Whether it is a homemade version from your secret family recipe, ordered from the local bakeshop, or courtesy of Mrs. Smith, chances are pretty darn good that at least one pumpkin pie will make an appearance at your Thanksgiving feast.
Pumpkin pie is probably the dessert most associated with Thanksgiving. According to foodreference.com, the first and simplest of all pumpkin puddings was prepared by the Pilgrims, and it bore little resemblance to the creamy custard and flaky crust that we know and love today. Their method involved picking the pumpkin, washing it, hollowing it out, filling it with cream or milk, and baking it whole. Mmmmmmm! Just what I want after turkey, stuffing and the works–an entire baked cream-filled pumpkin plopped down in front of me with a spoon. No thank-you. Really, I’m full. Couldn’t eat another bite if I tried. You do have to give the Pilgrims credit for serving this "pudding" in an edible, biodegradable container–very environmentally friendly and ahead of their time.
Fortunately, some Colonial Era foodie realized that this recipe was not only awkward to serve, but it was in desperate need of some spices, sugar, perhaps a little bourbon, and a rich, flaky crust. 50 years from the first Thanksgiving, pumpkin pudding had developed into pumpkin pie, similar to the versions that millions of Americans will enjoy on November 27th (and as a midnight snack on the 28th.)
The evolution of the pumpkin pie continues as professional chefs and home cooks create new and innovative ways to serve it to their guests. Search any top recipe site for "pumpkin dessert," and you’ll be presented with not only puddings and pies, but custards, cakes, tarts, tortes, and mousses. Pumpkin pie is deconstructed, bruleed, frozen, or low-carb. The possibilites are endless for those who want to put a twist on this traditional dessert.
This pumpkin pie-inspired sweet is perfect for someone who wants to serve plated desserts for Thanksgiving, or any occasion, as opposed to a buffet of self-serve choices. Although this recipe has several different parts, they can all be prepared well in advance and then simply assembled just before serving. Profiteroles are similar to cream-puffs in that they are both filled pastries made from pate a choux dough, which is also used to make gougeres and eclairs. While profiteroles are traditionally filled with ice cream and served with a drizzle of chocolate sauce, this version has a spiced pumpkin custard filling, and it is topped with a rich, warm maple caramel sauce. As the Barefoot Contessa would say, "How bad can that be?" Here are my extra tips for preparing these pumpkin-filled pastries:
- Aside from assembly, this recipe can be completely prepared in advance. The caramel sauce can be covered and stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The pumpkin custard can be made 1 day in advance and chilled. The pastries can be stored for up to one week in an airtight container in the freezer (defrost and recrisp in a 375F oven before serving.)
- When you are preparing the pastry batter, if you don’t have a standing electric mixer, you can use a handheld mixer or you can beat the eggs in by hand (a much better workout!)
- Instead of piping the rounds of batter onto the parchment, you can simply spoon mounds of the batter. Smooth out any peaks with wet fingers. Don’t worry about the mounds being perfectly shaped as they puff up differently in the oven.
- When preparing the caramel sauce, if you don’t have maple sugar, you can use light brown sugar instead. Replacing the vanilla extract with maple extract and the rum with bourbon are a few other options.
- Baking the pumpkin custard in several smaller dishes (such as ramekins) will decrease the baking time to about 40 minutes.
Pumpkin Profiteroles with Maple-Caramel Sauce
Makes about 16 profiteroles
For the caramel sauce
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup maple sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the pumpkin custard
3 cups heavy cream
2 1/4 cups pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
9 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
For the pastry
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
Lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional)
Toasted chopped pecans (optional)
Prepare the caramel sauce: In a small sauce pan, stir the butter and sugar over medium heat until the mixture is blended and smooth. Whisk in the cream and bring the mixture to a low boil, stirring until any remaining caramel bits dissolve. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat, stir in the salt, rum and vanilla, and set aside.
Prepare the pumpkin custard: Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. In a large saucepan, whisk the cream, pumpkin puree, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, salt, and cloves until well combined. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined. Gradually stir the hot pumpkin mixture into the egg yolk mixture, whisking continuously.
Place a kettle of water on the stove to heat. Pour the pumpkin custard into an 8X8X2-inch glass baking dish and cover the dish with foil. Place the dish in a large (13X9X2) baking dish. Fill the larger pan with enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the dish. Bake until the custard is set in the center, about 1 hour 15 minutes. Cool completely and then chill until cold, 4 hours.
Prepare the pastry: Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, bring 1/2 cup water, milk, butter, sugar, and salt to a boil. Stir in the flour all at once and cook over medium0high heat, stirring vigorously, until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the dough at medium speed until slightly cooled, 2 minutes. Add 3 of the eggs, one at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Beat in the egg yolk until blended.
Transfer the dough to a large pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Pipe 16 mounds of batter, about the size of large eggs, onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing each about 2 inches apart. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl to blend. Brush the tops of the profiteroles lightly with the beaten egg. Bake the profiteroles for 15 minutes, and then reduce the oven to 375F degrees. Continue baking until they are puffed and golden brown, 15-20 minutes longer. Transfer the pastries to a rack to cool completely.
To assemble, rewarm the caramel sauce. Using a serrated knife, slice the profiteroles in half horizontally. Spoon a 1/3-cup round of the pumpkin filling into the bottom half of each profiterole. Cover with the top halves. Drizzle with the sauce and top with whipped cream and chopped pecans.