Thanksgiving Faves

IMG_4672{pumpkin pie cookies}

Happy Thanksgiving Week! Are you ready for Thursday? I’m clearly running behind this week, as this was supposed to be a Friday Faves post, and then a Monday Faves post, and now here we are, two days before the big day. You probably have all of your menu planning figured out, your shopping done, and everything prepped as much as possible by now.  But hopefully a few of these links might still come in handy, or perhaps like me, you can just bookmark them for next year.

FullSizeRender{Glassybaby + glitter leaves}

IMG_4646{my favorite side dish}

IMG_1041{Harper’s Thanksgiving present from Auntie}

IMG_4767{I got these outfits on sale at Baby Gap last fall – so excited they finally fit}

Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumble Crust and Bourbon Chantilly Cream



If you were planning on making a pumpkin pie for that little holiday we have coming up next week, I have an alternative for you. All the creamy, custard-y, fall-spiced deliciousness of pumpkin pie, but without breaking out your food processor, getting flour all over your countertops, rolling out any crust, etc. And not a single can of evaporated milk. Sound good? I thought so too, especially when my batch yielded 10 individual custards instead of 8 and I was able to sample two one and still have 8, aka a full pie’s worth of servings, leftover.

Thanks to the blog post that introduced me to this cake, I ordered the “Rustic Fruit Desserts” cookbook this past June. As with most of my impulsive cookbook purchases, I had already forgotten about it by the time it arrived on my doorstep two days later. And as also with most of my impulsive cookbook purchases, I flipped through it and then put it in a pile of things I absolutely intended to carefully read and/or do something with ASAP, where of course it lay buried until a week ago. But it was meant to be, because I rediscovered it this week, in mid-November. I’m not sure pumpkin custards would have spoken to me as strongly back in June.





We’ve done piecakecookies, granolamuffinscinnamon rollsbreadbread pudding, soup…..but I don’t think there’s such a thing as too many pumpkin recipes, especially when everyone’s favorite holiday is a week away. At least let’s hope not, since that list makes me realize that this is B&B’s 10th (!!!) pumpkin recipe. Aside from the pie tin and the pastry crust, this custard looks a lot like pumpkin pie – and as it turns out, tastes a lot like pumpkin pie. But even better, if that’s possible. And the best part is it takes literally 15 minutes to throw together (not counting the hour in the oven and the minimum 5 hours chilling in the fridge once it’s out of the oven – so it does require a bit of planning… and of course the potential trip to Crate and Barrel for whatever number of ramekins it takes to get you from the number you can dig up in your cupboards to 8).

The recipe as written calls for vanilla shortbread cookies for the crust – and the cookbook includes a recipe for them. I’m leaving it out here because I used a combination of store-bought gingersnaps and graham crackers instead (the recipe suggested gingersnaps as an alternative, I love a good graham cracker crust, and – confession – I first learned of the gingersnap/graham cracker combo from a recipe for a really yummy pumpkin cheesecake tart from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook that I’ve made every year since her cookbook came out, and it’s pretty much the best thing ever). You could use any type of cookie you like, however.





Re: Chantilly Cream. Doesn’t that sound fancy? Turns out it’s just sweetened whipped cream. (As if we weren’t already sweetening our whipped cream?) The recipe told me to whip the cream by hand, which I tried to do but it didn’t take me long to switch to an electric mixer. Add a little sugar and vanilla halfway through, and perhaps a little brandy (as the recipe suggests), or bourbon (as I did). I’m not a huge bourbon drinker but I try to keep a bottle of Knob Creek on hand at all times, mainly for cooking but also because every once in awhile you have a friend that wants a glass of bourbon, and don’t real adults keep a fully stocked bar? Of course when I went to look for my Knob Creek as I was making the whipped cream I realized I was out (too many peach dumplings this summer!), but I did find a mini bottle of Maker’s Mark in my freezer. No idea where it came from, but it turned out to be delicious. I only used 1/2 teaspoon, and it was perfect – I would definitely recommend adding it if you have any on hand, although maybe not if you’re going to be feeding this to small children (I don’t think 1/2 teaspoon of alcohol in one cup of cream, which yields 2 cups once whipped, would be enough to hurt anyone when a single portion would work out to be 1/8th-1/10th of 1/2 teaspoon, aka a very trace amount, but just FYI. If I had offered the bowl of whipped cream to my one year old nephew I think he might have eaten the whole bowl, so just something to keep in mind).


One Year Ago: Pumpkin, Sage, and Brown Butter Loafs
Two Years Ago: Carrot Mac and Cheese
Pumpkin, Previously: Cookies, Granola, Soup, Bread Pudding, Muffins, Cake, Pie, Bread, Cinnamon Rolls

Pumpkin Custard with Cookie Crumb Crust, from Rustic Fruit Desserts

Serves 8-10

1 1/4 cups crushed cookie of your choice (original recipe suggests vanilla shortbread, I used a combination of graham crackers and gingersnaps but either would be fine on their own)
2 cups half-and-half
2 eggs
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsulfured molasses (recipe suggests Barbados, I used Grandma’s because I had it in the fridge)
2 cups pureed cooked pumpkin, or 1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (note: not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Chantilly cream (recipe below), extra cookies, and cinnamon, for garnish

Chantilly Cream:

1 cup cold heavy cream
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Recipe suggests adding Brandy, I used 1/2 teaspoon Bourbon (you could up it to 1 teaspoon but it might be pretty boozy)

To make the Custard: Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F. Divide crushed cookies among 8 5-ounce ramekins. In a small saucepan, bring the half-and-half to a light simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk the eggs and yolks together in a bowl, then whisk in both sugars and the molasses. Slowly pour the hot half-and-half into the egg mixture while whisking continuously. Stir the pumpkin, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and vanilla together in a large bowl. Slowly add the egg mixture, whisking just enough to combine ingredients; this will keep air bubbles to a minimum, which contributes to a creamier texture when baked.

Set a fine-mesh sieve over a 6-cup measuring cup or a bowl with a pour lip, then strain the custard into the measuring cup. Distribute the custard evenly among the ramekins, filling them almost to the top. Place a large roasting pan on the center rack of the oven, put the ramekins in the roasting pan, and carefully add enough hot water to the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake the custards for 50-60 minutes, or until puffed slightly on the edges and almost set when jiggled. Carefully remove the ramekins from the pan and place on a wire rack. Cool completely on the rack before covering lightly with plastic wrap and refrigerating for at least 5 hours and up to 2 days. Serve garnished with a small dollop of Chantilly cream.

Storage: The custard itself is best if eaten within 2 days, but any leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

To make the Chantilly Cream: Chill a metal bowl and whisk (or beaters). Pour the cream into the bowl and whisk until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla (and bourbon or brandy, if using) and continue whipping the cream until it hangs but does not fall from the whisk. Alternatively, if you are using an electric mixer, start whipping the cream on low speed, then gradually increase the speed until the mixer is on medium speed. (Recipe recommends whipping the cream by hand so that you have “more control over the process.” I tried that to begin with, but my arm got tired well before any soft peaks were forming so I happily relinquished control and switched to an electric mixer).

Storage: Chantilly cream is best if served immediately. You may refrigerate it in  covered container for up to four hours, but you may need to rewhip some of the cream at the bottom of the bowl before serving.

Top chilled custards with Chantilly cream, sprinkle cream with cinnamon, and serve with a gingersnap on the side. Yum!


Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze


Smitten Kitchen first posted this recipe three Octobers ago, way back in 2012, a few days before I was planning to host a baby shower brunch for my friend Amanda.  I had the menu all planned out, but naturally I saw the blog post and decided I could definitely do homemade cinnamon rolls for a crowd on top of everything else.  I was also planning on homemade quiches, however, and at the eleventh hour decided I couldn’t do both – so I opted for pumpkin muffins, which I had made before and knew would be easier. On the one hand, thank goodness I came to my senses and didn’t attempt the cinnamon rolls, as I was pretty frazzled the morning of the shower (I have a vivid memory of calling a girlfriend at 8 am and asking her to pick up three dozen cupcakes, as I had run out of time to make them). But on the other, it’s really a shame I didn’t, as what I learned last week when I finally made them (three years later!) is that – as it turns out – they’re totally doable. And of course, as delicious as they sound.


So please believe me when I tell you that you, too, can make homemade cinnamon rolls. You can make them from scratch, even. My grandmother is the only person I’ve ever known to make “homemade” cinnamon rolls, and even she uses frozen bread dough – so of course I assumed they must be really difficult. As it turns out, however, that’s not the case.  I’ve never worked with yeast before, and I was surprised at just how easy it is. It’s already packaged out for you in the baking aisle – you simply let it sit in some warm milk for five minutes and add it to your dough (just make sure you let the dough rise in a warm room ~ I had to turn the oven on in the kitchen, and in a moment of doubt even leave the oven door open for awhile/the full hour – but my dough rose!!).


You have to let the dough rise twice, for an hour the first time and 45 minutes the second, but that’s still not nearly as long as I thought it would take (SK gives you the option of preparing the rolls the night before baking them, in which case you only have to let the dough rise once, and then the second “rise” happens overnight in the fridge). And you get to use the dough hook attachment to your mixer – I’ve had my mixer for over ten years and this is literally the first time I’ve used it (I was proud of myself more for even knowing where to find it than for the fact that I was actually making dough!). It’s also worth mentioning that the whole process makes your kitchen smell AH-mazing. Please make these tomorrow night, pop them in the fridge for the second rise, and then bake them Saturday morning for the best pumpkin treat you could give yourself. Happy Halloween!

One Year Ago: Barefoot Contessa’s Mac and Cheese and Beecher’s Mac and Cheese
Two Years Ago: My Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, from Smitten Kitchen 

Yield: 16-18 rolls

For the Dough
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 whole milk, warmed (but not over 116 degrees F)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (from 1 0.25 ounce or 7 gram packet)
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling the dough
1/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
2/3 cup pumpkin purée, homemade or canned
1 large egg
Oil, for coating bowl

For the Filling
3/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the Glaze
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons milk or buttermilk
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Few drops vanilla extract (optional)

To Make Dough: Melt butter (brown it if you wish) and let it cool. Combine warm milk and yeast in a small bowl and set aside. After 5-7 minutes it should be a little foamy – if not, you may have some bad yeast and should start again with a new packet. Combine flour, sugars, salt, and spices in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add 1/4 of your melted butter (reserve the rest for assembly) and stir to combine, then add milk/yeast mixture, pumpkin, and egg. Once the dough starts to come together, switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook and run it on low for five minutes.  Scrape your dough into a well-oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set the bowl in a warm, draft free area of your kitchen and let it rise for an hour. (Trick my aunt taught me: if your dough doesn’t seem to be rising enough, turn your oven on to warm up your kitchen). While the dough rises, prepare your baking dishes: line the bottoms of two 8-inch or 9-inch cake pans (or square or rectangular baking dishes) with parchment and then butter the sides of the pan and the parchment.

To Make Filling: Stir together the sugars, cinnamon, and salt.

To Make Glaze: Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.  Add powdered sugar and vanilla. Slowly drizzle in the milk until you reach your desired consistency – thick enough to ice (less milk) or thin enough to drizzle (more milk).

To Assemble Rolls: Scoop your dough onto a very well-floured surface, sprinkle some extra flour on top, and roll it out into a 16″ x 11″ rectangle. Brush the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter over the dough and sprinkle the filling evenly over the butter. Starting on a longer side, roll the dough as tightly as possible into a spiral. Using a sharp, serrated knife, saw the log with a back and forth motion as gently as possible (almost no pressure whatsoever) into 1″ rounds. Divide buns between the two prepared pans. Sprinkle any filling that has fallen out on top. Cover each pan with plastic wrap and let rise for another 45 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until puffed and golden, top with glaze, and dig in!



Friday Faves

IMG_3473{pumpkin snickerdoodles}

What are you up to this weekend? I have a long and ambitious list that includes a haircut, a trip to the pumpkin patch, and three dozen pumpkin sugar cookies that need decorating. [I have a new little cousin/nephew as of 2:00 this afternoon, just in time to get his name on his cookie! And one of B&B’s most loyal readers also welcomed a baby boy today – happy birthday Gavin and Cooper!] Some fun links and pics for your evening (I was supposed to post this 12 hours ago and somehow forgot ~ I’m blaming an early morning spin class that really threw off my routine):

IMG_3474{my new ‘godmotherglassybaby from my sweet godson}

photo-125{soup weather, finally}

IMG_3475{my new favorite sunscreen, thanks to my friend (and supergoop guru!) Steph}

IMG_3497{topping bar at Portage Bay Cafe, yum}

Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned-Butter Bread

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There’s a certain little holiday coming up next week, are you ready? Confession: I am nowhere close. Most years, I have my recipes all picked out by this point, my grocery lists written, all non-perishables purchased, and homemade pie crusts ready and waiting in the freezer. This year, I haven’t given any of it a second thought. That’s what this weekend is for, right? No matter where you are on the spectrum, though, consider adding these mini loaves to your “to make” list – while they may not belong on your Thanksgiving table, they definitely belong in your fall baking repertoire.

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I hesitated to try this recipe as I firmly believed that nothing can beat my aunt’s pumpkin muffins – but since anything with brown butter and sage sounds pretty delicious, I gave them a try. And I’m so glad I did, because they are equally yummy, but in a completely different way.  The brown butter and sage flavors add a savory richness, and the fried sage pieces contribute a fun little crunch. While browning the butter and frying the sage are additional steps, I still whipped up the batter pretty quickly. [Browned butter tips here. Sometimes I find browning butter easy, sometimes I find it more challenging – but regardless my finished product always ends up delicious).]

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The recipe is supposed to yield eight mini loaves, and I doubled it in the hopes of making twelve – and ended up with six. So I think when Martha says eight, she means eight “mini mini” loaves, which you would bake in something like this (which I have now purchased and will be sure to use next time).  I baked these in “large” paper mini loaf pans (is there such thing as a large mini loaf pan? Let’s pretend there is), which were adorable and looked gorgeous all wrapped up for party favors, but I think they would also be adorable as “mini mini” loaves, as muffins, or even as a regular loaf. However, the recipe as written would yield about eight muffins or one small loaf, so you may want to consider doubling.

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Pumpkin, previously: muffins, cookies, granola, bread pudding, soup, cake, pie

One year ago: My First Pumpkin Pie

Pumpkin, Sage, and Browned-Butter Bread, from Martha Stewart Living 

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
1/4 cup fresh sage, cut into thin strips, plus whole leaves for garnish (optional)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter eight 4-by-2 1/2-inch loaf pans; dust with flour, tapping out excess (I use PAM for baking here). Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sage strips; cook until butter turns golden brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Transfer mixture to a bowl; let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. In another bowl, whisk together pumpkin, brown sugar, eggs, and sage-butter mixture. Add flour mixture; whisk until incorporated. Divide batter evenly among prepared pans; smooth tops with an offset spatula. Place pans on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 30 minutes.

Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. Turn out cakes onto rack to cool completely. (Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature overnight or refrigerated up to 5 days.) Garnish with whole sage leaves before serving, if desired.

My First Pumpkin Pie

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I love Thanksgiving as much as the next person, but truth be told, if I had to list my favorite things about the holiday, pumpkin pie wouldn’t even make it into my top ten. Now that I think about it, that list would consist of hardly any food items, but rather things like going to see the new blockbuster movie with a group of twenty cousins after the meal, getting up early for the parade the next morning, or the fact that thanks to this holiday, my late November birthday hardly ever falls on a work day (because we all know the Wednesday before Thanksgiving should not be considered a work day). And even in terms of food items, as much as I have a sweet tooth, I’m not really a pie person. Couple that with the fact that by the time dessert rolls around on Thanksgiving day, I’ve already consumed so much wine and chex mix turkey and mashed potatoes that I really can’t even bear the thought of one more bite, and somehow pumpkin pie never sounds that good.  I know I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two months going on and on about my love for pumpkin, but for whatever reason it’s never really translated to the most quintessential of all pumpkin desserts – until now.

Technically, this isn’t my first pumpkin pie. I made one once when I was little, although I’m sure it was the recipe on the back of the Libby’s can with a frozen store-bought crust. The details are hazy, but something went wrong and my mom threw it away.  And I really haven’t had the urge to try again, until this year. My aunt is hosting Thanksgiving for about 45 of us, so she sent out an email asking people to bring certain items, and for some reason I decided to sign up for pumpkin pie on a whim (along with sweet potatoes, which I think I’m going to try to do three ways – am I crazy?).   Despite the advice of many to just stick with the Libby’s recipe, I found this variation when I went to do a trial run for a “Practice Thanksgiving”/”Friends Thanksgiving” last weekend, and I’m so glad I did.  It’s a little more work than your basic pumpkin pie recipe, but if you’re in the mood to branch out this year I think this pie is worth it.



To make homemade pie crust, or to buy store-bought? People feel pretty strongly about this, one way or the other.  Obviously the true food-blogger answer (even the true wannabe-food-blogger answer) should be homemade, but to tell you the truth, I’ve had some pretty delicious pre-made frozen pie crusts (you can buy really high quality French ones now, although my grandma has lived her whole life using Marie Callender’s and I don’t think anyone has complained). Having said that, it only takes one “did you make this crust from scratch” inquiry to make you feel like it’s worth the extra effort to do it yourself. I thought this crust looked perfect going into the oven, but somehow one half baked up perfectly while the other kind of shrunk – broke my heart, but it still tasted delicious.

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Cooking the pumpkin-and-yam-mixture on the stove really adds a depth of flavor to the pie. You can mash the sweet potatoes as you cook them (as the recipe suggests), or just puree the mixture with an immersion blender when you’re finished cooking it, as I did. Another note that I’ll add here, for lack of a better place to put it: it seems one of Cook’s Illustrated’s goals in tweaking this recipe was to make a pie that wasn’t overly spiced. While I can appreciate that, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg seemed almost under-spiced to me, so I doubled both amounts (and list the range in the recipe). I also added a tiny pinch of cloves. I thought my pie turned out perfectly, but you could definitely go with the lesser amounts if that sounds good to you. I also used ground ginger, as Deb suggests, mainly just to save myself the hassle.

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The straining step was kind of a pain, and I’m not sure it was necessary (especially since I used the immersion blender), but I will say the custard was incredibly smooth and creamy.  We’ll see if I do it again next week.

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I had read in the comments to Deb’s post that the pie takes a lot longer to cook through than the recipe suggests, so I was prepared for it to take longer than the 30-45 minutes listed. Mine took well over an hour though – probably closer to an hour and a half – so I was glad I had the temperature instruction as well. And leftover pie dough to cut into tiny pumpkins and leaves to cover the hole that my candy thermometer made in the middle of my pie.

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Pumpkin Pie, from Cook’s Illustrated by way of Smitten Kitchen

A half recipe of your favorite pie crust, chilled (Deb recommends hers, here; I also like Melissa Clark’s, here or here – or you can always buy one, I won’t tell).

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1 cup drained candied yams, from a 15-ounce can
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger (or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, which is what I used)
1/2-1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used 1 teaspoon)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (I used 1/2 teaspoon)
Pinch of cloves, optional
1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

To prepare the crust:

Roll out your dough on a generously floured work surface to make a 12″ circle about 1/8″ thick. Roll dough loosely around your rolling pin and unroll into your pie plate, leaving at least a 1″ overhang all around the pie plate.

Working around the circumference, ease the dough into the pie plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing into the plate bottom with other hand. Refrigerate 15 minutes. Trim the overhang to 1/2″ beyond the lip of the pie plate. Fold overhang under itself; the edge should be flush with the edge of the pie plate. Using your thumb and forefinger, flute the edge of the dough (or finish it however you like, with fork tongs or otherwise). Refrigerate the dough-lined pie plate until firm, about 15 more minutes.

To par-bake the crust:

Remove the pie crust from the refrigerator and line it with greased foil and pie weights (or old dried beans). Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes; remove the foil and weights, rotate plate, and bake for 5-10 more minutes, until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove the crust and baking sheet from the oven.

To make the filling:

While the pie shell is baking, whisk cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla together in a medium bowl. Set aside. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine pumpkin, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves (if using), and salt; bring to a sputtering simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Continue to simmer, constantly stirring and mashing the yams against the side of the pot, until thick and shiny, 10-15 minutes (I didn’t worry too much about mashing the yams, as I used my immersion blender at the end).

Remove pan from heat (and use your immersion blender here if you want to – or put the mixture in a food processor or blender – or skip this step entirely). Whisk the cream mixture in slowly, until fully incorporated. Strain mixture through a fine (or medium) mesh strainer and re-whisk.

To bake the pie: 

Pour the warm filling into the warm crust. Return the pie, on baking sheet, to oven and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges are set (and instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees), about 20-35 more minutes. NOTE: in my oven, this took over an hour past the 10 minutes at 400. In many of the comments to Smitten Kitchen’s blog post, people complained that it took a lot longer to set, or that it never set. When I make this pie again next week, I’ll only turn my oven down to 350 rather than 300, and still budget about an hour of baking time. A thermometer is helpful to gauge when it’s done so that you don’t worry that you’re over-cooking it, but if you don’t have one, you’ll be able to tell it’s done when the center of the pie looks almost set and not too jiggly.

Once the pie is finished baking, transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. The pie will finish cooking with the resident heat; to ensure the filling sets properly, cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.  You can serve the pie warm, cold, or at room temperature, but I’ve realized I like pumpkin pie a lot better when it’s chilled.  Top with lightly sweetened whip cream, cinnamon, and maybe a mini pie-dough cookie.  Or if you’d rather, just stick your pie on the dessert table and head out to the late showing of Catching Fire.  Something tells me it would make a pretty amazing pre-parade (or pre-shopping) breakfast on Friday morning as well – if there’s any left.

Guilty Secret Pumpkin Pie Cake

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Ok, so. I realize the recipes on this blog aren’t always the healthiest (although I do try to keep it balanced!), or the most gourmet (I only try sometimes), but they aren’t usually embarrassing. I try to cook using “real,” unprocessed foods, buy higher quality and/or organic ingredients, etc. This recipe is a glaring exception to all of that, though, but it’s so good – and so easy – that I’m not even going to apologize for it. As evidenced from the photo montage above, there’s nothing “real” or healthy about this cake (even my vanilla is the super cheap, store-brand version – please don’t judge). However, it turns out boxed yellow cake mix and cool whip, while chemical-laden, are secretly delicious. So if you’re looking for a simple, crowd-pleasing dessert to bring to Thanksgiving this year, you should definitely try this recipe – just be prepared to cringe a little inside when you tell people how you made it (because trust me, they will ask).

This cake came into my family many Thanksgivings ago by way of a now-ex-but-at-the-time-future-in-law (the details of which I won’t go into), but although these days the ex herself is persona non grata at family holidays, people still whisper about her cake. My aunt Laurie is hosting Thanksgiving for our large-and-ever-growing family this year, and a few weeks ago she sent out a sign-up sheet asking people to volunteer to bring certain items. Under the standard “Pumpkin Pie,” “Apple Pie,” and “Berry Pie” categories she included “Other Dessert” – and then confessed to me “I’m secretly hoping that whoever signs up for ‘other’ makes – you know – the cake.” So you see, it’s our guilty secret for more than one reason. Should you bring it to your family’s Thanksgiving this year, though, you can call it whatever you like.

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The bottom layer – which will become the top layer – is basically just a super easy pumpkin pie filling. Just mix a giant can of pumpkin pie filling with a five ounce can of evaporated milk, and then the sugar, eggs, and vanilla. NOTE 1: canned pumpkin pie filling is different than plain canned pumpkin – that may seem obvious, but it’s actually easy to get confused, especially when the store is out of one or the other like they all inevitably will be soon. NOTE 2: sometimes it’s hard to find a five ounce can of evaporated milk (I couldn’t this time), but they do exist. If you can’t find one,  just get a regular sized can and use a liquid measuring cup (it works out to just over half a cup).

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Make sure to line your cake pan really well with wax paper or parchment. I find it works best to spray a little PAM directly into the pan so that the parchment sticks. Once the pan is lined, spray the paper generously – you want the cake to pop right out.

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Sprinkle your dry cake mix over the pumpkin, straight from the bag…..

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And then a cup of melted butter – see, I told you it was called a guilty pleasure.

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Finally, sprinkle the pecans on top of the butter.  It looks a little scary, but the cake mix-butter-pecan layer will become a delicious crust once baked.

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See, crust! (Kind of).

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Once the cake is completely cool, flip it carefully onto the platter you’re going to serve it on (or in my case, a parchment-covered cutting board) and frost.

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To make frosting, make sure to let your cream cheese sit out for a bit to soften, then beat it with powdered sugar and vanilla and fold in the cool whip. If you’re going to serve this anywhere other than your own home, I would recommend waiting to frost the cake until you get to your cake-serving destination (you can pack it back up in the cool whip tub).


Enjoy! And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Guilty Secret Pumpkin Cake

For the pumpkin layer:
1 large (30 ounce) can pumpkin pie filling
5 ounces evaporated milk
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the crust layer:
1 box yellow cake mix
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

For the Frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (reduced fat is ok)
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
12 ounces cool whip

To make cake:

Line a 9″ x 13″ cake pan with parchment paper and coat with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, combine pumpkin, milk, and sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Pour mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle with dry cake mix and drizzle with melted butter. Sprinkle with pecans. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour, or until golden brown.

After baking, cool completely in pan on wire rack. When cool, invert pan onto a large serving platter, carefully remove parchment, and set aside.

In a clean mixing bowl, beat cream cheese with powdered sugar and vanilla until smooth. Fold in cool whip. Once the mixture is well-combined, frost cake. Cake can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.

My Favorite Pumpkin Muffins

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Today I’m excited to share one of my all-time favorite recipes, not just in the pumpkin category, but overall. I think these muffins technically originated from my mom’s friend Colleen, who is an amazing cook, but she passed them on to my aunt Nancy, and she to my aunt Char, who makes them a lot – so I’m going to credit all three of them. I have a weak spot for any of the Williams-Somoma “novelty” cake and cupcake/muffin pans – flower cupcakes, a giant cupcake-shaped cake, ice cream cone shaped cupcakes, a bundt cake pan shaped like a football stadium (for Apple Cup, obviously), etc. So of course I have both a giant pumpkin cake pan and a pumpkin muffin tin. Because food should look like what it tastes like, right?

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If you’ve ever used the Trader Joe’s pumpkin bread/muffin mix, you know that it’s really good. As in, “why would I ever make these from scratch?” good. These are better though, and worth the slight increase in effort. The recipe is delicious as is, but I usually try to make at least a couple “healthy-ish” substitutions – half whole wheat flour along with half white, and half brown sugar with half white (such a sacrifice, I know).  You can also cut the sugar down to 1-1.5 cups (see comment from my friend Yoona, who knows her stuff).  I usually use coconut oil in lieu of butter, although of course today I was out.  Funny story, the first time I made these I misread the recipe to read “two cans” of pumpkin rather than “two cups,” and then apparently never bothered to read the recipe again, so for years I made them with double the pumpkin – and guess what, they were really good (although the tops never quite got crusty like they were supposed to). But point being, you can’t really mess these up.

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If you want to use all white sugar, I won’t tell – but a little brown seems almost healthy, doesn’t it?

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Just whisk your eggs and add pumpkin and butter (or oil).

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Add dry ingredients…..

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…..and fill your muffin tins. Voilá. Took me all of five minutes, and they made my apartment smell so good! Now I just need to get them out of my house. Note: I just made this batch plain, but they’re delicious with walnuts, and really yummy with chocolate chips as well (albeit harder to pass off as healthy). See, I wasn’t kidding when I said I was really excited for pumpkin season!

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Pumpkin Muffins
makes 18-20 muffins

Cooking spray (ideally PAM for baking)
4 large eggs
1 cup butter, melted (or try coconut oil)
2 cups pumpkin purée (approx. one 15.5 ounce can)
2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (or gluten free, or half whole wheat)
2 cups sugar, all white or half white and half brown
2 tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted (make sure to sift or the little clumps will taste yucky)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or chocolate chips, optional

Whisk eggs well, add melted butter and pumpkin, and stir until well combined. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Add walnuts or chocolate chips, if using. Pour into greased muffin tins (extra greased if using a pumpkin shaped tin like mine or else it’s hard to get them out of the tin cleanly). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes, until tops are browned and a toothpick inserted in a middle-of-the-tin muffin comes out clean.

More Pumpkin: Pumpkin Black Bean Soup and Pumpkin Bread Pudding

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Three weeks ago I wrote something about how now that it was fall, I would be inundating this blog with more pumpkin recipes than anyone could ever want or need. I promptly made and posted two, made two more, started a post about them, and then apparently got distracted/lost interest.  I wish I had a good excuse as to why, but I really don’t.  Sometimes it’s just hard to sit in front of a computer and force yourself to do anything, whether it be work, returning emails (something else I’ve been really bad about lately), paying your phone bill (oops!!), or finishing up a blog post. This post has been sitting in my draft folder for the better part of three weeks, so despite the blue skies and warm temperatures today, I thought it would be a good time to finally get it up.

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Both of these recipes are from Smitten Kitchen, who probably thinks I need to stop stealing her recipes. Or would, if she knew my blog existed. Both are incredibly easy and delicious, though, so I couldn’t help but share. I went to the store for soup ingredients but somehow came home with a couple extra cans of pumpkin, which was all the excuse I needed to try her bread pudding recipe I never got around to last fall.

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This soup comes together in no time, especially if you get the pre-chopped onion, shallot, and garlic from Trader Joe’s that I discuss below. I omitted the ham from the original recipe, and used chicken stock instead of beef – if you wanted to make it entirely vegetarian I’m sure vegetable stock (or even water) would work as well. I also misread the recipe to read one can tomatoes rather than one cup, but mine turned out fine so that’s what I suggest (I used a 28 ounce can, you could use a 15 ounce can if that’s what you have on hand – I don’t think it will make a ton of difference).

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Pumpkin Black Bean Soup, modified from Smitten Kitchen

3 15 1/2 ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can drained canned tomatoes
1 1/4 cups chopped onions*
1/2 cup minced shallot*
4 garlic cloves, minced*
1 tablespoon cumin seed, optional
1 tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil or butter
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 15 1/2 ounce can pumpkin (or about 1 1/2 cups from a larger can)
1/2 cup dry sherry
3-4 tablespoons sherry vinegar, optional

*I list the amounts suggested in the original recipe, but – full disclosure – I actually used the pre-chopped onion, shallot, and garlic mixture from Trader Joe’s. I used two packages (they come in a small plastic container and are found in the refrigerated section of the produce department) and my soup turned out delicious. I’m sure it’s equally as good, if not better, if you follow the directions, but I had my soup ready to go (it just needed to simmer) 15 minutes after arriving home from the grocery store.

Heat olive oil or butter (you can get away with less than 1/4 cup if you’re trying to be healthy) in a dutch oven or soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion, garlic, shallot, salt, pepper, cumin, and cumin seed if using, and sautée until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. While the onion mixture is sautéing, pulse black beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin in the food processor until coarsely puréed (aside from rinsing the beans and draining the tomatoes, you literally just dump five cans in the food processor and blend.). Add bean mixture to the pot and then add stock and sherry; stir until well combined. Simmer 25 minutes, or until thick. Serve garnished with pumpkin seeds, sour cream or Greek yogurt, and sherry vinegar, if using (I didn’t, as I couldn’t find it at the store, and it didn’t seem to be missing anything).

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And then, just because I was in a baking mood – and because it’s October – pumpkin bread pudding.  I’m not a huge bread pudding person, but (clearly) if you put “pumpkin” in the title of something I will want to make it.  And in this case I’m really glad I did, as it tastes like a boozy pumpkin pie in bread pudding form.

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This recipe is also super quick – if you started it once you finished up the soup you could have it in the oven before the soup was finished simmering – leaving plenty of time to clean the kitchen, even. I suspect it would be delicious with raisins, which I’m going to add next time, although it certainly doesn’t need them (I realize there are a lot of anti-raisin people out there).

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Pumpkin Bread Pudding, from Gourmet Magazine via Smitten Kitchen

1 1/2 cups whole milk (or half nonfat milk, half half and half, if that’s what you have in your fridge)
3/4 cup canned pumpkin (I used a whole cup)
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs plus one yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Pinch of ground cloves
2 tablespoons bourbon (optional – this makes for a super boozy bread pudding so you might want to use less if you don’t love bourbon or want the kiddos to eat it)
5 cups cubed (one-inch cubes) day old or crusty bread (I didn’t have any on hand so I cubed a fresh loaf and then spread the cubes on a baking sheet and let them dry out in the oven while it preheated)
3/4 stick unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F, with rack in the middle. Mix all ingredients but bread and butter in a bowl and whisk well. Toss bread cubes with melted butter until well coated, and then mix with pumpkin mixture. Spread into an ungreased 8×8 baking pan, and bake until custard is set, 25-30 minutes.

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