Thursday, December 13, 2012

Spiced butternut tea cakes with St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

I like to bake, but I don't post much about baking.  Perhaps that's because I really can't bake like a pastry chef when I would really want to.  But give me a fancy pan, a dense, substantive cake or tea bread recipe and about a pound of confectioner's sugar and I'm convinced I can do anything.

Here's a recent example of my trying to look more impressive than talent allows, gilding the lily with one of my favorite fancy pans and some 10X sugar:

Photo of a chocolate and red wine cake by my friend, CG

When I bake, I love making quick bread recipes.  They're easy, almost effortless, and can be made in so many ways--muffins, snack cakes or tea cakes are my favorite incarnations.  Quick bread recipes are very forgiving, as long as you respect the wet, dry and fat ratios.  Substituting yogurt, creme fraiche, sour cream or buttermilk for milk in a quick bread recipe really enhances your baked goods.  Additionally, adding and subtracting moist flavoring ingredients, such as bananas, mango pulp and pumpkin, is fairly simple and I will often substitute some apple butter or other pureed fruit (up to 1/2 cup) for some of the fat called for in the recipe.  Incorporating dried, chopped or diced fruit (such as raisins, dates, dried cherries, prunes or diced apples, peaches or pears) is also very easy and doesn't change the procedure much except to perhaps extend the baking time a bit and make your final outcome much more delicious.

For extra special flavor, don't forget about things like orange zest, lemon zest, or any kind of citrus zest/candied citrus peel, or chopped nuts, chocolate chips, fennel pollen and crystallized ginger.  All of those additions are lovely and perfectly delicious when paired with simple, Plain Jane quick breads.  Raid your pantry and be adventurous!

Substituting liqueurs or liquor for part of the liquid ingredients produces good results too.  Bourbon or rum in banana bread is a natural; orange or peppermint liqueur in chocolate quick bread is wonderful; amaretto or hazelnut liqueur in nut bread is fabulous.  The list goes on and the possibilities are endless for experimentation.  And don't forget about drizzling liqueurs, sherry, brandy, rum or bourbon over the bread while it's still warm.  Delicious!

But quick breads don't have to be sweet.  You can make an olive, nut, herb, vegetable or cheese quick bread like the ones here.  Savory or sweet, quick breads are delightful--and even better toasted, warm or sandwiched together with a generous schmear of cream cheese or butter.

Recently, I had a surplus of leftover roasted butternut squash and thought of pureeing it and incorporating some into a savory quick bread along with fried sage, goat cheese and toasted pumpkin seeds.  Sooooo yummy with just about any kind of soup.  But then I remembered how much my husband loves his sweets.  So I switched gears and decided on a spice cake flavor profile with the moist density of pumpkin bread.

So this is what happened when I took my favorite pumpkin bread recipe, got out one of my fancy pans and then took a peek in the liquor cabinet to see what I could do to add some extra oomph.

Spiced Butternut Tea Cakes with St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram

St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram is a lovely rum-based liquer made from the allspice berry.  A wonderful addition to mulled wine and cocktails, it enhances cakes and tea breads as well.    Substitute canned pumpkin for the roasted squash puree if you'd like.  This recipe (from the Family Circle ABZ's of Cooking) will make two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaves of bread, or 18 oversized muffins, or 24 regular-sized muffins or 36 tea cakes (which I baked in my Nordic Ware tart pan).

2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups pureed butternut squash
2 tsp. orange zest
3 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)
St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram for drizzling (optional)
Confectioner's sugar, for serving (optional)
Hand-whipped heavy cream, for serving (optional)

1.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.)  Combine sugar and oil in a large bowl with an electric mixer.
3.)  Beat in eggs one at a time and continue beating until light and foamy.
4.)  Beat in butternut puree and orange zest, blending well.
5.)  Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.
6.)  Add flour mixture to butternut mixture, beating at low speed until blended.
7.)  Stir in nuts by hand.
8.)  Pour batter into greased loaf pans, prepared muffin tins or tea cake pans.
9.)  Bake large loaves for about 1 hour, muffins for 22 to 27 minutes (depending on size) and tea cakes for about 17 minutes, or until tops spring back when press lightly.
10.)  Drizzle with a little St. Elizabeth Allspice Dram or some brandy when still slightly warm, if desired.
11.)  When completely cool, dust with confectioner's sugar and top with a dollop of hand-whipped cream, if you wish.

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