It’s fall, which means pumpkin time. Within this deep orange shell lies fragrant flesh and crunchy seeds—a cheery reminder of shorter days and chilly nights. I love to cook and bake with pumpkins, but I have learned the hard way to leave those attractive orbs on the porch. Instead, I open a can of pumpkin purée when the urge to whip up a fall specialty overcomes me.
I know, it sounds like a shortcut, but fresh pumpkins need to be split, scooped, seeded, cooked and puréed before use. They are a lot of work (and our traditional carving pumpkins aren’t typically the best for cooking purposes). I’ve done it all, hoping to capture the purest flavor. But all I have come up with is a lot of dirty dishes, seeds that still need shelling and a kitchen that is a mess. As for the resulting purée? It’s a little too wet, and a little too mild.
Organic pumpkin in the can simply tastes more like the pumpkin flavor I dream of, and it has the smooth, creamy texture that makes baking a pleasure. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, a hint of clove and a touch of ginger, and canned pumpkin is transformed into the fall flavor that we all anticipate seasonal pies, cakes and custards. Toss in the shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), to add a little crunch, and your pumpkin dessert is complete.
Here’s a recipe for the simplest spiced pumpkin cake. It is invariably moist, very easy to make, and just spicy enough. It can be served with a cream cheese frosting, vanilla ice cream or just how it is. The beautiful pumpkins can stay on the porch, while you enjoy this fragrant treat, savoring the flavor of autumn.
Pumpkin Seed Spice Cake
Makes about 24 2-inch cake squares
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 2/3 cup light brown sugar
- 1 cup canola oil
- 15 ounces canned pumpkin (one small can)
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup roughly chopped pumpkin seeds
- 4 ounces (one small package) cream cheese, softened
- 1 stick butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a 9 x 13 inch pan and line with parchment.
- In a standing mixer, beat eggs, sugars, oil and pumpkin until light and fluffy—about 3 minutes.
- Combine flour, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves salt and baking soda, mixing well.
- Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture in three stages, mixing thoroughly after each addition.
- Fold in pumpkin seeds and spread batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a thin knife or tooth pick is inserted and it comes out clean.
- While cake is baking, prepare the icing.
- Beat cream cheese and butter together until light and fluffy.
- Stir in the vanilla, and gradually add the sugar, beating smooth after each addition. Set aside until cake has cooled and can be frosted.
- Cool cake in pan for 15 minutes, and then unmold.
- Once cake is fully cooled, place on a cutting board or flat plate, trim edges straight and ice the top of the cake only. Cut into 2-inch squares and serve.
Look out for Chef Cara’s upcoming cookbook, In a Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds, co-authored by ICE Director of Education Andrea Tutunjian. (W.W. Norton; Spring 2014)