I’m always so thankful for people in my life who encourage me to try new things and broaden my horizons! My co-worker and friend, Jana brought some homemade carrot soup to work with her a couple of weeks ago, and as she started telling me the ingredients, my interest was immediately peaked- carrots, potato, tomato, cilantro and….peanut butter?!! Peanut butter?? With carrots and potatoes?? But as she heated it in the microwave I realized this was something I HAD to try! It smelled amazing! As luck would have it, since Jana is such a sweet lady, she brought me a bowl the next day!! It was delicious! The peanut butter and cilantro added an almost Thai flavor to the warm spices and sweet carrots. I had to make this soup!

I didn’t even wait a week before trying it myself- only this time, I used butternut squash, carrots and sweet potato. Honestly, it tasted almost exactly the same as Jana’s- YUM! Do me a favor and try this soup SOON! It’s completely delicious and makes a great, easy weeknight meal!

Peanut Buttery Carrot and Butternut Squash Soup
-adapted from my friend Jana’s recipe

1/2 of a butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped (save the other half for another dish)
1 small sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 pounds carrots (about 8 medium-sized carrots), peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups chicken broth (if you want to make this soup vegetarian, feel free to use vegetable stock instead!)
1 teaspoon tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon curry powder
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/3 cup chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish, if desired

In a large stock pot, sauté the onion, garlic and ginger in the olive oil over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until soft. Add in the carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and bring to a low boil and cook for 20-30 minutes, until all the vegetables are soft. Add in the tomato paste, salt, pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, curry powder, and cilantro. Using a hand blender (or regular blender, a little at a time), puree the vegetables until smooth (you may want to add a little more chicken broth or water if the soup is too thick). Stir in the peanut butter and check for seasoning. Serve with additional cilantro if desired.

**Don’t forget to enter my Dorie Greenspan giveaway!! You have until midnight on Halloween! Go! Go! Go! ;)

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Pumpkin Spice Blossoms…

I’ve never been a big fan of those ‘peanut butter blossoms’- you know, the peanut butter cookie with a Hershey kiss stuck in the middle? For whatever reason, I just never liked them. Oddly enough, however, those same cookies were the inspiration for these little guys. Nothing fancy, just a plain sugar cookie sprinkled with cinnamon/sugar and topped with a Hershey pumpkin spice kiss. But OH how yummy! I took these to work and (of course) they were gobbled up! Such a cute little Fall/Halloween treat that takes no time to make!

Pumpkin Spice Blossoms
-inspired by this recipe from Betty Crocker

1 batch of your favorite sugar cookie dough, or mix (this recipe would be great!)
24 Hershey Pumpkin Spice Kisses, unwrapped
1 teaspoon cinnamon/sugar mixture, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make dough as directed and scoop into 2 mini muffin pans (that gave me 24 cookies). Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture and bake for 10-12 minutes, until cookies are golden brown. Let cool for about 3 minutes, then gently press a pumpkin spice kiss into each cookie. **I chose to sprinkle mine with a little orange decorating sugar- totally optional!

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Pumpkin Cranberry Walnut Bread…

I think as food bloggers, sometimes we tend to try to improve everything. Put our own spin on it. “How can I make this recipe even better?” or “what can I substitute to make this even more delicious?” And that’s just fine! That’s why we have readers, of course- because we take things and make them our own. But sometimes, we tend to forget that some recipes are simply perfect as is. Like this recipe for pumpkin bread. It’s one of the most popular recipes on allrecipes.com; everyone makes it. And for good reason! It’s perfectly moist, has just the right amount of spice, the pumpkin flavor really comes out and….it’s always, always perfect! It’s the only recipe I use for pumpkin bread. So naturally, I had to stop myself when the normal urge hit to start substituting and adding (think butterscotch, caramel, crushed gingersnaps…). In the end, the only things I added were a few chopped walnuts and some fresh cranberries. No substitutions. :) And it was perfectly, wonderfully delicious. This bread always reminds what I love most about Autumn – baking. There’s just something magical about baking up a golden brown loaf of warm, spicy pumpkin bread. Your entire house smells warm and welcoming!

Pumpkin Cranberry Walnut Bread
-recipe slightly adapted from allrecipes.com (originally named “Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread”)

1/2 (15 ounce) can pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1-1/2 cups white sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup fresh cranberries (frozen is fine too- no need to thaw)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Gently stir in the chopped walnuts and cranberries. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for about 50 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaf is done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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Ahh, Vermont Spice Cake…how I love thee! This cake is so reminiscent of Autumn to me- one bite and I get all warm and cozy and immediately, it feels like Fall. I’ve had this recipe forever (well, since getting married) and I remember making it the first month of my marriage- it was pretty much the first ‘real’ dessert I baked for Joel. I was so proud of myself. I had never made a cream cheese frosting from scratch before, and I was hooked right away! There’s just something about the combination of pumpkin, warm Fall spices and thick, maple cream cheese frosting that just sings to me. I absolutely love this dessert. Very simple and quick to make, and always a winner with guests (or husbands!).

This was the cake I served at my dinner party a couple of weeks ago and it was the absolute perfect end to our meal. We each enjoyed a (big) slice with a cup of cinnamon-orange coffee. It was a huge success- not too sweet, the perfect amount of spice, and a touch of luxuriousness from the cream cheese frosting. The ultimate Autumn dessert!

Vermont Spice Cake with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
-from my Nestle Classic Recipes cookbook

For the Cake:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (I used a mixture of 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. cloves and 3/4 tsp. nutmeg)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 9-inch round cake pans. Combine flour, baking powder, spices, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Beat sugar and butter in a large mixer bowl fitted with a paddle attachment until creamy. Add eggs one at a time; beat for 2 minutes. Beat in pumpkin, evaporated milk, water and vanilla extract. Gradually add the flour mixture. Spread evenly into prepared cake pans. Bake for 35-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes; remove to wire racks to cool completely.

For the Maple Cream Cheese Frosting:
11 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup butter, softened
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
2-3 teaspoons maple extract
squeeze of lemon juice

Beat cream cheese and butter until smooth. Gradually add in the powdered sugar and beat until fluffy. Add in the maple extract and lemon juice. Mix well. Refrigerate until needed.

To assemble:
Cut each layer in half horizontally with a long, serrated knife. Frost between layers and on top of cake, leaving sides unfrosted. Garnish as desired.

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Halloween Krispie Treats…

There are certain things that just seem make the Halloween season a little happier for me. Like Halloween Oreos, candy corn (even though I don’t eat it- it just looks nice in my candy dish), the cute little Pillsbury cookies with the jack-o-lantern and ghost designs, and last but not least, Count Chocula, Franken Berry and Boo Berry cereals. Around here, you can only get them around Halloween (which is unfortunate, because I’d certainly like to enjoy them year round!). I was lucky enough to find a couple of boxes of Count Chocula and Franken Berry at Target the other day and I was so excited I decided to use them for something extra special- Halloween krispie treats!

These were so chewy-gooey-yummy and a cinch to make- all you need is marshmallows, butter and cereal (exactly the same as Rice Krispie Treats, but better!), and maybe some cute Halloweeny sprinkles, for good measure. These would be a perfect treat to make with the kiddos and they’re a delicious, simple dessert for a last minute get-together or Halloween party!

Halloween Krispie Treats
-recipe adapted from www.ricekrispies.com

3 tablespoons butter
4 cups miniature marshmallows
6 cups Count Chocula and Franken Berry cereal

In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.
Add cereal. Stir until well coated.
Using buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares. Best if served the same day.

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I made this for my Project Food Blog ‘Luxury Dinner Party’ and it was a HIT! I know the combination might seem a bit weird for some, but believe me when I tell you it’s totally delicious!! Hubby and I first tried this at the Dallas State Fair, of all places (weird, right?) about 4 years ago. There was a local chef there doing a cooking demonstration and this was the dish she made for us. When it came time to taste it, I took a sample, only because I didn’t want to hurt her feelings- but the truth was, I hated onions and wasn’t eager to try this at ALL. Finally I decided to get over my childishness and just go for it- thank goodness I did, because I discovered a winner of a recipe that day. There’s something about the tartness of the cranberries that pairs so well with the bacon and sweet caramelized onions. And the gorgonzola adds just a hint of extra flavor- it’s SO amazing!! This would be a perfect dish to add to your Thanksgiving table this year!

Needless to say, this was an enormous hit at my dinner party the other night- and since posting pictures from my party, this is the recipe everyone can’t wait to get their hands on. Well here it is, folks: a delicious Caramelized Onion-Cranberry Tart with Bacon and Gorgonzola – enjoy!!

Caramelized Onion-Cranberry Tart with Bacon and Gorgonzola
-Kathleen’s Sky Diner in Dallas, TX

For the crust:
1 cup flour
2/3 cup walnuts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
6 tablespoons butter, cold and cubed
1 tablespoon milk

In a food processor, pulse dry ingredients; add butter until ingredients are the size of small peas. Add milk and pulse just until dough comes together in a ball. Do not overprices.
Press dough into a 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom until even and smooth. Prick crust with a fork and freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.
Bake chilled crust at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Make filling.

Filling:
4 slices bacon, cut into small pieces
2 small-medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen- if frozen, don’t worry about thawing)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese (blue cheese would work as well)

In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the bacon until crisp. Drain bacon on paper towels and pour off all but 3 tablespoons of fat. Add the onions to the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes, until soft and caramelized. Add cranberries and sugar and continue to cook on low heat until cranberries begin to ‘pop’ (they will literally pop in the pan!); season with salt and pepper; add the bacon back in and set aside.
In a bowl, whisk eggs and heavy cream together until smooth. Place the onion/cranberry mixture in the bottom of the cooked crust, crumble the gorgonzola on top, then pour the egg mixture last. Bake tart at 350 degrees until golden brown and center is set, about 20-30 minutes. Serve warm or cold.

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Orange-Scented Vanilla Cupcakes…

Every year around this time I start to get reeeeally excited. Not just because it’s Fall and it’s the best season of the year, but because I can start getting out my Halloween decorations!! Yay!! Those of you who have followed my blog since the beginning know I have a (big) thing for Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (big as in, it’s my all-time favorite movie second only to The Little Mermaid). I collect anything Nightmare Before Christmas related- Christmas ornaments, snow globes, tiny little figurines – I have it all, and I leave it out from Halloween through Christmas. That’s the beauty of it- my two favorite holidays, all in one totally awesome movie!

Besides my freaking sweet collection of Nightmare Before Christmas stuff, I also have lots of other Halloween decorations (not the scary kind- the cute, homey kind), and I look forward to pulling it all downstairs every single year. I got it all out this week. And now my house is decorated with pumpkins, candy corn, cute jack-o-lanterns and (duh) my freaking sweet collection of Nightmare Before Christmas stuff. So, I had to celebrate the occasion. This sort of thing definitely calls for cupcakes. Delicious orange-scented cupcakes. Yum. The batter tastes like creamsicles! They’re slightly grown up due to the Grand Marnier in both the batter and the frosting and the orange flavor isn’t totally overpowering, so they’re just right, in my opinion!

Orange-Scented Cupcakes
-adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours
*Makes 24 cupcakes

2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups whole milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, or any orange liqueur you like
4 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Center a rack in the oven to 350 degrees. Fill cupcake pans with cupcake liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.

Whisk together the milk, orange juice, liqueur and egg whites in a medium bowl.

Put the sugar and butter in the bowl of a mixer and, working with the paddle or whisk attachment, or with a hand mixer, beat at medium speed for a full 3 minutes, until the butter and sugar are very light. Beat in the extract, then add one third of the flour mixture, still beating on medium speed. Beat in half of the milk-egg mixture, then beat in half of the remaining dry ingredients until incorporated. Add the rest of the milk and eggs, beating until the batter is homogeneous, then add the last of the dry ingredients. Finally, give the batter a good 2-minute beating to ensure that it is thoroughly mixed and well aerated. Using a small spoon, fill each cupcake liner 1/2 full with the batter.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the tough – a toothpick inserted into the centers should come out clean. Transfer the cupcakes to cooling racks and cool completely before frosting them.

Vanilla-Orange Buttercream

1 stick butter, at room temperature
3-4 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
splash Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of the sugar and then the orange juice, Grand Marnier and vanilla. On medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading or piping consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. Refrigerate until needed.

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Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes…

This has been a great couple of days – first off, I received my copy of Dorie Greenspan’s new cookbook, Around my French Table a couple of days ago (Weeeeeee!!), yesterday was the first official day of Autumn, and today I celebrate 4 years of marriage to the man of my dreams (happy anniversary Sweetie! I love you!!!). What a great week!! Also, I was lucky enough to find four cans of pumpkin at the grocery store the other day! Hallelujah!!! So naturally, the only logical thing to do was make pumpkin spice cupcakes! Yippee!! My awesome new boss/coworker, Albert asked if I’d be willing to make cupcakes for the 4th and 5th period girls’ choirs last week. And of COURSE I said yes, those girls are all totally sweet and fun! Albert pretty much let me pick what to make, but he did request these pumpkin cupcakes with cream cheese frosting as well. Done and DONE!

Let me just tell you: these are SO delicious! So moist and fluffy with just the right amount of spice; and the tangy cream cheese frosting really completes the whole cupcake. A winner, for sure! I LOVED these and so did the girls- I made these along with my Perfect Chocolate Cupcakes and the pumpkin ones were the first to disappear! I can’t wait to make these again- they’re the absolute perfect Fall cupcake, hands down!

Spiced Pumpkin Cupcakes
-Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes
*Makes 32 cupcakes

4 cups cake flour (not self-rising), sifted
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 Tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 1/2 cups packed light-brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
cream cheese frosting (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices.

With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter and brown sugar until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of buttermilk, and beating until just combined. Add pumpkin; beat until just combined.

Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full.
Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 3 days in airtight containers.

Frost with cream cheese frosting and top with Fall-themed sprinkles, if desired.

Cream Cheese Frosting

-Dorie Greenspan’s Baking from My Home to Yours

8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
3-4 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar (start with 2 cups, then gradually add more until you get the desired consistency. It needs to be thick enough to spread or pipe) and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice and extract. Refrigerate until needed.

And lastly, I just wanted to thank you all for your sweet comments, votes and support throughout the Project Food Blog competition so far. It means so much to me to have your support and encouragement – really. Voting ends tonight (I think at 6:00…maybe), so if you haven’t had a chance yet, I’d love your support! Thanks again, for being such wonderful readers! I love you all! :) And now, I must rush off and get ready for my dinner date with a VERY handsome fella!

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Salted Caramel Pumpkin Blondies…

WHEW! Boy, has it been a long week! Sorry I’ve waited so long to post something new…this was the first week of voice lessons at the high school and it’s been just a wee bit busy lately.  I’ve been dealing with schedules and All-State audition music and emailing parents. BUT, regardless of being super go, go, go all the time- it’s been a great week and I’m excited to be starting another great school year. Also, the weather has been almost bearable lately – we’ve actually gotten some rain and cool breezes (woah!). I put a little pumpkin pie spice in my coffee and burned a cinnamon-pumpkin candle last night and it ALMOST felt like Fall! How about that?! :) Yesterday, I was lucky enough to find canned pumpkin at the grocery store, so naturally, I stocked up. As soon as I got home, I made these blondies. Sheer deliciousness. Every year I forget how much I adore Fall-flavored baked goods. Anyway, remember these salted caramel brownies? That’s where I got the idea for these pumpkin blondies. I’ve made regular pumpkin blondies before, but I thought adding a layer of salted caramel would be extra special! I have to admit, I’m patting myself on the back a little bit after tasting these….it’s pretty hard to beat pumpkin blondies stuffed with gooey salted caramel. Hello Fall, I love you.

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Blondies

1/2 – 3/4 cup caramel sauce, however much you want, really (homemade is great, but store-bought is just fine too)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon. pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt, divided
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Butter a 9×9-inch baking dish.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.  Stir together and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the egg and vanilla until well combined.  Mix in the pumpkin puree.  With the mixer on low speed add the dry ingredients and mix just until incorporated.

Pour half of the batter in the prepared pan and smooth out evenly. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle the caramel in an even layer and sprinkle with the other 1/2 teaspoon of salt (feel free to leave the salt out if you’re not a fan of salted caramel). Carefully drop spoonfuls of the remaining batter over the caramel and smooth out as best you can (it doesn’t have to be perfect). Return to oven and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean and the top is golden brown.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Makes around 9 squares.

-recipe for basic pumpkin blondies from Annie’s Eats

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holidaybundt1

This is such a great cake – there’s pumpkin, pecans, fresh cranberries, and lots of spice. SO full of yummy holiday flavors! Dorie’s All In One Holiday Bundt Cake was chosen by Britin of The Nitty Britty. I absolutely loved it – this reminds me a lot of the Cranberry Orange Bread I make every year at Thanksgiving…in fact, now that I think of it, this cake would be delicious with a bit of orange zest/juice! Next time, definitely!

holidaybundt2

The texture is nice and chunky, and the cranberries give so much extra flavor. I left out the apples because I just didn’t feel like apples in my cake that day. I will most definitely be making this cake again and again. It really is perfect for the holidays! Thanks, Britin, for a great pick!

All-In-One Holiday Bundt Cake
-Dorie Greenspan

2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
10 tbsp unsalted butter, room temp
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temp
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups canned unsweetened pumpkin puree
1 large apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1 cup cranberries, halved or coarsely chopped
1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and ginger, set aside.

Beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce mixer speed to low and add pumpkin and chopped apple, don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are incorporated. With rubber spatula, stir in the cranberries and pecans. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 60 minutes or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding, then cool to room temperature. Dust with confectioners’ sugar.

holidaybundt3

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