Posts filed under ‘dessert’

Confession: I hate pumpkin pie

Roasted pumpkin

Roasted pumpkin

I know, it’s almost un-American. And a little illogical, since I’m a huge fan of pies in general, pumpkin and other winter squashes, and the usual pumpkin pie spices – cinnamon, nutmug, cloves, ginger.

But so many of the pumpkin pies I’ve encountered – and even made – have turned out heavy and wet and so sweet as to disguise the subtle flavors of the squash. Not very appetizing, frankly.

I blame canned pumpkin, in part. It always seems so high in water content, no wonder the pie filling so often winds up turning even a perfectly good pie crust into sodden mush. Using whole pumpkin helps, as long as you get a variety that’s bred for eating, not carving, cook it simply and blend it to a puree. But pumpkin pie still isn’t high on my list of favorite desserts.

Still: Pumpkin, spices – nothing to dislike there. So every year when pumpkin season rolls around, I experiment with other ways of combining them in not-pie form. I’ve made pumpkin cheesecake, pumpkin custard, pumpkin fudge and cute little puff pastry turnovers folded around diced cooked pumpkin and drizzled with caramel sauce. All tasty.

This year it’s ice cream. I have a second-hand Donvier ice-cream maker, the sort with the metal cylinder you keep in the freezer and then pop into its plastic housing whenever the urge for ice cream strikes. It’s very handy, and way less fuss than traditional churn-till-your-arm-falls-off freezers.

As usual, I looked at a bunch of recipes, borrowed a bit from this and a bit from that, and came up with what a rich, flavorful ice cream that has all the good qualities of pumpkin pie, and none of the objectionable ones. I chose an eggless ice cream base, because it makes a slightly softer ice cream that doesn’t fight back when you’re trying to scoop it, doubled the spices other recipes called for and reduced the sugar, because I wanted the pumpkin to shine through. And to give it added texture interest, added nuggets of pralined pecan for a little sweet, nutty crunch – and turned the pumpkin seeds into a spicy garnish. The resulting ice cream is rich and spicy, not too sweet and very pumpkin-y, and would make a great Thanksgiving dessert. Even alongside pumpkin pie.

Spicy pumpkin ice cream


  • 1 small pie pumpkin
  • Light-flavored oil (I used peanut oil)
  • 6 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice (optional)
  • 1 tsp powdered ginger
  • 1 Tbsp bourbon (or good vanilla)
  • 2 cups heavy cream

For praline

  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp water
  • 1 cup pecan pieces


Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare the pumpkin by removing the stem and quartering the squash. Use a big spoon or ice cream scoop to remove the seeds and fibrous material; set aside. Lightly oil the cut surfaces, place on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes or until flesh is very soft and edges have begun to brown, turning the pieces once during cooking.

While the pumpkin is cooking, make the praline:

In a small saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 Tbsp water. Stir to blend and bring to a boil. Without stirring, continue cooking over medium-high heat until the sugar melts and turns dark golden-brown, about 5-7 minutes. Watch carefully at the end, and when done, remove from heat. Add pecans, stir to coat and turn out onto a piece of buttered foil or a silicon banking sheet. Let cool completely, then peel off the foil/baking sheet and break into nuggets . A rubber mallet or the handle of a heavy tableknife is useful for this task. Set aside.

When pumpkin is very tender, remove from oven, allow to cool, and remove the peel (it should come off the flesh easily; if not, use a spoon to scrape all the good pumpkin from the skin. Allow pumpkin to finish cooling to room temperature.

Using a wand blender or food processor, puree pumpkin flesh until smooth. Add the sugars, spices and bourbon, and stir well to blend. Whisk in the cream and pour the mixture into your ice cream maker. Chill according to manufacturer’s recommendations.*

When the ice cream is almost firm, stir in the praline pieces. Spoon the finished dessert out of the ice cream maker and into a lidded freezer container; return to freezer overnight to allow it to “cure.”

Pumpkin ice cream

Spicy pumpkin ice cream

Serve with a garnish of spiced pumpkin seeds (see below). Makes about 1 quart.

* If you don’t have an ice cream maker, it’s possible to make ice cream in a steel mixing bowl or even a baking pan: Just pour the mixture into the metal container, put it in the freezer and every 15 minutes or so take it out and use a rubber spatula to scrape the frozen bits from the side and bottom into the center of the mixture to break up the ice crystals. Continue this procedure until thoroughly frozen. The texture won’t be as smooth, but it’ll still taste good.

Spiced pumpkin seeds


  • Pumpkin seeds (however many your pumpkin holds
  • Oil
  • A couple of teaspoons of sugar
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, ginger (any or all of these)

I never throw pumpkin seeds away. Cleaned and toasted, they make tasty snacks and garnishes. The only difficult part is cleaning them completely of the fibrous material that they grow in. I dump them into my big colander, set it in a bowl of water and go them with both hands, squeezing the seeds from the stringy stuff and tossing it into the garbage disposal as I go. Once you get most of the orange stuff out, you can rub the rest out through a coarse strainer. Lay the seeds out on a dish towel, pat dry with another.

Preheat oven to 250F. Toss the seeds with a small amount of oil to coat, then toss with sugar and spices. Spread the mixture out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the seeds are crisp, dry and golden brown. Cool, then store in an air-tight container until ready for use.

October 27, 2008 at 9:42 pm Leave a comment

Experiments in ice cream

Oatmeal ice cream with a blackberry swirl

Oatmeal ice cream

Summer fun – houseguests, festivals, travel – have kept me from foodblogging for the past couple of weeks, and also made me miss a couple of weeks at the market. I made up for the latter yesterday with a market run that netted summer squash, turnips, lemon cucumbers, a fistful of fiery cayenne peppers, a big white onion, poppyseed cake, smoked bacon – and a mixed half-flat of berries: blueberries, raspberries (I still can’t get enough) and two varieties of blackberry, including intensely sweet Hoods (which grow on virtually thornless canes, making for scratch-free harvesting).

I’ve been craving ice cream, and a serendipitous Livejournal entry by a friend in Califormia gave me two inspirations: Blackberry puree, and (no, really) oatmeal ice cream.

Hm. Blackberries and oats: That, plus some sweetening, is my basic recipe for a very tasty blackberry crisp. The thought of turning those flavors and textures into ice cream … hmmmm …

Lacking an actual recipe, I improvised, using ingredients on hand and a variation on the the basic cooked-custard French Vanilla ice cream recipe that came with my Donvier ice cream maker (the sort with a cylinder that sits in the freezer just waiting for the ice cream impulse to strike, and requires no laborious churning – just a few turns of the paddle and it’s done).

Even using reduced-fat milk, the oatmeal provides a lush, silken texture that’s absolutely decadent. With plenty of cinnamon and a vein of deep purple berry goodness running through it, this is a fabulous summer-time ice cream. You could probably even pass it off as a healthy(ish) alternative to regular ice cream, although “healthy” is not one of my concerns when I want ice cream.

The oatmeal does give this ice cream a good deal of texture. People who, like me, love oatmeal will probably like it. People who find chewy ice cream off-putting may not – but it strikes me that you could run the cooked custard through a food processor and get it close to silky smooth, if you liked, before proceeding to freeze it.

Oatmeal ice cream with a blackberry swirl


  • 2 cups milk (I normally use whole milk for ice cream, but I had 2 percent in the fridge; in this recipe, there’s no loss of creamyness.)
  • 1/2 cup raw oats (I like steel-cut Scottish oats, but regular old Quaker oats would be fine. Just don’t use the instant stuff)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (or more, to your taste. I used about a tablespoon, but I really like cinnamon).
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups cream or half-and-half (I used 2 percent milk enriched with three-fourths of a cup of home-made creme fraiche).
  • 1 pint fresh blackberries (reserve a few nice ones for garnish)
  • Sugar and/or fresh lemon juice (optional)

For optional topping:

  • 2 Tbsp raw oats, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant and golden-brown. Careful not to let it burn!
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
Oatmeal ice cream with a blackberry swirl



In a lidded saucepan, combine milk and salt; bring to a boil. Add oats and cinnamon, reduce heat, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat. When cool, beat eggs and sugar into the oatmeal. Return to burner, cooking over a low heat and stirring constantly until the mixture is thick and creamy enough to coat the back of the spoon. Cool, then add cream and vanilla. Refrigerate several hours to overnight.

When thoroughly chilled, pour mixture into your ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

Meanwhile, heat the blackberries in a small saucepan, breaking up with a wooden spoon, just until they begin to disintegrate and give up their juice. Press through a sieve set over a small bowl to remove seeds, pressing with a wooden spoon to get all the blackberry goodness. You should end up with an all but seedless blackberry puree. Taste; if too tart, add a little sugar; if too sweet, add a squeeze of lemon juice. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Don’t be surprised if the puree gets quite thick; blackberries are packed with natural pectins.

When the ice cream is mostly frozen (scoopable but not hard), transfer to a lidded freezer container with a bit of extra space: spoon in a layer of ice cream, add some of the berry puree and continue alternating, running a spoon or spatula through the mixture a couple of times. Your goal is not a uniform blend, but ice cream with veins of berry running through it. Return to freezer for at least two hours to ripen. (Note: If, as I did, you use reduced fat milk instead of cream, the ice cream may freeze up too hard to scoop. Just let it sit outside the freezer for a few minutes before serving, or give it a few 10-second bursts in the microwave).

When ready to serve, mix the toasted oats with the brown sugar; place a scoop (or two!) of ice cream into a dish, sprinkle on some of the oat/brown sugar topping and crown with a perfect blackberry.

Makes a little over over a quart of ice cream. Share it with friends.

August 11, 2008 at 9:26 pm Leave a comment

Early cherries

Tiny plate of flavorWhile cool weather slows the progress of some of our usual late-May/early June crops, Rick Steffens Farm continues to provide us with glimpses of things to come, thanks to their extensive cold-frame operation. This weekend, in addition to strawberries and tender sugar-pod peas, they brought perfect, ripe Bing cherries, weeks ahead of season, harvested from dwarf cherry trees they keep under cover as part of a crop test they’re doing with the clever agriculturists at Oregon State University.

Cherries always make me think of clafouti, that easy, classic French country-kitchen dessert that’s a cross between a tart, a flan and a light, eggy cake. Served warm with dollop of creme fraiche (or, if you can’t find that, unsweetened whipped cream), it’s a lovely, not-too-sweet, not-too-heavy dessert that shows off the flavor of the fruit. While you can make clafouti with other fruits, cherries make the definitive version.

My recipe comes from my dog-earned, food-stained copy of Mastering The Art of French Cooking, which was the second cookbook in what is now a large collection (after the Joy of Cooking my mother gave me when I left home). After three decades, it’s still one of the books I return to again and again for basic techniques and excellent recipes. I’ve tweaked this one over the years, but it’s still faithful to the original, and absolutely delicious.

Cherry ClafoutiCherry Clafouti


  • 2 cups ripe cherries, pitted. I have a nifty little cherry-pitting utensil, but for years I got by with the rounded end of a hairpin – scoop the loop of wire into the stem end of the cherry and down around the pit, give a tug and out it comes.
  • 1/4 cup kirsch or brandy (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted.
  • 1 1/4 cups rich milk or cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar, plus 2 tsp for topping. For this purpose, I dip into my canister of vanilla sugar (sugar in which a couple of split and scraped vanilla beans have been buried)
  • 1 tsp vanilla (if you don’t use vanilla sugar)
  • zest of one lemon
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup sifted, all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup almond meal*


For a classic Clafouti a la Liqueur, soak the cherries in kirsch or brandy while making the batter; drain before adding to the dish.

Use 1 Tbsp of melted butter to grease the bottom and sides of a glass or ceramic pie pan or baking dish. Reserve the rest.

Combine the remaining ingredients in the bowl of your mixer and beat on high speed for a minute or so until thoroughly blended and foamy. (I use my wand blender when I don’t feel like messing with the KitchenAid). Let the batter rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F.

Drain the cherries and arrange them in the bottom of the baking dish.

Blend remaining melted butter into the batter and pour over the cherries. Place in the middle of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. Sprinkle reserved sugar over the surface and return to oven to bake for another 20-30 minutes, until the top is puffed and browned (it will deflate as it cools). Remove from oven. Serve hot or warm, with creme fraiche or unsweetened whipped cream.

* In France, the cherries often go into the dish unpitted, for the delicate almond flavor the pits impart to the batter. Having just gone through several thousand dollars worth of dental work, I choose to pit my cherries and add a little almond meal (sold as “almond flour” in the Bob’s Red Mill brand at several local supermarkets) instead.

May 31, 2008 at 7:35 pm Leave a comment

Two things to do with strawberries

I managed not to eat them all straight from the pasteboard box, and as promised, here are some nifty things to do with really good strawberries. You know the ones I mean: Red and tender all the way to the heart, so fragrant they smell up your whole refrigerator, and sweet as a May morning. If you can’t get fresh, local berries, my condolences. Don’t bother with these recipes, or (for the panna cotta) substitute good preserves. Anything but those hard, red-on-the-outside, white-on-the-inside excuses for strawberries most supermarkets stock. They’re marginally acceptable when piled on shortcake and smothered in whipped cream, but not for any recipe that’s meant to show off the delicate strawberry flavor and fragrance.

The first dish was yesterday’s lunch, inspired in part by a desire to finish off the wonderful spinach I’d bought the week before. The second is a happy coincidence: I’m providing food props for a local theater production, and among them is “creme caramel” – but I’ve been substituting panna cotta, because its gelatin-and-cream base is more refrigerator-stable than the egg custard of real creme caramel. I had a couple of extras, so …

Salad with strawberries

Spinach salad with strawberries and balsamic vinegar


Ripe strawberries, sliced
A few spears of fresh asparagus, the smaller the better
Good balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground pink peppercorns
Sea salt


Tear greens into bite-sized pieces and spread on a plate. Arrange a few spears of asparagus, lightly steamed or roasted, on the greens. Top with a few sliced strawberries (I got cute and made strawberry fans by slicing from the tip not quite to the stem and then fanning out the pieces). Drizzle with a balsamic vinegar – less is better than more, here. Sprinkle with ground pepper and a tiny bit of sea salt.

If you’re not the kind of person who keeps pink peppercorns on hand, fresh-ground black pepper is good, too, but the pink variety has a subtle, floral flavor that goes wonderfully with berries and other fruit.

Panna cotta Panna cotta with caramel and strawberries

My recipe for this luxurious Italian dessert is adapted from one by Lynne Rosetto Kasper, host of the wonderful public radio cooking show, The Splendid Table. Hers makes enough for a big dinner party, so I’ve jiggered the proportions, and I’ve upped the gelatin-to-cream ratio just a bit to make them easier to unmold.


1 tsp unflavored gelatin (that’s about half an envelope)
2 Tbsp cold water
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup all-dairy sour cream. Make sure to get the kind that lists “cultured cream” as its only ingredient. You don’t want agar or other thickeners in this. (Or ever, really).
Caramel sauce (make your own if you want, but I use Mrs. Richardson’s Butterscotch Caramel Sauce, which is to die for)
Strawberries, hulled


Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl. Let it stand for 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan combine the cream, sugar, salt and vanilla and warm over medium-high heat. Do not allow it to boil. Stir in the gelatin until thoroughly dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Put the sour cream in a medium bowl. Gently whisk in the warm cream until smooth and thoroughly combined.

Rinse a half-dozen small ramekins, pyrex custard cups, or coffee cups with cold water. Place a spoonful of caramel sauce in the bottom of each, and then fill with the cream mixture. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours (can be made a day ahead of time, and if covered with plastic wrap once it’s chilled, it holds up well for a couple of days in the fridge).

When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the panna cotta, place a dessert plate on top of the ramekin and invert. It should plop right out onto the plate; if not, carefully run the knife up the side and gently pry it loose. Make sure to get all the caramel sauce out of the ramekin and onto the custard (a spoon may be needed). Top with ripe strawberries. Makes six small desserts.

I’ve got house guests coming this evening, and plan to ply them with berries and panna cotta. I don’t think they’ll mind

May 4, 2008 at 11:19 am 2 comments

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