Black coffee. Preferably an espresso, cut with hot water. Perfection. I am not the audience for the crop of mocha lattes, candy cane cappuccinos and salted caramel dirty chais. However, offer me a pumpkin spice latte, and the gig is up. I’m such a sucker for anything pumpkin that I happily forgo my black coffee mantra for this seasonal treat.
I like this musky-smelling, subtle-tasting, orange winter squash boiled, baked and simmered into savory soups, chilies and stews. I especially like it cooked into a thick, rusty-orange puree. Homemade or canned, it’s perfect for mixing with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves for spooning into a flaky pie shell. Make no mistake: This is the combination that screams pumpkin goodness.
It turns out the secret to “pumpkin” lies more in the pumpkin seasoning than the actual vegetable. Good news really – because the seasoning can be incorporated into all manner of dishes – especially my fall baking. I blend my own pumpkin pie spice using proportions from Betty Crocker, and I take the time to grind my own allspice, nutmeg and cloves for freshness. I also like to vary the cinnamon. Check out the variety of cinnamons at such spice specialists as The Spice House (thespicehouse.com). My favorite, Vietnamese Saigon, packs more cinnamon punch than imaginable.
The Spice House also sells a delicious pumpkin pie spice it blends itself. Trader Joe’s blend is good too.
Armed with a jar of pumpkin pie spice, I sprinkle it into everything from my home-brewed coffee to my evening bowl of frozen vanilla yogurt. Mostly, I use the seasoning with cooked pumpkin in cakes, pies, ice cream and puddings.
I added the pumpkin spice seasoning to my standard streusel topping destined for simple one-pan cakes. The resulting cinnamon pecan streusel is so good that I find myself dolloping it over French toast and spreading it on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with a smear of cream cheese
Streusel completed, I added pumpkin puree (canned, unsweetened) to the cake batter for a fall dessert that is simply delicious and within reach of most cooks’ abilities. The only caveat is to remember to measure your cake pan to prevent problems in the oven. For this recipe, you'll need to use a pan that is 9 inches across the top and 1 1 / 2 inches deep.
The cake keeps well for a couple of days if covered tightly. If desired, you can gild the cake with an espresso-flavored glaze. I like to serve it with a scoop of soft ice cream or a cup of pumpkin spiced coffee.
Since pumpkin and breakfast seem to be a lasting romance, I added some canned pumpkin and the spice mixture to my favorite waffle recipe – one that is tangy from buttermilk and lightened with beaten egg whites. Tiny dried currants add sweetness and texture; omit them if you like.
One note: Canned pumpkin has been in short supply recently. You can make both of these recipes with cooked mashed fresh sweet potatoes or canned sweet potatoes (drain off the syrup first).
HOMEMADE PUMPKIN PIE SPICE
Adapted from Betty Crocker.
Measure 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg, 1 1 / 2 teaspoons ground allspice and 1 1 / 2 teaspoons ground cloves into a small bowl. Mix well. Spoon into small jars and store in a dark place for a month or so.
PUMPKIN PECAN STREUSEL COFFEE CAKE
Use a pan that is 9 inches across the top and 1 1 / 2 inches deep.
Cinnamon pecan streusel:
1 / 2 cup flour
1 / 4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 / 2 to 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 / 4 cup unsalted butter, softened
3 / 4 cup chopped pecans
1 1 / 2 cups flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
3 / 4 teaspoon baking soda
1 / 2 teaspoon salt
1 / 2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3 / 4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 / 2 teaspoon instant espresso granules, optional
About 1 tablespoon milk or half-and-half
1. For the streusel, mix the flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter. Use clean hands and your fingertips to blend the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the pecans. Use your hands to squeeze and gently clump the streusel into small, shaggy clumps. (Mixture can be made a day in advance; leave covered at room temperature.)
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a deep, straight-sided 9-inch round (at least 1 1 / 2 inches deep) or square cake pan with cooking spray.
3. For the cake, mix the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Put the butter into a large bowl and beat with a hand mixer (or wooden spoon) until light and creamy in texture, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the sugar until incorporated; add the egg and beat it smooth. Add the pumpkin and vanilla; mix well. Dump in the flour mixture; use gentle strokes with a rubber spatula just to incorporate the flour into the batter. (Be careful not to overmix or the cake texture will be tough.)
4. Scrape the batter into the greased pan; smooth the top. Evenly crumble all of the streusel mixture over the top of the cake. Bake in the center of the oven until a wooden pick inserted in the center is withdrawn clean, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm.
5. Meanwhile, for the glaze, mix the confectioners’ sugar and coffee granules in a small bowl. Dribble in the milk until the mixture forms a smooth, thick, drizzle-able glaze. Use the tines of a fork to swirl the glaze over the cake. Let cool until glaze is set. Use a serrated knife to cut wedges of the cake to serve.
Prep: 30 minutes
Bake: 40 minutes
Makes: 8 to 10 servings
PUMPKIN SPICE AND CURRANT WAFFLES
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1 / 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 / 4 teaspoon salt
1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin
1 / 4 cup dried currants or chopped raisins
1 cup low fat buttermilk
1/3 cup safflower oil or high-heat expeller-pressed canola oil
1 / 2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, separated
1 / 4 cup granulated sugar
Softened butter, chopped pecans, pumpkin pie spice
Maple syrup or agave syrup, warmed
1. Heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat waffle iron according to manufacturer’s directions. When iron is heated, spray the iron with nonstick cooking spray for high heat. (Spray waffle iron as needed between waffles.)
2. Whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and dried fruit; mix well. Mix buttermilk, oil, vanilla and egg yolks in small bowl. Stir wet mixture into the flour mixture just until mixed.
3. Beat egg whites in a small bowl on high speed until foamy. Gradually beat in sugar until soft peaks form. Gently fold whites into the batter just until mixed.
4. For each waffle, spoon a generous cup of the batter into the heated waffle iron, close the iron and bake until waffle is crisped and perfectly golden. Remove the baked waffle; put into the oven directly on the oven rack for 5 to 10 minutes while you bake the remaining waffles.
5. To serve, pile a couple of hot waffle squares on a heated serving plate. Top with a pat of butter. Sprinkle plate with pecans and pie spice. Serve with warmed syrup.
Prep: 30 minutes Cook: 15 to 20 minutes
Makes: 3 to 4 servings