Monday, October 28, 2013

Spicy Pumpkin muffins, a treat for Halloween!

It's Halloween season and just about everywhere you are reminded of this special day. Traditions play an important role and certainly the food traditions of Halloween are numerous. Pumpkins are used extensively on Halloween as a decorative element and in many recipes that are usually served for the occasion.

While growing up, we never used pumpkins in sweet dishes, however, few years ago I started experimenting with pumpkins as a main ingredient in sweet baked goods; the result was great, so I keep coming back for more.

I still use pumpkin mainly in savory dishes such as in soups, hummus dips or by roasting them as a side dish. As Halloween is approaching I decided that it is time for another sweet pumpkin dish.

You know how I always praise the versatility of muffins, don't you? Well it is for a reason: you can make muffins using just about any ingredient you like and pumpkins are no exception. I worked on a recipe that would do justice to this autumnal ingredient and would be also perfect for Halloween, thanksgiving or just about any day.

Before making the muffins, you need to make a pumpkin  purée, which is super easy to cook up. You just cut the pumpkin in half, scrape the seeds, brush it with olive oil, cover it in tin foil and put it in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) between half an hour or an hour depending on the size of the pumpkin.

 For about 5 muffins you need:
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 110 g sifted flour
  • 3 g baking powder (a tsp)
  • 75 g brown sugar
  • 35 g or ml of olive oil (mild one, or you can use any vegetable oil)
  • 60 g pumpkin purée
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp of cloves and 1/4 tsp star anise, freshly ground
  • 1 tsp cocoa powder (optional but it does give a depth of taste)
  • 30 ml of cream (or milk)
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla

For the topping you need:
  • 12 g brown sugar
  • 12 g cold butter
  • 25 g flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 10 g chopped pecans
  • pinch of salt

Mix the flour, baking powder, salt and spices and set aside. Whisk the sugar with the oil until well blended, then add the egg and whisk again. Incorporate the pumpkin purée and blend. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, mix, then add half of the wet mix followed by 1/3 of flour and finally the rest of the wet mix and the last batch of the flour mix.

For the streusel topping just mix all the ingredients but the pecans with your hands or a dough mixer.
(The quantity was more than enough for the muffins, I baked the rest and it made delicious biscuits!)
Pour the batter in the muffin tray, sprinkle the streusel (topping) and the pecans, bake in a preheated oven (200 degrees C) for about 15 to 18 minutes.

A soft and spicy muffin, with a nutty and crunchy top, it's the perfect dessert for this holiday and it would definitely make a great breakfast meal or a light snack.

I recommend you try them with some cream cheese or whipped cream and with a drizzle of maple syrup!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vanilla and Raspberry Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is a very well known Italian dessert which simply means cooked cream. It is very easy to make and can be flavored in countless ways to suit any palate.
It´s not sure when this recipe came to be but the mountains of Northern Italy, famous for their rich milk and cream, is its most likely place of origin. There, the rich cream was eaten with fruits. Later on gelatin was added to give a different texture to the cream.

This  dessert is close to perfect. It is so easy to make, delicious, inexpensive, gluten free and can be made and kept in the fridge a day or two ahead of consumption. When you want to serve it, you just take out of the fridge, drizzle some fruit sauce or coulis and you enjoy the silky smooth texture and the refreshingly sweet taste.

For 3 servings you need:
  • 200 ml cream (35%)
  • 20 g sugar (I used homemade vanilla infused sugar)
  • 20 g raspberry
  • half vanilla pod (only seeds)
  • 1 and 1/2 gelatine sheets (or 2 if you want a denser texture; note that one sheet of gelatine equals to 2 grams of powdered variety)

First, put the gelatine sheets in a small bowl and cover them with cold water.

In a saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, vanilla and the raspberry, let it simmer for few minutes.

Take the gelatine from the water and squeeze to let the liquid out, add to the cream and whisk vigorously.

Pass the cream mixture through a fine sieve to get rid of any seeds or gelatine lumps. Pour the panna cotta in small serving cups or tubes and leave in the fridge for at least 5 hours.

Before serving, decorate as desired; I used fresh strawberries and raspberries.

And there you have it,  a beautiful, delicious and refreshing dessert a la Italiana!