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Not Your Granny's Pumpkin Dessert

By Dorothy Sibole

There are two dishes that define American desserts. Both a part of our culture and tradition, they are apple pie and pumpkin pie.

In spite of my love for chocolate, I must admit that pumpkin pie is my favorite dessert. I believe the creamy, spicy pumpkin custard inside a flaky, tender crust, with a dollop of whipped cream, is just about perfect. It's not too sweet or rich, it has great flavor, and is actually very complementary to many different meals.

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This article, however, is not about pumpkin pie, and you may ask, "Why not pumpkin pie?" Well, when you look at the back of the can of pumpkin you'll find one of the best recipes for pumpkin pie. So I am going to tell you about another way to use that can of pumpkin to make a fabulous dessert -- White Chocolate Shortbread with Pumpkin Mousse.

This is another version of the classic Napoleon - layers of white chocolate shortbread alternated with pumpkin mousse, topped with ligonberries, whipped cream and a drizzle of hazelnut crme anglaise.

With the exception of the whipped cream, each of the components can be prepared well in advance, leaving you with plenty of time to concentrate on the compliments you will receive for this dessert.

White Chocolate Shortbread

  • 4-½ ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 400F degrees. Lightly butter a 9-inch pie pan.

Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. Beat in the flour and stir in the finely chopped white chocolate. Pat the dough into the prepared pan and use a knife to score the dough into 9 equal pieces.

Bake the shortbread about 30 minutes, until light golden in color. Place on a wire and, when cool enough to handle, remove from the pan and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two weeks in the container or about 1-month in the freezer. This recipe can easily be doubled and tripled. Makes 9 pieces.

Pumpkin Mousse

  • 1 15-ounce can unsweetened pumpkin
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ cup brown sugar, packed
  • ¼ teaspoon, each, ground allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg
  • ½ cup pecans, chopped
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
In a mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, butter, sugar, spices and chopped nuts. Place in the refrigerator to chill while you whip the cream. Whip the cream with the confectioners sugar until stiff. Fold the cream into the chilled pumpkin mixture. Again, you can easily double this recipe.

Hazelnut Crme Anglaise

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1-½ tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
> In a medium mixing bowl, using a whip together the egg yolks and sugar until they are very pale yellow and smooth.

In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil the heavy cream, sour cream, Frangelico and vanilla bean with its scrapings. Whisk about half of the cream mixture into the egg yolk mixture until well-combined, then pour it all back into the saucepan. Over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the mixture heavily coats the back of the spoon.

Strain the mixture into a clean bowl set over ice cubes and cold water until chilled, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate, covered, until needed. Lasts about a week chilled. Makes about 2- cups.

Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup confectioners sugar
Make sure the cream, bowl and whip are cold before whipping. When the ingredients and the bowl and whip are chilled the fat in the cream coagulates faster. Whip this until stiff.

So, now you are probably thinking about the ligonberries. What the heck are they? Where do I buy them? What do they taste like? Well, ligonberries are a cousin to the cranberry. They are smaller and much less tart. You can buy them in jars at most grocery stores in the canned fruits section. Not native to Texas, the ligonberry was first discovered by this culinary explorer at a local eatery. It was used as a topping for crepes. So sweet and tangy, I bought a jar after months of searching for them. Thankfully, it seems all the local area grocery stores stock this item now (I think that's because I pestered them so much.). Ligonberries are native to Scandinavia and have been transplanted to the northern parts of the U.S., where the climate suits them.

Okay, all the components are ready, and assembly is as follows: Place one shortbread triangle on a plate, then put a dollop of the pumpkin mousse on top of the shortbread, a spoonful of ligonberries on top of the mousse, followed by another piece of shortbread. Repeat the mousse, ligonberries and another piece of shortbread. Top with the whipped cream and drizzle the hazelnut crme anglaise around the sides. Incomparable!

It is never too soon to have pumpkin. The bright orange color of pumpkin is a dead giveaway that pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene, which the body converts to Vitamin A. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers some protection against heart disease. It also offers protection against other diseases, as well as some of the degenerative aspects of aging. So eat all you want. Doctor Dorothy says so. Enjoy!

Dorothy Sibole is a pastry chef living in Austin, Texas. If you have questions about this article or the recipes, contact us at moc.gnikoocsaxet@nibrof_solkim.
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