Apple Pumpkin Muffins

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These Apple Pumpkin Muffins are so good! It’s like apple pie and pumpkin pie combined, but much healthier. I used 2 cups of Truvia Baking Blend, but the muffins were a bit too sweet for my taste, so I suggest using a bit less sugar (or your favorite sugar alternative). These muffins are excellent with my morning coffee or tea and are healthy enough to feel good about packing them in my children’s lunch boxes.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups Truvia Baking Blend (or your favorite sugar/sweetener)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 15oz can canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup applesauce
2 cups, peeled and chopped apple
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line 18 muffin cups.

Add the flours, oats, Truvia (or sugar), cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, baking soda, and salt to a large bowl, and whisk together until well combined.

In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, pumpkin, and applesauce. Add this mixture to the flour mixture, stirring until just combined. Fold in the chopped apples and walnuts. Spoon the batter evenly among the 18 muffin cups.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until the tops of the muffins spring back when lightly tapped.

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Chocolate Chip Walnut Scones

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Let’s face it; scones are basically giant cookies that we get to eat for breakfast, so why not add some good stuff like chocolate chips! These flaky and mildly sweet scones are wonderful with your morning coffee or tea, and a good way to sneak some chocolate in before lunch time. I adapted this recipe from Joy of Cooking. These scones freeze beautifully, so you can store the extra scones in the freezer and defrost them as needed.

1 cup unbleached flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or use all unbleached flour for a lighter texture)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup roughly chopped walnuts
1 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the unbleached flour, white whole wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture using a pastry blender or 2 knives, until the largest pieces are about the size of peas.

Stir in the chocolate chips and the walnuts. Add the heavy cream, and mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Use your hand to gently knead the dough against the sides of the bowl about 5 to 10 times.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and pat down the dough until it is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the dough into 12 wedges (you can make them larger, if you prefer) and place on an ungreased baking sheet.

Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before serving.

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Rosemary Bread

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This amazing bread tastes just like the bread at a popular Italian restaurant. It has a deliciously salty crust with a soft, rosemary flavored interior. It freezes well, so you can store extra slices in the freezer – if it lasts that long!

1 cup warm water (115 degrees)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1/4 teaspoons black pepper
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped

In a large bowl, mix together the warm water and yeast. Let stand several minutes, until a foam forms, indicating that the yeast is alive.

Add 1 cup of the bread flour to the yeast mixture, and mix for about 2 minutes with a hand mixer on medium-low speed. You can use a whisk instead, if you prefer. This will beat air into the dough. Let the mixture stand for 30 minutes to 2 hours. This allows the mixture to ferment a bit and improves both the taste and texture of the bread.

Add the olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper, rosemary, and remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour, and mix well with a large wooden spoon until the ingredients are well incorporated.

Place the dough on a clean countertop and knead for about 12-20 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and elastic. This recipe uses “wet” dough, which means that it will be very sticky and difficult to knead in the traditional method. I found the French method of kneading, which you can see demonstrated on this video, works well. Expect the dough to stick to your hands at first, but if it is really unmanageable, add a little bit of flour to make the dough easier to work with. This kneading method takes time, but the results are worth it!

After kneading, place the dough in an oiled bowl, turning to coat the dough in oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. In the winter, I usually let my dough rise in a closed oven with the oven light turned on.

Punch down the dough and dump it out onto the counter. Shape it into a round (boule) by tucking the edges of the dough under in a cupping motion, to form a tight ball shape. Turn the ball upside down and pinch the bottom of the dough together to help maintain the round shape. Sprinkle a baking stone with cornmeal and place the dough on the baking stone to rise until doubled in size, about an hour. If you don’t have a baking stone, place the dough on a lightly greased baking pan instead.

While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the dough is fully risen, bake it for 20-30 minutes, or until the crust is lightly browned. Remove the bread from the oven, lightly brush it with olive oil and then sprinkle it will coarse sea salt. Let the bread cool for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

Serve the bread with olive oil for dipping, or as a tasty accompaniment to your dinner.

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Chocolate Banana Bread with Walnuts

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It has been cold and wet this week so I have been in a bit of a baking frenzy. I started the week with this amazing chocolate banana bread. The chocolate adds some decadence to this moist bread and changes simple breakfast bread into a sweet treat.

1 stick of butter (1/2 cup), softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 overripe bananas
3/4 cup unbleached flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour (or use all unbleached flour)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 9×5 inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, mash the bananas with a fork, then stir into the butter mixture.

In a medium bowl, add the unbleached flour, white whole wheat flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa powder. Use a whisk to stir the dry ingredients together until well combined.

Gradually mix the flour mixture into the banana mixture. Mix in the milk, and then stir in the chocolate chips and walnuts.

Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Buttery Soft Pretzels

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I have officially found soft pretzel heaven! Salty and slightly chewy on the outside and soft and pillowy on the inside – good enough to make me forget about the impact to my waistline. These pretzels are heavenly right out of the oven (I had to exert serious willpower to keep myself from devouring the whole tray), but seem to lose their wonderful texture after they cool. You can revive them by warming them in a toaster oven, but they won’t return to their full glory. Eat them fresh out of the oven, if possible. Click here to view the original recipe. This makes about 12 pretzels.

4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup baking soda
4 cups hot water
1/4 cup kosher salt, for topping
Melted butter

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and salt. Make a well (a.k.a. hole) in the center of the flour and add the oil and yeast mixture. Mix well until a soft dough forms.

Knead the dough on a clean counter for about 8 minutes (add more flour, if needed) until the dough is smooth.

Lightly oil a large bowl; place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Note: if your house is cold, try letting the dough rise in a closed oven with the oven light turned on.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees, and put a rack in the upper third of the oven.

In a large bowl, dissolve baking soda in hot water.

Turn the risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope and twist into a pretzel shape. Rolling the dough is a bit tricky. I got the best results by rolling the end of the dough between my hands into a rope. Then I held the middle of the rope with my left hand, while I pulled the ends down with my right hand and twisted the ends of the rope together, and then folded them onto the bottom. It took me a few tries before I got the hang of it, but don’t worry, even my deformed pretzels tasted delicious.

Once all of the dough is all shaped, dip each pretzel into the baking soda solution (this will help form the yummy pretzel crust) and place on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle each pretzel with kosher salt.

Place the baking sheet in the upper third of the oven (this will prevent the bottoms of the pretzels from getting too brown) and bake for about 8 minutes, or until browned.

After removing the pretzels from the oven, brush them with melted butter. Let cool a few minutes and then prepare for the pretzel feeding frenzy!

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White Chocolate and Dried Cranberry Scones

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My dad shared this delicious scone recipe with me, with the bold claim that they are the best scones ever. I love scones, so I was anxious to give this recipe a try. While maybe not the best scones I’ve ever had, they are certainly in my Top 3. The white chocolate adds little pockets of sweetness that perfectly compliment the tart dried cranberries. I modified the recipe a bit by adding some white whole wheat flour (for fiber and texture) and some chopped walnuts.

2 cups of unbleached flour
1 cup white whole wheat flour (or use all unbleached flour for a lighter texture)
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus enough whole milk to make 1 cup)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda.  Add the butter pieces and cut in the butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. If you don’t have a pastry blender, use two butter knifes to cut the butter into the flour mixture. Here’s a quick video I found that shows you how to do this:

Stir in the cranberries, walnuts, and white chocolate chips. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and stir until the mixture forms a soft dough that clings together (dough will be sticky).

Lightly flour a flat work surface (I use my countertop) and your hands.  Divide dough in half and shape each half into a ball.  Pat each ball into an 8 inch circle.  Place the circles on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Score each circle into 8 wedges with floured knife, cutting about ¾ of the way into the dough. (Note: baking the scones together in a circle, worked fine, but the edges of the scones remained soft (like the interior of the scone), rather than developing a nice crust. Next time I make these I am going to try separating the wedges before baking.)

Bake at 425 degrees for 16-18 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool for about 10 minutes, while you brew a cup of tea to enjoy with your warm scone.

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Low Fat Bran Muffins

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I love bran muffins, but some recipes I’ve tried produce muffins that are dry and heavy, and not very appealing. This recipe, however, makes muffins that are light and tender, and so delicious that I’d choose them over a regular blueberry muffin any day. Click here to see the original recipe. This is a great recipe for those of us watching our weight, because it’s low fat and loaded with fiber. I prefer to use fresh blueberries, but I didn’t have any on hand this time, so I substituted golden raisins instead. These muffins are very perishable, so I usually freeze any muffins that won’t be consumed in a couple of days. Then I take individual muffins from the freezer and defrost them in the microwave when I’m ready to eat them. This recipe makes 12 muffins.

1 1/2 cups wheat bran (not wheat germ)
1 cup low fat milk
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 egg
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (or substitute another fruit, or 1/2 cup raisins)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease your muffin pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the wheat bran and milk, and let stand for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix together the applesauce, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla. Mix in the bran mixture.

In another bowl, use a whisk to mix together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir the flour mixture into the bran mixture until just blended. Fold in blueberries (or raisins, etc).

Use a spoon to fill the muffin cups about 2/3 full. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops spring back when lightly tapped. Cool on a wire rack. Store muffins loosely covered at room temperature. Freeze any muffins that you don’t eat within 2-3 days.

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Pumpkin Bread

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This quick bread is an excellent way to enjoy one of my favorite fall flavors: pumpkin. It’s also relatively healthy considering there isn’t any butter or oil – not to mention the boatload of vitamin A! This moist and spice-filled bread tastes like pumpkin pie (and is just as good as a certain coffee-house pumpkin bread, in my opinion). This recipe makes 3 loaves: one to eat now, one to share with friends, and one for the freezer to enjoy later.

Cinnamon and sugar for dusting the baking pans
3 cups canned pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups unsweetened applesauce
3 cups white sugar
6 eggs
4 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
Chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a small bowl, combine cinnamon (about 1/2 teaspoon) and sugar (about 1/4 cup). Grease three loaf pans (I used two 9×5 pans and one 8×5 pan), and sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, mix together the pumpkin, applesauce, sugar, and eggs. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; gradually stir into the pumpkin mixture until well blended.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If desired, sprinkle chopped walnuts on top. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the top browns and springs back when lightly pressed. Let cool, and enjoy!

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Buttery Dinner Rolls

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Just in time for Thanksgiving, here is my favorite recipe for dinner rolls. These rolls are so buttery and flaky that they don’t even need any butter (and that is coming from a butter-lover!). They freeze wonderfully, so you can make them ahead of time and then store the rolls in the freezer until you need them.

1 cup warm milk (70 to 80 degrees F)
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups bread flour

In a large bowl, mix together the warm milk, sugar, and yeast, until the yeast is dissolved (or mostly dissolved). Let stand for about 10 minutes to proof the yeast (I found that the yeast won’t foam as much in milk, as it does when mixed with water). Mix in the remaining ingredients, until a rough dough is formed.

Pour the dough out onto a clean counter (no water or flour necessary) and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will be sticky at first, but will become very smooth and tacky after several minutes of kneading. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and let rise for about an hour in a warm place (a closed oven with the oven light turned on works well).

Punch down the dough and divide it into 24 pieces; shape each piece into a ball. Place the dough balls into a greased 13×9 inch baking dish. Cover with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled (15-30 minutes).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. If desired, brush the tops of the rolls with melted butter. Bake for about 15-18 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool, then pull apart the rolls and enjoy!

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Banana Sour Cream Bread

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This is my favorite banana bread recipe. The addition of sour cream makes it super moist, and I love the cinnamon-sugar flavor on the crust. Click here to view the original recipe, which yields four loaves (I reduced the ingredients to make only two loaves).

2 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup and 2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 (16 ounce) container sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Grease two 7×3 loaf pans. (Note: if you have larger loaf pans, you may be able to fit all of the batter into one loaf pan; just be sure to increase the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and allow for extra baking time.) In a small bowl, mix together the 2 tablespoons of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Dust pans lightly with cinnamon-sugar mixture.

In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 1 1/2 cups of sugar (don’t worry if it doesn’t get “creamy”, just be sure to mix it well).  Beat in the eggs, one at a time, mixing well. Stir in the mashed bananas, sour cream, vanilla, and cinnamon. Add the salt, baking soda, and flour and mix well. Then stir in the walnuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pans.

Bake for about 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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