Peter Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Do you know what’s in your pumpkin puree? No, do you REALLY know what’s mashed into that aluminum tomb, wrapped up like an autumnal present with labels that promise “all natural” and “100% pure!” contents? This isn’t not a trick question like asking who’s buried in Grant’s tomb, but a real head-scratcher that might surprise you. That golden orange goo has little to do with actual pumpkins, which are much more stringy, watery, and bland than what we’ve been raised to enjoy. Rather, a blend of hardy squash, such as butternut, Hubbard, Boston marrow, and golden delicious are the unsung gourds that have bakers swooning. Like orange juice, natural variations between harvests turn the job of maintaining consistent flavors a perpetual challenge between batches. It takes more than one source to hit just the right standards for the tastes and textures we’ve come to know and love. If you thought you were really just getting plain Jane pumpkin all along, I’m very sorry to pull the curtain back and ruin the illusion.

By spreading this knowledge, my goal is not to incite riots in the canned goods aisle, but encourage everyone to think beyond those metal constrains. There are so many more squash in the sea, looking for love, and a place in your kitchen.

Featuring a few of the unsung heroes of autumn, this grand double decker celebration cake is a gloriously sweet tribute to those underdogs at the farm stand. Butternut squash puree is an easy swap for pumpkin, since you were probably using that anyway without even realizing it, but I’ll readily admit that spaghetti squash might be a bit of a stretch for some. In fact, it rarely makes it onto the dinner table as is; a real shame, considering just how delicious those firm, noodle-like strands are, especially when smothered with red sauce or pesto. We’re talking dessert today though, so just consider this a natural evolution of carrot cake or zucchini bread. You wouldn’t give a second though to including those vegetables in their eponymous confections, so why should this humble gourd be any different?

Crowing this pièce de résistance, naturally artful slices of delicata squash contribute beauty along with brains, adding a moreish bite to the moist, delicate crumb down below. Paper-thin shavings are essential here lest you risk throwing off that careful balance, perfected by the crisp crunch of fresh squash seeds. If you have to call it a day and resort to good old pepitas, well, I won’t tell. A little bit of pumpkin is still welcome on my table, especially if it’s not coming out of a can.

Does this revelation ruin or redeem the classic orange gourd for you? Hopefully I can make amends either way with this offering of the best cake autumn’s bounty has to offer. Trust me, you’ll never miss the pumpkin; you were never eating it anyway.

Harvest Squash Cake

2 1/2 Cups Whole Wheat Pastry or All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 Teaspoons Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Ground Cinnamon
1 1/4 Teaspoons Ground Ginger
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 1/2 Cups Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Cup Butternut Squash Puree
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
3 Cups Cooked Spaghetti Squash*
Delicata Squash, Seeded and Thinly Sliced (Optional, for Topping)
Reserved Squash Seeds or Pepitas (Optional, for Topping)

Cream Cheese Filling:

1 (8-Ounce) Package Vegan Cream Cheese
1/4 Cup Vegan Butter
2 Cups Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Extract or Lemon Zest
1 – 2 Teaspoons Water

*To easily cook your spaghetti squash, slice it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds, reserving them for the topping if desired. Place the halves with the cut sides down in a microwave-safe dish, adding about an inch of water around them. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and microwave for 8 minutes. Let stand for 2 minutes before carefully removing the plastic. Test for doneness by piercing them with a knife; if it slides in easily, and the squash give under gentle pressure, they’re done! When cool enough to handle, take a fork to the interiors and scrape out the strands of tender squash.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease two 8-inch round baking pans.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices, stirring thoroughly to evenly distribute all of the dry goods throughout the mixture.

Separately, whisk together the coconut milk, vinegar, butternut squash puree, olive oil, and both sugars. Still to dissolve the sugar and smooth out the mixture, so that there are no lumps of butternut remaining.

Toss the cooked spaghetti squash into the bowl of dry ingredients, coating the strands with flour to keep them from simply sinking to the bottom of the cakes. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, folding the two together with a large spatula to combine. Resist the urge to break out the heavy artillery here; the batter will be fairly thick, but it’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps, rather than risk over-mixing.

Divide the batter equally between your prepared cake pans. If desired, seed and very, very thinly slice the delicata squash, arranging the pieces artfully around the top of one pan of unbaked batter. Sprinkle with the leftover seeds or pepitas for a final flourish. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Bear in mind that the layer topped with squash will take longer to bake due to the excess liquid expressed by the gourd.

Let cool completely before assembling the final cake.

To make the filling, simply toss the cream cheese and butter into your stand mixer and beat until soft, smooth, and homogeneous. Add in the confectioner’s sugar and begin to mix on low speed. Pause to scrape down the sides of the bowl with your spatula, as needed. Once mostly incorporated, add in the vanilla and lemon, and increase the speed to high. Add water as needed to reach your desired consistency, but use sparingly! It doesn’t take much at all. Whip for about 5 minutes until light and fluffy.

Turn out the bottom layer of the cake onto a serving vessel and smoother generously but evenly with the filling. Top with with second, decorated layer, press down to adhere, and serve with aplomb. No pumpkins need apply.

Makes 12 – 16 Servings

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Baking a Difference

You wouldn’t know it at a glance or from the taste, but there’s a lot more than meets the tongue baked into every immaculate mahogany and tawny brown square from Greyston Bakery. If you can temper your appetite long enough to examine the label, you’ll know there’s something different about these treats beyond the essential formula. Raising up people within the community is just as important as raising dough, literally and figuratively, which their Open Hiring Model especially admiral. It should come as no surprise that this progressive company would partner with fellow corporate radicals, Ben & Jerry’s, to supply the infamous brownies in their game-changing vegan pints. My first taste of those darkly decadent, fudgy chunks came smothered in rapidly melting chocolate ice cream, but it wasn’t long before they compelled me to seek out a whole, bare bite.

Genuinely baked bars of soft dark chocolate, they’re the platonic ideal of any brownie, making the case for vegan desserts on a grand new scale. Very sweet, undeniably indulgent, super chewy, and complete with gently crackled top, I dare you to find a single flaw along those edible fault lines.

Now, after 36 years, achieving such lofty goals with unprecedented success has encouraged these bold bakers to expand their offerings with that same spirit of inclusivity in mind. For their second act in vegan baking activism, at long last, a blondie has been born.

The Vegan Cinnamon Roll Blondie is so soft and tender, each sweet morsel practically melts in your mouth. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar for a light crunch and extra pop, they could be alternately called “snickerdoodle bars” to suit the simplistic approach. No nuts, no fruits, no nonsense, they’re sure to please the pickiest of eaters. Every bit as dense and satisfying as their cocoa counterparts, it’s a victory for all of us to celebrate, right down to the factory line, alongside the workers themselves.

Though it’s hard to beat a fresh blondie straight out of the box, they really come alive when served slightly warm… And, it should come as no surprise, with a scoop of ice cream on top.

Do the Monster Munch

There’s certainly no shortage of sweet treats this time of year. Mountains of glittering, foil-wrapped candies adorn office desks and kitchen counters alike, tempting passersby to indulge at every turn. Though the abundance of goodies excites my sweet tooth, the wide range of offerings all too often prove disappointing to my taste buds; throat-searing sugary centers enrobed in waxy chocolate coatings are more common than not, each morsel putting on a festive facade to mask its flat flavors. Time and again, each new crop of bewitching confections fails to satisfy. Stop the madness, I say! Step away from the shiny packages and seek solace in a far more satisfying popcorn snack experience.

Matcha Munchies Green Tea Popcorn Snack

Popcorn, the crisp, fluffy kernels that boast an impressive serving of fiber in each handful are the savior of peckish healthy eaters everywhere. This workhorse snack provides the perfect blank canvas for a Halloween treat that’s a far lesser evil than those frightful mass-produced candies.

Tinted a monstrous shade of green thanks to the bold addition of green tea powder, each bite of this popcorn snack recipe rings with the complex interplay of sweet and bitter tastes, each in perfect harmony. Crunchy clusters of pumpkin seeds round out the mix with a subtly nutty flavor. Drizzling dark chocolate over the top really gilds the lily, but for an event as flamboyant as Halloween, it seems appropriate to pull out all the stops.

Matcha Munchies Green Tea Popcorn Snack

Though little trick-or-treaters may not appreciate this more mature, sugar-coated delight, that only means there’s more of this delicious popcorn snack to go around for the rest of us. It may appear to yield an intimidating amount of glorious green kernels, but don’t you dream of reducing the recipe. Not even the most sour ghost or ghoul could resist its wicked charm.

Matcha Monster Munch

6 Cups Freshly Popped Popcorn
1 Cup Pepitas
3/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Matcha
1/4 Cup Brown Rice Syrup
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter or Coconut Oil, Melted
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
4 Ounces (About 3/4 Cup Chopped) Bittersweet Chocolate, Melted

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees and lightly grease a jelly roll pan or any rimmed baking sheet. Combine the popped corn and pumpkin seeds in a large bowl and set aside.

In medium saucepan with high sides, combine the sugar, matcha, rice syrup, melted butter or coconut oil, and salt. Whisk vigorously to break up any small clumps of matcha before proceeding. They can be tricky to disperse, especially in hot liquids, so don’t be afraid to really beat the mixture up while you have the chance. Set the pan on the stove over medium heat.

Periodically stir as the mixture heats up, until the sugar has dissolved. Once it reaches a full boil, stop stirring and allow it to cook at a lively bubble for 5 minutes. Don’t rush it!

Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Working quickly but carefully, pour the hot sugar syrup over your bowl of popped corn and gently stir to coat. Transfer the entire thing over to your prepared baking pan, spreading it out into an even a layer as possible, and move it into your oven. Bake, stirring every 15 minutes, for 1 hour.

Let cool completely before drizzling all over with melted chocolate. Allow the chocolate to fully set before breaking the popcorn into large clusters. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for 3 – 4 days, maximum.

Makes About 7 Cups; 6 – 8 Servings

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You’re a Peach, My Dear

Few things can match the sensation of biting into a ripe, fresh peach at the height of summer, so juicy that it must be eaten over a sink. Soft fuzz easily gives way to tender flesh brilliantly sweet, floral, and aromatic. It’s a perfect dessert, all by itself, no garnishes need apply.

Sadly but surely, the seasons are marching onward, away from this most wonderful time of year. Don’t miss your chance to indulge in the last of this year’s harvest.

These delightfully chewy cookie bars present another way to enjoy these incomparable fruits, even if the selection isn’t quite as robust. Toasted pecans and fresh peaches, the star of the show, lend these treats a gentle Southern accent. Each sweet square is lightly caramelized through the baking process, ending with a rich, toffee-like flavor.

Southern Peach Streusel Bars

Peach Filling:

5 Ripe Peaches, Divided
1/2 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
3 Tablespoon Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

Cookie Base and Streusel:

1/2 Cup Vegan Butter
1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose or White Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 Cup Finely Ground Pecan or Almond Meal
2 Tablespoons Cornstarch
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 – 2 Tablespoons Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Toasted and Chopped Pecans

First, prepare the filling so that it has time to cool. Begin by removing the pits from four of your peaches, and roughly chopping the flesh before tossing it into your food processor along with the sugar and cornstarch. Blend thoroughly until smooth, and then transfer the puree into a medium sauce pan. Set on the stove over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until the mixture has thickened significantly and bubbles are breaking regularly on the surface. Turn off the heat, and incorporate the vanilla and ginger. Set aside and let cool.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan; Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer or food processor, beat the butter briefly to soften. Add in the brown sugar and thoroughly cream together with the margarine, until fluffy and homogeneous. Sift in the flour, pecan or almond meal, cornstarch, cinnamon, and salt, and mix on low speed to combine. The resulting mixture will be rather dry, so with the mixer running. slowly drizzle in the non-dairy milk, a teaspoon at a time, using just enough to bring everything together into a cohesive dough when pressed.

Take 2/3 of that dough and crumble it across the bottom of your prepared pan. Use your fingers to press it out into one even layer that will form the base. If you don’t have enough to cover the bottom, you can use a bit more of the dough, but bear in mind that the base shouldn’t be too thick. Bake in your preheated oven for 12 – 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, take your chopped pecans, and knead them into the remaining dough to create the streusel topping.

Once the base is ready, remove it from the oven, and evenly spread the cooled peach filling on top. Pit and roughly chop the one remaining peach, and scatter it across the peach jam filling. Finally, use your fingers to break apart clumps of streusel, and sprinkle them over the peaches. Slide the pan bake into the oven, and bake for another 20 – 25 minutes, until aromatic and the streusel is golden brown all over. Let cool completely before slicing.

Makes 24 – 30 Bars

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Pineapple Express

Reaching for the heavy brass door knocker standing guard at the entry of my childhood home, I never once questioned why it was fashioned after a pineapple. Design flourishes were not the first priority for the architects who constructed this traditional, simple New England colonial; it could have been any other shape, but of all the possible symbols to display to guests, the first thing that they grasp upon arrival, was this tropical fruit.

Representing both status and hospitality in one fell swoop, the prestige of the pineapple is often credited to Christopher Columbus, who brought them back from his voyages as an offering to the Spanish King Ferdi­nand II. Since it was the only edible offering that survived the trip intact, it was the clear winner amongst the bundle of rotting tomatoes, tobacco, and pumpkins. That initial exoticism, impressive appearance, and incomparable sweetness vaulted it to the highest ranks. To have such wealth that you could offer these esteemed specimens freely to visitors instantly spoke of your prosperity, and lightly veiled bragging in the form of faux-generosity.

The symbolism stuck. Scarcity is a thing of the past, but their popularity continues to soar. Now one of the most popular produce picks on the market, retailers predict a pineapple boom is still to come, while the current culture has found all new meaning in the spiky fruits. The full weight of that multilayered meaning may not hit every time we slice into the yellow flesh, peel away the harsh, spiky exterior, and sink our teeth into the tangy fibers. Though the pineapple still enjoys a place of honor in, and outside, many homes, the place where it’s most welcome is the kitchen.

Roasting and caramelizing cubes of pineapple brings out a whole new depth of flavor, while still maintaining its characteristic brightness, and simultaneously concentrating its inherent sweetness. Though it would be no sacrifice to simply eat the results plain, perhaps with a dollop of whipped cream to fancy things up, I was craving a bite of comfort in the form of pound cake. Simple, homey, and undemanding, it really is the ideal house guest, and ideal for serving visitors in turn. The dense, tender, moist crumb sparkles with tropical undertones, enriched by coconut milk and spiked by just a hint of ginger.

Christopher Columbus committed countless terrible, unthinkable crimes in his grand adventures, but at least this one small contribution to history is one we can look back on with pride. The pineapple has earned its place of honor, and continues to flourish in ways the explorer could have never imagined.

Roasted Pineapple Pound Cake

1 3/4 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1 1/2 Cups Roasted Pineapple Puree*
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil or Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1 1/2 Teaspoons Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

*To roast the pineapple, peel, core, and dice the fruit before spreading the piece evenly inside a casserole or baking dish. A good amount of juice will be expressed so you need a vessel with fairly high sides. Bake at 400 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes or so, for 60 – 70 minutes until caramelized. Cool completely before tossing into a blender to puree.

**If you have leftover puree, you can whip up a quick glaze by stirring in brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon to taste and cooking it over the stove until the granules dissolve. Drizzle or slather on top of the cooled loaf as desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, white sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and ginger. Add the pineapple puree, oil, coconut milk, vinegar, and vanilla, mixing thoroughly until the batter is fairly smooth. It’s perfectly fine to leave a few lumps, rather than risk over-mixing and creating a tough crumb.

Bake for 60 – 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. You may want to tent the loaf with foil half-way through the baking process if you fear it will turn out too dark. Remove foil as soon as it comes out of the oven and let cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes. Turn out onto a cooling rack to finish cooling, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Makes 8 – 10 Servings

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All For One, One For Allulose

Light as air, crisp, and sweet, the best sort of meringue is one that is so ephemeral, it barely even casts a shadow. Disappearing instantly into a whisper of vanilla, a kiss of marshmallow, a whole batch could melt away in the blink of an eye, with or without the assistance of a a second eater. Made of little more than aquafaba and sugar, these pristine white clouds might have well descended straight down from heaven. How could a food so divine, so pure, possibly become further enlightened? Try switching out the sweetener.

A feat of modern baking, an eggless, sugarless meringue is not only conceivable, but is incredibly gratifying both to make and devour. This edible marvel is possible all because of allulose.

Allulose is a naturally occurring monosaccharide, just like glucose (sugar found in blood) and fructose (sugar found in fruit.) It’s simply harder to find, popping up in minute quantities in a very limited range of foods, such as figs, raisins, and jackfruit, although it’s typically produced on a commercial scale from corn. It’s also more difficult for the human body to process as energy, endowing it with a remarkably low caloric impact. While sweetness is subjective, the general consensus is that allulose is only about 70% as sweet as granulated white sugar.

Inspired by the Keystone Pantry Allulose Blogger Recipe Challenge, my goal was to create a winning combination of flavor and flair, of course, while putting this innovative ingredient to the ultimate test. In a recipe where there’s nowhere to hide, could allulose stand at firm peaks, before and after the battery of the oven’s blast?

If not for the photographic evidence, even I would have a hard time believing this wildly successful operation, long after the subjects have been annihilated. Personal pavlovas, miniature rafts of meringue carrying precious cargo in the form of whipped coconut cream and fresh golden raspberries, are guaranteed to drop jaws as they float on by. Completely allergen-free, diabetic-friendly, and universally appealing, I can think of no dessert more angelic. Not even old-fashioned angel food cake can hold a candle to this sinless sweet treat.

For more inspiration and information about allulose, check out Lang’s Chocolate and Keystone Pantry products on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Angel Nests

Meringue Nests:

1/3 Cup Aquafaba, Chilled
2/3 Cup Keystone Pantry Allulose
1 Teaspoon Tapioca Starch
1/2 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
1/8 Teaspoon Xanthan Gum
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

Whipped Topping and Garnish:

1 (14-Ounce) Can Full-Fat Coconut Milk, Chilled
1 Tablespoon Keystone Pantry Allulose
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Fresh Berries
Edible Glitter (Optional)

Preheat your oven to 250 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats.

Pour the aquafaba into the bowl of your stand mixer and begin beating on moderate speed with the whisk attachment installed. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the allulose, tapioca starch, cream of tartar, and xanthan gum, stirring thoroughly to integrate all the dry goods.

Once the aquafaba has built up a sturdy froth and almost doubled in size, increase the speed to high, and very slowly begin to sift the dry mixture into the mixer bowl while the motor runs. Add just about a tablespoon at a time, to allow the foam structure to develop. Continue to beat at full speed for until stiff, glossy peaks form and can hold their shape. This could take 10 – 15 minutes in all. Fold in the vanilla last, being very gentle so as not to pop that fine matrix of bubbles you just worked so hard to build.

Transfer the meringue to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe out round bases about 2 – 3 inches in diameter, building up the outer walls with an extra layer of meringue, creating a nest with space in the center for filling. Repeat until the meringue is used up.

Bake at 250 degrees for two hours before rotating the sheets and dropping the temperature down to 200 degrees. Bake for an additional 2 – 2 1/2 hours, until evenly golden all over, dry to the touch, but just slightly soft still. Turn off the heat, leave the nests in the oven, and leave the door ajar. Let cool completely before proceeding.

To make the coconut whipped cream, carefully open the chilled can of coconut milk, being sure not to shake it, and scoop off the top layer of thick coconut cream. Save the watery liquid left behind for another recipe (it’s great in curries or soups!) Place the coconut cream in the bowl of your stand mixer and install the whisk attachment. Whip on high speed for about 3 minutes before slowly beginning to sprinkle in the allulose, just a little bit at a time. Continue beating the mixture for up to 10 minutes, until light and fluffy. Finally, fold in the vanilla extract; keep refrigerated until ready to use.

When ready to serve, spoon dollops of whipped coconut cream into the center of each nest. Top with fresh berries and just a touch of edible glitter, if desired. Eat immediately, before they float away!

Makes 8 – 12 Personal Pavlovas

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