Stories from middle America



My favorite season is upon us. The temperature begins to drop, the sun rises a little later in the morning, the leaves turn gorgeous shades of red, gold, and orange and lazily release themselves from the trees. I can begin the transition from summer dresses to cozy sweaters, pull out the heavy quilts, and turn my attention to the best part about autumn: comfort food.

To me, autumn signifies roast chicken, shepherd’s pie, and enormous pots of chili simmering on the stove. Perhaps chicken isn’t your go-to comfort food; leg of lamb instead? Spaghetti and meatballs? Or maybe a huge batch of late summer vegetables, slow-roasted in the oven with rosemary and garlic?

Even still…perhaps savory dishes don’t make your list when autumn rolls around. If you’re anything like me, once the air begins to cool, I get an intense itch to bake that only vast amounts of flour, butter, and sugar can scratch.

What then, does one do when the itch arrives, their garden is overflowing with late summer vegetables, and all they can find at the Farmers Market are gourds and squash? My answer: bake a coffee cake, of course!

Most of us are familiar with zucchini bread and pumpkin pie, but perhaps you’re unaware that the lowly butternut squash can serve as a delightful addition when baking quick breads and certain desserts. In fact, I did just that when deciding what to do with the butternut squash from my garden.

Other varieties of squash can fall into the dessert category, as well; don’t pass up on acorn, kabocha, carnival, blue hubbard, red kuri, or sweet dumpling when considering winter squash for desserts. In fact, any squash that can be slow roasted, scooped from it’s skin, and puréed can be used in the following recipe.

If you want to experiment even further, and squash really isn’t your thing, consider adding roasted and puréed sweet potatoes or carrots to your next coffee cake or quick bread. Additionally, roasted and puréed beets add richness and moisture to dark chocolate or spice cakes.

So, when you find yourself surrounded by the bounty of late summer and autumn vegetables, and savory dishes simply won’t scratch your itch, consider the versatile winter squash as a dessert contender. You’ll taste the most perfect of seasons, autumn, in every delicious bite.

Butternut Squash Coffee Cake

For Crumble
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons rolled oats
1/4 chopped walnuts or pecans
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola oil

For Cake
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/3 cup canola oil
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups cooked and puréed butternut squash (or other winter squash)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup applesauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease, or spray with non-stick cooking spray, a 9-inch springform cake pan, set aside.

For crumble: combine first five ingredients, add oil, stir until crumbly and set aside.

For cake: Combine dry ingredients (first seven ingredients) in a medium bowl, set aside.  In the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with paddle attachment) on medium-high speed, cream oil and sugar until incorporated. Lower speed to medium, add eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Add squash and vanilla and beat until incorporated. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet, mix until combined.

Divide batter (it’ll be thick, don’t worry) and spread half into bottom of springform pan all the way to the edges. Spread applesauce carefully over the batter, then sprinkle with half of the crumble. Carefully spread the remaining batter over the applesauce/crumble mixture, and sprinkle the remaining crumble over the top.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from springform pan.

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