Pumpkin Desserts for Fall

I'll take Pumpkin Desserts for $500, Alex.

Up until now, October has always had me thinking about what I will wear and how I will decorate my home when giving out candy to the kids who come to my door -- at least on those days I was not working. But this year, with new challenges and a new life here in this great state called Texas, I have more friends to cook for and try my recipes on. This month, in addition to the somewhat easy dishes I have been preparing -- those that can be made in about an hour -- I offer you a bit of a challenge.

The first recipe is one you may want to start at least two days in advance. The batter for a good cheesecake needs to rest at least an hour and up to a day before you bake it off. This helps release the air in the batter thus preventing any bubbles and making for a denser cheesecake. Baking at a low temperature in a water bath (setting your cheesecake pan in a larger pan containing enough water to come two-thirds up the side of the cheesecake pan) makes this like a custard in the way it is cooked. Your result will be a moister, highly flavorful cheesecake.

When mixing a cheesecake, have all your ingredients at room temperature. This helps the ingredients to blend faster without incorporating too much air into the batter. It also does not matter what kind of cream cheese you use, especially when you are baking. When you are baking the cheesecake, cover it with aluminum foil, this will prevent it getting any brown spots from ovens, which may have hot spots.

If the cheesecake jiggles a bit in the center after the allotted cooking time, that's okay. If you have a thermometer (not a meat or candy one, but a regular thermometer) the temperature in the middle should reach at least 165 degrees. This means the proteins in the ingredients have properly coagulated, and you do not need to cook it further. This can take about an hour to an hour-and-a-half in a 325-degree oven. I have worked with some chefs who bake their cheesecakes in a 200-degree oven for a couple of hours to reach the proper doneness. It's all a matter of time.

Pumpkin Cheesecake

The Filling

  • 2 lbs. cream cheese or Neufchatel
  • 1-1/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 3 tablespoons amaretto (if you do not have any, just add 3 more tablespoons maple syrup)
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1/2 cups puréed pumpkin or canned pumpkin

Slowly mix the cream cheese with the sugar and spices, add the maple syrup and amaretto. Then add the sour cream and the eggs, one at a time, waiting to add the next egg after each one has been incorporated into the batter. Lastly, add the pumpkin. Pour the batter into a container and cover. Put in the refrigerator overnight or at least one hour.

The Crust

  • 1/2 cup gingersnap crumbs (or vanilla wafers)
  • 1/3 cup ground pecans
  • 3/4 stick butter, melted

Combine all the ingredients and press into a cheesecake (springform) pan, completely covering the bottom of the pan. Make sure there are no empty spots. Bake in a 425-degree oven for about 8 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Remove and add batter to cheesecake pan. Cover the entire pan and water bath with aluminum foil. Bake about one and a half hours or until 165 degrees internally.

When the cheesecake is done, let it cool in the water bath for about 30 minutes, then remove and place on a towel to remove any excess water. When the bottom is dry, put the pan in the refrigerator overnight.

When you are ready to serve, you can top the cheesecake with a mixture of one-half cup sour cream, 1 tablespoon vanilla, 2 tablespoons sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Mix it well and spread on the top of the cheesecake.

The next recipe is for Flan, a traditional Hispanic baked custard, which has its own lovely caramel sauce. My version incorporates pumpkin.

Pumpkin Flan

For the Caramel Sauce:

  • 1/2 cup sugar

Melt the sugar until golden in color. Pour into a flan pan or into individual soufflé cups, making sure to swirl the caramel around the sides also.

For the Custard:

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup puréed cooked pumpkin
  • 5 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1-1/2 cups evaporated milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine the sugar with the salt and cinnamon, and then add the pumpkin and eggs. Mix well. Stir in the evaporated milk, water and vanilla. Then pour into the pan or cups, and bake in a water bath for about 1 hour or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. It will jiggle a bit in the center. Cool.

To serve, run a spatula or a knife around the sides of the dish. Then take a serving plate and cover the Flan. Quickly turn the Flan right-side-up on the plate, being careful not to spill the sauce or to drop it. Makes about 9 servings.

The last recipe is for bread. Actually, this bread can be made into rolls or a loaf.

  • 4-1/2 cups white unbleached bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 ounce dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree

Lightly grease two baking sheets. In a mixing bowl with a hook attachment, put all your wet ingredients -- butter, egg, milk and pumpkin. Mix for a minute. Add the sugar, salt and yeast and mix for another minute. Slowly add the flour until it is all incorporated, and mix on medium or knead by hand for about 7 minutes. Spray with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in bulk.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface, punch down and cut into 12 equal-sized pieces and shape into desired roll. To make knots, shape each piece of dough into a long roll and tie it into a knot pulling the ends through. To make trefoils, divide each piece of dough into three balls and place them together in a triangular shape on the baking sheet.

Place the rolls on the prepared sheets, spacing them well apart, cover them with plastic wrap and let rise for about 30 minutes in a warm place. They are ready to bake when you lightly press into a roll with your finger and you leave an indention in the roll. You can at this point preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Take an egg and add a little water to make a glaze and sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds, cheese, herbs or even kosher salt.

Bake the rolls for about 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes before serving. Makes 12 rolls.