Fall Baking.

By: Jen Shoop

A week after we moved into our new apartment, mini and I spent an afternoon baking Martha Stewart’s pumpkin cookies with brown butter frosting, an October tradition chez Shoop for the past many years. It’s unclear to me why this recipe has earned a scant three stars online because they are outrageously delicious. The cookies come out very soft — almost cake-like — and are packed with warm spices, but not overly sweet. And who doesn’t like brown butter frosting?! The recipe yields about 3,000 cookies, which was well-considered on my end, as I planned to bring our new neighbors heaping plates of seasonal cookies by way of warm introduction. (And, as an advanced peace offering for the noise that two children and a large dog will inevitably bring into their formerly quiet lives. Poor neighbors. Both are dog-less older couples who have long since outgrown the itty bitty baby phase and — well — God bless them and godspeed.) Unfortunately, one neighbor informed us that she and her husband “weren’t cookie people” (#mindblown), which incidentally proved to be a relief because mini was extremely confused by this excursion next door and refused to let me pry the plate of cookies out of her fingers, which I was attempting to do one-handed while balancing micro on my hip and calmly explaining what neighborliness meant to a two-year old. So when the friendly neighbor offered: “Oh, it’s OK, darling, we aren’t cookie people anyway — we won’t eat them. You take those back home and enjoy them,” I wasn’t entirely put out. Our other neighbors were out every single time I stopped by to drop off the cookies over the next two days, and I couldn’t find any tupperware or bags to hook on their door (#movingproblems), and so —

We ended up with 3,000 cookies to ourselves, and Mr. Magpie was out of town, and our nanny doesn’t like cinnamon, and mini should only be permitted a scant half cookie at a time, and —

What I’m trying to say is that I think I ate 2,999 pumpkin cookies myself.

They are that good.

And I am kind of glad I won’t see one again until next October.

But those damned cookies speak of fall and are a cherished tradition of mine. I don’t bake much else specific to the autumn season with the exception of this sorghum bourbon pecan pie from one of my favorite cookbooks, which is the definition of sticky-sweet decadence, and the sorghum syrup affords an interesting, sophisticated flavor that sets this particular pecan pie recipe apart from your garden variety. I strongly recommend adding this to your Thanksgiving spread this year. (And serving with vanilla ice cream and a dollop of whipped cream spiked with a pinch of cinnamon.)

While on the subject, I thought I’d share three of my other favorite go-to baking recipes, each of which I make several times a year:

1// Orangette’s banana bread. Just the best. I will never use another recipe. Moist and packed with banana and that cinnamon-sugar streusel is the best thing since…sliced bread.

2 // Sugar cut-out cookies (recipe follows). My all-tie favorite. They are not particularly sweet and therefore need a heavy application of buttercream frosting — but they are my most beloved cookie and anyone who has been friends with me for longer than a minute has seen these on her doorstep at one point or another. The dough holds up very nicely when cut out into shapes, and please note that you should roll the dough fairly thick — like 1/4″ thick. Thicker than you think you should. By the way: I have an enormous barrel of Wilton plastic cookie cutters that I’ve toted around with me for the better part of a decade — maybe longer, actually — and they are absolutely the best. Inexpensive but easy to clean and do not warp. Those metal ones rust, lose shape, and cost a lot of money! I know because I also have an enormous bin of those, as they tend to come in the cutest novelty shapes. But trust me. You need a barrel of those cheap Wilton babies, which come in a range of seasonal-appropriate shapes.

3 // Ina Garten’s Pecan Squares. These remind me a bit of the sorghum pecan pie I referenced earlier (I guess I have a thing for pecans?), and oh mama are they good. The use of citrus and honey in the topping set these apart. My mouth is watering thinking of them. I gave these out as gifts to all the porters and doormen in our building last year and many of them talked about them all year long.

Magpie Sugar Cut-Out Cookies.

Cream 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar. Mix in 2 eggs and ¼ tsp salt.  In a small ramekin, dissolve 1 teaspoon baking soda in 4 tablespoons milk. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla to the dough and add milk mix alternately with 4 cups all-purpose flour.  Roll out dough. Cut with cutters. Bake at 350 for 8-10 mins.

Post-Scripts: A Few of My Favorite Baking Tools.

+These baking sheets are the absolute best. I found that all of my sheets would eventually warp so they would not lay flat, which was irritating from a storage standpoint (you need baking sheets to stack neatly!) and also from a baking standpoint (would lead to unevenness in cooking!). These Nordicware ones do not warp. Their companion grids/cooling racks are also one of my favorite baking implements — large, fit snugly in a baking sheet, and sturdy.

+I like to use an ice cream scoop when making drop cookies so that they all are about the same size and cook evenly.

+For banana bread, I love my WS Goldtouch loaf tins. They make getting the bread out so easy. Same goes for the muffin tins. The best!

+These oven mitts are absolutely the best. Ever. Ever. And one pair will last you a super long time. The silicon edge means you can grab and hold hot trays/pots without actually having them burn your hand, and the longer arm length means you can reach way into an oven while protected. They are also super thick. Those WS ones I used for years on end are basically pieces of paper towel draped around your hand. No bueno.

+I’ve written about this elsewhere, but one of the best home organization projects I’ve undertaken was decanting all of my spices into uniform jars and organizing them into two of these bins, one for spices A-G and one for spices H-Z. I then labeled all of the spice jars on the lids using my beloved label maker. This has made cooking/baking with spices so much more pleasant than rifling through a big and unwieldy bin. Things are so easy to find!

+This cake dome has proven to be one of my most-used home items. I always have something in there — whether it’s store-bought or home-made. Bonus: you can invert the dome into the base and it becomes a punch bowl, which I have done on more than one occasion (champagne punch for the holidays! sangria!), and have even used when we have a glut of produce and nowhere to store it. (Instant oversized fruit bowl!)

+Related: my mother-in-law has an impressive array of cake stands and she always finds the most creative ways to use them in tablescapes, to showcase beautiful fruits, etc. I feel like she’d adore these jade ones.

+Meri Meri always makes the cutest cupcake liners.

+I have always wanted to buy a tiered serving stand, though I think Mr. Magpie might have my head on a platter if I introduce one additional piece of entertaining servewear into our home. (Ahem.) I just think it would be such a fun (and space-saving!) way to serve up appetizers. I love this one, this one, and this one.

+Love gifting goodies in cute treat boxes, like these, or alongside a gorgeous custom gift tag like this. And almost always wrapped up in an enormous white satin bow.

+More of my favorite kitchen stuff here and more of my favorite organizational tools here.

+More of my favorite recipes here and here.

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12 thoughts on “Fall Baking.

  1. I’ve pinned ALL of these recipes … such good suggestions! I don’t bake as much as I’d like to, but Orangette’s banana bread has me super intrigued.

    I agree on the quality of the W-S Goldtouch line … we have Goldtouch errrrythang and love it!


  2. I appreciate the oven mitt recommendation. I love the way you described my current WS pair- they are basically useless!

    I’m going to try your sugar cookie recipe tonight. Time to break out my “holiday” cookie cutter box!

    1. Yay!!! This makes me so happy! 🙂

      HA – glad you feel me on the WS pair! You’ll love these new ones. (Also, cheaper!)

  3. I recently made Bon Appetit’s Apple Pandowdy as a test run prior to Thanksgiving, and I got glowing reviews all around! There is a delicious citrus flavor since the recipe calls for lemon zest that even hooked my dessert-avoiding fiancee.
    I am trying to be more adventurous this holiday season and expand my baking skills, so I will have to give the pumpkin cookies a try!

    1. Yes!!! They are a tad on the involved side (lots of ingredients, plus frosting), but not difficult!


  4. I have a three-tiered stand from Crate and Barrel and use it every holiday! Adds some dimension to my dessert display.
    Try Joy The Baker’s “Sit and Stat Awhile” Apple Crisp; I’ve been making it as a Sunday Fall dessert for years. Very simple and so good!

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