The fall and winter months are made for baking. Not only do our schedules slow down, but life in general seems more quiet in the off-season. We retreat to our homes to recharge and relax, and the simple act of baking does just that. To make baking this season even more pleasant, I’ve put together my top five baking tips below, along with six seasonal dessert recipes to add to your repertoire — everything from a quick warm pumpkin loaf cake to chilly pumpkin ice cream (because there are those true New Englanders that still eat ice cream in the winter and slurp their iced coffees like it’s not 10° outside, and I salute you).

Clean up your spice cabinet. When was the last time you bought cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, and cloves? Starting with fresh spices will ensure flavorful baked goods, so make it a goal to go through your baking spices and dispose of anything that’s a year or two old. Can’t remember when you last bought it? Throw it out and start new. LeRoux and Cronig’s Market in Vineyard Haven are great local places to shop for spices. You can also order online from my favorite spice shop, Spiceologist (spiceologist.com).

Get a digital scale. If you love baking, you know that measurements are a must for good results, and nothing will give you better results than using a scale to measure your ingredients. They’re inexpensive (typically under $20) and will help avoid mistakes, resulting in less ingredients wasted. It also makes the process faster; you’ll wash fewer dishes (all those endless cups and spoons you used to measure are gone), and you’ll finally understand that 8 ounces doesn’t always equal a cup.

Room-temperature ingredients. Yes, they really do make a difference! When ingredients like eggs and butter are room-temperature, they disperse easily in the batter, creating a more homogeneous result. To get eggs to room temperature quickly, place them in a bowl of warm water for five minutes.

Invest in good bakeware. Another situation where it does make a difference — did you know that using darker bakeware results in darker baked muffins and cakes? The way metals conduct heat varies from bakeware to bakeware, so darker metals absorb more heat than their lighter counterparts. Don’t want to invest in new pans this season, but want consistently baked cookies? Try lowering the heat of the oven by 15° to 25°.

Bake with salt — always. Remember that salt is your friend when baking this season, and helps balance all the sweetness in desserts. Whether you’re adding it to the dough or batter, or finishing off a cookie with some salt, it always elevates the flavor. Try local M.V. Sea Salt (mvseasalt.com) in your baked goods, like their Blueberry Honey Sea Salt atop blueberry muffins, or their Lemon Dill Sea Salt in scones and breads. The possibilities are endless.

For more recipes, visit cookingwithbooks.net.

Turmeric Chai Pumpkin Bread

This Turmeric Chai Pumpkin Bread is perfect for breakfast or even as a late-night snack — the warm flavors will have you dreaming of crisp fall days!

1 can pumpkin purée
½ cup melted coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
3 large eggs, room temperature
1½ cups granulated sugar
1½ tsp. baking powder
¾ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
3 Tbsp. Numi Turmeric Chai tea powder
2⅓ cups all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a loaf pan. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk the pumpkin purée, oil, eggs, and sugar. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients, and then add to the wet ingredients. Stir until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

Red Wine Brownies

Get ready for the best brownies you’ve ever tasted — that’s a promise! Indulgent chocolate with a rich, tart flavor from the wine and cranberries.

Red wine brownies. — Marnely Murray

1½ sticks unsalted butter
1 cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup dried cranberries
¼ cup red wine

Preheat the oven to 350°F, and grease an 8 by 8-inch square pan. In a small saucepan, melt the butter with chocolate chips, cocoa powder, and salt over medium heat. In a large bowl, mix the eggs, sugars, and vanilla extract. Remove melted chocolate/butter mixture from pan and let cool for five minutes. After five minutes, whisk into the sugar and eggs. Add the flour, baking powder, and cranberries until well mixed. Drizzle in the red wine last, and just fold in. Scrape batter into pan, bake 35 to 45 minutes, until top is set but middle is fudgy. You can scoop and serve immediately, but it will be very fudgy. Instead, let sit overnight in the refrigerator, and cut into squares to enjoy!

Pumpkin Chamomile Coconut ‘Ice Cream’

This quick and easy “ice cream” is smooth and packed with flavor — with none of the usual dairy in ice cream, so it’s vegan and refined-sugar-free. This is a great treat to make for kids.

Pumpkin chamomile banana ice cream. — Marnely Murray

1 can coconut milk, chilled
1 cup pumpkin purée
4 medium bananas, sliced and previously frozen
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 chamomile tea bag, emptied

Make sure to freeze your bananas and chill the can of coconut milk the night before. To make, remove the solidified coconut milk layer in the can, and place in food processor, along with pumpkin purée, bananas, cinnamon, and tea leaves. Blend all the ingredients until smooth. Serve immediately, or freeze for later.

Spiced Apple Pumpkin Cake

This Spiced Apple Pumpkin Cake is a simple and quick recipe for when you need a seasonal dessert that’s not time-consuming and still tastes amazing. Plus, it will make your home smell amazing — ideal for when guests are coming over spur-of-the-moment!

Spiced apple pumpkin snack cake. — Marnely Murray

2½ cups all purpose flour
1½ cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. pumpkin spice blend
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
2 large eggs
½ cup pumpkin purée
½ cup vegetable oil
3 medium apples, peeled, cored, and grated

Preheat oven to 350°F, and lightly oil an 8 x 8-inch square baking pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, spice blend, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, pumpkin purée, oil, and grated apples together. Mix the dry ingredients with the wet ones, and mix until it’s all incorporated (do not over-mix!). Pour batter into greased pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm or room-temperature, with a sprinkling of powdered sugar.

Dark Chocolate-Dipped Spiced Spritz Cookies

These spritz cookies are delightful and perfect alongside your coffee or tea. They’re baked and then dipped in melted chocolate, adding a bit more holiday flair to it with the cacao nibs. You can purchase a cookie press at LeRoux in Vineyard Haven.

Dark-chocolate-dipped spiced spritz cookies. — Marnely Murray

2 eggs, hard-boiled, whites removed
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. pumpkin pie spice
½ cup dark chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. cacao nibs

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Press the egg yolks through a fine-mesh strainer, and in your mixer, cream the egg yolks, butter, and sugar until fully incorporated. Add the flour, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spice, but do not over-mix. Using a cookie press (my favorite is made by OXO), press the dough through onto baking tray, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool while you melt chocolate chips over a double boiler or in the microwave.

Once chocolate is melted and cookies are cool, dip half the cookies, place on newly lined baking tray, and sprinkle with cacao nibs. Let set in the fridge for 10 minutes until chocolate hardens.

Salted Pumpkin Seed Brittle

Salty, sweet, and nutty, this Salted Pumpkin Seed Brittle makes the perfect holiday gift, plus it travels well, so you can send it in the mail for a little winter foodie-care package.

Pumpkin seed brittle. — Marnely Murray

1 tsp. oil, to grease sheet tray
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup light corn syrup
½ cup water
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups shelled, raw pumpkin seeds

Grease a sheet tray with a bit of oil, and set aside. In a tall saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over medium-high heat until the syrup turns a light amber color (or to 300°F, if you have a candy thermometer). Lower heat to low. Stir in the butter, vanilla extract, salt, and baking soda until combined. Add seeds and stir quickly until incorporated. Remove from heat and quickly spread on sheet tray to desired thickness. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then break into pieces. Store in an airtight container.


This article by Marnely Murray originally appeared on mvtimes.com.