Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pumpkin Party - Desserts

While I love to bake year-round, there really is something about fall when the weather starts to get chilly and the days are shortening that makes turning on the oven so compelling. I think that's why I have scads of pumpkin desserts in my recipe files... right when baking season begins is also right when pumpkins starts showing up in the market and and the warm spices that are so complementary with pumpkin smell so soothing. 

Even though I generally made one every year for Thanksgiving, I was never much of a pumpkin pie fan. That was until a friend published an article in the Seattle Times  about the pumpkin pies at Costco. Something about her description of the pie-making process was so undeniably alluring that the very next trip, I purchased my first Costco pumpkin pie. And thought it was delicious. Not to mention the irrefutable satisfaction to scoring such a "value" - these pies are huge! But because they are so large, that ended up being the only time I ever purchased one. Sure, I could slice it and freeze individual portions, but truly, that amount of pie has no business in a household of two people.

Enter the pumpkin party. What better excuse to reenter the purvue of purchased pumpkin pie?? The ingredients alone would cost me more to make one myself, not even counting my time, or the energy to turn on the oven.

Alas, that's not how we do the pumpkin party. No pie from the box at this bash. The only box my desserts can come out of is my recipe box.

As it turns out, only one of my three desserts actually incorporated pumpkin in the recipe. But I think the "pumpkin palatte" of cinnamon-y spices qualifies as appropriate, as certainly does pumpkin-shaped orange sugar cookies.

Snickerdoodle "blondies" and pumpkin cheesecake bars.
Cheesecake bars make a great choice for parties, because they are elegant, rich enough that small squares can be amply satisfying, and must be done ahead.  Pretty much any cheesecake recipe can be adapted into a bar (alternatively, bake them in foil-cup lined mini-muffin pans for make ultra-sophisticated bite-sized desserts.) I usually use the same amount of crust and half the amount of filling for a regular 10-inch cheesecake when I bake it in a 9" sqaure pan for bars. I conglomerated crust and filling from various sources, including some of the pumpkin cheesecakes I've made in the past: Pumpkin Cheesecake Crumble Squares, Pumpkin Cheesecake with Caramel Swirl, Pumpkin Cheesecake with Bourbon Topping,  and this bar recipe from ChezUs. Here's what I came up with:

Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars
Makes 30
7 ounces gingersnap cookies
2 tablespoons candied ginger, in small pieces
4 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons brown sugar

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350. Pulse cookies, sugar, and ginger together in food processor until fine ground. Add butter and pulse until well-mixed. Line 9" square baking pan (or 8" for slight fewer, thicker bars) with foil. Firmly and evenly tamp crumb mixture into bottom of pan. Bake crust for 15 minutes. If it has bubbled up a lot, press crust down tightly with the back of a rubber spatula. Allow to cool somewhat.
Mix together all filling ingredients with food processor. Pour over crust and return to oven. Bake about 40 minutes, until set, but not dry. Allow to cool slightly, then cover and chill overnight. Cut into 30 bars, wiping knife blad between cuts to keep squares even.

I have always loved snickerdoodles. There's more to them than just the cinnamon-sugar; the cookie itself is a special kind of crispy-around-the-edges-but-chewy-in-the-center than can't always be easily replicated.  At the same time, there is enough to love about a snickerdoodle conceptually to take creative liberties in translating it into other formats. For example, I have a friend who swears by Trophy Cupcakes' snickerdoodle flavor, I'm planning on this snickerdoodle cake for my birthday this year, and when I spied snickerdoodle blondies mentioned on another blog, I knew I had a party-winner. I am going to write more about my thoughts on these at some point - I started the post last month and still haven't finished it, partly because it's a bit too rant-and-rave-y - so for now I'm just going to post the recipe itself, which I adapted from various sources.

Snickerdoodle Blondies
makes 20
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8x8 inch pan with foil. (An easy way to do this is to turn the pan over, and press the foil around the bottom, then lift it off and fit it neatly into the inside of the pan.)

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside. In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg and vanilla until smooth.

Stir in the flour mixture until well blended. Spread evenly in prepared pan (batter will be stiff.) Whisk together white sugar and cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake about 25 minutes or until set. Cool slightly. To cut, lift by edges of foil out of pan; peel back foil from sides of baked blondies and cut into squares. 

My favorite sugar cookies are posted on the "cookies" page, but here's the recipe again just to be convenient in case you want to copy my menu for your own pumpkin party!

Sugar Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons brandy (or amaretto)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Cream butter and sugar. Sift together dry ingredients. Add to the butter mixture and beat well. Add egg, brandy, and vanilla and beat again until well incorporated. Shape dough into two flattened rounds, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350. Roll out dough to 1/8" thickness. Cut into shapes and set on baking sheets 1 inch apart. If desired, sprinkle with color sugars or other decorations before baking. Bake 10 minutes, do not allow to brown. Cool on racks. Frost if desired.

And of course, a bowlful of mallowcreme pumpkins and sour jelly pumpkins!

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