Sunday, November 21, 2010

Pumpkin Pot de Crème with Molasses Crinkles

The Thanksgiving basics class that I used to teach did not include a recipe for pie. Sort of shocking, I know. But the class really was a class for novice cooks. In teaching it my goal was to help anyone with a minimum level of cooking skill produce a meal that was a success. Asking people who had never made a pie crust before to make one on Thanksgiving day seemed like a recipe for failure...or at least a melt-down or two. Thanksgiving is unfortunately already stressful for some...I wanted to help make the day better—not worse.

Since pumpkin pie is nothing more than a pumpkin custard in a pie crust, my solution was to teach a simple pumpkin custard baked in a ramekin or custard cup. But not just any custard. I taught the egg yolk-based, cream-rich, French custard known as pot de crème. This to me is infinitely more elegant than pumpkin pie anyway. It is simple to make and as a huge bonus for the inexperienced cook, it can be made the day before without any loss of quality.

To go with the pot de crème, I suggest a nice platter of cookies. Everyone can make cookies and they too can be made ahead. I like to serve pots de crème with something Scottish Shortbread or Russian Teacakes (a.k.a. Mexican Wedding Cakes). For the pumpkin version of pot de crème, my favorite choice is a spicy molasses cookie that I grew up calling Molasses Crinkles. I have also seen them called Molasses Sugar Cookies or Molasses Spice Cookies. My recipe is from a 1956 copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook, but I think it is identical to the recipe on the jar of Grandma's Molasses. This soft, slightly chewy, ginger-y cookie seems to be universally known and loved.  Everyone's mother seems to have made a version of this cookie.  If you're going to replace pumpkin pie, you could do worse than a silky pumpkin custard accompanied by a beloved cookie.

 My recipe for Pumpkin Pot de Crème only uses 3/4 cup of pumpkin purée. If you purchase a 15 ounce of can of solid pack pumpkin, you will have a cup of pumpkin left over—just enough to whip up a batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins for your Thanksgiving day breakfast. With these tasty muffins for breakfast and elegant custards with cookies for dessert, I don't think anyone will miss the pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin Pot de Crème

2 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
1 cinnamon stick
3/4 cup canned pumpkin purée
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. grated nutmeg
1 t. vanilla extract
12 yolks
1 cup sugar (see note)

 In a saucepan, combine the milk, cream and cinnamon stick. Bring just to the boil over medium high heat. Remove from the heat and allow to “steep” for 15 to 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the spices and the vanilla into the pumpkin purée. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk half of the sugar into the egg yolks, continuing to whisk until the mixture is thick and lemon in color. Set aside. Add the remaining sugar to the pan with the cream and milk and return the pan to the heat. Bring back to the boil. Gradually add the hot liquid to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk in the pumpkin and spices. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer.  Don't skip this step.  Pumpkin is fibrous and straining will make the custard more refined.

Fibrous bits of pumpkin strained out of the custard (along with the cinnamon stick)

Allow to sit for a minute or 2. Skim and discard the foam that has risen to the top.  If not skimmed off, the foam will create a rough finished surface on the baked custard. 

Foam skimmed off of custard

Divide 12 4-oz. ramekins between 2 roasting pans. Using a measuring cup with a pouring spout or a ladle, divide the custard between the 12 ramekins. Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pans to come half way up the side of each ramekin. Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil. Bake in the center of a 325º oven until the custards are set around the edges but still trembling in the center—25 to 35 minutes.

Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow them to cool to room temperature.

Cover and chill for at least 8 hours—should be made a day or 2 ahead.

Serve well chilled with a rosette or dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg. Pass a plate of cookies along side. Serves 12

Note: This recipe is not quite the same version that I taught in that long ago class. I have increased the number of egg yolks and I have also increased the sugar. If you prefer a less sweet custard, you may reduce the sugar to 3/4 cup.

Molasses Crinkles

1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened (114 grams)
1/4 c. Crisco (44 grams)
1 c. dark brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 c. unsulphured molasses
2 1/3 c. all purpose flour (270 grams)
2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/2 t. cloves
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. ginger

Cream the butter, Crisco and sugar together in a large bowl. Beat in the egg and then the molasses. In a separate bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Add these to the creamed mixture. Chill the dough.

Roll the cookie dough into scant 1-inch balls and roll in granulated sugar. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake at 375° just until set—about 8 to 10 minutes. Makes about 60 cookies.


Julie said...

I love those molasses cookies. I use the same version from the molasses jar. It drives me nuts when I see updated all-butter versions. It's not the same, and if you want the cookies you remember from childhood, they don't cut it.

Paige said...

It's true. Unfortunately, the cookies are depressingly flat and tend to get crunchy rather than chewy when made with all butter....