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Pumpkin Pancakes with Butter Pecan Syrup

After an extended period of unusually warm temperatures, autumn has taken its inevitable hold on our weather. There’s a definite chill in the air, which requires down jackets, more so than fleecy hoodies. As usual, the kids will trick-or-treat with winter coats stuffed under their costumes this year. It won’t be long before we see our first snow.

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Despite the chilly temps, this weekend was positively beautiful. The leaves are at their peak of vibrant color and the grass is still (mostly) green. And on this gorgeous weekend, I celebrated my birthday. We began our festivities on Saturday morning with these pumpkin pancakes, drizzled in warm butter pecan syrup. Then, we ended the weekend with a full turkey dinner at a crowded table of family and friends. I gave thanks a month early, for another year of good food, good family, and good friends.

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Warm butter pecan syrup seemed like the ideal accompaniment for these seasonally perfect pumpkin pancakes. My love for butter pecan syrup is so intense, that I have made trips to IHOP for the sole reason of dipping stuff in their famous syrup. A quick search for ‘copycat’ recipes for my fave IHOP syrup revealed numerous blends of sugar with water and a variety of artificial extracts. My version takes a more natural approach, using pure maple syrup, melted butter, and non-imitation vanilla extract. Toasting chopped pecans in a bit of butter brings out the buttery-nutty flavor in this crave-worthy pancake topper.

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Pumpkin Pancakes

Slightly modified from Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree, fresh or canned
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 2 eggs

Directions

Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, melted butter, and eggs. Gradually pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, whisking until well blended. Melt a little butter in a skillet over medium heat. Pour about 1/3 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes approximately 3 minutes per side.

Makes about 12-15 pancakes

Butter Pecan Syrup

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups real maple syrup
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan, over medium heat. Add the chopped pecans. Cook for about 3 minutes, until fragrant. Add the maple syrup, butter, and vanilla extract. Continue to heat over medium-low/medium heat until the butter has melted and blended with the syrup. Season with a pinch of salt. Serve warm.

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Triple Ginger Apple Muffins

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, then my little James is going to have the doctors bolting in the other direction. The kid eats, oh, anywhere from 5 – 10 apples a day. No joke.

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At one point, I would dole out his daily allotment of apples, spending a ridiculous percentage of my days washing, peeling, and slicing his favorite food. After eating 3 in a day, I’d determine he’d reached his daily apple limit and try to persuade him to eat some nice, delicious cookies or perhaps some potato chips instead.

This never ended well. In fact, our worst fights pretty much all came down to a disagreement over how many apples a two-year-old should reasonably eat in a day.

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But, you know, as parents, you have to pick your battles, and eventually, I simply decided that if the kid wants to eat apples from dawn to dusk, then so be it.

We now buy multiple sacks of apples each week, which I wash and leave in a giant mountain on the counter, for my little guy to snack on at will. My only remaining problem is finding half-eaten apples hidden within my slippers. True story.

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Naturally, being peak apple season up here in Central New York, we recently spent an afternoon at our favorite apple orchard, Beak and Skiff, where we rode a flatbed tractor up to the rows of ripe Cortland apples and picked until the bags were too heavy to carry.

James filled his bag, then refused to let anyone touch his precious, precious fruit. He walked row by row, dragging that bulging bag of apples behind his little apple-nourished body, shrieking if I even attempted to lighten his load.

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After riding the tractor back to the front of the orchard, we placed our loot on the scales and handed over $26 for our sweet bounty. (Note to self: It costs 16 cents more per pound to pick the apples yourself than to buy the same apples, from the same orchard at the local grocery store.)

I went through the bags of apples once we’d arrived home. To my utter lack of surprise, James’ bag contained at least 10 bucks worth of half-eaten apples.

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Some of what I found in James’ bag of apples…

Thankfully, most of Liam and Lucas’ apples were not already eaten, leaving plenty of freshly-picked apples for snacking and for making these outrageous muffins. Based on a basic not-too-sweet molasses muffin, accented with a triple dose of ground, fresh, and crystallized ginger, these spicy muffins barely made it to the next morning.

I recommend making a double batch.

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Triple Ginger Apple Muffins

Ingredients

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 6-ounce container vanilla or apple-cinnamon greek yogurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 cup crystallized ginger, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apple, peeled and diced

Directions

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Prepare muffin tins with liners or by spraying with a nonstick baking spray.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, ground ginger, and cinnamon in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, oil, and molasses. Stir in the fresh ginger.

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry ingredients until well blended. Stir in the crystallized ginger and the apple. The batter will be pretty thick.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, so that each tin is about 2/3 – 3/4 full.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Makes 12-15 muffins

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Cream Cheese Icing

Bread pudding is sort of a strange love of mine. It’s not something I grew up eating. In fact, I don’t think I’d even heard of it until sometime in adulthood when I ran across it on the dessert table at one of my favorite restaurant’s brunch buffets. I was more than apprehensive at first. Soggy bread?? Yuck. And it certainly didn’t look like any ‘pudding’ I’ve ever seen before. No, thank you.

Then, one day (after a few breakfast mimosas) I felt brave. I took a small scoop of that bread pudding. And forevermore wondered why I hadn’t tasted it earlier.

I’ve made a few variations of bread pudding over the past few years, each time trying to determine what it is that makes me love it so darn much. And I finally figured it out… It tastes like french toast; a big scoop of warm, comforting french toast. But the thing which makes it even better than french toast, especially for serving a crowd, is that the whole mix gets thrown in a dish and baked with little mess or fuss.

Bread pudding also lends itself quite well towards getting creative – and I love a dish that likes to be played with. Make it with French bread or muffins or challah. I’ve even made it out of donuts! Add vanilla or dried fruits or chocolate chips.

Or seize the pumpkin spice mania and make this pumpkin bread pudding with cream cheese icing. This comforting bread pudding tastes like a cross between a spiced pumpkin pie and a slice of french toast. It’s best served warm, but after more than a few stolen spoonfuls from the leftovers in the fridge, I can tell you with confidence that it tastes pretty fantastic cold too!

For more variations on bread pudding, check out my Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding, Fluffernutter Bread Pudding, and Spiced Fruit Bread Pudding

Today’s Focus on Technique – Easy Disposable Pastry Bag

It’s easy to make a pastry bag in a pinch by simply using a plastic baggy. This technique works best for fairly soft dressings, fillings, or icings. (Plastic baggies may not hold up well with very firm fillings.) Simply fill the plastic baggy with your dressing, filling, or icing. Squeeze it into one corner of the baggy. Twist the top of the baggy to hold the filling in place. Then, clip the corner with scissors, large or small, depending on your purpose. Now you’re all set to easily squeeze fillings into cupcakes or attractively drizzle dressings, sauces, or icings. The best part about plastic baggy pastry bags is that they’re disposable…no messy clean-up!!

Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients

  • Approximately 10 cups day-old French bread, cut into chunks
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves

For the icing

  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 3 tablespoons powdered sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange the chunks of bread in a large baking dish. In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, pumpkin puree, sugars, eggs, cinnamon, vanilla, ginger, salt, nutmeg, and cloves until well-blended. Pour the mixture over the bread chunks. Press down on the mixture so the most of the bread is submerged. (I like to leave a thin layer of unsoaked bread at the top for a nice crust layer.) Allow the mixture to soak for at least 15 minutes. (You can leave it to soak overnight, in the fridge, if desired.)

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

For the icing, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar until well blended. Spoon the mixture into a plastic baggy. Squeeze the baggy in your hands for a few seconds to soften the icing. Squeeze the mixture into one corner of the baggy, then twist the top of the baggy to hold the icing in place. Using scissors, clip a small bit of the corner, then drizzle the icing over the warm bread pudding. Serve warm.

Strawberry Banana Bread

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Back in what feels like another lifetime, I was a second grade teacher. One portion of our daily routine included an activity we called Writers’ Workshop. It was a time of the day devoted towards writing, where my students could work independently or collaboratively on various forms of written expression. While they worked, I’d meet with individual students to help walk them through the editing process, while weaving lessons about writing technique, language, and grammar into our little discussions. Some students worked on personal narratives, others on poetry, and others on persuasive writing.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #1 – with freeze-dried strawberries

And then there was the group of boys who’d formed a rock band and spent their time during writers’ workshop writing song lyrics. Now, this rock band was no casual arrangement. Though not a one of them played a musical instrument, they took the idea of their band quite seriously. These boys waited all day to work on their writing. They put careful thought into their choice of words and worked cooperatively to fine tune their performance. I was feeling like a pretty awesome teacher for being able to get my students so actively engaged in the writing process and so motivated to develop their writing skills. And that’s right about went things went sour with the band.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #2 – with strawberry glaze swirl on the top

You see, ‘Diego’ kicked ‘Joshua’ out of the band. It had something to do with not fully committing to his dance moves. Seriously. Joshua was crushed. ‘Willis’ tried to remain neutral, but it was clear that he was also  unimpressed by Joshua’s moves. I intervened and brought peace back to the band long enough for them to perform the song they’d been working so hard at.

It went something like this…

Oh, when am I gonna be a man?

I wanna be a man!

I’m gonna get a wallet.

I’m gonna go to the gym.

Ooo, when am I gonna be a man?

It was sort of a rap song. And clearly very revealing about a second grader’s perspective on what makes a man…gym memberships and wallets. Of course.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #3 – invisible strawberry glaze swirl throughout the bread

I was reminded of this memory when I walked into my living room to find my 5 year old giving my 3 year old lessons on how to be a man. They were as serious about these lessons as my former students were about their rock band. The lessons involved such behaviors as hopping on one foot, not crying, and toasting blueberry waffles. All very important man behaviors, for sure.

Kids are funny. They’re constantly trying to make sense of their little worlds and every so often, they give us a peak into the carnival of their little brains. Like this morning, on our walk back from the grocery store, when we passed an empty bottle on the side of the road.

That’s weird, commented my 5 year old.

I bet it was a man sitting by the road singing a song who left it there, replied my 3 year old. (A hobo with a handkerchief on a stick, perhaps?)

What was he singing, I asked.

Yankee Doodle, replied my 5 year old confidently.

No, my 3 year old adamantly intervened. I think he was singing Nowhere Man. 

I will bake five dozen cookies for any hobo with a bindle, singing Nowhere Man, on Blueberry Lane.

Strawberry Banana Bread Attempt #4 – with fresh strawberry puree and dried strawberries

But we hadn’t gone to the grocery store to buy cookie ingredients. We were picking up fresh strawberries and bananas for this Strawberry Banana Bread. This recipe is the result of not one, not two, not three, but four attempts. (We’ve been eating a lot of banana bread around here.) Every batch was delicious in its own right. But, it wasn’t until the fourth batch that I nailed what I’d been trying to accomplish.

Doesn’t seem like making a loaf of strawberry banana bread should be such an issue, right? But here’s the problem…when baked, strawberries become undesirably mushy. So, in my first attempt, I tried incorporating freeze-dried strawberries to conquer the mushy dilemma. The result was acceptable. The freeze-dried strawberries rehydrated during baking, but there wasn’t enough strawberry flavor throughout the loaf. So, on attempts two and three, I made a strawberry glaze, which I attempted to swirl throughout the loaf using two different techniques. But, the banana bread was too dense to produce my intended result. Both of those loaves came out fantastically sweet and moist with a lovely caramelized crust, but I still wasn’t satisfied. On my final attempt, I had the epiphany that I could puree fresh strawberries to replace all of the water and part of the vegetable oil in my normal banana bread recipe. This had the double effect of dispersing the sweet strawberry flavor throughout the bread as well as slightly lightening the recipe. Chopped dried strawberries lend additional strawberry flavor and a nice variety of texture to the loaf.

Strawberries and bananas are a classic flavor combination. And they’ve never been better combined than in this twist on banana bread. This is more than just a banana bread with a few strawberries mixed in. This bread pays equal homage to both the strawberries and the bananas. Definitely worth the four attempts it took to come around to this recipe!

Strawberry Banana Bread

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup pureed strawberries
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup dried strawberries, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a loaf pan with baking spray.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Add the vegetable oil, pureed strawberries, vanilla, and eggs. Stir until well combined. Add the mashed banana and dried strawberries. Stir until well blended. Pour the banana bread mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake for 60-70 minutes.

Breakfast and Brunch Recipe Round-Up

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I recently shared a recipe for a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel Casserole, as an option for a special Father’s Day breakfast in bed. Just in case that idea doesn’t float your boat, here’s a round-up of previously posted breakfast ideas. Any of these would make a spectacular Father’s Day breakfast for the dad in your life or a great addition to your next brunch buffet!

Cinnamon-Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

Carrot Cake Pancakes with Cream Cheese Glaze

Potato and Chorizo Frittata

Fluffernutter Bread Pudding

Nutella and Strawberry Stuffed French Toast with Raspberry Coulis

Sausage, Biscuit, and Gravy Casserole

Eggs Benedict

Birthday Cake (Sprinkles) Pancakes

Cinnamon French Toast Bake

PB&J French Toast

Roasted Vegetable and Goat Cheese Quiche

Strawberry-Stuffed French Toast

Chocolate Chip Bacon Pancakes

Quiche Lorraine




Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel Casserole

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My poor husband. He woke up this morning thinking that it was Father’s Day. He woke up thinking there would be breakfast in bed. And gifts. And probably lamb burgers for dinner. Alas, he had pegged the wrong Sunday. Not only was today not Father’s Day. And not only would he not be leisurely reading the newspaper while dining on breakfast in bed. But, today was my morning to sleep in, since he’d had his turn yesterday morning. It was his turn to prepare breakfast for the three boys, while I grabbed a few precious extra minutes of peaceful slumber. Sorry, hubs. Next Sunday you’ll get your breakfast in bed. And gifts. And maybe even lamb burgers.

Breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day has become our annual tradition. There’s just something so luxuriously relaxing about it. And since it doesn’t happen often, the kids get really excited about the occasion. If the kids ever sleep past six in the morning, perhaps we’ll start treating them to a special breakfast in bed on their birthdays.

Recently, I made this bacon, egg, and cheese bagel casserole. It was inspired by a bag of bagels which my parents had brought up from Long Island. They’d been left unwrapped for a few days and had gone slightly stale. But as anyone who’s ever had a good Long Island or NYC bagel knows, it’s a crime to let them go to waste. So, I thought I’d try throwing them into a breakfast casserole, with a hefty dose of bacon, eggs, and cheese. The resulting casserole was a satisfying success; every bite with the flavor of a good Long Island/NYC bagel sandwich.

I’m betting that a lot of dads out there would enjoy this special casserole for their Father’s Day breakfast!

Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Bagel Casserole

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 5-6 large bagels (any variety), chopped into 1″ chunks*
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 12 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
*Slightly stale bagels work perfectly.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Use a paper towel to rub the bottom and sides of a large (13×9) baking dish with the softened butter. Arrange 5-6 chopped bagels in the baking dish. They should mostly fill the baking dish. Scatter the bacon and cheese over the bagels. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture over the bagels, bacon, and cheese. Press down on the mixture, so that the bagels are mostly submersed in the egg mixture. Allow the mixture to rest for about 15-20 minutes in the refrigerator, so that the bagels absorb some of the egg mixture. Bake for about 45 minutes.

Serves 6-8

Mother’s Day Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

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I get breakfast in bed once a year. On Mother’s Day. My breakfast in bed day is coming soon!! (For the record, my husband also gets breakfast in bed when Father’s Day rolls around.)

Last year, I got my breakfast in bed at the hospital, since I’d given birth to our third son the night before. But the year before that, my husband made me a delicious bacon, egg, and cheese bagel sandwich. It was fantastic. The boys came dancing into the room, buzzing with excitement over serving me breakfast in bed. They’d mostly just watched their daddy preparing the meal, but they took full credit for it.

They may not have made that bagel sandwich, but even young kids are quite capable of preparing some pretty fantastic stuff in the kitchen (with a little help, of course). And there’s really nothing like that aura of pride which emanates from a child who just accomplished something awesome.

With that in mind, I’ve come up with a Mother’s Day breakfast-in-bed recipe which is so simple that even preschoolers can complete almost every step on their own, with just a bit of adult direction. It starts with donuts, chopped into chunks, which are then sprinkled with raisins. Next, a mixture of half and half, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon gets poured over the donuts. As it bakes, the donuts absorb the sweet, creamy mixture forming a lusciously decadent donut bread pudding.

This is good stuff, people. Make it for yourself if no one is going to make it for you. But, if you’ve got some kids who’d like to surprise you for Mother’s Day, here’s a step by step photo guide for them to follow.

Note to helper grown-up: It’s a good idea to gather all ingredients and supplies ahead of time, so you can move through the steps quickly. Young kids have a tendency to get distracted, lose interest, or start eating the donuts if you take too long between steps.

Step 1: Wash your hands. Then, ask a grown-up to preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Step 2: Use a paper towel to spread one tablespoon of softened butter all around a medium-sized baking dish.

Step 3: Using a child-safe knife, carefully chop 7 or 8 cake-style donuts into chunks. You can use plain, powdered, cinnamon, or apple-cider donuts. (We used a variety pack of plain/powdered/cinnamon Entermann’s donuts.)

Step 4: Arrange the chopped donuts in a baking dish.

Step 5: Sprinkle the raisins overs the donuts.

Step 6: Pour 2 cups of half and half into a large bowl or measuring cup.

Step 7: Add 1/2 cup sugar.

Step 8: Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

Step 9: Add 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. Throw a pinch of salt in there too!

Step 10: Ask a grown up to help you crack 4 eggs into a dish. Then, pour the eggs into the half and half mixture.

Step 11: Whisk the half and half mixture until it’s well blended.

Step 12: Pour the mixture over the donuts. Make sure you pour some over every donut.

Step 13: Gently press down on the donuts so they drink up the half and half mixture.

*The key to a great bread pudding is not to over-soak the bread (donuts, in this case). The donut chunks should be mostly submersed in the liquid, but not swimming in it. A few donuts peaking out of the top will help a nice crust to form on the top when it bakes.

Step 14:  Ask a grown-up to help you put the baking dish in the oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes.

The bread pudding should look like this before it bakes.

Step 15: Ask a grown-up to help you take it out of the oven. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

*If desired, the bread pudding can be made the day before and reheated in the morning.

While the bread pudding is cooking, cut up some fresh fruit. It will trick Mommy into thinking she’s eating a healthy meal when it’s sitting next to her main course of donut pudding. (Mommies like to think they’re eating healthy.)

Cook a huge batch of bacon, because mommies like bacon.

Ask a grown-up to pour a glass of sparkly champagne or sparkling white grape juice for Mommy, because it’s a special day. A cup of hot coffee would be nice too.

Arrange everything nicely on a platter with a fresh flower or two and a handmade card. Your mommy will be in Mother’s Day heaven!

Cinnamon Raisin Donut Bread Pudding

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 7 or 8 cake-style donuts, chopped into chunks (plain, powdered, cinnamon, apple cider)
  • 3/4 cup raisins
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the inside of a medium sized baking dish with the softened butter. Chop the donuts into chunks (about 1″ square). Arrange the donut chunks evenly in the baking dish. Sprinkle the raisins on top. Combine the half and half, sugar, eggs, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl or measuring cup. Whisk to combine. Pour the mixture over the donuts and raisins. (Try not to over-soak the donuts.) Gently press down on the donuts so they are mostly submerged in the liquid. Bake for 50-55 minutes. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

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