By Candy Sagon
Top off a holiday meal with a creamy pie or moist bread made from the big, orange squash that's as good from the can as from the patch.
You can see signs of fall everywhere: The chill in the air, the brightly colored leaves on the trees, and, for holiday bakers, the tall piles of canned pumpkin in the supermarket.
There’s a reason for those piles: This is canned pumpkin season. Between mid-August and the end of October, cooks will puree more than 100,000 tons of the big, orange squash for Libby’s, the country’s largest pumpkin producer. For those who love to bake, take that as a signal that it’s time to stock up.
Some bakers say using fresh pumpkin to make your own puree results in better flavor. Others believe the canned version is just as good, if not better, for its consistent quality, smooth texture and — most important — convenience.
Whether you prefer fresh or canned, pumpkin ranks high in nutrition. It’s loaded with antioxidants such as vitamin A, as well as healthy amounts of potassium and vitamin C.
So what can you do with that can of pumpkin? A creamy pumpkin pie strikes us as one obvious answer — it’s second only to apple in popularity in this country, according to the American Pie Council.
Loaves of moist pumpkin bread, quick and easy to bake, make perfect gifts. You can also get the kids to help make mini-pumpkin cheesecakes — the perfect small, elegant dessert to top off a holiday meal.
EV’s PUMPKIN BREAD
2 ½ to 3 cups sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease three 8-by-4-inch aluminum foil loaf pans or two 12-compartment muffin pans (or use paper cupcake liners).
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, flour, spices, salt, and baking soda.
In a medium bowl, combine the oil, water, pumpkin puree, and eggs.
Add liquid mixture to the flour mixture and combine thoroughly, making sure no unblended dry ingredients linger at the bottom of the bowl. Add the chocolate chips, if using, and stir to combine.
Divide the batter equally among the pans; muffin cups should be two-thirds full. Bake the loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean or the top of the loaves are springy to the touch. (Muffins will take about 40 minutes.) Let cool completely before cutting and storing.
Makes 3 8-inch loaves or 24 muffins.
CLASSIC PUMPKIN PIE
This is an adaptation of the recipe that Libby’s has had on its canned pumpkin since 1950. The original recipe calls for two eggs and no nutmeg. I happen to like a little nutmeg, so I’ve added it. Two eggs produce a firmer pie with more pumpkin flavor; if you prefer a softer, custard-like filling, use three eggs. You can make this pie a day ahead and keep it refrigerated, but do not freeze or the filling will separate from the crust.
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish piecrust (4-cup volume)
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix together sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg, if using, in small bowl. Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and sugar-spice mixture. Gradually stir in evaporated milk until mixture is smooth and well blended.
Pour into prepared pie shell.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 40 to 50 minutes more or until knife inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack for 2 hours. Serve immediately or refrigerate. Top with whipped cream, if desired, before serving.
Makes 1 9-inch pie, 8 servings.
PUMPKIN SWIRL CHEESECAKES
This recipe creates an elegant, easy dessert that you can make and refrigerate up to three days ahead of time. Have the kids help you — they can swirl the two batters together in muffin tins to create a marbled look. Adapted from a recipe by cookbook author Abigail Johnson Dodge in Fine Cooking magazine.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 300 degrees. Line 12 standard muffin tins with foil liners and coat lightly with cooking spray.
In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld electric mixer) beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until very smooth and fluffy, stopping to scrape down the bowl as necessary, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla, and salt and continue beating until well blended and smooth (no lumps), scraping down the sides of the bowl frequently, about 1 minute. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating on medium speed until just blended. (Don’t over beat once the eggs are added or the cheesecakes will puff and crack during baking.)
Transfer 2⁄3 cup of the batter to a small bowl. Add the pumpkin, flour, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg to the small bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until well blended.
Divide the plain batter among the muffin cups (about 2 generous tablespoons in each). Then divide the pumpkin batter evenly among the cups (about 1 generous tablespoon in each).
Drag the tip of a wooden skewer, toothpick, or paring knife through the two batters in a random, swirl pattern to create a marbled look.
Bake until the centers of the cheesecakes barely jiggle when nudged, 15 to 18 minutes. Set the muffin tins on a rack and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate until very cold, at least 6 hours or up to 3 days.
Makes 12 muffins.
Candy Sagon is a former food writer at The Washington Post.