Yesterday, I was inspired to try a very Martha-like project, making pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins. Unfortunately, my results were not exactly of the smooth and uniformly orange persuasion, and they will never be invited to grace the pages of Martha Stewart Living magazine. Although I am a huge advocate of preparing recipes from scratch, I need to draw the line somewhere. When input does not equal output, it might be wiser to follow the Semi Home-made with Sandra Lee route, and use ingredients from a can.
I’ve always been a fan of 100 percent pure canned pumpkin, a consistent product that never lets me down and provides the same results every time. When I saw that big stack of sugar pumpkins at the front of the grocery store, I should have just kept walking, straight to my reliable friend in the baking aisle. I think that he fact that it was the end of September and still a blazing 99 degrees outside had made me want to take on a project that felt like autumn. Next time, I’ll just put on a Halloween costume or throw some leaves in the yard.
I really don’t think that making pumpkin puree from scratch is difficult, but I probably shouldn’t have used pumpkins that came from who-knows-where, and that had been baking in the sun all day. Perhaps I’ll attempt this again, when I have more faith in my produce selection. The hardest part of the process involves cutting your 2 to 3 pound sugar (a.k.a. pie) pumpkins in half, something that requires a really sharp, heavy knife. Once the pumpkins are split, the seeds are removed, and they are roasted face-down at 350F until the flesh is tender. Scrape out the insides and puree. Fresh pumpkin puree can have varying levels of water, so it is better to use for soups or pies as opposed to cakes and muffins, where the wet to dry ratio is critical.
After I had tossed my pathetic pumpkin halves into the garbage, I opened up a can of good ol’ pumpkin puree and proceeded with making one of my favorite decadent fall desserts, Bittersweet Chocolate and Pumpkin Swirl Brownies. This is a recipe that just screams Halloween (get it?), with its alternating swirled layers of rich dark chocolate and lightly spiced pumpkin. More "cakey" than "fudgy", these treats are nice and tall, and they look great on a party platter or bake sale table. Here are my extra tips for these spiced & swirled brownies:
- Don’t be concerned about the addition of cayenne pepper to the batter. The added spiciness is barely noticeable; it is more of an accent, and it goes well with the other flavors.
- As an alternative to buttering the foil, which can be a bit messy, I like to use Pam for Baking. This is one of my favorite products and one of the few that I don’t substitute with a generic version. The addition of flour in the spray creates the same effect as buttering and flouring baking pans, but it is easier, and it works really well.
- Instead of sprinkling pecans on top of the brownies, you can use chopped hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, or a combination of a few different kinds of nuts.
- An easier method of melting the chocolate and butter is to heat them over medium-low directly in a saucepan (no double-boiler or bowl set over water), stirring often. As long as you keep an eye on the mixture, it won’t burn and it will melt smoothly.
Bittersweet Chocolate and Pumpkin Swirl Brownies
Makes 16 brownies
8 tablespoons butter, plus more for the pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a 9-inch square baking dish with foil so that it hangs over the edges by 1-inch. Butter the foil.
Melt the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla on medium speed until very light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes. Beat in the flour mixture until well combined.
Divide the batter between two medium bowls. Stir the chocolate mixture into one bowl. In the other bowl, stir in the pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of the chocolate batter to the prepared pan. Top with half of the pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer.
Using a small knife or spatula, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the chopped nuts.
Bake the brownies until set, 40-45 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into 16 squares.