Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Roast and Puree a Pie Pumpkin

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, mainly because of the excuse to pig out on candy and all things pumpkin. These days you can find a pumpkin flavored version of just about anything in the grocery store and I definitely don't hate it. Pumpkin is one of my favorite flavors to bake with especially when mixed with the right combination of spices and seasoning. My great-grandmother made homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving using heavy cream and real pumpkin that she roasted and pureed herself at home. Inspired by her, I decided to forgo the usual Libby's can that I reach for this time of year and make my own pumpkin puree instead. I was so pleasantly surprised by how simple and tasty it was that I haven't used anything else since. Freshly pureed pumpkin has a sweet and mild squash flavor and a gorgeous, bright orange-yellow hue. The trick is to start with a pumpkin that is small in size and heavy in weight by comparison.

I'm lucky enough to be currently living in farm country VA, where a farmer down the road toured me around his place on his gator and helped me select this perfect pumpkin for only $2.00. But you can now buy pie pumpkins (sometimes called 'sugar' pumpkins) in most grocery stores or stands where you buy your jack-o-lanterns. For a size reference, I put mine next to a medium sized apple.

The first step is to split this baby open. I sliced the top stem off of mine and then cut it in half twice to get four, even-sized quarters.

Then I scraped the insides just as you would if you were carving a pumpkin for Halloween, and of course reserved the seeds for toasting.

Put the quarters in a baking dish, dot with butter and sprinkle with salt. Depending on what you're going to use the puree with, you can also start flavoring the pumpkin here by adding stems and leaves of your favorite fresh herbs. Rosemary and sage are my favorite herbs to use for most squashes.

Bake in a normal conventional oven at 350 degrees for about an hour, or until your pumpkin is soft all the way through and starts to look like this:

You may have to adjust the amount of butter or baste halfway through baking depending on how dry the pumpkin looks.

After roasting, peel the pumpkin "meat" away from the tough skin and puree in batches using a food processor, vitamix, or strong blender. I add a little hot water or melted butter to the mixture if it looks like it needs a little push. You should have a velvety texture and a bright orange color when all is said and done. From here you can refrigerate your puree for up to two weeks or freeze to use all season long. I add a scoop to oatmeal, pancake batter or milkshakes or use in place of Libby's for all baking purposes. Stay tuned for the not-so-average pumpkin cupcakes that resulted from this beauty!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Rice Krispy Cake

Once you go homemade marshmallow you never go back. It's safe to say that I'm obsessed! Marshmallows are naturally gluten-free and fat free (definitely not sugar free, don't worry, no health lecture here...) and when made from scratch they are soft, chewy, melt-in-your-mouth delicious. I have a fire pit in my backyard now and I've been making my own marshmallows for s'mores and sweet snacks but now I'm taking over the rice krispy treat too. In cake form of course:

I learned from my catering days that no matter how simple the quick combination of rice cereal, marshmallows and butter may seem, the results please the highest number of people every time. I could not make rice krispy treats fast enough to keep up with our demand - and we fed them to mainly adults. But seriously, who doesn't love this sweet, gooey, crunchy treat?

This is my take on the classic favorite. I kept it simple, but added a lot more love than the usual read-off-the- box-microwavable version. This rice krispy cake is made from homemade vanilla bean marshmallows and a pinch of sea salt, sandwiched between layers of milk chocolate ganache and garnished with rainbow non-pareils to complete the nostalgic effect. 

The Rice Krispy Cake as pictured here would be a great centerpiece to a birthday party or any fun-loving gathering. The idea could also be applied to a wedding cake if regular cake isn't your jam, and it could be filled and decorated anyway you like. Rice Krispies can also easily be covered in fondant or frosting to look exactly like a traditional wedding cake if you're a bride who wants the dream cake look but wants to eat this one too.

This cake is a whole lot of tasty and sure to be loved by everyone in attendance at any event.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Faves: October-ganza

I'm not sure when it happened, but we're already about to start the third week in October. Craziness. I've been busy at work between my pastry cook day job and some new wedding cake plans but I've managed to squeeze in lots of Fall activities for some inspiration in between:

Favorite October Activity: Apple Picking

I headed to Carter's Mountain Orchard last weekend outside of Charlottesville on a hunt for cider donuts and freshly plucked Jonagold's. I have big plans for apple sauce, apple butter and possibly some caramel apple cider cupcakes.

Favorite October Aroma: Roasting Butternut Squash

Last night I roasted a perfectly ready butternut squash with rosemary, sage and a libery apple. It made my whole house smell like Fall while it baked away for an hour. Now it's a puree that is destined to become a delicious soup. Don't worry- more on roasting squashes later, especially of the pumpkin variety.

Favorite October Breakfast: Blueberry Almond Steel Cut Oats

In keeping with the Fall foods theme, there's nothing like waking up to a warm and creamy bowl of steel cut oats made with almond milk, homemade summer blueberry jam and even a few chocolate chips.

Favorite October Flavor: Figs

I'm loving the figs that keep rolling in from late summer and this chocolate, olive oil and fig mini cake from Food Network Magazine looks amazing.

Favorite October Cake: Ghost Mallows

Such an original fall cake idea to stuff a cake with homemade ghost marshmallows complete with a little ghost family on top. I love the contrast of dark chocolate on white marshmallow, and how the figure can still be seen in each slice.

Happy October weekend, go outside and enjoy it!