Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pumpkin Up the Volume

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I ran into my dear former choir director at the community carol sing-along downtown, and he invited me to join his choir for the holiday season. Being easily swayed by a kind smile and the prospect of some of my favorite Christmas carols, I agreed.

What that means, however, is that for this month I am requiring a greater expenditure of physical energy on Sunday mornings in order to hike up the hill to his church, rehearse, and sing my heart out. And that means I need a hearty breakfast!

Lucky for me, I found a recipe for a pumpkin coffee cake in Vegetarian Times earlier this fall and decided I had to try it. Since I still had the remaining steamed pumpkin cubes in the refrigerator after my recent muffin experiment, I knew today would be the day.

I was up at my usual insanely early hour, giving myself a good three to four hours before choir rehearsal began. So as I headed into the kitchen and looked over the recipe once more, my mind started thinking of ways to "improve" the recipe (not that I had tried it as written yet!).

First, I had to pull out the good local whole wheat flour, oats, butter, and eggs. Then I decided that I couldn't possibly use cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg without any cloves, and I couldn't leave the streusel unspiced. And then, in one trip to the refrigerator, I spotted a small packet of cream cheese and thought that a thin layer of cream cheese filling (sweetened with local maple syrup) might be just the thing to complete the picture.

So I measured and mixed and mingled all these wonderful flavors and textures into a wholesome-looking and fantastic-smelling layered cake... an amazing transformation that kept my mouth watering!

I sliced a generous wedge and lifted it onto my plate, and, washing it down first with cold local cider and then with a gingersnap-flavored coffee, I tucked into a thoroughly satisfying breakfast that nourished me well for singing a couple of choruses from Handel's "Messiah." (You see why I'm so easily persuaded to sing for this choir director? He always picks the good stuff!)

Of course, I still have well over three quarters of the coffee cake left, so I'll be able to enjoy good breakfasts all week long with little effort on my part.

And that's something worth singing about.

Pumpkin Streusel Coffee Cake

I can't resist a crunchy sweet streusel on anything for breakfast, and while I don't often take the time to make a coffee cake (though it doesn't take any more time than muffins, really), when I found a recipe for a pumpkin coffee cake with streusel topping in a recent issue of Vegetarian Times, I knew I had to try it. With a pumpkin and good whole grains from the farmers' market, plus cooler weather coming back to town soon, this seemed as good a time as any to pull out the recipe and my mixing bowls. The cream cheese filling is optional, but if you do use it, be aware that it will slow down your baking time since the middle of the cake will take longer to bake. Go make yourself another cup of coffee or tea while you wait.

2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 c rolled oats
1 T baking powder
1 T ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, softened
1 c Sucanat
1 3/4 c steamed pumpkin cubes
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Cream Cheese Filling:
3 oz cream cheese, softened
4 T butter, softened
1/4 c maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla

Streusel Topping:
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c rolled oats
1/4 c maple sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 c ground walnuts
4 T butter, melted

To make cake: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease 9" round springform pan and set on baking sheet.

Combine flour, oats, baking powder, spices, and salt in medium-sized mixing bowl. Set aside.

Cream together butter and Sucanat in large bowl until fluffy. In small food processor or blender, puree pumpkin cubes with eggs and vanilla until smooth and foamy. Add to butter mixture and beat or blend (if you have an immersion blender) until well-mixed. Add flour mixture in three stages, mixing well.

To make cream cheese filling: Cream together cream cheese and butter in small bowl. Mix in maple syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth.

To make streusel: Mix all ingredients together in small bowl until crumbly.

To assemble: Spread half the cake batter in prepared pan. Spoon cream cheese mixture on top and spread evenly. Top with remaining cake batter, smoothing batter with spatula. Sprinkle streusel evenly over top of cake. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (With the cream cheese filling, it may take closer to 1 hr 15 minutes.)

Cool at least 10 minutes. Slide onto serving plate, then remove outer ring of pan. Slice into wedges and serve.

Serves 8 to 12


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