Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” suite was my baking soundtrack recently. I made quick bread between pirouettes, MVH dropping by from time to time to join the dance.
It was relaxing and silly, everything you could want a baking experience to be during the holidays. I wasn’t baking for Christmas, but just for fun, and to use up some leftover pumpkin puree.
While I love showing off my creations here, it’s hard work. Each post is written and rewritten, photos are shot and edited. Most importantly, though, is coming up with stuff to write about. I want to give you, fair readers, quality and original content.
I’m not complaining; I’m stating facts. I want only my best work here, so when I don’t feel like I can deliver my best work, I’d rather hold off.
Cooking, and baking in particular, is a respite for me. For an hour or so, my problems linger outside the kitchen. I don’t think about solutions. I cream butter and sugar. I weigh flour. I don’t forget to scrape the bowl.
I came across similar cooks in a recent story on the McClatchy Newspapers wire. Susan Marx, and her husband, Chris Serjak, are aid workers in Kabul, Afghanistan. They also are foodies, and they blog about their food life at Foodie in a Warzone.
During an attack this fall in Kabul, Susan and Chris did the best thing they could to calm their nerves — bake.
While my life has its unpleasant moments, a war zone it is not. Still, when things get hectic, I hoist Babe, my blue stand mixer, onto the counter and whip up something delicious. And for a while, I don’t worry about it, whatever it may be.
Then you tag yourself back in, and if you can swing it, a soft re-entry with melodramatic ballet music in your ears is the way to go.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread
Adapted from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
I like this bread cold and dense. MVH likes it warmed. It’s sticky both ways.
2/3 cup (4 1/8 ounces) shortening (I used Crisco) or 1 cup (5 1/2 ounces) vegetable oil
2 2/3 cups (18 1/2 ounces) sugar
4 large eggs
2 cups (or one 15-ounce can) pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
2/3 cup (5 1/4 ounces) water
3 1/3 cups (13 3/4 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnuts or pecans (I used pecans)
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. When you’re at temperature, scatter the chopped nuts in an oven-safe pan, and toast them in the oven for about 10 minutes, giving the pan a good, but not wild, shake at 5 minutes to redistribute the nuts. The nuts will turn slightly darker. Take care not to burn them. Let the nuts cool.
In a large bowl, cream the shortening (or oil) and sugar. Beat in the eggs, pumpkin, and water.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg. (I didn’t sift together the dry ingredients and took a big bite of baking soda in the finished bread. Glad it was me and not a guest!)
Add vanilla to the wet ingredients. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring gently until just combined. (In a recent chocolate zucchini bread recipe, I overbeat the batter, which resulted in a really tough bread. Don’t get too aggressive with your quick bread batter! You want soft and light, not tough and chewy.) Last, stir in the nuts and chocolate chips. Gently!
Spoon the batter into two lightly greased (or sprayed with Bakers Joy, in my case) 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Bake the bread for 1 hour or until a cake tester comes out clean. (I checked the loaves at 55 minutes, and then at 60 minutes. The loaf in a silicon pan was finished, but the loaf in a metal pan was not. It took another 5-10 minutes.)
Cool loaves on rack. When loaves are completely cool, wrap them in plastic wrap and store overnight before serving. I wrapped one and dropped it in the fridge. The other I wrapped in both plastic wrap and aluminum foil and put it in the freezer.