re still worth seeking.


Amano truffles
Photo courtesy of Amano because I couldn’t wait to eat them all!

For all that I’ve raved about Amano, you’d think I’m running a kickback scheme, but I assure you, my words are genuine. For these truffles, Art Pollard partnered with executive chef Rebecca Millican to create flavors that complemented his chocolate. Most are subtle, and even if you’re a fan of intense flavorings, you can’t argue that the truffles are technically flawless. The paper-thin shells snap cleanly, giving way to a smooth filling. Although they’re dainty, Amano’s chocolate is so complex that golf ball–sized truffles would be overkill. My favorites were the honey, key lime, and cinnamon pecan, but here’s descriptions of their other flavors as well. From $12 for for 6, plus shipping; amanochocolate.com.

Key Lime-Refreshing, tart filling is paired with Guayas chocolate.

Cinnamon Pecan-Sophisticated yet retro take on pecan pie and snickerdoodles in chocolate form. Crunchy and not too sweet.

Yemeni Sidr Honey-The most expensive honey in the world lends woodsy, smoky notes to Guayas chocolate.

Cardamom and Black Pepper-Single-estate pepper (one of the few that are fully matured prior to harvest) enhances natural hints of bergamot and lavender in Dos Rios chocolate.

White Chocolate Yuzu-Amano’s elusive white chocolate (they sell it to chefs, but otherwise it’s only available in their truffles, though things may change once they expand their equipment) covers a Japanese-citrus ganache

Palet d’Ors (literally “disk of gold”)-A true test of the chocolate (and chocolatier), these four varieties are made with Ocumare, Guayas, Dos Rios, or Madagascar chocolate. Since are no additional flavors are added, the chocolate itself shines though.

Gail Ambrosius

Gail Ambrosius praline box
Praline chocolates in 80% cacao-leaf box (made from cacao leaves and bean shells)

Inspired by her trip to Paris, Ambrosius updated classic French pralines (candied, ground nuts) with a jolt of spices, salt, and housemade nut butter. $17 for 10, plus shipping; gailambrosius.com.

hazelnut and pistachio bon bons
Hazelnut and pistachio praline truffles

Pistachio Bomb-An explosion of flavors and textures. A crunchy pistachio is tucked inside an almost-liquid center of buttery white-chocolate ganache with lime zest, chile verde salt, and cayenne pepper.

Pecan-Applewood smoked salt and roasted nuts conjure bacon sans the weird porkiness. I enjoyed the Kit Kat–like texture, but unfortunately I have a low salt tolerance and was overwhelmed. This is geared toward fans of salted sweets.

Hazelnut-Like a love child of Nutella and Pioroline cookies, but a technical glitch (at least in my eyes) stopped it from reaching greatness. The bottom layer of chocolate was much thicker than the other sides; it disrupted the texture and overshadowed the filling.

Orange Almond-Crushed, candied almonds with marzipan and orange peel evoke Christmas fruitcake (in a good way). I just couldn’t get over the nubby texture.

I thought the pistachio was easily the best of the bunch and recommend customizing a box with that flavor ONLY (just add a note to the comments section of your order). It’s um, the bomb.

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Chocolate and Peanut Butter Streusel Bars

chocolate peanut butter streusel bar cookies

Several years ago, I made these bar cookies as a farewell present for a colleague. Turns out these bars ushered in the end of an era. It started innocently on a crisp Friday evening, when I met my co-worker at a nouvelle French restaurant. Although it was her goodbye party, it was a reunion for me, since I left the company several months prior and got to see my work buddies again.

Our large party sampled a wide range of foods: delicately flavored head cheese, bold sausages, and three sundaes. I also took my first sip of a White Russian but didn’t go beyond that. Any more, and I would have been drunk. As we exchanged hugs, I gave my colleague chocolate and peanut butter streusel bars. She had impeccable manners and as such, I didn’t know whether she disliked any foods (I never heard her say one negative thing). But I figured chocolate and peanut butter was a safe combo.

The following Monday was business as usual, until I heard that the company I used to work at was shutting down, immediately. Little did we know, our dinner three days before was our last hurrah. By week’s end, everyone had left the company. Now, they’re scattered across several states and countries.

Although these bars represent the bittersweet, I hope they bring you nothing but good memories. They’re a riff on Ina Garten’s peanut butter and jelly bars. Instead of the jelly, I filled them with ganache. Naturally, I also reduced the fat in the dough and added whole grains (uh, all that extra chocolate probably cancels out the health benefits). Don’t be disturbed by the modest amount of chocolate in the picture; I adjusted the recipe so you’ll have enough filling.

Recipe: Chocolate and Peanut Butter Streusel Bars
Inspired by Ina Garten
Servings: 48 bars

1 cup heavy cream
12 ounces (about 2 cups) 60% chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, tightly packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups (18 ounces) creamy peanut butter (not “natural”)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour or spelt flour (can substitute all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon table salt)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Grease and flour an 11×14-inch cake pan.
  2. Bring cream to a boil in a small, heavy saucepan. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl, and pour cream over chocolate. Mash any big pieces with a wooden spoon. Whisk until smooth. Set aside.
  3. With an electric beater on medium speed, cream the butter and sugars in a large bowl until light yellow, about 2 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the vanilla, eggs, and peanut butter and mix until combined.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture. Mix just until combined.
  5. Place 2/3 of the dough into the pan. Spread and press over the bottom with your fingers. Spread the ganache evenly over the dough. Form the remaining dough into pea-sized globs (it takes a while, but it ensures that the crumbs stay chunky). Drop the dough evenly over the ganache. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool and cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Variation: Reduce the fat by substituting water or milk for the cream. In my experience, water ganaches aren’t as rich as the traditional version, but it’s worth a try.

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Greek-Yogurt Cheesecake with Pomegranate Molasses

Greek yogurt cheesecake
Please excuse picture quality. It was taken with a camera phone.

It was near midnight when a friend ushered me into his kitchen and whipped out some tasting spoons. “I have some thing to show you,” he said. So I gathered round, and my friend poured a ruby-red liquid into my spoon. I was hypnotized: this syrup had the richness of cherries and tartness of raspberries. It was pomegranate molasses.

Made from the boiled-down juice of pomegranates, this ingredient is common in Middle Eastern foods, pairing with lentils, lamb, and red pepper (in muhammara). It has applications for dessert as well, cutting through richness and sweetness. For example, it pairs beautifully with frozen yogurt and buttermilk pancakes. The good brands also don’t add sugar, which is ideal if you’re trying to limit processed foods. You can also make your own, but I don’t think it’s worth the effort.

I thought pomegranate molasses would go well with cheesecake, so I took my favorite low-fat cheesecake recipe and substituted Greek yogurt for the puréed cottage cheese. It was even easier than the original, since you didn’t have to blend the cottage cheese in a food processor. The cheesecake was silky smooth, and everyone clamored for seconds.

Greek-Yogurt Cheesecake with Pomegranate Molasses

Cheesecake base adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich; crust adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking; topping adapted from Three Cities of Spain

For graham cracker crust
1 1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs (recommended brand: Midel)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar

For cheesecake base
2 cups 2% Greek yogurt (recommended brand: Fage)
8 ounces reduced-fat Neufchâtel cream cheese, at room temperature
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons strained lemon juice
1/4 teaspoons salt

For sour cream topping
16 ounces sour cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For garnish
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

Make crust:

  • Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350° F. Fit a round piece of parchment paper in the bottom of an 8-inch round springform pan and grease the sides. Line the outside of the pan with plenty of foil. Boil a kettle of water.
  • Mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter with a fork until all ingredients are moistened. Spread the mixture evenly in the pan. Using your fingertips or the flat bottom of a glass cup, press the mixture firmly over the bottom of the pan.
  • Bake until the crust’s lightly browned and firm, 10 to 15 minutes.

Make filling and bake cake:

  • Beat cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy. On low speed, add Greek yogurt and eggs, one at a time; then sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt, scraping down bowl between each addition. Pour the filling into the crust.
  • Place the cheesecake pan in large baking dish set on an oven rack. Carefully pour boiling water around the pan to a depth of about 1 inch. Gently slide the oven rack in to avoid splashing water. Bake until cheesecake has puffed and risen slightly and is just beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan, about 40 to 45 minutes. Leave the oven on.

Make topping:

  • Stir together sour cream, sugar, and vanilla. Drop by spoonfuls around the edge of the cake and spread gently over the center, smoothing evenly. Bake for 10 minutes.
  • Remove cheesecake from water bath and set on rack to cool. Run knife around the edge of the cake to loosen. When cool, cover and chill for at least 12 hours or up to 2 days.

Unmold and serve:

  • Remove side from the pan and transfer to a plate. Cut with a sharp thin knife, dipping in hot water and wiping dry between each cut. Drizzle pomegranate molasses on top of each slice.

Low-fat variation:

  • Bake in an 8-inch springform pan. Omit the sour cream topping and substitute the crust with 3-4 tablespoons graham cracker crumbs. After unmolding, press the crumbs around the side of the cake.

Related links:
L.A. Times‘ pomegranate molasses taste test
NY Times: How to cook with pomegranate molasses

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Homemade Bubble Tea

bubble tea
Photo: maaco/Flickr

As we all gorge on cupcakes, frozen yogurt, or whatever the latest fad is, I’d like to make a case for bubble tea. In the 1980s, some genius in Taiwan discovered that you can add cooked tapioca pearls (aka boba) to beverages, allowing you to eat and drink at the same time. It hit its peak in the U.S. in the early 2000s, until those Betty Crocker knockoffs took its place.

To me though, bubble tea is timeless because I drank it when I was young, and we tend to idolize our childhood treats. The quintessential bubble tea has bouncy, sweet pearls (otherwise you’re eating soggy, flavorless starch); tea so strong it could pass for coffee; and sweetened condensed milk (just like my grandfather took his tea). I submitted my version for publication at Allrecipes.com in 2001, and over the course of six years, followed up three times. I gave up after that and remembered that I’ve been sitting on a recipe for a decade now.

I’ve seen other methods and recipes, but they vaguely tell you to brew a cup of tea. That’s not going to work; you need far more tea than you think. And here is the method for chewy pearls.

Bubble Tea

Serves 10

2 1/2 slabs peen tang (Chinese brown sugar), or 3/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 (16 oz.) package large tapioca pearls
20-40 black tea bags or loose equivalent
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

Prepare the sugar syrup: (You can do this while the tapioca cooks, if you want.) In a small saucepan, combine sugar with half a cup of water. Heat on medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves.

Prepare the pearls: Fill a large stockpot with 14 cups water (about half way) and bring to a boil.

Pour the tapioca pearls in the water. Bring back to a boil. Turn the the heat to low and boil, covered. Cook for 30 min., stirring occasionally to prevent the tapioca from sticking. At this point, they should be halfway done.

Turn off the heat and let the tapioca sit for another 30 min., covered. They’re done when they expand and are translucent, except for a pinhead-sized dot in the center.

Drain the tapioca through a colander and soak them in cold water to prevent further cooking. After a couple minutes, the tapioca should be completely cool. Drain again into a large container. Coat the tapioca with sugar syrup. Although they’re best the day they’re made, they can be refrigerated for a couple days or frozen indefinitely, laid flat in a zip-top bag. To use frozen tapioca, break off a chunk and boil in water till they’re chewy again.

Prepare the tea: For each serving, boil 1 cup water and steep with 2 bags for hot tea, or 4 for iced, for 10 minutes. Tea should look very dark.

For iced tea, refrigerate for several hours before adding the rest of the ingredients. Prior to serving, stir 1 1/2 tbsp of sugar syrup and 1 tsp-1 tbsp sweetened condensed milk (depending on your taste) in each cup. Add 1/4 cup pearl tapioca. Drink through fat straws.

Notes about ingredients/supplies (you can find them online or at a Chinese supermarket)

Chinese brown sugar: Peen tang, or Chinese brown candy, is less processed than regular sugar and has a rich, caramel taste. It can’t be used in traditional pastry though: it must be dissolved in water.

Tapioca pearls: these are larger than the kind you use in pudding; when cooked, they’ll expand to the size of marbles. Bubble tea houses use the black variety, which has brown sugar added during manufacturing. White tapioca is fine too. Be sure to read your package; some are quick cooking and only take about 15 minutes. I haven’t used this kind because it’s par-cooked. It’s like substituting minute rice for the real thing.

Fat straws: these are wide enough to accommodate the pearls

Related Links:
Cold-brew iced coffee
Char siu bao (Chinese roast pork buns) from scratch
Tea-poached prunes
Japanese green tea cheesecake
Green tea biscotti

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Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake

apple caramel upside-down cake

If I mention upside-down cake, you’ll probably picture a neon concoction with pineapple and maraschino cherries. The cake became popular in the early 1900s, when pineapple was first canned. But it’s been with us since the Middle Ages, when cooks used seasonal fruits and cast-iron pans.

Since apples are my favorite way to welcome cold weather (I first made this in the fall, when apples were at their peak. It was so delicious that I had to share.), I used them in upside-down cake. All the recipes I’ve seen call for briefly sautéing the apples, then transferring them to a baking pan. People, you’re losing the yum yums! If you cook something in a skillet, keep the browned bits in there.

I followed the tradition of tarte Tatin by caramelizing apples with butter and sugar in a cast-iron skillet. But instead of topping it with pie dough, I used low-fat yellow cake, from the infallible Alice Medrich. The buttermilk gives the cake tang and tenderness, while the gooey caramel apples glisten like jewels. When I first made this, my friend and I ate a quarter of it, knowing that I’d have to serve it for Thanksgiving the next night. In the following days, three slices easily equaled one serving.

There are dozens of apple varieties, but I recommend Golden Delicious, as it keeps its shape when cooked and isn’t too tart. If you’re lucky enough to score Golden Russets at the farmers market in the fall, they’re even better. Beneath the sandpaper skin lies juicy, gingery flesh.

Caramel Apple Upside-Down Cake

Topping adapted from The 1997 Joy of Cooking; cake adapted from Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts by Alice Medrich

Special equipment: a 9-inch cast-iron skillet (preferred), or any pan without non-stick coating. If your pan has plastic handles, cover them  with several layers of foil.

For the caramel apples:
6 medium-large Golden Delicious apples (about three pounds)
1/2 stick butter
1 cup sugar

For the cake:
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (6 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup 1% fat buttermilk (Substitute: place 1/2 tablespoon vinegar in a measuring cup and fill with milk until it equals 1/2 cup. Let stand for 5 minutes.)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar

Make the caramel apples:
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Melt butter in the pan. Remove from the heat and sprinkle sugar evenly over the bottom.

Tightly arrange the apples, flat side down, in a ring against the sides of the skillet. Fill in the center of the skillet with the remaining apple quarters. Keep in mind that the apples will shrink while cooking. You may have a couple pieces of apples left.

Place the skillet over the highest possible heat and cook, stirring, until the juices turn from butterscotch to deep amber, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Spear the apples with a fork or the point of a paring knife and flip them onto their uncooked sides. Return the skillet to the heat and boil for two minutes more. Apples will continue to cook even after you turn off the heat.

Make the cake:
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 325° F.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  In a small bowl, beat the eggs together.  In another small bowl, combine the vanilla and buttermilk. Set all three bowls aside.

Cut the butter into chunks and place in a large bowl. With an electric mixer on low speed, beat till softened, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar, beating for about 3 minutes. Gradually drizzle in the eggs, beating at medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes. On low speed, beat in a third of the flour mixture, scraping the bowl with a spatula as needed. On medium-high speed, gradually drizzle in half the milk, continuing to scrape the bowl.  On low speed, beat in half of the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk on high speed.  Beat in the remaining flour on low speed just until combined, and continue to scrape the bowl as needed.  The batter may look curdled.

Scrape the batter over the apples and bake for about one hour, or the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, the top is golden brown, and a toothpick inserted through the center comes out clean.

Cool for 10 minutes, then invert onto a plate.  If the caramel has cooled too much and becomes hard, place the pan over a low flame for a couple minutes to loosen the caramel.

Related Links:
More apple desserts
Banana upside-down brownies
The history of upside-down cakes

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Chocolate-Peppermint Cake

chocolate cake with peppermint frosting

My go-to chocolate cake is from the ancient days of the Food Network, when it was located in Long Island (instead of Chelsea Market in Manhattan), and AOL was synonymous with the Internet. Actually, back in the 90s, you could request recipes by sending a SASE envelope to their offices (in case you didn’t have Internet access). It only took two months before you received the recipe in the mail.

Nowadays, you can look up any recipe on your phone while you’re standing in line at the grocery store, but this recipe still has its charm. It’s everything you’d want in a chocolate cake: rich, moist, dark, and airy. It’s just like the cake mix but better. I’ve updated this classic and added peppermint frosting for the holidays.

Psst! Still figuring out what to give people this year? Here’s dozens of ideas for homemade gifts.

Chocolate Peppermint Cake

Cake adapted from the Food Network’s “How to Boil Water,” hosted by Sean Donnellan; frosting inspired by The 1997 Joy of Cooking

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder (not Dutch-processed)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil, preferably expeller pressed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt
A couple drops of red food coloring (optional)
1/2 teaspoon peppermint oil, or to taste
A couple tablespoons milk, as needed

Make the cake: Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare one 9-inch cake pan or bundt pan by spreading it with butter, dusting it with flour, and tapping out the extra.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In a small bowl, beat the eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla on medium speed with a hand mixer, until well mixed. Slowly add the boiling water and mix. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon, just until smooth.

Pour batter into pan. Bake 50-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat the butter on low speed until fluffy, then gradually add the powdered sugar and salt. As soon as it’s incorporated, increase the speed to medium and mix until smooth. Add the food coloring if desired, or set aside a portion to color, so you can pipe a candy stripe design. With a rubber spatula, mix in the peppermint oil (do not use the electric mixer, as it will cause the aroma to dissipate). If needed, thin out the frosting with one tablespoon of milk at a time.

Frost cake: Place the cake on a platter and using an offset spatula, spread the frosting evenly on top, 1/2″ thick. To create the candy stripe design, fill a ziptop bag with half a cup of red frosting, and cut a very small corner off the tip of the bag (when in doubt, but a smaller hole than you think you need; you can always make it bigger if you have to). Pipe red stripes across the cake, 3/4″ apart. Drag a toothpick through the stripes to create the swirled design.

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Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake from Scratch

Paula Deen Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Photo: Tina Vega/Flickr

Gooey butter cake is exactly what it sounds like: sticky, chewy, creamy—and a heart attack on a plate. But once you try it, you’ll ignore your judgment and want to eat it all. According to legend, the cake originated around the 1930s, when a baker in St. Louis added the wrong proportions of ingredients to a coffee cake (although there are differing stories). The result was a toffee-esque goo that was held by a dense, cakey crust.

My favorite version’s from Paula Deen—she of Krispy Kreme bread pudding fame. Her pumpkin gooey butter cake’s a combination of pumpkin pie and cheesecake, with no fussy crust to roll out. The problem with most butter cake recipes though, is they call for boxed cake mix. Or if they’re from scratch, you have to wait for a yeast dough to rise.

I adapted a from-scratch cake recipe for the crust and slightly reduced the sugar and fat (it’s still a gut bomb, but I did what I could).

St. Louis Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake (from scratch)
Crust inspired by Food & Wine; filling inspired by Paula Deen

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry milk powder (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 stick butter, melted

1 (8-ounce) package Neufchâtel cheese (reduced-fat cream cheese), softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter, melted
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and lightly grease a 13″x9″ glass baking pan.
  • To make the crust: Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and dry milk (if using) in a bowl. Add the egg and butter and mix until just combined with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom and one inch up the sides of the pan.
  • To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over the crust and bake 1 hour. Don’t overbake, as the center should be a little gooey.

View more Thanksgiving and fall dessert ideas.

*Note: the picture above is of Paula Deen’s original recipe. I lost my pic of the cake, but it looks similar.

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Gail Ambrosius Chocolate Review

Gail Ambrosius chocolate
Courtesy of Gail Ambrosius

If you’re a New York snob like me, you might glaze over the other 49 states when it comes to chocolate. With stores like La Maison du Chocolat and Jacques Torres, I assume that I can buy everything I need here.

Imagine then, my surprise (and excitement) when a chocolatier from Wisconsin sent me a box of truffles to review. Gail Ambrosius‘ chocolates are exquisitely crafted, from the cacao sourcing to the finished product. She’s personally visited cacao farms in Ecuador, Colombia, and Costa Rica. As a result, she helps farmers refine their harvest and ensures that they earn a livable wage (most don’t). Like all good chocolatiers, she chooses a specific chocolate (such as El Rey, Vintage Plantations, Finmac, or Santander) to pair with her flavors.

The ganache centers are intensely creamy (I wouldn’t be surprised if there was butter in them) and hand-dipped in a thick layer of 70% Colombian chocolate.

fleur de sel caramel
Caramel sprinkled with grey salt, courtesy of Gail Ambrosius

The chocolates come in several collections: classic, adventurous, and tea-inspired. Lucille’s vanilla tastes like your mother’s chocolate pudding, while the caramels are soft and chewy, with a jolt from grey salt. The other flavors are exotic without being overpowering (I’ve had my share of bad bacon chocolate and such). Lemongrass with ginger has a dreamy coconut aroma, while shiitake mushroom is deep and earthy (actually, it’s probably the only flavor that was weird for me).

I was greedy and ate all the chocolates before I had a chance to photograph them, so sadly I’m resorting to their PR photos. As of now, the chocolates are only available in select stores in the Midwest, plus online. Let’s hope they expand their distribution. The shipping ups the price, but they’d make a great gift for chocolate lovers who think they’ve tried everything.

Truffles start at $4.25 for a two-piece box, gailambrosius.com.

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New Favorites from the Fancy Food Show

It’s been a while, but here’s another list of my favorite finds from the Fancy Food Show. Look for these up-and-comers at a store near you.

Askinosie chocolate-hazelnut spread

Askinosie’s Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

No matter how hard I try, I could never produce this spread at home (even though I have an excellent recipe for a Nutella knockoff). The hazelnuts are a rare variety from Washington, known as DuChillys (pictured). Because of their oblong shape, you might mistake them for almonds. But once you taste their sweet flesh, you won’t forget them. The hazelnut butter, cocoa powder and nibs (from the Philippines), and organic sugar are mixed in a melanger for nine days. It tastes fruity (like raspberry) and is worth every penny. $13 for 6.5 oz, available at askinosie.com.

Comptoir du Cacaco little crusties

Comptoir du Cacaco flaky pralines

Comptoir du Cacaco

Comptoir du Cacao, a family-run chocolate factory in France, is finally coming to the states. I first tried their products in 2007, during an otherwise bum year at the Chocolate Show. I’ve been dreaming about them ever since (they weren’t available via mail order). Their signature “flaky pralines” contain nuts and/or caramel that are finely ground with single-origin chocolate. The texture’s like a Kit Kat to the nth degree. I also love the “little crusties,” which come in dark chocolate with candied oranges, chocolate-hazelnut with salted butter caramel, and white chocolate with coconut. Visit comptoircacao.com for more info.

Zingerman's Zzang Original candy bar

Zingerman’s Candy Bars

Zingerman’s, the famed specialty-foods store in Ann Arbor, Mich., has made candy bars for several years, but they started their dedicated candy business a year ago (which means wider distribution). Each bar is made when it’s ordered, and stores can only display them for 60 days. The freshness, as well as the high quality ingredients (Valrhona chocolate, for instance), is evident when you taste the bars. The Zzang Original is what a Snickers was meant to be: crunchy nuts, soft nougat, and not too sweet. About $7 each, available at specialty stores and zingermans.com.

La Tourangelle oil

La Tourangelle Oil

This California-based company makes some of the most intensely flavored oils I’ve tried. I wouldn’t recommend baking with them (the heat will destroy the delicate flavor), but try using it in homemade chocolate-hazelnut spread, or drizzling it on vanilla ice cream. My favorites are the pecan and sesame oils (custom made from Japan, and the seeds are roasted at a low temp so they don’t burn). From $8.99 for 8.5 oz, available at specialty stores; latourangelle.com.

Raw IceCream

Talk about a conversation killer. Just say the words “raw” and “vegan,” and people will run away from you. But wait, I promise this tastes just as good as traditional ice cream. I asked them how in the world they get it smooth instead of grainy, and they aren’t talking. All I know is that they use cashews, coconut, agave nectar, cocoa butter, vanilla beans, salt, and other ingredients based on the flavor. The company is truly eco conscious, making carbon neutral and compostable packaging. Available at specialty stores in New York; rawicecream.com.

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