Black coffee. Preferably an espresso, cut with hot water. Perfection. I am not the audience for the crop of mocha lattes, candy cane cappuccinos and salted caramel dirty chais.

However, offer me a pumpkin spice latte, and the gig is up. I’m such a sucker for anything pumpkin that I happily forgo my black coffee mantra for this seasonal treat.

I like this musky-smelling, subtle-tasting, orange winter squash boiled, baked and simmered into savory soups, chilies and stews. I especially like it cooked into a thick, rusty-orange puree. Homemade or canned, it’s perfect for mixing with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves for spooning into a flaky pie shell. Make no mistake: This is the combination that screams pumpkin goodness.

It turns out the secret to “pumpkin” lies more in the pumpkin seasoning than the actual vegetable. Good news really — because the seasoning can be incorporated into all manner of dishes — especially my fall baking.

I blend my own pumpkin pie spice using proportions from Betty Crocker, and I take the time to grind my own allspice, nutmeg and cloves for freshness. I also like to vary the cinnamon. Check out the variety of cinnamons at such spice specialists as The Spice House.

The Spice House also sells a delicious pumpkin pie spice it blends itself. Trader Joe’s blend is good too.

Armed with a jar of pumpkin pie spice, I sprinkle it into everything from my home-brewed coffee and black tea to my evening bowl of frozen vanilla yogurt. Mostly, I use the seasoning with cooked pumpkin — its rightful pairing — in cakes, pies, ice cream and puddings.

Inspired by a store-bought bag of pumpkin-spiced granola, I added the pumpkin spice seasoning to my standard streusel topping destined for simple one-pan cakes. The resulting cinnamon pecan streusel is so good that I find myself dolloping it over French toast and spreading it on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with a smear of cream cheese

Streusel completed, I added pumpkin puree (canned, unsweetened) to the cake batter for a fall dessert that is simply delicious and within reach of most cooks’ abilities. The only caveat is to remember to measure your cake pan to prevent problems in the oven. For this recipe, you’ll need to use a pan that is 9 inches across the top and 1 ½ inches deep.

The cake keeps well for a couple of days if covered tightly. If desired, you can gild the cake with an espresso-flavored glaze. I like to serve it with a scoop of soft ice cream or a cup of pumpkin spiced coffee.

Since pumpkin and breakfast seem to be a lasting romance, I added some canned pumpkin and the spice mixture to my favorite waffle recipe — one that is tangy from buttermilk and lightened with beaten egg whites. Tiny dried currants add sweetness and texture; omit them if you like.

One note: Canned pumpkin has been in short supply recently. You can make both of these recipes with cooked mashed fresh sweet potatoes or canned sweet potatoes (drain off the syrup first).


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