Seeded Butternut Squash Braid

This bread was so good we made it twice within 3 days and gobbled up every last crumb.

My sister Tara is a bread baker wannabe and her first attempt over our Thanksgiving break was good but not what she wanted. The whole wheat dough was wet and didn’t exactly rise. So when our other sister brought home this recipe for a butternut squash braid [Tara’s pretty obsessed with squash :], she decided to go for round II.

It smelled delicious, looked incredible, definitely doubled—maybe tripled—in size, and tasted… divine. Perfection, with the exception of being slightly undercooked and doughy, which didn’t bother our family of dough-lovers. We ripped off wads of it like challah and let it melt in our mouths, sinking into a ball of dough in the pit of our stomachs that stayed there all night. Quite filling, but it was impossible to have just one piece!

So after the successful test run my sisters decided to make it again for Christmas dinner. We let it bake all the way through this time, the crust turning a shiny golden brown. The inside texture was airy and soft—the way it’s meant to be—but we actually preferred the dense, doughy loaf :]

Moral of the story: we’re not master bread bakers, so this loaf should be fairly simple and  fool-proof for beginners if you follow the directions. The butternut gives it a richness and makes it soft and moist, and the texture reminds me of challah. This is definitely a keeper in the bread recipe files!

Seeded Butternut Squash Braid, from taste of home

Prep time: 45 min + rising, Bake: 20 min. Yields 18 servings.

  • 2-3/4 cups uncooked cubed peeled butternut squash
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1/3 cup warm milk (110° to 115°)
  • 2 tablespoons warm water (110° to 115°)
  • 1/2 cup pepitas or sunflower kernels (we didn’t use)
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened (we used Earth Balance)
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3-1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 cup pepitas or sunflower kernels

Place squash in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain and mash squash (you will need 2 cups); cool to 110°-115°.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm milk and water. In a largebowl, combine the pepitas, butter, egg, brown sugar, salt, cooked squash, yeast mixture and 2 cups flour; beat on medium speed for 3 minutes. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough (dough will be sticky).

Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide into thirds. Shape each into a 26-in. rope; braid ropes. Transfer to a greased baking sheet; form into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Cover with a clean kitchen towel; let rise in a warm place
until doubled, about 45 minutes.

For topping, beat egg and water; brush over braid. Sprinkle with pepitas. Bake at 350° for 18-23 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to wire rack. Yield: 1 loaf (18 slices). Per slice: 192 calories, 7 g fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 150 mg sodium, 25 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 7 g protein.

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December: the month of cookies

Where it lacks in warmth and sunshine, it makes up in sweetness. Sweetness of the plethora of sugar and butter and chocolate in the kitchen, soon whisked and stirred and baked into treats of all flavors, from caramel to cinnamon, butterscotch to coconut, lemon and raspberry, maple, almond, and peppermint—let’s just say we have it all covered in this kitchen.

Am I cookied out?

Never!

What a silly question.

December is cookie month, and it only gets richer each year. This year I added to mom’s classic collection with  a couple of my less-guilty recipes: raspberry-chocolate thumbprints and sugar plums, along with a few indulgent ones: dark chocolate cherry pistachio bark and cinnamon roll cookies.

Mom’s classics [and definitely not guilt-free ;] include peanut butter balls, mint squares, pinwheels, three-pepper spice cookies, seven-layer bars, lemon Christmas trees, toffee-almond triangles, cappuccino caramels, and extra-guilty saltine toffee :]

The cinnamon rolls were my favorite to make because they’re so pretty and nothing is more comforting than the smell of hot cinnamon buns in the oven. I had come up with the idea of creating a cinnamon roll in cookie form after last Christmas, and have since seen my idea come to life on a couple of different blogs! I decided to test the recipe of Baker’s Royale, mainly because the pictures were so mouth-watering. And the cookies turned out just so. They taste exactly like cinnamon rolls—I would argue even better. And because I refuse to follow any recipe exactly, I traded white flour for whole wheat, used Earth Balance instead of butter, egg white instead of yolk, and a bit less brown sugar for the inside swirl. So at least I could feel a little better about the ingredients, and they still came out crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, with that buttery-cinnamony-sugary swirled middle. Bliss in Christmas-cookie form.

Cinnamon Roll Cookies, from Baker’s Royale

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup plus 2 T whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 t cinnamon, plus 1 T for divided use
  • ½ t baking soda
  • ½ t salt
  • ½ cup Earth Balance (or butter), softened, plus 3 T for divided use
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar, plus ½ cup for divided use
  • 1 egg white
  • ¼ cup applesauce
  • 1 T of light corn syrup
  • 1 t vanilla

For the glaze:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoon of milk
Sift together flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Place ½ cup butter, granulated sugar and ¼ cup of brown sugar in a stand mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment and beat until light in color. Add in egg white, applesauce, light corn syrup and vanilla and beat to combine. Turn off mixer.
Using a sturdy spatula or wooden spoon, fold in flour mixture until just combined.  Dough may have some flour streaking. Do not over mix. Divide dough in half and wrap in waxed paper and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Place remaining 1 T of cinnamon and ½ cup of brown sugar in a bowl and whisk to combine. Now divide cinnamon and brown sugar mixture in two; one for each portion of halved dough. Set aside.
Remove one wrapped dough. Dough will sticky so place it between two large pieces of wax paper and roll out dough to 1/4inch thickness. Using a pastry brush spread 1 1/2 tablespoon of softened butter on dough. Then sprinkle half of the cinnamon and sugar mixture on top and gently press it into dough (I didn’t use the entire cinnamon-sugar mixture). Roll up dough, beginning with long side. Place roll seam side down on plastic wrap and cover tightly. Repeat this once more with reamining dough and 11/2 tablespoon of butter, along with remaining cinnamon and brown sugar mixture. Place both rolled doughs back in refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
Remove chilled roll and cut into ½ inch slices. Bake at 350F for about 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool for 2 minutes on baking sheet. Remove to wire racks to cool completely.
To make glaze: Sift powdered sugar and add in 1 tablespoon of milk at a time until drizzling consistency is achieved.
Drizzle tops of cooled cookies with glaze and let stand at room temperature until glaze dries completely. Store cookies in an airtight container or freeze to keep longer.
To offset (albeit hardly) these days of munching our way through plates of cookies, we’ve been “training” for a Christmas Eve 10k my sister Tara organized with neighbors and friends and family on a beautiful hilly country road, the same run/walk route we did on Thanksgiving but a bit longer to make it a 10k. The sun finally came out from the clouds for the morning and we had about 30 people and 10+ dogs come out for a wonderful run/walk and breakfast party afterwards. It was great! And no surprise that the winners were two brothers, one of which just did a 50-miler. We gave them a basket with some of the sweet treats and chocolate we had around the house, still barely making a dent in our sugar supply. But hey, with all this running we’ve been doing we need the sugar, right?
Sure….
the dogs sure are into it!
and here come the winners!

So it’s Christmas Eve, the sun is still out (maybe the first time in about a week), the family is all here, and we have more than enough cookies to satisfy Santa tonight.

Happy Holidays!

-mich

This post is linked to: Sweets for a Saturday

chili on a chilly night

Simple solution to a chilly-November-home-alone kind of night: go to Trader Joe’s, pick up some veggies and beans, make chili, cuddle up on the couch in your pj’s and a blanket and let the Christmas movie marathoning begin! This was me on the night I returned to my apartment after Thanksgiving break. I had this chili on my list of recipes to make for a while and mmmm… why did I wait this long to try it?! So simple, hearty, flavorful, just the right amount of heat (as in pretty spicy if you don’t like spice), and did I mention delicious?!

Don’t make the mistake I did and put this on your list of recipes to try, only to actually cook it a year later. Do it now!

turkey & kale chili, from here

  • olive oil
  • 1 pound 93% lean ground turkey
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T brown sugar
  • 1 T chili powder
  • 1 1/2 T cumin
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 2 t salt
  • 1 t pepper
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 2 14.5-ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels (I like super sweet white corn)
  • 1 1/4 cups chicken or turkey broth
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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: sweet-spicy-savory

This should have been posted ummmmm just about one month ago, when the Halloween pumpkins were plentiful. My bad. I took pictures and everything, but somehow it slipped my mind until we were roasting squash seeds over the Thanksgiving break and someone asked if I had any good recipes.

Well of course I do! After my roommates and I carved our pumpkins (or rather I just cut the top off mine to get the seeds out), I was put in charge of the roasting. I decided to try out two recipes: spicy tamari and a sweet—spicy—savory combo. The tamari seeds were tasty with a savory-sweet soy-honey flavor, but seemed to char quickly yet were still sticky and soft. meh. The other recipe however, a unique combination of brown sugar/honey, rosemary, salt, cinnamon, cayenne and black peppers, was an explosion of crispy, crunchy, salty, sweet, buttery flavor. Way too addicting. My family can vouch for this. Melissa made them while we were cooking dinner and we munched by the handful, then ate some with dinner over a green salad and on top of Tara’s gingered apple-carrot-squash soup. They added a nice crunch and intense flavor to everything!

This will definitely be my go-to pumpkin seed roasting recipe for the rest of my life unless I find something better which is unlikely. A touch of rich brown sugar and butter, savory rosemary and sea salt, and spicy cinnamon, cayenne and black pepper—there couldn’t be a better combination in my opinion. Enjoy!

sweet-spicy-savory pumpkin seeds, from here

  • approximately 2 cups pumpkin seeds
  • 3 T earth balance / butter
  • 3 T brown sugar or honey
  • 1 1/2 t kosher salt
  • 1 T chopped fresh rosemary or 1 t dried
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 t ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350F. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter and then stir in the brown sugar, salt, rosemary, cinnamon, cayenne  and black pepper. Stir for 2 – 3 minutes until the sugar has mostly melted. Remove from heat and stir in the pumpkin seeds. Spread on a well-greased cookie sheet. Don’t worry if it seems liquidy. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring 2 – 3 times during baking (important!). Keep a close eye on them as they can burn really fast. (You can also bake these at a lower temp like 300, for a longer time like 1 hour.) Let cool, scrape off the pan, and store in an air-tight container if you don’t eat them all first :]

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