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.
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:
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…
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.
one 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
1⁄3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup pumpkin purée
1 large egg
1.Heat the oven to 300°F. Line 6 standard muffin tins with foil liners and lightly grease with cooking spray.
2.Put the cream cheese in a medium bowl. Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until very smooth, about 2 minutes.
3.Add the sugar. Beat on medium-low speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the egg and mix until just incorporated. Swirl in the pumpkin purée.
4.Spoon the batter into the muffin cups. Bake until the centers of the cheesecakes barely jiggle when nudged, 15 to 18 minutes. Set the muffin tin on a rack to cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve or for up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 1 month).
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.
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 tartiflette. Tartiflette 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.
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 2nd. Simply click here to vote (note: link no longer live). Thanks in advance for your continued support.