Pumpkin spice and brown sugar creme brûlée

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A few years ago there was a run on cans of pumpkin at the grocery store. For some reason, it was just gone. I learned my lesson and made sure to stock up on pumpkin well in advance of pumpkin season. So I have a fair amount of pumpkin sitting around, waiting for some baking love. I also have a brûlée torch sitting around, waiting to set sugar in fire. The obvious solution was to make pumpkin creme brûlée.

Creme brûlée is one of those dishes that sounds really difficult because of the fancy name, but is pretty easy to put together. It’s a great dessert for dinner parties, as you can bake and chill the custard ahead of time, and then just caramelize the sugar as people are finishing their dinner.
As the custard baked, I realized that I’d probably be content to bake this just for the smell. Breathing in the spices will make you feel like you’re being enveloped in a warm hug. The spices do not overpower the dish, as so many pumpkin dishes are wont to do. The finished custard is creamy, but light, and the crunchy brown sugar adds a punch of smoky flavor.

Pumpkin spice and brown sugar creme brûlée

Ingredients
1 15-ounce can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light/golden brown sugar
5 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups heavy whipping cream
8 tablespoons raw sugar or light/golden brown sugar

Heat 12-15 cups of water in a pot on the stove. Preheat oven to 325°F. Whisk pumpkin, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 cup brown sugar in large bowl. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla, then spices and salt. Bring cream just to boil in medium saucepan. Gradually whisk hot cream into pumpkin mixture. (You’re tempering the eggs, or slowly adding the hot cream, so as not to cook the eggs.)

Divide mixture among eight 5×1-inch ramekins*. Divide ramekins between 2 large roasting pans. Add enough hot water to pans to come halfway up sides of ramekins. Bake until custards are just set in center, about 35 minutes. Chill custards until cold, about 6 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.

ETA: I found this makes for a better crust- remove custards from the fridge for 30 minutes prior to torching. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon raw sugar over pumpkin custard in each ramekin. Using kitchen torch, melt sugar until deep amber. (Alternatively, use broiler. Place ramekins on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle tops with brown sugar [not raw sugar] and melt directly under broiler until deep amber.) Refrigerate 15 minutes to allow sugar to harden. Allow creme brûlée to sit for 5 minutes before digging in.

*You can use 3 inch diameter ramekins with 1 1/4 inch high sides. Bake for 50 minutes. If you want to make a thicker custard, lower the cooking temperature to 300 degrees and cook for a longer time.

Recipe via Epicurious

Easy Halloween and fall crafts

Crafting is not something that comes naturally to me. I only have a vague idea of what Modge Podge is, I’ve never yearned for a Cricut, and while I like the end result of a scrapbook, the process seems expensive and tedious. But plenty of times, there are things I would like to decorate with that are either too expensive in the store or don’t exist. That’s when I pull out my trusty glue gun and start trolling the Pinterest boards. The craft projects always make Mike take a deep breath and ready himself because no matter how easy or inexpensive I believe an undertaking to be, it always ends up being way more involved than I imagined.
So you can imagine that Mike was particularly excited when I told him that I had volunteered to help decorate for the costume dance, (can’t call it a Halloween dance) at school. (We also didn’t know that I’d be leading a Girl Scout group only a couple of weeks later.) I didn’t realize that I would basically be the only one decorating. Even so, I still wanted to keep costs down and maximize effect in the large cafeteria. These are some of the things I came up with. They’re simple and created some ambiance…you know….before the lights were turned off and pretty much everything I did no longer mattered because you couldn’t really see it.

Feather mask

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This ended up being really messy because of all of the feather bits floating everywhere. Don’t try to do this project “real quick” right before dinner, unless you like your meals extra fluffy. I chose red, purple, brown, and yellow feathers for a fall theme. I began with long feathers underneath and then filled out the mask and covered the quills with short, fat, fluffy feathers.
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I kept thinking about this scene from Despicable Me while making the mask.
The nice thing about this is that it’s hard to mess up. If there are some bare spots, just add more feathers.

Spiders

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This is pretty straightforward. Styrofoam balls, paint, pipe cleaners, and googly eyes. I used the cups to keep the balls from rolling around while they dried. The googly eyes didn’t stick to the styrofoam well enough on their own, so I hot glued them on. They looked pretty great stuck in some fake cobwebs. Also, something to always keep in mind: if it looks too big up close, it will look just right from a distance.

Ghosts

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Has Pinterest ever lied to you? Of course it has. You try to do something that seems fairly straightforward, it seems to be going well, and then it fails in such a way that makes you sure that the only way it must have worked for that stupid whore is that she offered glittery, Modge Podged sacrifices to Craft Satan. (And when you’re done being aggravated you take back the “stupid whore” comment, but the Craft Satan sacrifice still stands!) Well, this was one of those times. I made my model, doused it with starch, and dried it with my hairdryer. And it all fell apart.
Fortunately, one can still make ghosts with balloons and cheese cloth. I used some craft adhesive spray, and the cheese cloth stayed without a problem. They look a little bit like dementors, but they work in the dark. Add googly eyes to make them silly. And the nice thing is that you get to have ghosts without scaring the crap out of your small children.
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Fall trees

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For Rachael’s fourth birthday, she wanted a Snow White party. Since we decided to have the party at our pool clubhouse, it meant that any decorations we had needed to be free standing because we couldn’t attach anything to the walls. So I made plywood trees. And when I say I made them, I mean I drew the shape and then sent Mike to cut them out. But I totally spray painted them all by myself. Anyway, I thought they would be perfect for the dance to add a little color and deter kids from running behind the DJ table. The kids loved them….especially the balloons that I placed on the floor in front of them. *shrug*
There may be a better way to rig these up, but so far we’ve done it with skewers, twine, and tape. (Best to use some heavier duty tape to hold the skewers in place.) I created a base of three groups of three balloons. I tied some twine around the bottoms of each set of balloons and then tied one set to a skewer. Attach the skewer to the back of the tree so that the balloons rest on top of the branch. From there, you can build with sets of three balloons on top of the base you’ve created, in a pyramid formation, securing the balloons with tape.

Ribbon’s magical power

Wired ribbon is always your best friend. It can take something ordinary and instantly make it a holiday item that has a little something special.
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Inexpensive witch’s broom is all dressed up, but nowhere to go.

For table center pieces, I filled mason jars with candy corn. It’s a quick way to add some color, a delicious treat after your finished with it, (Mike doesn’t understand my love for candy corn….because he’s apparently crazy) and is a legitimate use of mason jars. You can gussy up the jars with ribbon around the lid and paper with stickers on top of the lid.

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Anniversary cupcakes

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In just a few days, Mike and I will celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary. I feel really lucky to have married my best friend. I know that may sound cliche, but he really is my best friend. We were friends long before we ever started dating. We could hang out without pretense and just be ourselves. I enjoyed his punny humor and I could make him laugh and relax. We often went to a hole in the wall Chinese restaurant down at Tech. It was sandwiched in between a guitar store and a laundromat, and the food was fast, cheap, and amazing. We can’t remember what it’s called because we always called it Sketchy Chinese. Every once in awhile we’d go drinking together downtown. I made him start falling in love with me because I would sometimes wear overalls to go drinking. Loose pants mean I have room to drink more. *nod* He watched me date a bunch of other guys who were in no way right for me. I watched him pine over other women with whom, for one reason or another, he had no chance. After a couple of false starts trying to date each other and some growing up, we got our shit together by finally realizing we belonged together.

We pretty much knew after a few months of dating that this was it and we wanted to marry each other. So, as it is in my personality to do so, I waited for him to pop the question with a patient and calm spirit. Not once did I ask him to more narrowly define the time table. You see, I absolutely love it when I know really big surprises are coming and I have absolutely no control over what will happen with them. Just. Frickin. Adore. It. So, he finally proposed on an absolutely gorgeous day in May on campus at Virginia Tech. I knew he had the ring, (we had gone down there to pick it up) but he still managed to surprise me. In the middle of the Drillfield, as the bells of Burruss Hall rang out to toll the noon hour, Mike called out my name. I turned to find him on one knee with my gorgeous diamond ring. And in response I yelled, Holy shit!

After seeing Mike’s childhood church in Greensboro, I asked to be married there. I loved the pyramid shape of the sanctuary; its windows let in soft sunlight and brought the outside in with the view of old, towering, leafy trees. Of course that meant a long engagement to allow enough time for long distance planning. Fortunately, one of the easiest points of planning was choosing the bakery for our cakes. Maxie B is a small, yet mighty, bakery, which was recommended to us by my mother-in-law. Not only did they have a delicious version of the wedding cake I wanted, (white cake with raspberry filling and white chocolate buttercream) they had cake that would fit in perfectly with the fact that it was fall for our groom’s cake. Pumpkin chocolate chip with white chocolate cream cheese frosting. I have yet to find anything nearly as good that claims to be the same cake. It is so delicious and rich that you will gladly ride that sugar coma train straight to hell!20130924-204205.jpg
First person to guess what the cake says gets nothing. Well, the glory of winning, but…

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Most awkward cake cutting ever

In honor of our anniversary, I wanted to recreate that delectable groom’s cake.

Pumpkin cupcakes filled with cinnamon chocolate ganache

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Cupcakes
Yield 18

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, and eggs. Add dry ingredients, and whisk until smooth. Whisk in pumpkin puree. May use mixer with whisk attachment.

Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
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Rachael said, “Look mom, they’re small and sweet, just like me”

Ganache

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Bring whipping cream to a simmer in a saucepan. Pour evenly over chocolate and let sit for 1 minute. Gently whisk, add cinnamon, and whisk until incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour. Beat chocolate on medium with hand mixer until ganache is light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
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White chocolate cream cheese frosting

1 1/2 packages (12 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces fine white chocolate, melted and cooled

Melt white chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring after each interval. Set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the butter and cream cheese together until well combined. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the confectioners’ sugar. Mix until combined. Add the vanilla and white chocolate. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
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Assembly

Cut a cone from the center of the cupcake. You can achieve this by running your knife in a circle at an angle.

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Mmmmm, leftovers

Spoon or pipe ganache into the center.
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You will have an easier time piping the ganache with a medium round decorating tip. Place decorating tip at the bottom of the hole and life tip as you squeeze decorating bag. Decorate with frosting.