I love butter and sugar.

Archive for the ‘Breakfast’ Category

One early evening this September I stepped outside, took a deep breath, and inhaled a familiar aroma that I hadn’t been acquainted with since this time last year. A feeling of excitement came over me as I continued to walk up Fifth Avenue, and I realized that this certain smell was autumn.

What does that mean – to smell like autumn? It’s hard to verbalize, but it smells light, cool, and crisp, as though the air has gradually calmed down from exposure to the summer sun’s bright rays. It is redolent of the leaves changing from deep and bright greens to warm red orange and amber shades, and it is aromatic of something that is slightly toasty and nutty, yet elusive in some way.

Autumn in the Northeast is completely unlike what I was used to growing up in San Francisco. A San Francisco autumn was unremarkable; the idea of leaves changing color was completely novel to me when I moved to the Boston area in 2004. I went to school at one of the most beautiful college campuses in the area and was able to fully experience a real New England autumn complete with Harry Potter-like Gothic-Georgian architecture in the background. The leaves slowly but surely changed color. I had no idea that a green leaf could turn into a deep magenta or purple shade, or that the same leaves that were orange could also become yellow before they crisped up and became brown. It was as though every day when I walked outside, I was constantly stunned by endless transformations and beauty.

Throughout the last seven years, I’ve watched with wonder as I’ve passed children in parks embracing autumn’s arrival. The glee with which they delight in autumn has never failed to bring a smile to my face – the way they thrash around in the leaves, rolling in them, tossing them up with their hands and kicking them and crunching them. I’m honestly not sure what warms me more – seeing the kids’ carefree delight or observing the parents watch their children, realizing how amazing it is to derive joy from life’s simple pleasures. Many times, I’ve been tempted to join in on the fun and jump up and down in the leaves with them, but then the self conscious adult side of me takes over and I decide that it wouldn’t be the smartest thing to do.

I’ve spent the last few months experiencing autumn in urban areas in New York like Union Square, Central Park, and Madison Square Park, but have also been able to see it by leaving the city and going hiking in Mohonk Preserve and wandering around the Berkshires in Massachusetts. Autumn in the Northeast is the most spectacular when you are outside of the city and completely immersed in nature. The few times I have left, it’s also helped me clear my head temporarily and just think about two of the simplest yet most complex things – love and life itself.

I always want to say that autumn is my favorite season, not just for that amazing smell that fills my nostrils as soon as September hits, and not just for the dramatic foliage, but also because it signifies the beginning of the holidays – Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas – and the traditions I embrace each year. Carving jack-o-lanterns, cutting up different types of squash for soup, getting together with family and friends for extravagant and gluttony turkey meals, decorating Noble Fir trees with my newest and oldest Christmas ornaments, and making egg nog and holiday cookies; it’s everything I love about life condensed into three short months of the year. If we just added some sun and warmth, it really would be the most perfect time of the year (I am slightly conflicted, though, because I also love watching the snow fall and lightly dust itself onto the city around me).

Autumn also means that I can get back to my favorite place in the house, the kitchen, and begin baking again. I bake the most during the autumn and winter, and one of the things I’ve been making without fail for the last four years has been pumpkin bread.

The spice combination in this bread – cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, combined with cranberries and toasted nuts, is one of the best ways to welcome autumn back into our lives. That spicy smell wafting through my apartment just conjures up all of the memories I have of every autumn I’ve spent on the East Coast.

Pumpkin bread is a really simple quick bread to make. Canned, unsweetened pumpkin is readily available at almost any grocery store, and I can speak from experience when I say that cutting up, pureeing, and straining a real sugar pumpkin for your pumpkin bread or pie is not really worth the effort. The taste will be exactly the same, so you should save yourself some trouble and just buy the canned stuff. The canned stuff is really good, so there’s no reason to dismiss it.

I always like to add either dried cranberries and/or toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans to my pumpkin bread. Both dried cranberries and toasted nuts always remind me of the autumn, and what’s better than making an autumn sweet bread taste even more like autumn?

I got this recipe from the resident director at my dorm in college. He loved to bake and cook, and in the autumn, he made several loaves of this pumpkin bread and shared it with all of us. It was love at first bite – I immediately asked if he’d be so generous as to share the recipe with me, and share he did. Although I’m no longer in touch with him, his baking legacy lives on with me and everyone else I love who gets to benefit from the fruits of my autumn baking.

Pumpkin Bread with Cranberries and Walnuts

Adapted from the 2005-2006 Stone Davis Resident Director’s recipe collection

  • 2 C. sugar
  • 1 C. vegetable oil (canola or corn)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 C. cooked/canned unsweetened pumpkin
  • 3 C. flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cloves (optional)
  • 4 C. dried cranberries
  • 1.5 C. toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Combine the sugar and vegetable oil in a large mixing bowl; mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, until incorporated. Combine the all of the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl. Mix the pumpkin into the egg mélange, and when combined, gradually add in all of the dry mixture. Stir in the cranberries and nuts. Put into two greased loaf pans. Bake the loaves for 1 hour.

blueberry muffins waiting to be eaten

I’ve never been a huge muffin fan. Maybe it’s because most of the ones I’ve had have either been too sweet or greasy, or that they’ve been so monstrous that they were victims of diminishing marginal utility (I’m in the camp that believes that too much of a good thing actually can be bad; this happened with me and Haagon Daaz’s four-ingredient ginger ice cream — loved it, ate too much of it, and now I need to stay far away from the stuff). Or maybe it’s because I had too many that were mass produced at Costco, which I love, but honestly a good majority of their baked goods need just a tad bit of work.

fresh blueberries!

But the notion of fresh fruit muffins has always attracted me, mostly because I love the idea of baking with fresh, seasonal fruit and how in each bite (at least ideally), you’d have a nice burst of fresh fruit flavor, whether it be in a cake, a pie, or a simple muffin. As much as I can enjoy a nice basket of blueberries in the morning, I would never turn away a plate of just baked fresh blueberry muffins.

mixing blueberries in

This summer, I had two goals in the epicurean department: 1) to make use of seasonal (and hopefully local) fruit with the best dessert recipes possible, and 2) to make my own fruit jams using summer’s best fruit. One thing that has always driven me crazy about fruit jam/preserves that I see at grocery stores is that many of them are so overwhelmingly sweet. I recently read Russ Parson’s How to Pick a Peach, in which I learned that to be legally called a jam or fruit preserve in the U.S., the fruit concoction needs to contain at least 50 to 60 percent sugar or sweetener (that god-awful high fructose corn syrup in many unfortunate cases). The idea just seems so ludicrous to me, since if you are already starting with fresh, ripe fruit, why would you need to add 50 to 60 percent more sugar to what is already a lot of natural sugar?

homemade blueberry jam

So I snatched Blueberry’s latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated, which just happened to have a many-times tested and perfected blueberry muffin recipe that uses not just fresh blueberries but also homemade blueberry jam. It was like my dream come true in a muffin recipe — I knew I had to make it as soon as possible… which I did. And get this: for a cup of blueberries, a mere one teaspoon of sugar is added to jam reduction. When I took it off the stove to cool it and test it, it was an enlightening moment — perfect jam that had a strong blueberry flavor with just the right sweetness.

swirling blueberry jam into batter

When I was reading the blueberry muffin article in Cook’s Illustrated, the writer had said that she didn’t want her muffin to be “too cake-like,” but at the same time she wanted it to be flaky and soft, but sturdy like a quick bread to hold the weight of the fresh berries. While Blueberry and Kumquat were noshing on the muffins just out of the oven for breakfast yesterday morning, they both said that they didn’t particularly care for muffins that were too cake-like as well, yet to me the crumb of this muffin seemed light and fluffy, as a good cake should be (assuming it’s not one of those dense chocolate ones). How do you describe the ideal muffin texture, and how does it really differ from that of a cupcake other than the fact that your muffin may have berries or nuts in it?

blueberry muffins with lemon sugar - yum!

Cake-like or not, these blueberry muffins were probably the best I’d ever had, if I do say so myself. The muffin had just the right amount of fresh blueberries and blueberry flavor throughout, the crumb was delicate yet sturdy, and the lemon zest sugar topping was a beautiful and delicious complement. This recipe is definitely a keeper, and with blueberries at their peak this summer, I will definitely be making these again. I can’t wait to try them with an almond crunch topping.

blueberry muffin innards

Best Blueberry Muffins
from Cook’s Illustrated, May & June 2009
Yields 12 muffins

Lemon-Sugar Topping:

  • 1/3 cup (2 1/3 ounces) sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated zest from one lemon

Muffins:

  • 2 cups (about 10 ounces) fresh blueberries, picked over
  • 1 1/8 cups (8 ounces) plus 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Stir together sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl until combined; set aside.

Adjust the oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees. Spray standard muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or grease with vegetable oil.

Bring 1 cup blueberries and 1 teaspoon sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, mashing berries with spoon several times and stirring frequently, until berries have broken down and mixture is thickened and reduced to 1/4 cup, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and cool to room temperature, 10-15 minutes.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk remaining 1 1/8 cups sugar and eggs together in a medium bowl until thick and homogenous, about 45 seconds. Slowly whisk in butter and oil until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold egg mixture and remaining cup blueberries into flour mixture until just moistened. The batter will be very lumpy with a few spots of dry flour; do not overmix.

Use an ice cream scoop or a large spoon to divide batter equally among the prepared muffin cups (batter should completely fill cups and mound slightly). Spoon one teaspoon of cooked berry mixture into the center of each mound of batter. Using a chopstick or skewer, gently swirl berry filling into batter using figure-eight motion. Sprinkle lemon sugar evenly over muffins.

Bake until muffin tops are golden and just firm, 17-19 minutes, rotating muffin pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffins in the muffin pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Note: If buttermilk is unavailable, substitute 3/4 cup plain whole-milk or low-fat yogurt thinned with 1/4 cup milk.

Variation: Blueberry Muffins with Almond Crunch Topping — follow the recipe for blueberry muffins and omit the lemon-sugar topping. Instead, combine 1/3 cup finely ground almonds and 4 teaspoons of turbinado sugar; set aside. For the flour mixture, prepare as usual but add 1/3 cup finely ground almonds. When adding in the vanilla extract, also add in 1 teaspoon of almond extract. Sprinkle the almond topping over muffins before baking.

Addendum: Today (8/24), I actually made the blueberry muffins with this almond crunch topping. Although I didn’t have any turbinado sugar to add to the crunch-top effect and instead used regular granulated sugar, the almond topping was delicious. Here are some of today’s baked photos of this muffin variation:

blueberry muffins with almond crunch top

Here’s a close-up view of a muffin top. I love the way the ground almonds look sprinkled on the top. It looks crusty yet all fluffy at the same time:

Almond crunch blueberry muffin tops

Last time I made these muffins with the lemon-sugar topping, I used buttermilk, but this time I wanted to be a little more practical since I knew I wouldn’t use up a whole quart of buttermilk, and I got low-fat yogurt and mixed it with milk instead. The muffins came out perfectly! Recipes from Cook’s Illustrated are amazing — even their substitution ideas are perfect. I will be honest, though, and say that both Blueberry and I prefer the lemon sugar topping. It tends to add more contrast with the sweetness of the muffin and the blueberries, and the color contrast aesthetically is a bit more appealing to me. Try both and let me know which variation you prefer.

Fresh blueberry buttermilk pancakes

I have always loved breakfast foods — the classic American ones that include omelettes and pancakes, ethnic morning nourishments like jook (rice porridge) and freshly pressed soybean milk, and the rich, decadent ones, like a simple cafe au lait and un pain au chocolat. As the first meal of the day, breakfast should be a cherished meal, one that makes you think, “Mmm, it’s great to be alive and start the day!” It sounds corny, but I really believe it.

Pancake ingredients

Too often people succumb to forgetting about breakfast, insisting that they don’t need to eat before they rush out the door, or just grabbing a cereal bar (I hate these!) or a banana (well, this is better since it’s a fruit). I’m not going to lie; most times when I haven’t had enough sleep and am in a hurry to get to work, I just eat a bowl of Kashi cereal, a banana, and leave the apartment. Why would I set aside 45 minutes of precious sleep in the morning to prepare steel-cut oats?

Incorporating dry ingredients with wet ingredients

But then I stumbled upon an article in a recent issue of Gourmet magazine that raved about a cookbook that was all about the first meal of the day. In The Breakfast Book, Marion Cunningham, in her own, tantalizing way, makes a case for breakfast and why we shouldn’t forgo the most important meal of the day. She includes a large array of recipes, including quick breads and yeast breads, custards and puddings (yes, for breakfast!), and of course, the beloved pancakes.

Frozen wild Boreal blueberries

I have tried about seven different pancake recipes from this book, and I will say now that all of them were delicious and incredibly simple. Contrary to popular belief, preparing your own pancake batter is very simple and easy, and if you prepare the batter the night before, which I’d recommend, it would even be easier than using a mix. And the taste of a pancake from a mix could never be compared to that made from scratch, but that should go without saying (no offense to those of you who are IHOP fans).

Bubbly on the top means ready for flipping

Of all of the pancake recipes I tried from the book, I must say that my favorite is not terribly unique or exotic – they’re the classic buttermilk pancakes. I guess some things are classic for a reason; they have just the right tang from the sour buttermilk and are soft, fluffy, and perfect with pure maple syrup. Cunningham’s recipe doesn’t use any sugar, but I like to add about two teaspoons for a very subtle sweetness. Blueberries make these pancakes even better; I use the frozen wild Boreal blueberries from Trader Joe’s since fresh blueberries are not in season right now. The easiest way to add berries to the pancakes is to add them as the first side of the pancake is being cooked. Once you see bubbles forming on the pancake tops, lightly sprinkle the blueberries evenly on top.

Adding the blueberries

Another tip for the pancakes: to ensure a light and fluffy texture, do not over-mix the batter. You want to mix the wet and the dry ingredients until just incorporated. If you see lumps, you can jump up and down in giggly glee because your pancake batter is good to go. This pancake recipe is perfect for making ahead of time — it keeps in the refrigerator for days.

pancakes - almost ready for eating

Buttermilk Pancakes with Blueberries
Adapted from Marion Cunningham’s The Breakfast Book
Yields about 9 pancakes

•    1 cup buttermilk
•    1 egg, room temperature
•    3 tablespoons melted butter, slightly cooled
•    3/4 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour)
•    1/2 teaspoon salt
•    1 teaspoon baking soda
•    2 teaspoons sugar
•    1/2 cup blueberries

Place the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter into a medium-sized mixing bowl. Stir briskly until the mixture is smooth and blended.

Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda, and sugar into the buttermilk mixture only until the dry ingredients are moistened — remember to leave lumps, and do not over-mix.

Grease the skillet lightly with butter and set to medium heat. Spoon out about 2 generous tablespoons per pancake. After about 1-2 minutes, you will see bubbles beginning to form on the pancake tops. Gently sprinkle blueberries on top of the pancakes and push down lightly. Then gently flip over with a spatula and cook the other side for about 1-2 minutes.

Serve with pure maple syrup and additional blueberries.



  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)

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