Sunday, December 16, 2007

Pumpkin Pie Muffins

I needed to make something to donate to a bake sale. Given my ongoing need to use up various ingredients, I was able to finish off a can of pumpkin puree with these Pumpkin Pie Muffins from Mostly Muffins, a classic (published in 1984) by Barbara Albright and Leslie Weiner. These are pretty much what they would seem to be: muffins with the flavors reminiscent of pumpkin pie, especially those spices: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg. These muffins also have chopped pecans and dried cranberries (I strayed from the dates called for in the original recipe). I also sprinkled a little cinnamon sugar atop each muffin before I baked them.

Cookie Day 2007

Many years ago, we used to host a holiday party featuring only desserts. It was a lot of fun, but a grueling amount of work. There's nothing like making cookies for the holidays, though, and I was glad to learn that my running pal Ryan also liked to bake. A few years ago, we got together for our first-ever Cookie Day, a preholiday celebration of flour, sugar, butter, eggs, and chocolate.

The first two years of Cookie Day were major throw-downs. Last year, the first pan went in the oven at around 10:15 a.m., and the last batch of cookies didn't come out til around midnight. Although this Cookie Day format was fun, this year we decided to approach things differently. Each of us prepared a bunch of doughs ahead of time to bake off on Cookie Day. All in all, this worked out really well, making for a far-less frantic day. In the end, we prepared only a few "live" doughs; the rest was stuff we'd done in advance.

Ryan brought along a variety of items:
  • Chocolate-peanut butter pinwheels
  • Caramel-pecan biscotti
  • Chocolate sticks (a biscotti-like chocolate cookie)
  • Magic in the Middles (a chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a peanut-butter filling)
My advance doughs were the following:
  • Cranberry-cornmeal cookies
  • Lime-coconut cookies
  • Oatmeal cookies with dried mango, coconut, and macadamia nuts
  • Ribbon cookies
  • Chocolate-cherry-pistachio swirls
  • Dark chocolate crackles
The live doughs:
  • ANZAC biscuits
  • Snickerdoodles
  • Espresso-toffee chocolate-chunk cookies
All the recipes I tried were new for me except for the espresso-toffee-chocolate chunk cookies, which I blogged about earlier this year as the best chocolate chip cookies ever, and the ribbon cookies, which we made for Cookie Day 2006; both are Dede Wilson recipes.

Of these new doughs, I'd rate the oatmeal cookies as my favorite. They're soft and chewy, and can you go wrong with dried mango? The cranberry-cornmeal cookies are also very good; it's an unusual combination for a cookie. These two are from Lauren Chattman's Mom's Big Book of Cookies, which was published in time for Cookie Day 06 but somehow never was used.

The dark-chocolate crackles, an Abby Dodge recipe from Fine Cooking's December 2007 issue, are superb; the dash of orange zest really brings them to life. I keep thinking that there are interesting ways to tweak the recipe with different-flavor chips and/or zests.

The final two cookies I made were also from the Lauren Chattman book. I liked the lime-coconut cookies enough, but felt that they could use a bit more lime zest to really make them jump. The swirled cookies were my only real disaster of the day. The cookie dough is very soft, and in hindsight, I think it would have benefited from chilling prior to being rolled out. The first batch of swirls rolled up OK, with a bit of difficulty, but the second roll was a nightmare.

This just in: comments from Ryan!

Here's my feelings about the cookies I made. Feel free to edit and append to your blog entry if you'd like.

* Chocolate-peanut butter pinwheels

I've made pinwheel cookies a couple of times before using different recipes. The recipes for both doughs came from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. I was disappointed with the doughs. They both went from being cold and unmalleable to warm and sticky quickly with no middle ground. This made rolling them out and then together a joyless experience. Further, the texture of the cookie isn't that good. It could be that I slightly underbaked them but they aren't crispy.

* Caramel-pecan orange biscotti

Biscotti ships well but in previous Cookie Days, making it has been a real time hog since it has to be baked twice. So, since I was making it in advance (I prepared it through baking the log), no reason not to make a fancy recipe. This comes from Tish Boyle's The Good Cookie, a cookie book that I adore and cherish. The recipe calls for making caramel and then letting it harden over chopped pecans on a cookie sheet (doing this on a silpat worked out nicely). I like the flavor this brought to the cookie.

* Chocolate sticks (a biscotti-like chocolate cookie)

This is also from the KACC. They have a lighter texture than biscotti. It is both chocolaty and crunchy. I would definitely make these again. They seem ideally suited to dunking in a glass of milk or a cup of coffee.

* Magic in the Middles (a chocolate cookie dough wrapped around a peanut-butter filling)

Another recipe that would demand too much time to make on Cookie Day. The recipe from KACC calls for rolling sweetened PB into balls, rolling the chocolate dough into balls, flattening the chocolate dough balls, and reforming them around the PB balls. I've made this before and it did not disappoint this time around. It's the closest one can come to a Reese's PB cup in cookie form.

* ANZAC biscuits

I've seen these in several cookie books and I've been curious. ANZAC stands for Australia and New Zealand Army Corps and the biscuits were shipped to soldiers in WWII. So, they are fit for shipping out on Cookie Day, too. They're pretty simple with just oats and butter as the main flavors. There's also some coconut, which seems to mainly add a bit of chewiness to the texture. They're interesting cookies and I like them. I might add chocolate chips to them if I make them again. Or dried fruit.

* Snickerdoodles

A classic New England cookie and one that I always enjoy baking. I used the recipe from The Good Cookie. For whatever reason, Tish doesn't call them snickerdoodles but cinnamon crinkle cookies but in the description she says they're snickerdoodles. I don't get it. Whatever she calls them, it's a good recipe that came out pretty well.

P.S. I'll be back later to update links.