Thursday, December 22, 2011

Community Christmas

A few years ago my family moved to a quirky little neighborhood with its own little identity.  Neighbors are proud to tell you all about the intersting and odd history of the community and how long they have lived there (in decades, not years).

This was TWO plates of delicious sugar cookies 10 minutes ago!
Our first Christmas, one seemingly random December day, the doorbell rang about 6 times.  Each time it was a different neighbor bearing gifts, mostly baked goods but sometimes a basket of Mexican delicacies, or a handmade quilt for our children.  And each would drop off these gifts with a jolly "Merry Christmas."  At first Hubby and I were a little overwhelmed; this did not happen in our last neighborhood.  Then we rushed to the store and started baking.

That was three years ago and we have firmly settled into the routine of delivering baked goods to the neighbors.  It has become an important part of our holiday traditions.  Each neighbor brings something different and we all have a chance to chat, exchange holiday plans, laugh, and feel a part of a community.  Clearly I am a sentimental sap but I love this part of my neighborhood, where I actually know my neighbors, their gandchildren's names, their birthdays, the good, and the bad.  Plus, those people can bake! 

For the last couple of years I have settled on Pumpkin Apple Bread as my "neighbor gift."  I love this bread, it is rich and spicy and not too sweet.  I have adapted the recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, a must have in my opinion.  There are a couple of things that I do differently, such as using whole wheat flour for half of the flour and substituting half of the oil for unsweetened applesauce.  Do those two things and you can have a second slice!  I also typically add nuts.  Here's my translation, with my apologies to Gourmet if it's just not quite the same:

For Strudel Topping:
1 T all-purpose flour
5 T sugar (I used half granulated and half brown)
1 t ground cinnamon
1 t unsalted butter, softened

Mix all ingredients with fingers until "pebbly" and set aside

For Bread:
3 C all-purpose flour (I used 1 1/2 all-purpose and 1 1/2 whole wheat)
3/4 t salt
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t ground cinnamon
1 t freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 t each ground cloves and allspice
1 can, 15oz solid pack pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
3/4 C vegetable oil (1 small "snack pack" of unsweetened apple sauce is exactly half of this and cuts down of the fat while still making the bread moist)
2 1/4 C sugar
4 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and chopped (about 2 cups)
1/2 chopped nuts or raisins, if desired (I used chopped almonds or walnuts)

Preheat oven to 350and spray non-stick cooking spray into loaf pans.  Sift together dry ingredients into a medium bowl.  Whisk together pumpkin, oil (and applesauce), sugar, and eggs in a large bowl.  Slowly add flour mixture, stirring until well combined.  Fold in apples (this is also where you would add nuts and raisins if using).
Divide batter evenly between loaf pans.  Sprinkle strudel topping evenly over batter.  Bake until a wooden toothpick or butter knife comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes for large loafs or 45 minutes for smaller loafs. Cool about 1 hour.  This recipe makes 2 large loafs or about 5 small gift-tin loafs.  I usually double it to come up with 10 small loafs.

Cook yourself some pumpkin apple bread and get to know your neighbors!  Merry Christmas from my community to yours.

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