Sunday, September 28, 2014

PB Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Loaf

Autumn is here and that means time for baking! There is nothing like the smell of freshly baked goods in autumn! This recipe incorporates some of my very favourite flavours!

I came across a version of this recipe last fall. I made it then and it turned out okay but the baking times were way off and I knew I had to play with the recipes ingredients a bit to make it work for me!

First off, when a recipe calls for pumpkin, I ALWAYS substitute with butternut squash - which is far more economical and versatile for baking, side dishes and main courses. Besides, once the usual spices are added, you REALLY can't tell the difference in the flavour between pumpkin and butternut squash in a baked good! I buy at least 3 or 4 good sized butternut squash every fall - when they are the most abundant and cheapest - then cook them up and freeze in 1/2 cup portions. This is the perfect size for baking or individual servings for meals. The pic below shows the steps for preparing and freezing the squash for the freezer. For more details, see the recipe for "Autumn Chippers" from last year which details the process. It also has links to other "pumpkin"/squash recipes.

Adding peanut butter to a "pumpkin" recipe may seem a bit odd, but in this case, it is added instead of traditional fats like oil, margarine or butter. A nice twist on flavour without overpowering. Rather it blends in well and the use of crunchy peanut butter also adds to the texture and flavour of the loaf.  

The original recipe also called for yogurt - which I never buy as it doesn't agree with my digestive system. I used fat free sour cream.

I also never buy pumpkin pie spice as various brands/blends can be quite different in strength, taste and freshness. It should also be noted that not all recipes require all the pumpkin spice mix ingredients so it is better to just add the spices individually. Instead, I googled "pumpkin spice mix" and created my own combo of spices for this recipe after reading several recipe blends. The spice quantities here may seem like a lot but when it is done, the flavour is purely complimentary and not at all overwhelming.

The other major issue I had with the original recipe was the baking times. The poster seemed to like it undercooked and took it out of the oven at about 30 minutes! ICK! I'm not a fan of undercooked loaves so when I baked the original, it took about an hour to fully cook in the middle but by then the edges had started to dry out. I was not impressed!

The baking time variations was a direct result of too much batter for one loaf pan but not enough to divide it into two. The solution? It seemed obvious to me that the quantity of batter needed to be adjusted. I added 50% more of most of the ingredients and a bit more than that of the squash, sour cream and of course more of the chocolate chips! (DUH!) I then divided the recipe into two pans! The results are much more evenly baked loaves that are still bursting with autumn flavour!

As usual, I've passed out samples to several people. Everyone thought it was delicious! 

PB Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Loaf
1 Tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon all spice
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2/3 cup light or fat free sour cream
1 1/2 cups pure pumpkin OR butternut squash
3/4 cup crunchy peanut butter (I use Skippy)
6 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups chocolate chips, divided*

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 9"x5" loaf pans with cooking spray.
Combine the spices, baking soda, salt and flours in a medium bowl. Set aside.
In a stand mixer, combine the sour cream, pumpkin/squash and peanut butter. Stir in sugars and combine thoroughly Add the eggs and beat till smooth. Add in the spice/flour mixture and combine thoroughly - stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. The batter will be stiff. Stir about 1 1/4 cup chocolate chips into batter and mix thoroughly.  

Divide the batter evenly into prepared pans. Smooth out the tops with the back of a spoon or fork.  Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips over the top and lightly press into batter with the spoon or fork.

* If for some reason, you don't want to add as many chocolate chips, you could also add some chopped peanuts - either to the loaf itself or to press onto the top.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until the toothpick test comes out  just shy of clean clean. DO NOT OVERBAKE!! If the edges seem to be drying out before the center is done, cover lightly with foil and continue baking. 

Cool on rack for about 10 minutes before removing from pan to finish cooling.

Slice and serve. These also freeze well. I cut the loaves in half and wrap each half tightly in plastic wrap then place in a freezer bag for later enjoyment!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Teaspoons Or Milliliters?

In my last post, I talked about Canada switching from imperial to metric and the confusion/frustrations that still continue 40 years later. Today, I want to share some thoughts on metric versus imperial in the kitchen.

I was helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen before I even went to school. They only knew the imperial system. When metric was introduced in the 1970's, my mom and I bought metric measures and tried a few recipes but just never got the hang of it. There was some metric instruction in the food section of my home economics classes at school (at that time it was a 1/2 day/6 day cycle for half the year) but the main focus was still imperial.

We eventually gave away our metric measures and never bothered with metric recipes.


When it comes to cooking/baking you can't do a straight conversion without a lot more measuring or adjusting to a recipe. It isn't as simple as following most charts that are available online. Not all charts are created equally. Some give exact conversion to the decimal and others round it off - sometimes up and sometimes down! How it is rounded off can make a huge difference in some recipes! So you have to ask: 1) Was the recipe created in one system and converted to the other? 2) Has it been tested to see how accurate the conversion was?

Measuring ingredients for an imperial based recipe in metric can be tricky. Once a direct conversion is done, the exact numbers are then rounded up or down to the nearest milliliter. Then you have to figure out how much to add or subtract - ingredient wise - using your metric measures.

Imperial measuring spoons are sold in sets of 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1 teaspoon and 1 Tablespoon
Metric measures generally come in 1, 2.5, 5, 10 and 15 milliliter.

Imperial measuring cups come in 1/4, 1/3, 1/2 and 1 cup (if you are lucky, your set will also include 2/3 and 3/4 cup measures)
Metric measures can be found in various forms but generally there is a 60 (in some sets it is a 50), 75, 125 and 250 ml.
From the chart above, you can see some of the potential problems in a direct conversion. The metric equivalent to the imperial cup has almost 1 Tablespoon more of that ingredient! The differences may not seem like much for the measuring spoons or even the smaller measuring cups but depending on the ingredient, that difference can make the difference in the success or failure of a recipe.

For example: Too little or too much of a spice/seasoning can ruin the taste. Too much baking powder can make a recipe fall while too little can prevent it from rising. Too much or little liquid can make a recipe fail as can too much or too little flour. Erring on the side of less isn't always a success either. It's a careful balancing act of ingredients.

Just thinking about the conversions is enough to give you a headache!

For home cooks/bakers such as myself, it can be a challenge at times. The imperial system for measuring ingredients was ingrained in my memory hard drive at a very young age. I have a basic grasp of metric but I still think in imperial. I have liquid measures that list both and a kitchen scale that can weigh things in ounces or grams. I don't own metric measuring cups and measuring spoons.
I find inspiration for my recipes by reading other recipes and the comments that others have on what they've done differently but I rarely give a second glance to a metric recipe. For me, it's rarely worth the time and effort.

Thankfully, most web sites give the ingredients in imperial on the left side, followed by the ingredient. Some will give a metric amount in brackets either after the imperial or to the right of the ingredient. Some sites will even give you an option as to which format you wish to view the recipe in (use those with caution!). I stick to imperial whenever I can and often ignore metric recipes rather than attempting to convert them.

I also get really frustrated with recipes that list metric first.

Case in point: The website for Peak Of The Market (Manitoba grown produce) offers a daily recipe.

A little over a year ago, I posted the following comment online:
"I've been subscribing to peak recipes for several years and as much as I enjoy them, I find it extremely frustrating that the metric is on the left side. I know metric is "supposed" to be standard here in Canada, but frankly I don't know anyone who uses it for recipes or even owns metric measures (other than the dual labeling on liquid measures)! When you read recipes, you naturally read the ingredient on the left even when it isn't applicable to your measuring methods. Metric on the left is not just annoying, it can also lead to errors if you aren't really reading carefully. When I want to save one of your recipes, I have to copy/paste it into a doc, delete the metric line by line, then move the imperial to the left line by line before I save and/or print it. This is time consuming and annoying so I don't save/use as many as I might otherwise. IF the imperial can't be on the left then there really should be an option as to which format you want to print/save recipes in. Other sites have that capability and so should Peak."
Their reply - "Hello Thanks for your comments. We are required to list metric first in Canada in everything we do. Whether that is on our bags of vegetables or on our recipes."
My reply -  "I recognize that products here must be listed in metric first, HOWEVER if you check other Canadian sites that feature recipes such as Kraft Canada, Food Network Canada, Canadian Living, etc. you will find that the vast majority of their recipes are listed with imperial first. If they mention metric, it is in brackets after the imperial or for the size of the package required as per Canadian standards.
Also, IF you are in fact required to produce ALL recipes in metric - then why are these Manitoba sites posting the vast majority of their recipes with imperial (and metric in brackets if it is even added)?
I am not disagreeing with having the metric version in the recipe - just its positioning. It should be in brackets or to the right - NOT the first thing you see."

It seems they didn't have a response to common sense logic as they never replied - and my remarks were subsequently removed by them..

With the exception of Peak, all of the above listed sites are primarily in imperial - as are many Canadian cookbooks such as the wonderful books and website ofJanet and Greta Podleski. So, despite living in a supposedly metric country, there is lots of imperial based Canadian content to chose from as well as countless other recipe books and websites from around the world.

And YES, I'm sticking to my imperial roots! I have no intention of buying any metric measures or converting my recipes. All of my recipes are based on and/or created with the imperial system.