Tag Archives: gingerbread

Cider Pressing and Two Kinds of Cupcakes

20 Oct

A few weeks ago, when summer had let us know it was over by summoning its friend autumn to release the Portland rains, we celebrated the beginning of fall by hosting a cider pressing at our house.  I say that casually, as though we’re used to doing such things, but, for us, having a large group of people over is about as common as having a large group of bears over.  (Okay, so maybe people coming over just marginally wins over bears coming over, being as though we’ve had a bunch of bears over, let’s see, never, and we tend to have people over to our house at a rate of about one instance per year.  So, fine.)

Aversions to entertaining aside, the cider pressing was a huge success.  My husband’s aunt and uncle drove out from the coast with their cider pressing machine, set it up just outside our garage, and, as if by magic, hordes of people began to appear with apples and pears aplenty.  Hordes of people we had invited, but, still, hordes in any case.  One cousin of my husband’s brought several hundred pounds of pears from his own tree.  That’s tree, singular, not plural.  His truck, back bumper slung low to the ground, was filled with bin after bin of pears, and I could hardly believe that one tree had managed to produce so much fruit.  The kicker was, he said the tree had actually produced a fairly low yield that year.  Those hundreds of pounds of pears were a small harvest.

The pears, combined with apples of all sorts, made incredible cider.  Tart and sweet, it was the freshest beverage I think I’d ever had.  The biggest hit of all, however, might have been the cider press itself.  With its efficient design and wonderfully growling motor, it attracted people of all ages.  No matter if you were a child or an adult, there was no better place to be than standing at the helm of the press, feeding it with whole apples and pears, watching the press rapidly shred and pulp the fruit, then slowly and satisfyingly hand cranking the actual pressing plate down upon the pulp, squeezing out the fresh juice.

As the machine was starting to slow its production, we all convened in the kitchen to dish out an enormous potluck meal.  There was a fresh tomato tart, a selection of several incredible salads, grilled sausages, a baked polenta dish, macaroni and cheese made in a crock pot (seriously, did you know you could do that?  ‘Cause I didn’t and now I kind of feel like I’ve been missing out), pesto pasta, smoked salmon, Indian food, a peach cobbler, one gigantic chocolate cake, and, because I like no better excuse to bake than having the promise of many mouths to feed, two types of very fall-themed cupcakes.

Let’s be honest, even before cupcakes became the dessert de rigueur, then quickly became the most maligned and passé dessert on the planet (oh, how quickly food trends come and go), I think everyone could appreciate how wonderfully portable, casual, and delicious cupcakes are.  You don’t need a plate and fork when you eat a cupcake.  You don’t even need a table or chair, since you can eat a cupcake while walking around, kicking a soccer ball, or simply standing in one place and enjoying the company of friends.  But even better than the fact that cupcakes are handy, simple to make, and adored by children every where, is the realization that when you make cupcakes, you can make many types at a time, which means you can then eat many types, which I totally did, with no shame whatsoever.

Applesauce Cupcakes with Penuche Frosting

Applesauce Cupcakes

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground powdered ginger

¼ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¾ cup unsweetened, unfiltered apple juice

1 cup unsweetened applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners, or grease and flour the tin.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and salt, then set aside.  With an electric mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.  Alternate adding the juice and the flour mixture, beating well after each addition.  Fold in the applesauce.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  The cups will be very full.  Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into a cupcake comes out clean.  Remove the cupcakes from the tin (if they are too hot and delicate to handle at first, you can allow them to cool for 10 minutes before attempting to remove them from the tin) and cool completely on a rack before frosting.

Penuche Frosting

Adapted from Pillsbury: Best Cookies Cookbook

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar

¼ cup milk

2 to 2 ½ cups powdered sugar

In a medium saucepan, combine butter and brown sugar and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Cook at a light boil for 1 minute, stirring frequently, until mixture has thickened.  Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.  Add milk to cooled mixture and beat until smooth.  Beat in enough powdered sugar to reach desired frosting consistency (start with 2 cups, beat for a few minutes, then add more powdered sugar if you find your frosting is too runny).  Frosting will remain somewhat loose, as it is not meant to be fluffy.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

Gingerbread Cupcakes

¼ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup sugar

½ cup unsulphured molasses

1 large egg

1 ½ teaspoons ground powdered ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Line a muffin tin with 12 paper liners, or grease and flour the tin.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light.  Add the molasses and egg and beat until smooth.  Add the ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and flour, and beat until well blended.  In a small bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water (the mixture will foam up).  Add the baking soda and water mixture to the batter and mix until smooth.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tin.  Bake for 20 minutes, until the cupcakes spring back when lightly touched.  Cool cupcakes for 5 minutes, then remove from tin and set on a rack to cool completely before frosting.

Lemon Cream Cheese Frosting

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 ounces cream cheese (a generous ¼ cup), at room temperature

2/3 cup powdered sugar

½ teaspoon finely chopped or grated lemon zest

½ teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth.  Beat in the powdered sugar until fluffy.  Add the lemon zest and lemon juice and beat until smooth.

Strawberry Cream Tart in a Gingerbread Crust

1 Apr

Last week it rained for seven days straight.  Now, in this part of the country that type of weather pattern may not be in any way unusual, but that does not erase the fact that it is also unpleasant.  Being as though I have lived here long enough to know that summer comes late to the Pacific Northwest (but also, thankfully, lingers leisurely into the autumn months), I coped with this long stretch of wet and dreary weather in the most reasonable manner possible: I pretended it was summer.

Imagine the days are long and sticky hot.  It’s too hot to turn on the oven during the day, so you wait until the sun sets before you satisfy your desire to bake something.  The heat of the day breaks at around 8PM, but there is a bright glow that lights the sky until well past 9PM.

In the morning, you head into the garden to pick some strawberries.  The berries are warm from the morning sun, and you can smell their sweet juice on your hands as you gather them.

By 10AM it is starting to get warm.  Knowing what the temperature will be like in just a few short hours, you plan ahead and start to assemble a simple cream filling for the tart shell you baked during last night’s reprieve from the heat.  Kept in the refrigerator, the cool cream, topped with fresh strawberries, will prove to be a welcome treat that cuts through the sweltering late afternoon sun.

And that’s how we made it through the week.  Though the berries didn’t come from our garden (we’ve got at least another two and a half months before we see any action in that area), and the days were not anywhere close to being even remotely warm, that didn’t stop us from enjoying this tart any less.  We pretended we were eating it in the backyard as we swayed lazily in a hammock and listened to the soft hum of the sounds of summer.

The good news is that summer will always turn up, even if you have to wait through another soggy and wet season in order to reach it.  The even better news is that you can make this tart now, no matter the season and no matter the weather, and that when it comes to enjoying the tart, there will be absolutely no faking required.

Strawberry Tart in a Gingerbread Crust

Gingerbread Crust

Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground powdered ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled butter, cut into pieces

1 tablespoon unsulphured molasses

2 tablespoons cold water

In a medium bowl sift together the flour, brown sugar, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and baking powder.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips or a pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly and resembles cornmeal.  Drizzle the molasses and water over the dough, mixing with your fingertips until the crumbs of dough begin to cling together.

Gather the dough together and knead it into a ball.  Press it evenly into the bottom and sides of a 9″ tart pan.  Pierce crust on sides and bottom with fork.  Gently fit a large piece of aluminum foil tightly against the crust.  Fill with pie weights (you can use dried beans or large handful of pennies, but, being someone to bakes a great deal, I like to use these super handy ceramic pie weights) and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges of the crust just begin to darken.  Remove foil and weights from tart pan (it’s best to just gather up the foil by the edges and lift the whole thing out, weights and all), and continue to bake the tart crust for 10-15 minutes more, or until crust is firm and darkly browned.

Set aside tart crust until completely cooled, at least 2 hours.  (I let mine cool, uncovered, overnight.)

Strawberry Cream Filling

8 ounces vanilla yogurt (regular or nonfat)

4 ounces cream cheese

finely grated or chopped zest of 1/2 a lemon

12 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced

In a bowl with a mixer on high speed, beat together yogurt and cream cheese until smooth.  Add lemon zest and stir to combine.  Pour yogurt and cream cheese filling into cooled tart shell.  Refrigerate until chilled and slightly firmed (it will never reach actual firmness, so don’t aim for a sturdy filling), about 2 hours.

When filling has chilled, arrange strawberries on top in whatever manner you choose.  I layered them in overlapping circles, but I promise you that the arrangement of your strawberries will in no way compromise the taste of your dessert.


If your strawberries are off season, as these were, and not at peak sweetness, you can apply a very light glaze on top of the berries to coax out a bit more strawberry flavor.  Simply toss a couple of large strawberries into a small food processor or blender, along with two tablespoons of water, 1/4 teaspoon of sugar, and a pinch of cornstarch. Blend together until smooth, then pour into a small saucepan set over low heat.  Stir over low heat until strawberry mixture has thickened slightly and just begins to simmer.  Let mixture cool slightly, then lightly brush over arranged strawberries until just covered.

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