Those of you planning a Thanksgiving meal later this month will no doubt be contemplating how much or how little to cook. Regardless of numbers, certain items are non-negotiable. Pumpkin pie is one of them, certainly as far as my American partner is concerned. Though pie making is enjoyable, why not make things a little different this year and try my Paradise Pumpkin Cake instead. It makes a great dessert for those who find the traditional pumpkin pie too sweet.
The cake is so-called because I‘ve spiced it with grains of paradise – a hauntingly beautiful name for a pepper-like spice with a gingery flavour, faintly redolent of coconut. It’s easy to buy on-line, but you could substitute with ground ginger and black and white peppercorns instead. You can even leave out the spice altogether if you prefer a cake with a milder flavour.
Pumpkin recipes often specify a particular quantity of ready-made purée. Resist the temptation to open a can – I’m sure you know the brand. It’s far better to whiz up your own, using a glorious farm-grown pumpkin with a good flavour. There are plenty around at the moment, ranging from chubby palm-sized babies to those so heavy they leave a dent in the soil. They come in incredible colours too – fluorescent orange and paint box yellow, as well as more muted blue-grey and deep forest green. Farm shops and greengrocers are good hunting grounds.
I usually hurl large pumpkins at the floor in order to smash them open – a messy method since the seeds tend to fly everywhere, but safer than trying to break into it with a knife. Once you’ve smashed your pumpkin, slice it into large segments, scoop out the seeds and fibre. Proceed as per your chosen recipe, or if you’re cooking my Paradise Pumpkin Cake cut the unpeeled segments into smaller chunks and put them in a roasting tin. Once baked, the flesh is easily scraped away from the skin and can then be mashed to a purée (see recipe for details).
The cake is delightfully chewy on the outside and moist and soft within, with delicious liqueur-soaked raisins, chopped almonds, lemon zest and candied fruit mixed in to the dough. There’s no pastry making or blind baking involved, and if people are full after the turkey, the cake can be served in dainty slices – less daunting than pie. It’s good for breakfast the next day too.
Varieties to look for
• ‘Baby Bear’, medium-sized orange pumpkin, recognisable by dark gree
stalk. Moist, slightly stringy flesh, excellent for pumpkin pie and cakes.
‘Hull-less’ seeds good sprinkled over salad or soup.
• ‘Crown Prince’, large, round, slightly flattened. Blue-grey skin, deep
yellow flesh, very sweet smooth flesh. Good roasted or puréed.
• ‘Delicata’, elongated, striped ivory green skin, honey-flavoured moist flesh.
Excellent for pumpkin pie and cakes.
• ‘Onion Squash’ or ‘Uchiki Kuri’, medium-sized onion-shaped, bright orange
skin, smooth moist flesh. All-purpose, good for sweet or savoury dishes.
© Christine McFadden, November 2023