My friend Becky has never tasted pumpkin. Not one Thanksgiving pie. Not one muffin or fresh-baked bread. And between us, she must be terribly sorry she ever admitted this to me, not just because she is now the subject of this blog post, but for the responses it’s garnered: “How can you never have had pumpkin? Do you know what you’re missing? I can’t believe this! We will change this. Really? You’ve really never, ever had pumpkin?” I’m not just pushy; I’m terribly hypocritical, chastising someone for not tasting pumpkin, when I myself have never eaten kale, brussel sprouts, sushi, fois gras, edemame and a wealth of other things many people love. I only just tried mushrooms a few weeks ago, by accident, and we still aren’t on friendly terms.
It’s a funny truth about eaters: we like to brag about what we love and what we’ve tried, especially, mostly, it seems, when someone else hasn’t.
So you should feel a little sorry for Becky, if you don’t already. Thing is, she doesn’t know, but I am now on a mission, a mission that began the moment she said she’s never tried pumpkin. This is one person who can still be converted, and I want to make it happen. Over the past few weeks, I have been plotting to find what would be the perfect first-pumpkin experience. What should a never-tasted-pumpkin eater start with? What would be a thing—the thing—to ensure a lifetime enjoyment of it?
I though of pumpkin pie first, since that’s what someone first gave me (and, if you remember, since my pumpkin trifle was a bust). But the crust was crackery and I didn’t want that to influence her the wrong way. I looked to the Internet and made some selections.
First, the truffles. The ingredients are expensive for these clever inside-out pumpkin pie truffles, so go to the store with a ready wallet. Even buying Ghiradelli white chocolate, rather than a more costly brand, I spent $18, and that was halving the original recipe. You’ll also need a vanilla bean, and, unless you know a good place to get them (tell me if you do!), those are high-priced, too.
On the plus side, though, these truffles are very, very easy to make: melt the chocolate with some sweetened condensed milk, in a double boiler. After it’s all good and creamy, add pumpkin puree, then the insides of the vanilla bean. Stir in some spices, chill, then roll into balls. Roll those balls in graham cracker crumbs and chill them again. That’s it!
After the truffles, I made madelines. These would not be for Becky because she hates nuts, though, looking back, I don’t know why I couldn’t have added some sugar and removed the pecans entirely. For me, these cake-like cookies had me at Proust, who once wrote that a bite of a madeline transported him to his childhood, to a time when his mother would give him one before bed.
This recipe is a little more tricky than the first, in that there are many steps, and you’ll only make one or two trays of cookies. Don’t let that dissuade you, though: madelines taste best only for the first day (and maybe second) after they’ve been baked. For that reason, a smaller batch is ideal.
My favorite part of making these madelines is browning the butter, when the liquids turn a rich, nutty color and give off the most delicious fragrance. Watch the pan, though: if the butter burns, you’ll have to start all over again. Oh, and I should also say: If you don’t have a madeline pan (you can buy them all over, even at Amazon.com), I read a mini-muffin pan is a viable alternative.
So, the verdict? I, a hardcore pumpkin fan, enjoyed both of these recipes, though the truffles were a little rich and the madelines a little moist. But I was not satisfied enough to give them away. And my homemade puree is now, sadly, gone.
However. I picked up a can of pumpkin at the grocery store this weekend and am open to suggestions. Do you have a foolproof, I-can-trust-you, people-who-don’t-eat-pumpkin-should-try-it recipe? (Please tell me you do.)
Would you share it? Pretty please with a pumpkin truffle on top?
Pumpkin Pie Truffles
Adapted from Straight from the Farm
2 1/4 cups white chocolate (the best brand you can find)
1/6 cup pumpkin puree
7 ounces sweetened condensed milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
In a double boiler or large heavy saucepan, melt chocolate and condensed milk together over low heat. Once chocolate is melted and smooth, add pumpkin puree and stir to combine. Scrape out the insides of a half a vanilla bean using the backside of a knife. Discard pod and add beans to pumpkin-chocolate mixture. Stir in the remaining spices and remove from heat.
Chill mixture for 45 minutes or until it sets up and rolls easily into 1-inch balls. Roll balls using your hands (this creates a sticky surface on the truffles) and then roll in the graham cracker crumbs to coat well.
Chill finished truffles for at least 30 minutes before serving. To store truffles, keep refrigerated. They also freeze well.
(makes 30 truffles)
Adapted from Supper in Stereo
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup butter, plus more for toasting pecans and greasing madeleine tin
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1/4 cup loosely packed brown sugar, plus 2 tsp. for candying pecans
4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, sift the flour and baking powder together.
Next, melt the 1/4 cup of butter in a small pan over medium heat. It will froth up, then reduce again as it begins to brown and turn a rich nutty color. When it is brown, pour it through a fine-mesh strainer (this gets rid of any solids that might have formed) into a small bowl. Set the browned butter aside to cool as you prepare your pecans and batter.
In the same frying pan you used to brown the butter, toast the pecans with a teaspoon or so more butter. When they are getting golden, toss approximately 2 teaspoons of brown sugar in and stir the pecans to coat them well. Remove them from the pan immediately after fully mixed (trust me, I burned the first set of pecans by leaving them on too long) and set them aside to cool.
To prepare the batter, first beat the two eggs together with a pinch of salt. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs until they’re pale yellow, thick, and syrupy (approximately 10 minutes). They will also have gained some volume. Next, beat in your brown sugar, adding it in large pinches to the eggs while you continue beating. When all the sugar has been incorporated, continue beating until your mixture has gained even more volume and holds the marks of the beater for a few seconds (like softly whipped cream).
After you’ve beaten the eggs, sprinkle the flour on top and gently fold it in with a spatula. Don’t be rough and overstir, but don’t be afraid to be firm with it either. Next, fold in the butter and pumpkin, ensuring they are well-incorporated. Finally, fold in the pecans.
Generously grease your madeline tin—I used baking spray, which worked beautifully, but you could also use butter or whatever you’d prefer. Using a tablespoon, put the batter into your tin, about a heaping tablespoon for each little mold. Used the back of a spoon to spread the batter evenly in the molds; they should be almost filled, but with a little room to expand. I had enough batter for exactly 23 madelines, almost two trays.
Bake your madeleines for 12-15 minutes, turning the pan once halfway through cooking to ensure they brown evenly. They will be golden and springy when they’re ready.
Once you remove them from the oven, cool in the tin before popping them out and eating them. They will taste best when eaten fresh.