Paleo mini pumpkin pies with a vanilla-coconut crust

It's about time.

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Pumpkin pie and I have a long history. Sometime around elementary school, I asked for pumpkin pie over the traditional yellow-and-chocolate frosting birthday cake. Mish happily obliged, providing me with a giant orange circle of spiced goodness. Plastic pink-and-white candles stood stacked in the pumpkin like naked trees on fire, and I wore an old gypsy Halloween costume as I made my wish.

During my senior year of high school, my family would occasionally buy ginormous pumpkin pies from Costco during the fall season. They stuck around for about a week, steadily making their disappearance as we grabbed after-dinner (and often late-morning) slices. One night, I was up until four am annotating Memoirs of a Geisha. Annotating was a regular practice in my AP Literature class; each month we picked a novel for the month's theme (black history, women's rights, utopian societies), read it, and filled the margins with dozens of notes and ideas. My teacher, Mrs. Buckley, was phenomenal, and introduced us to so amazing reads that to this day I continue to use her list of recommendations. That being said, I had gotten so caught up in Sayuri's journey down the rabbit hole into Geisha-land (especially in regards to her infatuation with the Chairman), that I had ...ahem...skipped over some annotations to finish the story. So there I was, in the black of a November night, scribbling away at the margins as if my life depended on it. (Mrs. Buckley, if you ever read this, I loved this book and I'm sorry I was up until 4am making my annotations. Thank you for being understanding and wise.) Luckily, there was that Costco pumpkin pie. I dined on a hefty slice, looked a the oven clock and to see that it was 3:56, and thought "well this isn't such a bad way to spend my evening."

College was a time full of microwavable dumplings and lucky charms and dixie cup jello shooters. I rarely took the time to bake, and when I did it was often outrageous baked goods covered in commercial baked goods (example: the zebra cake cake).  Luckily, come late October, our dining hall began serving slivers of some of the most amazing pumpkin pie I've ever tasted. The crust was likely industrialized, and possessed small imprints along the ridges that looked as if a squared-footed bird had confidently stomped in a neat circle. The pumpkin custard was perfectly spiced, and there was a wonderfully moist padding at the point where the crust and pumpkin made contact. The only problem was that the pieces were small, and so I would often return for seconds, earning myself the nickname "pie girl." It could have been worse.

I'm surprised it's taken me this long to tackle a pumpkin pie. For a bit I trusted that it would be available Thanksgiving Day, but that sort of hubris can leave a girl alone and pie-less. I needed to control my own destiny. I had to bake pumpkin pie, and I had to do it before Thanksgiving was over and everyone moved onto cranberries, eggnog, and gingerbread. (Though I really do love cranberries, eggnog, and gingerbread. Don't worry. I'll get to you guys.)

So I opened my brain and tackled the task at hand.  I've been doing a lot of paleo baking, a rather like the end result. Almond and coconut flours provide a nice texture, and my gut tends to thank me the next day. So after some internet research, I found a recipe. I had no pie plate but I did have a muffin tin, and from said muffin tin came irresistible baby pies that I love like my own children. My children that I eat.

The thing about making pumpkin pie is understanding the spice ratios. This is where you're allotted some freedom, but it's a bit like playing God with a blindfold on. You don't really know what the pie is gonna taste like, you just kinda throw in some nutmeg, maybe a bit more cloves, and hope and pray the thing tastes good. Libby's has a solid recommendation of spices, but I've made this before and it did not taste like my beloved dining hall pumpkin pie. After mixing around a bit, I think I've got it.

In most pumpkin pie recipes, you either go for a handful of spices or opt for the all-in-one pumpkin pie spice. The trick is to do BOTH. That's right, get your hands dirty and sprinkle all those babies right in the batter. I'm fairly certain dining hall pumpkin pie relied heavily on pumpkin pie spice, but I love the addition of extra nutmeg. It's adds savory warmth, and brings me back to those moments of dining hall dinners consumed before heading to rehearsal.  

I'm a proud pie girl. 

paleo mini pumpkin pies with a vanilla-coconut crust

crust

1 cup coconut flour

1 cup tapioca flour (aka tapioca starch)

1/4 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

1 Tbsp ground cinnamon

1/3 cup coconut cil, melted

1 egg 

5 tbsp raw agave 

1 tbsp vanilla extract

filling

1/2 of a (15 oz) can of pumpkin puree, or 1 cup 

1/4 cup coconut milk (canned, full-fat)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/8 tsp ground cloves

1/8 tsp ground cinnamo

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground ginger

1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice 

1 1/2 tbsp agave 

1/2 tbsp tapioca flour 

 1 egg and 1 egg yolk, whisked

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with your choice of oil or fat.

Combine the crust ingredients in a medium bowl, and mix unto thoroughly combined into a smooth, dough ball. If the dough seems too crumbly, add a bit more coconut oil. If it seems too oily, add a bit more tapioca flour.

sing your hands, drop a small ball of dough into each muffin cup. Use your fingers to press and shape the dough into a small cup, forming the crust. You can use a tart tamper, or a wooden cocktail muddler, to help flatten everything out.

Bake the tarts in the preheat oven for five minutes.  Remove the tarts. They will have puffed up some, so gently the middle of each tart with a toothpick or fork to release steam. Use the muddler or tart tamper to press down and bubbles. 

While the crust cools, prepare the pumpkin filling. Combine all of the pie ingredients in a medium bowl. Using a 1/3 measuring cup, fill the cooled tart shells all the way with pie filling. Cook for ten minutes, or until the edges of the crust are just browned. 

Allow to cook completely on a wire rack. Using a spoon or small paring knife, separate the tarts from the muffin tin. Served with coconut cream, if desired.

This was adapted from a recipe on Our Paleo Life.  

Enjoy in the late morning with a cup of chai tea, with friends around the kitchen table, or alone, while reading a book, at 4am. 

P.S. No list links today, but I did read this wonderful article about letting go of the guilt revolved around "shoulds." Find it here!

- stay cozy

Dark chocolate brownies with strawberry cream cheese frosting

I've been keeping a secret. Well, several secrets, really.  Somethings just aren't meant to be discussed right away, and it's nice to keep a teacup full of private thoughts. But now I'm feeling guilty and it's time to do some sharing.  1) At summer camp, I once hid under the bunkbed during a fire drill so that I could read the sex scene in Judy Blume's Forever without fear of judgement  2) I wrote fanmail to gay Broadway actors asking if they wanted to get coffee on my NYC school field trips and was sad when I never got a response, 3) I have a brownie recipe. (!!)

While now I tend to gravitate toward the homemade version, I was raised a boxed brownie kid. They were simple and I thought the batter was better. Artificial Ghiradelli was the best, and my mother taught me to swap out the water for some espresso, leading to a very hyper, chocolate-covered child. Then I started to blossom, slapped on my baker's backpack, and ventured out into a world of homemade brownies.  I explored my palette, sampling brownies with caramel, often chocolate chips, and then the occasional super brownie that came decked out with a cream cheese design and lookin' like it was headed to the Tony's. 

About two weeks ago, my friend Blake celebrated his 26th birthday. Blake and I get along well; as fellow libras we understand the value of balance and can appreciate a really good party. Blake's soiree consisted of a backyard decked with fairy lights, iron-wrought tables and chairs, and an outdoor bar for wine and whiskey consumption. The dress code was "Sunday Best" and the menu consisted of cannolis, birthday cake oreos, chocolate chip cookies, and red velvet cupcakes.  It was so fancy, the beer pong table had a tablecloth. 

As for my contribution, I envisioned something a la "Alice in Wonderland", where the frosting doesn't completely cover the cake, but rather glops over in a rustic-storybook-kinda-way.  Cake would have been nice, but brownies sounded better. Don't get me wrong, I worship all sorts of flavors and types of cakes,  but if it's gonna be chocolate, I say go big or go home. Go for the brownie. 

This brownie recipe is not just any ordinary brownie recipe. These are the brownies that cause diets to crumble and tears to fall. These are the brownies that you give to potential lovers to keep them around and to your mother to say "thank you." They're deeply chocolate-y, a good median between cake and fudge, and when cold, quite literally, melt upon meeting the tongue. If I sent these bad boys instead of some stickers plastered on Hello Kitty stationary, those broadway actors may have written back. 

dark chocolate brownies with strawberry cream cheese frosting 

Ingredients 

3/4 cup all-purpose flour 

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup tablespoons dark unsweetened cocoa powder

4 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

3/4 cup granulated sugar 

1/4 packed brown sugar 

3 eggs, at room temp

2 teaspoons vanilla extract 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 8x8 or 9x9 baking pan with aluminum foil and grease with butter. 

Whisk the flour, salt, and cocoa powder until incorporated. 

Place the chopped chocolate, butter and instant espresso powder in a large bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Turn off the heat, but keep the bowl over the water and add the sugars. Whisk until completely combined, then remove the bowl from the pan. The mixture should be room temperature.

Add one egg to the chocolate mixture and whisk until combined. Add the remaining eggs and whisk until combined. Add the vanilla and stir. Do not overbeat the batter at this stage or your brownies will be cakey!!

Sprinkle the flour mixture over the chocolate mixture. Using a rubber spatula (not whisk), fold the flour mixture into the chocolate until just a bit of the flour mixture is visible.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time, or until a knife comes out clean. Let the brownies cool completely, then lift them out of the pan using the foil. For a super clean cut, chill the brownies in the fridge before slicing. 

The brownies were adapted from Michelle over at Brown Eyed Baker, and there are plenty more delicious recipes to choose from over there. To make the frosting, I simply used this super easy recipe here. 

These brownies are pretty stellar hot and gooey, but they're out-of-this-world after they've been chilling in the fridge for a few hours.  For me, it's reminiscent of mornings I would head downstairs for breakfast, check the fridge for eggs, and quickly opt for the cold, melt-in-your-mouth-y brownie leftovers instead. 

-stay cozy