Pumpkin Bread

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I KNOW, so many sweets in a row. I have a super-easy chicken recipe all ready for you and a killer meatball dish coming up, but in the meantime, it's almost Thanksgiving in the US which means the (not literal but mental) change from autumn to winter is fast approaching and I want to get this pumpkin recipe to you now because it's too good to miss. Plus, I'm going to be in Asia for the next two weeks so you'll be a bit on your own, and it wouldn't be the Recipe Box Project if we didn't overdo it on decadent breakfasts.

This recipe is an illustrated mimeograph made for kids (at least I assume it's for kids based on the instructions to 'have an adult turn on the oven'), so I'm not sure how it made it into the box. I was too young when Eleanor died to have been given something like this, so maybe it was given to my older (male) cousins and somehow wound up with Eleanor? Regardless, it's super adorable if a pain to try to cull together the ingredients since they're all listed by steps.

The downfall of loads of pumpkin recipes is that they take 2 tablespoons of pumpkin, or ¼ cup of pumpkin or whatever, but you've already had to buy a whole can of pumpkin that you're now stuck with. You'll leave it in the fridge for a week or so promising yourself you'll make another pumpkin recipe before it goes bad, but there's only so much pumpkin you can take, and inevitably it turns before you have a chance, so you end up tossing ¾ of a can of pumpkin. Not a huge deal when you're stateside and pumpkin costs next to nothing, but here in the UK where I can only find it at American grocery stores and it costs £3 a can... I refuse to waste a single spoonful. So it was great to see that this recipe calls for an entire can- no waste! Between all the pumpkin and the use of oil instead of butter, this recipe is incredibly moist and delicious; add a handful of pecans or walnuts and any dried fruit you have on hand (cherries are particularly stellar) and you've got an excellent fall treat. Easy to transport, scented with the smell of autumn, dairy-free and easy to make nut-free, this breakfast-y cake is perfect with a hot mug of coffee or tea and everyone is sure to love it. It makes a perfect hostess gift for the person whose Thanksgiving dinner you're attending, and you'll be the favourite guest when they get up on Black Friday morning and realise they don't have to make breakfast.

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The verdict:

5 spoons out of five. It's so easy a kid could make it, your whole house will smell like autumn, and it tastes even better with an extra sprinkle of brown sugar on top. Make this over the Thanksgiving holidays, especially if you're an expat missing the celebrations this time of year, and you'll be glad you did.

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One year ago: crazy crust apple pie
two years ago: Deluxe Pecan pie

the recipe:

Easy Pumpkin Bread

the directions:

Preheat oven to 175C/350F and grease 1 large or 2 small loaf pans.
Stir together flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger and nuts/fruit if using.
Add water and stir gently to combine, then set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat together sugar, brown sugar, pumpkin, oil and eggs until well-combined.
Add flour mixture to sugar mixture and mix until smooth.
Pour into prepared loaf pan and top with extra brown sugar if using.
Bake for 1 hour until a wooden pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes, then turn out onto a plate and cool completely before serving.

the ingredients:

2 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ c water
1 c sugar
½ c brown sugar
1 can of pumpkin (425g)
½ c oil
2 eggs
Optional: a handful of coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, a handful of dried fruit, and/or a generous sprinkle of brown sugar to create a crunchy 'lid.'

Battle of the Pound Cakes: A Birthday Feast

Pound Cake #2

Pound Cake #2

This is not the first time pound cake has appeared on this site. It's not even the first time this exact recipe for pound cake has appeared on this site, due to having a duplicate recipe in the box that I didn't know about and didn't check against the existing version until... just now. There are about a billion more pound cakes in the box to make, but I'm still including this duplicate version because I was able to improve it this time around (probably because I didn't realise I had already made it), so I think it's worth giving you the new and improved version (hint: MIX MIX MIX).

We've discussed how the taste of pound cake is the taste of my childhood, and there's not a lot of breakfasts I like more (other than croissants of any variety). So in honour of my mom, who taught me the joys of pound cake and whose birthday was last weekend, here are two recipes for pound cake for you to choose from. If you decide, like me, to make both within a week of each other you should probably first buy stock in the flour company, because this will run down your supplies faster than you can say 'gluten-ful, please'. On the bright side, you don't have to worry about dirtying very many dishes because both of these come together in no time with one bowl each.

Pound Cake #1

Pound Cake #1

Pound Cake #1

Pound Cake #1

Pound cake #2

Pound cake #2

Now, on to the secret for Pound Cake 2 below: As mentioned, I previously made this recipe (from a different handwritten recipe card) in the dark ages of this site back in 2015, but I couldn't figure out why the cake fell so fast- the day I baked it, it was fluffy and light, but by the next morning, it had sunk into a bit of a claggier, denser cake and I was disappointed. At the time, I googled 'prepared flour,' because I didn't know what it meant and found nothing on the internet, so I just sifted it (since nearly all the recipes in the box require this) and called it a day. This time around, I had forgotten all of the above, so I googled it again, found nothing, and (weirdly) came to the same conclusion. I had sifted it, shrugged my shoulders and was on the verge of dumping it into the mixing bowl when suddenly I had a thought: what if I googled 'prepared flour' in French? I speak French and it occurred to me that, since they're known for their patisserie, maybe they'd have something similar. I searched for 'farine préparée' and sure enough, I hit the jackpot. 'Prepared flour' no longer exists outside of France, but it's basically self-rising flour with slightly different proportions of baking powder and salt.

The second secret I found this time is to go by the recipe and MIX THAT BATTER. The recipe calls for 20 minutes of mixing, which last time I figured was for hand-mixing so I shaved loads of time off. This time I put it in my mixer on low and mixed it the whole 20 minutes and it made a noticeable difference in the final product.

Pound Cake #2

Pound Cake #2

Pound cake always tastes best on the first day (ideally warm from the oven!), but will last, covered tightly, up to three days. These recipes are both decadent and flavourful on their own; perfect paired with a cup of black coffee or milky tea, but if you want to dress it up they'd also serve well with a fruit compote (pears!), a dollop of yoghurt, or even a lemony cream-cheese glaze. In the run-up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, this is the perfect make-ahead breakfast treat that everyone will love, so choose your favourite and make it today.

The verdict:
Pound Cake 1: Cakey, Moist Pound Cake

4 spoons out of five. It was mega-tasty, plush and velvety, but it didn't keep very well and by the second day was noticeably denser, so I'm knocking off a spoon.

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Pound Cake 2: Light and Fluffy Pound Cake

5 spoons out of five. I feel like I've conquered this one and I could eat it for a tea-time snack every day.

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Pound Cake, Previously: Easy One-Bowl Pound Cake (the non-perfected version of Pound Cake 2, below).

one year ago: Crazy-Crust Apple Pie

two years ago: Cinnamon Pecans

the recipe:

Cakey, Moist Pound Cake

the directions:

Preheat oven to 160C/325F.
Grease and flour a bundt pan very well.
Mix all ingredients together until well-blended and smooth, approximately 1 minute.
Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake 1 hour, until a pick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

the ingredients:

2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
6 eggs

the recipe:

Light and Fluffy Pound Cake

the directions:

Grease a bundt or large loaf pan.
Preheat oven to 175C/350F.
Mix all ingredients together and beat for 20 minutes on low speed (or by hand if you want a workout).
Bake 45 minutes, until pick inserted in thickest part comes out clean.

the ingredients:

3 c self-rising flour
1 ½ c sugar
1 c shortening or Stork
4 eggs
1 c milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice

Sugar Cookies

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A year ago today I made these cookies for the first time. I was home sick from work after an insane 80-hour week, and I was exhausted and knew I shouldn't be cooking, but I was excited and too wound up to sit still, so I decided to make gingerbread ladies to take into work the next day. I couldn't get the dough to roll out thin enough without sticking all over my rolling pin, so I popped the whole batch in the fridge and figured a chill would do it some good.

I took a nap, drank some LemSip, and decided to power through the evening and go to an election-watching party at the old man pub near our flat. We called some friends at the last minute who were delighted to come along and the four of us met at the pub to watch as polls started to close and states started to be called. It's worth noting that, thanks to the time difference, the first state to be called didn't happen until around 11:30pm Edinburgh time. We swore we'd leave at 11, then midnight, then after just one or two more states, and finally made it home around 2am.* Judson and I both stayed up in bed for another hour reading news articles and refreshing CNN and the BBC obsessively before falling restlessly asleep at 3am. I had set my alarm for an early wakeup so I'd have time to pop these cookies in the oven after an overnight chill and time to listen to the news before I had to get going to work, so when it went off at 5am, I didn't mind.

Until I reached over and checked my phone.

Obviously the rest is history. It was the worst week I've had in probably all of my adult life, it's been a terrible year since, and there's not a day goes by that I don't feel betrayed by my country and devastated at what's happened. The cookie dough stayed in the fridge that morning, and when I showed up for work at 10:30am, free of makeup, eyes swollen, nose still stuffy from the cold that had kept me home the night before, I knew I wasn't going to have the energy to finish that batch of cookies any time soon. So that evening it went into the freezer where I stared at it every time I reached in for some ice cubes or peas over the past year. About a month ago I finally remembered it was there and threw it out, but not without a pang of sadness for what could have been.

I let the recipe float to the back of the box, determined not to think about it again until it didn't bring tears to my eyes anymore. So a few weeks ago, right before Halloween, I decided to make these cookies (again) to invite our neighbours over for the Halloween party we were throwing. I had the same problem as last time- the dough was far too sticky to roll out, even after an overnight chill, so I ended up scooping it up in heaping teaspoons and baking it that way. This gave a much cakier cookie, puffy and soft in the middle with crisp edges and a comforting, warm vanilla flavour throughout, and while it's definitely not what the recipe intended, it was better than tossing the dough again.

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Anyway, one year ago today the world made a choice. And this year, I fought against the divisions created by that choice by inviting our neighbours (most of whom we've never met) to a party at our house. It's a small thing, and it's not political, but it gave us a chance to build more community within our neighbourhood and that's something I'll always be proud of.

*There was a 20-year-old American girl at the table next to us at the bar. She was studying abroad from a uni in the Midwest somewhere, and other than Judson and I, she was the only other American at the bar. She was DEVASTATED when the first state was called for Trump, and Judson and I leaned over to offer some words of encouragement: 'this one doesn't even matter,' 'there are 49 more and we KNEW she wouldn't get this one,' etc. but the poor girl was freaking out. When we said our goodnights, she was still there with her friends. The next morning, after voicing some choice worries to Judson, that girl was the first person I thought of. I wished then that I could go back to the bar and find her name, take her out for a coffee and give her a hug. I still wish that, but my hope is that she's now back stateside, on her way to graduation, and still paying that much attention to the world around her. I hope she's not as apathetic as I was at her age, I hope she's fighting for the right people and most of all, I hope she's not letting the illegitimus carborundorum.

The verdict:

3 spoons out of five. If you like your cookies a bit cakier, this is the recipe for you. Personally, I prefer mine gooey in the middle and crisp at the edges, so while I did enjoy these, they weren't quite my cup of tea (however, they pair great with one!).

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One year ago:  Crazy Crust Apple Pie

two years ago:  30th Birthday Cake!

The recipe:

Sugar Cookies

the directions:

Preheat oven to 185C/375F.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
Add egg, milk and vanilla, then beat well until smooth.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg or mace.
Blend dry ingredients gradually into wet mixture.
Divide batter in half, cover or wrap in plastic and refrigerate both halves at least one hour or up to overnight.

If you're ambitious and want to try rolling the cookies, lightly flour your counter and roll out ½ of dough at a time. Cut with cookie cutters and bake on ungreased cookie sheet 5-7 minutes until set and just brown at edges.

If your dough is as sticky as mine was both times I made these, after chilling, scoop heaping tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake 6-9 minutes until dry on top and just pale tan on the edges.

the ingredients:

½ c butter, room temperature
1 c sugar
1 egg
½ c milk
½ tsp vanilla
1 ¼ c flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp mace or nutmeg