Autumn Frenzy: Pumpkin Muffins, Pumpkin Pie, and Pumpkin Carving!

It was one of those weekends where all I wanted to do was have fun. So ignoring the mess in the kitchen I jaunted off to the grocery store first thing, to get ingredients for my weekend of Halloween prep. I stocked up on pumpkin of all shapes and sizes, both real and canned. Next, I turned the kitchen into a war zone, beginning with pumpkin muffins. I took the basic muffin recipe out of the Joy of Cooking, added a can of pumpkin, some ground cinnamon, and freshly ground nutmeg. Then, I heaped it in to muffin cups (printed with autumn leaves of course) and topped them with some candied chopped pecans. Bake for 15 minutes at 400F and what do you get? A great breakfast or on-the-go snack with novelty and seasonal splendor.

While for the most part I was happy with the results, I found that the muffin stuck very badly to the muffin cups and didn’t come off the paper with quite the same ease as you might find in store. I wondered if I had greased them, would they have peeled away with more ease? At least the muffin cups do leave my muffin pan in need of less hard scrubbing. That’s definitely a plus. Next, I attempted to make some caramel for apple dipping, following a recipe I got out of Bon Appetit a few years ago. It seemed easy enough, so I through together these unlikely ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 stick butter, cubed

1/4 cup sour cream/creme fraiche

Then I followed some simple directions that turned out not to be quite so simple after all. I heated the sugar, water, and corn syrup on low heat, until clear and dissolved. (Turns out it is harder to tell when it is clear then you might think, because of a multitude of bubbles.) Then I increased heat to medium, covered pot, and simmered for 4 minutes. Then I uncovered, and without stirring, increased heat to high and boiled for 6 minutes, until the sugar became a deep amber color. I found that if I didn’t stir at all, part of the sugar on the bottom would deepen and then burn. Giving the pot a slow swirl as it boils, and especially near the end of the six minutes is definitely the best option. Next, I removed from heat, added the cream and then the cubed butter, whisking all the while. The recipe said it would boil when the cream is added, but prepare yourself for some serious anger. It was almost scary how bubbly the mixture was for a fraction of a second, before the temperature evened. When butter is dissolved, add sour cream (in my case) and lemon juice. I thought at first that the sour cream would make the caramel taste weird, but in fact I couldn’t taste it at all. It simply increased the texture of the mixture to a lovely smoothness. I had to go through this process twice because the first batch of caramel had a burnt aftertaste. However, I didn’t through it away because I had remembered an ice cream flavor titled “burnt caramel” that was actually tasty, so my real burnt caramel went to the home of a burnt caramel lover.

Next, I tackled the pie. In the past, pumpkin pies have been a cinch- but this time I was faced with some unusual difficulties. Following the recipe on the side of the Libby’s pumpkin can, it called for many spices that my limited spice cabinet does not contain, namely allspice, ginger, etc. To my delight, I pursued the spice isle in the grocery store to find one small jar simply called “Pumpkin Pie Spice,” that contained all the spices needed and which simply required two tablespoons per pie. Satisfied, I pulled that can of evaporated milk out from the back of my pantry and thought I was ready. However, when I opened the milk can I was met with a brown, watery, curdled mess, so I promptly through it out. Apparently the can had expired in 2008 and I had never noticed or needed it since then. Without the evaporated milk I turned to the regular 1% milk in my fridge, adding a cup to approximate the volume of the milk can. I had no idea if this would be an adequate substitute or not. Now, I’m confused why you have to use evaporated milk at all because my pie came out just like any of the others I have made using evaporated milk.

With my house now smelling like scrumptious pumpkin pie, and the red autumn leaves shining in the afternoon sun outside my window, I took up a medium sized kitchen knife, and decided to give my pumpkin a makeover. Using a paper stencil that I had drafted by hand and then cut, I pinned it to the face using thumbtacks and stippled the design so I had a guide of what to cut out. By the time I had finished, the afternoon was over, and my house was in near darkness, perfect for lighting up my pumpkin.

I plan to put it out on the porch on Halloween night, hope it attracts a trick-or-treater or two, because I have way too much candy!



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