Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fall Flavors: Fresh Pumpkin

Fall brings with it an insatiable desire to bake treats laced with the warm, comforting flavors of fall.  (Okay, so the urge might be to eat these delicious desserts rather than make them.)  One of the most prominent autumnal flavors is pumpkin.

Somehow every year Libby makes horrifying cries of pumpkin shortages.  You have nightmares of visiting every supermarket in town, searching for pumpkin and imagine Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie, and Christmas without pumpkin roll.  You worry about the cost of pumpkin with supply short and demand high, wondering who will be cut from the Christmas gift list to put pumpkin back on the menu.  Okay so maybe it's not this dramatic, but you can save yourself a lot of headache and stress over pumpkin shortages (and get a better tasting, fresher, and local product) by making your own pumpkin puree.

Roasting pie pumpkins is easier than it sounds.  Trust me.

Selecting Your Pumpkin
Many local farmers markets and have a wonderful selection of pie pumpkins.  Many people use these cute little pumpkins for decoration, but inside lies a sweet, fresh, delicate flesh- perfect for satisfying those fall cravings.

Darker pumpkins that have some speckles on them are sweeter.  If you are not planning to cook your pumpkins soon and intend to store them for a while, check them thoroughly for nicks and soft spots, as this is where rotting will begin.  Don't forget to check the bottom and around the stem.

If you have a cool, dry place such as a fruit cellar or cool garage, you can store whole pie pumpkins. Stored in these conditions they can keep for a while (at room temperature a couple pumpkins lasted about only two weeks on my kitchen counter).  Washing the pumpkins (or any fall squash) before storage can help extend the life of the squash extensively.  My uncle swears by a light bleach solution, saying he has stored squash into the spring and early summer using it (although sources say pumpkins will store for 2-3 months).  The solution should be 1 part bleach to 10 parts water.  And the bonus of this- extra freezer space and pumpkin seeds in the middle of winter!

Roasting Your Pumpkin
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut your pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and pulp (save the seeds for some awesome cinnamon or spicy pumpkin seeds).

Pour some water onto a baking sheet and place the pumpkin halves with the flesh side down and outter skin facing up.
Bake the pumpkin for an hour or until a knife is easily inserted, meeting little resistance (like making a baked potato).

Pureeing the Pumpkin
Once the pumpkin has cooled enough to handle, peel the skin from the pumpkin and break into chunks.  Drain the pumpkin in a colander, then process the pumpkin in a food processor until smooth.  If the pumpkin is still watery after it sits, skim off the water.

Storing Pumpkin
My grandparents always canned their puree, but there are a lot of variables that go into packing an non-acidic food that can make it unsafe.  However, the puree can be frozen in ziplock bags or containers.

Next....make some cake!  Bake a pie!  Mix up a pumpkin roll!  Cook some pumpkin soup!
Sweet inspiration...

And if tasting this pumpkin and the fresher flavor of your fall favorites isn't enough, the two pumpkins I roasted ($1 each at Molnar Farms) made just over two pounds of puree, bringing the cost of pumpkin to about 6 cents per ounce as compared to Libby's at almost 14 cents per ounce!

What is your favorite pumpkin recipe?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spooky Sweet Treats: Halloween Cupcakes

I am not sure where summer went, but sure enough fall is here.  I feel I have neglected you, dear readers, and thus in the waning hours of National Chocolate Cupcake Day, I bring you a handful of wonderful Halloween cupcake ideas, with plenty of time left to make them for Halloween.

I made these by spreading a thin layer of frosting over the entire cupcake.  Then I spread some black frosting over the spot where the eyes would go (brown or chocolate frosting would also look good and may not bleed as black tends to do after a while).  I used a #44 tip (you can also use a basketweave tip with the textured part facing down and flat side up) to pipe lines across the cupcake, leaving room for candy eyes.  If you don't have candy eyes, just pipe some white with a larger round tip and then black with a smaller round tip.

These were the most popular of my cupcake tray.  I piped the base white with a 2D tip and added Oreo crumbs on top for texture.  I then cut long black licorice strips into pieces about 2 inches long, slid them into the frosting between the layers of the Oreo and attached candy eyes with a dab of frosting.  If you don't have candy eyes, pipe some white and add mini m&m's or a dot of frosting for the center of the eyes.

Melted Witch Cupcakes
Rejoice!  The Wicked Witch of the West is dead!  I made the witches hats with a Keebler's Fudge Stripe cookie turned chocolate side up with a chocolate kiss on top.  I piped a bow with a small writing tip and placed on top of a swirl piped with the same 2D tip as above.

Pumpkin Cupcakes
I made these cupcakes by frosting a pumpkin cupcake flat in orange.  I angled my spatula to add some lines up the sides of the pumpkin.  Then I placed the "stem" (an inch-long piece of pretzel rod dipped in chocolate) in the center and piped vines and leaves.

Batty Cupcakes
The bat is a Wilton candy mold that is a pick that sticks in the cupcake.  I molded the bats with Merkins black chocolate (which amazingly tastes like Oreos) and placed the picks into the cupcakes after topping the cupcake with the 2D tip and adding some festive sprinkles.

Some other inspiration I found after-the-fact:

Which are your favorites?