It is hard to resist the wagonloads of pumpkins on display at farm stands and supermarkets this time of year. My front stoop is a testament to their appeal. But bring them into the kitchen? I don't think so. When it comes to baking a pumpkin pie or pumpkin bread, I choose canned pumpkin puree over fresh any day.
Aside from the fact that canned pumpkin is fresh pumpkin's nutritional equal (both contain large amounts of vitamins A, C and E, as well as important minerals such as copper, calcium and potassium), there are several advantages to using canned pumpkin when you bake:
1. SHELF LIFE It's true that fresh pumpkins can be stored at room temperature for up to three months. But canned pumpkin, unopened, will hold onto all of its nutrients for two years, and is safe to eat within five years of the processing date. (Once opened, canned pumpkin will keep in the refrigerator for several days.) So, if you purchased a few extra cans last November, go ahead and use them this month or even next year.
2. EASE OF USE If you've ever carved a jack-o'-lantern, you know how difficult and even dangerous it is to slice into a hard-shell pumpkin. Once you manage to cut around and remove the stem, you have to remove the seeds, slice away the skin, and scrape the stringy pulp from the usable flesh. Then you have to roast or boil the pumpkin pieces, drain the excess liquid and puree them in a food processor. Compare this laborious process to opening up a can.
3. CONSISTENCY Successful baking requires precise measuring of dependable ingredients. While homemade pumpkin puree may be more or less flavorful and more or less watery, depending on the particular squash you start with, the cooking method you use and the time you take to drain your cooked pumpkin before pureeing it, canned pumpkin is reliably the same in taste and texture, can to can, year after year.
Here are some of my favorite recipes:
For incredibly moist cornbread with beautiful color, add some pumpkin puree to a standard recipe. To keep your mixing bowl in place while you whisk your ingredients together, place a kitchen towel under the bowl before beginning.
1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup milk
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-inch-square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Whisk together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk eggs in another large bowl until light and frothy. Add brown sugar and continue to whisk until incorporated. Whisk in butter and continue to whisk for 30 seconds, until incorporated. Add pumpkin puree and milk to bowl and keep whisking until mixture is smooth.
4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients with a rubber spatula until just incorporated. Scrape into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into center of cornbread comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, cut into 9 squares and serve warm. Makes 9 servings.
This cake is baked in a springform pan, so there is no messy unmolding, and the pumpkin seed topping stays in place.
FOR PUMPKIN SEED TOPPING
6 tablespoons packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup unsalted, shelled pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (not "pumpkin pie filling")
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup milk
1 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9-inch round springform pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Make streusel: Combine brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and pumpkin seeds in a mixing bowl. Work butter pieces into mixture with your fingers, making coarse crumbs. Refrigerate until ready to use.
3. Make cake: Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, cloves and nutmeg in a medium-size mixing bowl.
4. Combine butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and cream with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice as necessary.
5. With mixer on medium-low speed, add eggs, one at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Stir in pumpkin puree and vanilla. Stir in milk.
6. Turn mixer to low speed and add flour mixture, 1 / 2 cup at a time, scraping down sides of bowl after each addition. Stir in cranberries.
7. Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle streusel topping over batter. Bake cake until it is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. Place pan on wire rack and cool completely.
8. Release sides of pan, cut into wedges and serve. Store leftover cake at room temperature, wrapped in plastic, for up to 3 days. Makes 8 to 10 servings.
PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BROWNIES
I make these brownies a few days before Thanksgiving and keep them in the refrigerator for holiday weekend snacking.
FOR BROWNIE BATTER
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces (4 squares) unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
FOR CREAM CHEESE LAYER
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup pumpkin puree (not "pumpkin pie filling")
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Adjust oven rack to bottom third of oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure foil is tucked into all the corners and that there is at least 1 inch overhanging the top of pan on all sides. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Make brownies: Combine butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high until almost melted. Whisk until smooth and set aside to cool.
3. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl.
4. Whisk together sugar and eggs in a large mixing bowl. With a wooden spoon, stir in chocolate mixture and vanilla. Stir in flour mixture until just incorporated. Spread in an even layer into prepared pan.
5. Make the cheesecake: Combine cream cheese and sugar in a medium mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat mixture until very smooth. Add pumpkin, egg and vanilla, and beat again until smooth. Stir in salt, cinnamon, ginger and flour. Scrape cream cheese mixture over brownie batter, then smooth with a spatula to create an even layer.
6. Bake brownies in bottom third of the oven until they are set around the edges but still a little wobbly in center, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on a wire rack.
7. Cover with plastic wrap, taking care that plastic doesn't touch the surface of brownies. Refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 6 hours. Grasping overhanging foil on either side of pan, lift out brownies and place them on a cutting board. Cut into 16 squares. Pumpkin cheesecake brownies will keep in refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days.