Whole Pumpkin Baked with Cream and Cheese

Whole Baked Pumpkin - Top

One thing that can go wrong with baked whole pumpkins is incinerating it into mush. Filled with cream and Gruyère cheese, you’ll know when the pumpkin is overcooked. It will likely collapse into a deflated mound of white and orange laced with strings of melted Gruyère. The semi-successful dish will still be delicious, as long as the cream spills into a baking dish instead of the oven floor.

That’s my long-winded way of saying that you can’t mess this non-recipe up.

The pumpkin top is sliced off to serve as its own lid and the structural integrity of the baked pumpkin depends on the carving method. Instead of cutting off the tops horizontally in one stroke, use a narrow pointed knife and slice around the stem at a 45 degree angle. Just don’t forget to watch those fingers.

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Pumpkin Spice Brioche

Pumpkin Spice Brioche Crust

Pumpkin puree and its familiar spice mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger are kneaded into buttery dough in this seasonal take on the classic brioche. This recipe makes so much sense to me – winter squashes simply roasted with butter is always comforting when in season . These soft yellow puffs topped with crunchy pumpkin seeds have a bit more to offer than its oven-roasted cousin but it took a bit of deciphering to get started.

This pumpkin brioche recipe was derived from a rocket scientist-friendly formula posted in the San Francisco Baking Institute website. Converting every single decimal into manageable measurements was mind-numbing tediousness but the effort was thankfully worth it. I’ll make this again whether pumpkins are in season or not, thanks to the magic of canning.

Here’s to hoping that I’m not the only geek who bakes with a laptop and spreadsheet in the kitchen instead of measuring cups.

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Braised Pork Belly – Hangzhou Dongpo Pork

Dongpo Rou - Hangzhou Braised Pork Belly Top

Dongpo Pork is a minimalist recipe for braised pork belly that needs only a few Chinese pantry staples — ginger, scallions, soy sauce, and Shaoxing rice wine. Ever ordered anything “drunken” at your local Chinese restaurant? Odds are you’ve had Shaoxing. It is the most widely used rice wine in Chinese cookery so invest in a good quality bottle if you plan to fire up the wok often.

Hangzhou braised pork belly shamelessly celebrates fat as the main ingredient. There is no browning or searing in this version, a step usually called for when braising meats, presumably to prevent the fat and skin from taking on any texture other than gelatinous. As the meat simmers underneath the ebony liquid to produce a rich broth, the fat on top steams into wobbly silkiness that is neither solid nor liquid.

I realize that wasn’t the most appetizing description for something you’re supposed to put in your mouth. This is one of those “try it, you’ll like it” recipes.

It takes at least 4 hours to get the best results when making Dongpo Pork. Throw the ingredients in a pot, run errands, do laundry, work out, and come home to a kitchen redolent of ginger and soy sauce. It’s done when the fat, skin, and meat are easily pierced with blunt chopsticks.

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Sûkerbôlle / Suikerbrood – Frisian Sugar Bread

Sukerbolle Suikerbrood Frisian Sugar Bread Crumb

In this, our next installment of watch the Filipino cook and bake things he can’t even pronounce, we visit the province of Friesland in the Netherlands, home of fine cows, gallant horses, and the regional specialty bread called sûkerbôlle. Based on an old Frisian cookbook, this sugar bread loaf is lightly scented with cinnamon and ginger. The crunchy bits of half-melted pearl sugar embedded in the impossibly fluffy interior make sûkerbôlle surprisingly addictive.

Dutch cheeses, pannenkoeken, and a few treats by way of Indonesia define my limited knowledge of foods from the Netherlands. My introduction to the Dutch baking traditions through sûkerbôlle left a decidedly positive impression and I hope to learn more about it.

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Apples Steamed with Red Bean Paste

Apples Steamed with Red Bean Paste

If you have a nagging need to apply heat to apples before enjoying it, try steaming for a change. Cooking and baking cultivars such as Granny Smith Apples can be steamed with good results, changing its distinctive crispness into a spoonable consistency. Steaming also intensifies the flavor of apples while retaining much of its fresh taste, and more importantly, its nutrients. There has to be some truth to that old saying, right?

Sweet red bean paste complements the tartness of Granny Smiths in this traditional Shanghai recipe for stuffed and steamed apples. Unlike steamed peaches with honey dates, in which the ingredients combine into a syrupy whole, the apples and red bean paste stay separate because of the firmer fruit. Enjoy the apples with a bit of the sweet filling in each spoonful.

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