Project Food Blog 2010: Piece of Cake

It’s true. I was speechless (a rare occurrence) when I found out just over a week ago that I had advanced to Round 8 of Project Food Blog.  Entering the contest, I honestly never thought I would make it as far as the video and if I did, I most certainly did not think I would get through that round. But here I am. One of 24, from an original pool of over 600 talented bloggers. I am so thankful to all of you who have made this possible.

Right, niceties over, I have a confession to make. I am not a huge pumpkin fan in sweet dishes.  Savoury breads and dishes involving pumpkin are fine – I guess it’s more when I hear “pumpkin” and “sweet” I automatically think pumpkin pie.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the *sound* of pumpkin pie.  Growing up in Australia, I never tasted pumpkin pie, only read about it in US-authored books or saw Alice doling out great wedges of the stuff on The Brady Bunch and it seemed to me the epitome of exotic.  Living in France after I left Australia, I rarely saw pumpkin in sweets either.  Upon arriving in Canada nearly 10 years ago, I discovered that pumpkin pie was not just in books and on TV – it was real and people ate it.  I think on my first (Canadian) Thanksgiving, Neil sought out a decent one and was excited for me to try it. Me? Not so much.  I just find the taste too cloying.  I am not sure if it’s because it’s so concentrated (it *is* a rich dessert) or what but a few years ago when my mum was here for Thanksgiving, we bought the best one money could buy (this is before I baked) and she didn’t like it much either.  So perhaps it’s genetic.

No matter, this PFB challenge is to use pumpkin in a baked good.  This turned into a kind of a quest for me: Find a dessert involving pumpkin that I love.  So, with that said (and with a couple of savoury dishes thrown in for good measure because you can’t just eat dessert, right?), I present: Pumpkin Eight Ways for Challenge Eight.

(and before you think I have gone bonkers, I have actually been working on this for a few weeks now. We had a glut of pumpkin delivered in our organic box a while back and I made purée immediately, adding to it a random can of pumpkin purée we found cleaning out our pantry and felt needed to be used up.  Knowing this challenge was coming up, I wanted to be prepared in case.  Of course, I was not expecting to have to bake with it but thrilled to be doing so!)

My plan was to choose dishes that I already love (and can easily make) and see if I could “pumpkin them up”.  I started gingerly testing the waters with a pumpkin cornbread, cut into cubes, toasted and filled with cranberry sauce and gruyère cheese, inspired by my grown up grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches.

I used a basic cornbread recipe from The Joy of Cooking and replaced some of the milk and one of the eggs with 3/4 cup of pumpkin purée. I cut it up into cubes the day after I made it, brushed with butter and toasted it before filling it with cranberry sauce and grated gruyère and popping it under the broiler (grill) for a few minutes until the cheese bubbled.

Verdict? Scrumptious.  The cornbread could have done with being a bit more stale as it would have been easier to work with but I would absolutely serve them for a holiday hors d’oeuvre.

Next up, I ventured into the sweets with a pumpkin version of Jamie Oliver’s microwaved steamed puddings.  When I made these with my Petits Chefs a few months ago, I was amazed that 1. They worked and 2. They tasted great so I figured I could use pumpkin again as a substitute for half of the milk.  I added some pumpkin pie spices (well, my version of it cobbled together from the components of that mix which I have never seen in the stores here. I actually prefer mixing my own spice – gives me more control over the taste which can be overpowering).

Verdict? Not only did these work but they were mighty tasty. I topped them with a dollop of cranberry sauce in addition to the Golden Syrup and enjoyed one (ok, maybe 2 – they were miniature) for morning tea. They had the wonderful lightness of a sponge pudding but a lot of flavour from the pumpkin.   I would make these again, even for company – you could prepare the batter in advance and cook them when you need them. A great stress-free dessert for the holidays…

I felt so happy with these that I ventured even further afield in sweetland.  Profiteroles. Filled with pumpkin custard.  I’ve made these a couple of times now and when I did them for Daring Bakers, I chickened out of the custard filling and made icecream sandwiches. I used the same recipe from the DB challenge for the choux pastry…

For the custard, I used the basic crème brûlée recipe in The Joy of Cooking, replacing some of  the cream and half of the egg yolks with pumpkin purée.

I even got the toffee right and was sad that I only made six of these (Maths for Baking strikes again!) because I was totally feeling a full on croquembouche was within my grasp.

Verdict? I was a huge fan of these ( as were some of my colleagues who tested them for me!). The pumpkin custard was the perfect ratio of sweet and spice and the lovely texture ranging from crunchy toffee to creamy custard through the chewy choux pastry was perfect.

Feeling encouraged by these successes, I moved into the realm of the blondie. Specifically, a pumpkin blondie with cranberries and pistachios.  I made a non-pumpkin version of these last Christmas for Neil’s co-workers and they were a huge hit.  This year, I used the same recipe with less butter and about 1/3 cup pumpkin puree to create a very festive looking treat:

I let them bake for longer than I normally would since I wanted them to be a bit more like cookies, so that I could slice them in half and fill them with cream cheese frosting.

Verdict? Everyone who ate these loved them. Me, my colleagues, Neil – we were all in agreement.  Again, just a tiny touch of spices going on but you could certainly add more to your taste.  I will be making these again.

All the while I was making the pumpkin custard for the profiteroles, I kept thinking how easy it would be to make the custards into a pumpkin crème brûlée. So I did.  Neil was kind enough to buy me a mini torch recently so what better opportunity to use it than this.  Pleased to say it worked out very well.

As you can see, I only made tiny brûlées and I think I must have gone a little heavy handed with the pumpkin spices because of all the desserts, this was my least favourite (that sounds like something Padma would say on Top Chef, right?  “Mardi, your crème brûlée was the judges least favourite dessert tonight”). It looked pretty though…

And the toffee had the perfect “crack” factor:

Verdict? I would make this again, only use less spices. It’s an elegant change from pumpkin pie and would enhance any holiday table.

Since I still had more pumpkin purée (yes there was a huge amount!), I decided to go for a tried and true recipe with a twist.  One of my favourite desserts from last holiday season was a pumpkin swirl baked cheesecake.  Recently I read that Abby Dodge’s latest book, Desserts 4 Today (People – it’s a recipe book for desserts with just four ingredients! A must buy on Amazon US or Amazon Canada) included a four ingredient mini cheesecake that I knew I had to try a pumpkin version of.  Recipe is kindly reproduced with permission of the author.


I halved the recipe and made tiny cheesecake bites, serving them atop a raspberry coulis (puréed and strained frozen raspberries that we always have on hand) and topped them with a little ginger snap crumble (again, we always have these on hand).  Served in a tiny flat dish, this was reminiscent of an oyster in that you could literally slurp up the whole thing in one go.  A perfect dessert for holiday parties where there are more than one dessert on offer and guests want to taste a lot of everything.

Verdict? Absolutely hands down my favourite.  So easy, so customisable and so pumpkin friendly.

A few days later, in the middle of the night (because you know, one eats, breathes and sleeps Project Food Blog, right?), I had a brainwave. Pumpkin lamingtons...  Yes, lamingtons, that Aussie favourite – pound cake sandwiched with cream and jam and dipped in chocolate glaze then rolled in coconut Don’t knock it until you try it people. It rocks.

I made a pumpkin pound cake, again from the Joy of Cooking (it’s a great book to refer to for classic recipes, I find), and replaced three of the eggs and 1 stick of butter with 3/4 cup of pumpkin.  I decided not to add the spices to the cake, instead choosing to add them in a small quantity to the chocolate glaze.

I filled them with cream cheese frosting and a smidge of cranberry jelly.

Verdict? I loved the colour of these and the subtle spice in the chocolate.  The cake was moist and tasty, more like a carrot cake than a pound cake but I was ok with that.  Would I made them again? Probably not (might have my citizenship revoked LOL!) but they were a beautiful, successful experiment.

Believe it or not, I still had pumpkin purée left, though a tiny bit so decided to finish my baking on a savoury note with a pumpkin tartifletteTartiflette is basically a layered potato, bacon, cheese, cream and onion gratin, made with nutty Reblochon cheese.  I love the flavours of this so much that I created a version using mashed potatoes.  Much like a savoury crème brûlée, you break the crispy cheesy crust to reveal soft, fluffy decadent mashed potatoes underneath. Heaven in a ramekin! PLUS, it is ready in about 30 minutes! Perfect for a cold winter night!  I used my original recipe, substituting the potatoes for about 3/4 cup pumpkin purée and the Rebolchon cheese for some soft-washed rind cheese that was lurking around in our fridge, needing to be used up.

Verdict? Pumpkin and cheese is my new favourite savoury combination. I would absolutely make these again in this version.

So there you have it. In which I prove that one can learn to love the pumpkin in sweet goods even if one was not raised that way. This definitely challenged me in the kitchen, perhaps moreso than other challenges, simply because it’s an unfamiliar ingredient for me to use in sweet baked goods.  I do, however, feel I have proved the versatility of our humble orange friend and would encourage you to “pumpkin it up for the holidays” – you might surprise yourself!  I mean, if I can do it, so can you!

I do hope you enjoyed this, my entry for Project Food Blog Challenge 8.  If so, I would so appreciate your vote to advance to Challenge 9 where we have to review a restaurant.  Voting runs from 6AM Pacific Time, Monday  November 29th through 6PM Pacific Time on Thursday, December 2ndSimply click here to vote (note: link no longer live).  Thanks in advance for your continued support.

95 thoughts on “Project Food Blog 2010: Piece of Cake”

  1. Wow! I love the look of all of them but my favourites were the first one – the cornbread – love the way you made them look like little cupcakes, and the blondies. Mmmmmm. Good luck!

  2. I find the idea of pumpkin with everything a bit strange especially the sweet stuff (pumpkin with marshmallows?!!) but I grew up in England so it’s not part of the food culture in that way. Your exploration of 8 pumpkin dishes is intriguing. The custard based creme brulee is the one that appeals to me the most! Good luck with the next round.

  3. I bet a lot of people will be referring to this post next year as we approach Thanksgiving again. My 2 favorites were the savory ones, the first with gruyere and the tartiflette.


  4. Amazing!!! So gorgeous, so innovative! The brulee is beautiful and I could almost hear the crack! You deserve to be at challenge 8 and I’m certain will go on much farther!

  5. Congrats! I thought Project Food Blog was over because I wasn’t see many posts from it anymore… I guess it’s just that most of the other bloggers I follow have been dropped, so congrats to you for making it this far! I love pumpkin and think you’ve got some amazing ideas here. Pumpkin profiteroles! Pumpkin creme brulee, pumpkin blondies… I just can’t wait to try them all! Wonderful creations and best of luck with the final Project Food Blogs challenges!

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  7. Love the idea of pumpkin cornbread, although I’m pretty sure my Alabama grandparents would be rolling in their graves. And I’ve never thought of combining pumpkin with cheese to create a savory treat – I’ve always thought of pumpkin as a sweet dish. Thanks for opening my eyes to these new possibilities!

  8. Oh Mardi, FABULOUS post with one recipe more tantalizing then the next. I love pumpkin in sweets so no challenge for me there but I am stunned by your creativity. I have to say that cornbread is the one I am most curious about because it is less of a sweet. Amazing job and go on a long pumpkin free holiday now.

  9. My slightly drunk, very ready for bed, overworked from a busy week brain upon seeing the first set of photos: “Oh wow, that pumpkin looks so real I wonder what she’s done to it… wait, 3×3=9, she’s done pumpkin 9 ways not 8, the title is wrong!… no hang on, I think that pumpkin is just a pumpkin… focus, Conor! She’s made 8 amazing pumpkin dishes in the one post, forget about the stupid pumpkin, look at the other stuff”.

    The other stuff, Mardi, is superb. As I’ve said before, you are a machine. Every dish is beautifully done and this particular late pumpkin bloomer would like to try them all.

    You know, I’m surprised Woolworths and Coles haven’t brought out a pumpkin version lamington.. they’ve been bastardising hot cross buns so much these days I’m sure it’s only a matter of time 😉

    Congratulations again on the advancement and I know you deserve to continue on in the hope of becoming America’s Next Top Model! Or PFB Winner. Whichever you prefer.

    • You are too funny Conor. I have to admit a geeky moment when I realised that I could do “pumpkin in eight ways for challenge 8” and make a collage with a pumpkin in the middle of it – the things we get excited about. Glad the numbers worked for me. A collage with more or less than 8 dishes would have caused a photo collage headache.

  10. WOW WOW and WOW Mardi! I can’t even tell you how impressed I am with your creativity for this challenge. Not to mention, everything looks soooo delicious and your photos are just stunning. I swear I was in pumpkin heaven reading your entry! I’ve been looking forward to your entry for the 8th challenge and you passed all of my expectations!
    I really like how you did both savory and sweet pumpkin dishes. The grown up grilled cheese and tomato sandwich with the cornbread looks delicious! (Ok everything looks soooo delicious!!)

    You definitely have my vote, great job 🙂

    • Oops meant to say the dish inspired by the grown up grilled cheese and tomato sandwich…
      I got way too excited while writing up my response!

  11. Amazing! You have created more in this one challenge with pumpkin than most pumpkin lovers have done in a lifetime of baking with it.
    Every item and photograph of same entices, inspires and encourages fans of this Fall gourd to become so much more creative with it.
    Congratulations and best wishes with this next round.

  12. Holy pumpkin! Mardi you have definitely outdone yourself here, and I suppose I should have expected a photo collage of 8 desserts from you. 😉 Awesome job, and I love the savory ones, by far the most creative!

  13. Oh my you did go well, not nuts it seems but pumpkin! A wonderful array of dishes Mardi. They all sound wonderful but right now savory sounds so appealing after weeks of hearing of every muffin, cake, cookie and pie known to woman.

    But I would urge you to take your experience and try making your own pumpkin pie one day. I have NEVER had a store bought version I enjoyed either; too heavy and with crusts too much like cardboard, it needs to be lightened up and flavored brighter for me to enjoy them too. I’m sure you could put your creative spin to good use and find a great recipe. Or use my recipe for bourbon pumpkin pie with a pecan/bourbon flambe on top? Bourbon makes everything better!

    Nice job and good luck moving forward.

  14. Unbelievable post. That would have been two months of blog work for me and you did it for one amazing post. I just had a delicious pumpkin walnut pancake with chocolate chips, and last night I had a pumpkin chili (I cooked neither) so this is a timely post. I like pumpkin in sweet and savory versions AND never met a pumpkin pie I didn’t like, so I’m sure these would all be winners with me. Yum!

  15. I am so impressed Mardi! I can only imagine how much work this was, and everything looks amazing. I love creme brulee and have to admit that’s the one I would eat right this moment, if I could. Great job!

  16. Very creative, great looking dishes, as usual. I like all the miniature versions of the sweets – I do not eat desserts after a meal unless it’s just a bite:)
    Your collage was a great opening to your post, which just got better and better.
    I did not overdo it with pumpkin this fall, and still have some puree in the fridge, so your tartiflette might be visiting us pretty soon.
    Great job! Good luck!

  17. I’m with you on pumpkin pie, and on pumpkin in sweet things in general. That tartiflette looks incredible, although that pumpkin cornbread with gruyere looks right up my alley too! Good luck with this challenge:-)

  18. I’m also not a big fan of pumpkin pie…I don’t know what it is, it just doesn’t please me lol! But, all of your options seem amazing! Especially the creme brulee – which happens to be my favorite dessert ever! Congrats on making it to this round and good luck! xoxo

  19. My stomach ligitimately rumbled while I read this post. If you don’t make it through to the next round, then something is SERIOUSLY wrong!! I’m thinking of trying out the pumpkin blondies as a Christmas cookie treat…were they difficult??? I’m not very talented! LOL

  20. It’s like every week we play this game of ‘oh no this week is going to be pants’ and every week, without fail, you bring your A-game to the table. Mardi. EIGHT DIFFERENT THINGS. EIGHT. “I’m not a baker” MY ARSE. So proud of you, lady, and so pleased to have met you through this competition. Integrity for the win 😉

    Jax x

  21. Mardi, for someone who doesn’t exactly love pumpkin, I am amazed at all the beautiful versions you have created! What a wonderful, wonderful job!

  22. Awesome job on this one, Mardi. Any one of these is worthy of a vote, let alone the collection as a whole!
    That tartiflette is totally calling my name… especially since I too have a ton of pumpkin left over from my challenge entry. 🙂

  23. Mardi: I see I was not the only crazy one baking and baking and baking here!!! Great savory twists. I also love the profiteroles. I made pumpkin brulee last year for Thanksgiving and it was such a hit, so I know i would love that one too.

  24. Firstly, Congratulations, Mardi! You are in the final 24 and should be invited to Las Vegas for the finale, in my opinion – after having come so far and worked as hard as you have.
    I love pumpkin and love pumpkin pie… and my recipe is not at all rich! I actually make the pudding with out the pastry as I usually have extra to avoid the guilt that eating pastry brings on!
    Your tenacity, creativity, and organization within this project are past admirable. They are awe inspiring. The connection of each pumpkin recipe to a tried and true favourite with the accompanying story made for a great read and the combination of flavours and textures had me on the edge of my seat.
    You absolutely worked through this challenge past what I can imagine anyone else even thinking of doing. Bravo, and standing ovation for you, once again!

  25. Holy pumpkin Mardi! I can’t believe you made so many beautifully creative pumpkin eats especially because you’re not a pumpkin dessert fan! Great job as always!! Will be voting for you of course once the polls are open.

  26. congratulations! you truly deserve to advance in PFB2010. to say that i’m speechless with your cakes is an understatement. they look so pretty and very delicious! honestly, been saying “wow” everytime i scroll down to read. hope you make it to the final round, good luck!

  27. Mardi, I’m cheering you on & so excited for you to get to this level but seriously girlfriend…., these dishes are AWESOME lady, not sure which one I want to try first because I’m a bit the same about the dear old pumpkin. Maybe I’d just have to try the Profiteroles followed closely with the pumpkin tartiflette (coz pumpkin & cheese are pretty darn good).
    Fingers crossed for you to go ‘all the way’ 🙂

  28. a very honest post- i respect that you posted real comments and feedback on your creations instead of waxing on about how delicious everything was. it’s important that as food bloggers, we disclaim, and this post is a great example of that. again, excellent job on this one.

  29. For someone challenged by pumpkin and sweet I am thrilled by your creative genius. Very fun, exciting and inspiring “play” BRAVO!

  30. Wow, Mardi, these are terrific sweet creations with pumpkin! I would love to try them all, though perhaps profiteroles would be first on my list 🙂 yum! Hope you win this!!!

  31. Being from New England pumpkin and I are no strangers. I’ve destroyed my share over the years as well. I use it in different ways including savory dishes. A pumpkin ravioli with sage and thyme for seasoning is incredible.

    Your ambition really showed through on this post. You may have once understated your chances and being a good sport you will continue to openly hope for good luck. Not needing it and all. Here’s to hoping with you!


  32. wow Mardi, u’re good!! Congrats on being part of the 24 finalists! I voted for u!! making 8 dishes with pumpkin, it’s amazing! Good luck I hope you proceed to the next stage 🙂

  33. Lovely job with every single one of these. I’m especially intrigued by the pumpkin tartiflette and will have to go about making this on my own. Sounds like a perfect meal for a cold winter night! Good luck making it to round 9!

  34. Wow… I don’t know what else to say… wonderfully done post Mardi!!!

    If I had to vote for only ONE of these dishes, it would be the profiteroles – those look absolutely luscious!!

    Good luck in this round.. have no doubt that we’ll be seeing you in the next round!

  35. Everything looks delicious, Mardi! The lamingtons are so pretty! I think my favorite would be the blondies, though — those look out of this world. Great job!!

  36. You are my hero – I am over pumpkin a bit by now but you got my vote and these are wonderful recipes and turns on the traditional! Well done!

  37. don’t post any more of these pix….i have lost half of my senses looking at the ones above and now dreaming of eating them each one of em!
    looks droolicious. Congrats on challenge # 8 and all the best in upcoming challenges.

  38. Mardi – you are absolutely tireless and nothing short of a true inspiration. I adore your gung-ho attitude and creativeness. It’s no wonder why you are one of the 24/600. A more than fantastic entry in the next round of PFB. Congratulations! 😉

  39. Well I was not lucky enough to try all of these, but…

    The Lamingtons were not bad. I say “not bad”, which actually translates as they were darned good: but with Mardi I’ve become a Lamington Purist.

    The blondies were excellent.

    The creme brulee was excellent as well – I’m VERY picky with my creme brulee, so the fact it was not overpowering pumpkin was a winner for me. (So many flaboured ones feel they need to hit you over the head, as opposed to providing subtle flavour accents.) It was fun managing the torch, me – and experimenting with Mardi how different sugars works on the caramelisation. (Another post topic, I’m sure.)

    My BIG mis was the tartiflette. This is a favourite dish from a Parisian blogger friend of Mardi’s, so I would very much have liked to try this version.

    Good luck on the next round!

  40. Your pictures are looking quite amazing and congratulations on your success with project food blog. You are definitely deserving. Being a Southerner at heart, and loving to experiment, the pumpkin cornbread sounds fascinating. Keep up the good work in the contest!

  41. um, one of each, please. 😉 sorry so late getting a comment put up – have already voted and pimped you out on facebook though – just tardy with commenting! fingers crossed you move up to the next round – you most definitely deserve it!!

  42. Well done on getting this far in Project Food Blog, you surely deserve to go several more rounds if not win after producing a wonderful line up like this. All of these pumpkin recipes look marvellous, there must be a book inside you after all of this! I shall be rooting for you!

  43. Well done Mardi !!! I have to admit the tartiflette version is speaking to me (probably also because its snowing outside right now).

  44. Wow! That is quite the assortment of goodies. I’m very impressed. I’ll admit I was bummed when I was eliminated early on, but given the stellar dishes from the competition it’s hard to feel bad about being eliminated when everyone that is left is so strong. Yum. I’m salivating over here.

  45. As was the case with my savory colleagues, the pumpkin cornbread with cranberry and gruyere really spoke to me. Also, the use of pumpkin to make a sort of “tartiflette on the light side” is a creative and interesting choice. Was that what you were intending before we got the email reminding us of the “baked good” requirement?

  46. Wow, you really went all out! Really sad that you didn’t make it to the next round of PFB. :-/

    If I had to choose my favourite of these pumpkin treats it’d have to be that smashing looking brulee. I’m a big spice lover, so I think the spice factor would be pretty perfect for me. Gotta say those pumpkin blondies are looking pretty spectacular too though – nice touch with the filling.

  47. Thank you everyone for your sweet comments and support. Unfortunately this post was not good enough to move forward to Round 9 so my PFB ride ends here. So, so sad but pleased to have made so many new friends throughout the process.


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