Thursday, November 29, 2007

Cayenne Pumpkin Pie

I am somewhat embarrassed to say that I had pumpkin pie for two of my meals on Monday. Breakfast was leftover sweet pumpkin pie that I had made for an American Thanksgiving celebration on Saturday night. Lunch was a savory pumpkin and poppyseed tart at Gee’s, where I dined with my friend Janet.

Pumpkin is a type of fruit indigenous to the Western hemisphere. Seeds dated as far back as 7000BC have been found in Mexico. The word has its origins in Greek as pepon (meaning "large melon"), and through adaptations in France, England and America has come to be known as pumpkin. Native Americans have long consumed pumpkin flesh and have also used its skin to weave mats.

Pumpkin pie is thought to have originated with the practice of cooking pumpkins by removing the seeds, filling them with milk and spices, and baking them in the hot ashes of a dying fire. It is now a staple of Canadian and American Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve included cayenne in this version to provide some contrast to the sweetness of the condensed milk and spices.

Serves 8-12


1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 prepared graham cracker crust

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 can pumpkin (15 oz)
1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 pinches cayenne


1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. If you are making a crust, mix graham cracker crumbs, sugar and melted butter. Using your hands, pat the mixture along the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie dish. I find that a metal dish works best (sometimes the crust gets stuck to a glass dish). Bake at 350 F degrees for 5 to 7 minutes and set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, combine all the filling ingredients. Pour into the piecrust.
4. Bake for 40 minutes or until set. Reduce the temperature if the pie starts to brown.
5. Serve at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Carrot Coconut Cupcakes

This week features another childhood favorite transformed into cupcakes. My mother makes a mean carrot cake, often including crushed pineapple for added moistness, sweetness and flavor. This more traditional version is topped with a rich cream cheese frosting and crowned with a halo of shredded coconut. Not only does the coconut taste delicious, but it protects the frosting during travel, making it ideal for a party or a child's lunchbox.

Carrots have the second highest sugar content among vegetables (after sugar beets), and have been used in sweet cakes in Europe since the Middle Ages. At the time other sweeteners were too expensive or in short supply.

Wild ancestors of the carrot are likely to have come from Afghanistan. Originally carrots were grown for their aromatic seeds and leaves, similar to their relatives parsley, fennel, dill and cumin. They come in a variety of colors including white, purple, red and yellow. The orange carrot appeared in the Netherlands in the 16th century, and was popular as an emblem of the House of Orange-Nassau. This carrot was much less bitter than earlier species.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 cups shredded carrots
1/2 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)

1 pound cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shredded coconut

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl mix flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt.
3. In a medium bowl beat eggs and sugar using an electric mixer. Add the flour mixture, continuing to beat on low speed.
4. Slowly add the oil and fully incorporate into the batter. Stir in the carrots, coconut and walnuts.
5. Divide batter into muffin cups and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool to room temperature before frosting.
6. Beat all frosting ingredients by hand. Generously frost cupcakes.
7. Spread coconut on a large plate. Dip the frosted cupcakes in the coconut, making sure to cover evenly. Cool cupcakes in the fridge for several hours or overnight. If stored in an airtight container cupcakes can be kept for up to a week.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mini Lemon Cheesecakes

I’m actually surprised that this is the first cheesecake recipe I've posted. I was introduced to this dessert as a child. My mom made a simple, tart cheesecake with a thick graham cracker crust. She usually decorated it with canned mandarin orange slices, and I was sometimes given the task of arranging the slices in a pretty pattern.

When I came to the U.S. I discovered many more types of cheesecake. America seems to have an obsession with the dessert, though this may be fueled by Kraft’s aggressive advertising of it's Philadelphia creamcheese. The first mention of cheesecake is found in Cato the Elder's farming manual De Agri Cultura (circa 160 BC).

These mini cheesecakes are incredibly easy and ideal for parties. You can make them several days in advance and decorate them the day they are served.

Makes 12 mini cheesecakes

storebought gingersnap or ginger cookie
12 - 16 ounces cream cheese (depending on how rich you like it), at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon lemon zest (can substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
2 cups sour cream or 1 cup heavy cream, whipped
cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar to taste (optional)
1 pint raspberries, blackberries, strawberries or a combination of these

1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with cupcake liners. Place a cookie in the bottom of each liner to form the cheesecake base. Make sure the cookie fits snugly, otherwise it may float to the top during baking.
3. In a medium bowl, combine cream cheese, sugar, eggs and zest. Mix well.
4. Divide batter into muffin cups and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cheesecake is set in the middle and just turning brown.
5. Remove and allow to cool at room temperature for 1 hour. Refrigerate overnight.
6. To serve top with 2 tablespoons sour cream or whipped cream and garnish with berries. You can add cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar to either sour cream or whipped cream for a hint of chocolate.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Orange Chocolate Mousse

My favorite dessert these days is chocolate mousse. It’s delicious, incredibly easy, no-bake, and doesn’t require a special container or pan. I made a lovely version last weekend that included orange zest (on Sarah’s suggestion). I am not generally a fan of chocolate and orange, but the result was aromatic and flavorful, and a big hit with our dinner guests.

Mousse comes from the French word for foam. Culinary historians believe that savory mousses (including meat or vegetables) first appeared in France in the 18th century; sweet ones developed towards the end of the 19th century. A traditional mousse contains eggs or gelatin, but the versions popularized in the United States and Great Britain in the 1960s often omit both. This could be attributed to the dangers of consuming raw egg, but given the popularity of tiramisu in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s probably a result of convenience.

Chocolate mousse can be served in many ways. You can chill it in a large glass bowl or in individual portions in martini glasses, ramekins, parfait glasses or dessert bowls. Don’t use wine glasses or other containers with narrow mouths, otherwise it might be difficult to extract your mousse. I have found that it is best to serve rich desserts in small portions, ensuring of course, that you have seconds in the fridge. If you serve them in large containers, your health conscious guests may leave a lot of their portion uneaten.

This orange chocolate mousse must be served with fresh whipped cream and can be topped with soft fruit (especially berries) or chocolate shavings. On the first night of our recent trip to Italy we indulged in dark chocolate mousse sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, which was an unusual and tasty combination.

Serves 8

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
1-2 teaspoons orange zest (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
4 cups whipping cream, chilled
1/4 cup granulated sugar
fruit or chocolate shavings (optional)


  1. Bring 1 cup of cream to a boil. Turn off heat and stir in chocolate and orange zest or vanilla extract. Stir occasionally until smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, beat 2 cups cream and sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold in cooled chocolate mixture.
  3. Pour into small glass bowls, ramekins or martini glasses.
  4. Refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight.
  5. Serve with 1 cup cream whipped to firm peaks. Garnish with berries, pomegranate seeds, orange wedges or chocolate shavings. Mousse will last 3-5 days covered and chilled.