Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pumpkin Cake with Sage Whipped Cream

This Pumpkin Cake is a lot like Gingerbread in texture - dense, moist, and best served in thick squares with a dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. I love to serve this with Sage Whipped Cream, which is simply regular whipped cream with a bit of finely ground sage mixed in. The flavor of the sage is very subtle, but it gives the whipped cream a unique, interesting flavor. Sage is a versatile herb that is used in every season, but in Autumn recipes it really shines. It goes really well with pumpkin, both in sweet and in savory dishes.

This pumpkin cake would also make a great pumpkin bread if you baked it in loaf pans (you would probably get one regular and one mini loaf out of this recipe). If you are looking for a frosted pumpkin layer cake, see Pumpkin Layer Cake with Maple Frosting in the recipe section.

For the Cake:
1 2/3 Cups All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground Cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon Salt
3/4 teaspoon Baking Soda
2/3 Cup Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs
1 1/4 Cups Packed Brown Sugar
1 Cup Cooked Pumpkin

Variation: If you wanted to make this into a "Pumpkin Gingerbread," you could increase the ginger to 1 whole teaspoon and add 1 Tablespoon of molasses.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (or line with parchment) one 8x8" square baking pan.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl and stir well.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, oil and sugar together. Add the pumpkin in and stir well. Add the Flour mixture to the wet mixture in three batches, stirring well after each addition. Pour into the baking pan and bake for 25-30 minutes. The cake is done when the center springs back when touched with your finger, or when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. This is a dense, moist cake and will take a while to be done in the center. Don't rush it or you will have a soggy undercooked middle. Let the cake cool until it is warm but not hot, then cut into squares and top with sage whipped cream.

For the Sage Whipped Cream:
1 Pint heavy cream, very cold
3 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1/2 - 1 teaspoon ground Sage

Have your bowl and a wire whisk chilled before you make the cream. I stick mine in the freezer for twenty minutes. I also put the cream in the freezer for ten minutes or so, just to make sure everything is very cold.

You can use a KitchenAid mixer to whip cream, but whipping it by hand prevents over beating. If you do use an electric mixer, just watch it carefully. Whip the cold cream until it just begins to thicken before adding your sugar and sage.

If you have a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, grind the sage with the sugar a bit so that the sage gets even finer. If not, don't worry - It will still taste good.

Add in the sugar and sage, then whip again until it thickens to your desired consistency. For this dessert, I like the whipped cream to be just thick enough to not be called "liquid" anymore. I like it to kind of slump over the sides of the cake (see picture at top). But you may prefer a whipped cream that stands up stiffly like this:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Importance of Good Spices


I never thought it really mattered where you got your spices. I figured whatever was on the grocery store shelf was good enough, you know? But after I started getting my spices direct from the spice companies, I started to notice a BIG difference. The flavors and aromas from these herbs and spices were more pungent, stronger than the ones I had been buying at my local store. I was surprised by the difference. But the most surprising thing I discovered was that these better spices were often  cheaper than the ones on the grocery store shelf! For example, some of the most common herbs and spices I buy are about $1 less when I buy direct from a spice company. And since they taste fresher anyway, it is a double win.

Why is there a difference? It may be because the spice aisle makes up only a small part of your grocery store or specialty store. So spices are only a small portion of their business. Each individual jar of herbs or spices might sit on the shelf for quite a while. Certain ones just don't move fast enough to ensure that what you are getting is fresh. It's as simple as that. When you buy direct from the company, you are getting a fresh product from a source that ONLY handles herbs and spices, so the quality and freshness are guaranteed.

Some of these spice companies have retail stores you can go to, and some of them only offer online sales. If you are lucky enough to have a spice store in your area, you can save yourself the shipping costs. But even when I spend $6-8 on shipping, I generally save money when compared to the grocery store prices - the lower cost of the merchandise makes up for the shipping price.

The other big reason to buy your herbs and spices direct from a spice company is VARIETY. There is a huge variety of items that you've probably never even heard of, and a whole array of unique spice blends that are not available in grocery stores. For example, the Mystic Blue Spice Company offers an array of small batch spice blends and flavored sugars like Lavender Sugar. Penzey's Spices offers four different types of cinnamon. And they both offer great salt-free blends as well.

Order your next batch of spices direct from a spice company and I guarantee you will notice a difference!