Pumpkinomena

imageFor some reason that escapes me, the pumpkin, or rather its incarnation as a spiced overly sweet caffeinated beverage has become quite the phenomena. The PSL (give it a minute, you’ll figure it out) is a beloved seasonal visitor to some, worthy of fan-blogs and twitter accounts. To others the pumpkin-spiced quaff is fodder for meme-worthy face booking, an aphrodisiac, and to one very earnest and a bit over serious Swathmore undergrad, the poster-child of sexist stereotyping. OK people, get a grip…it’s just a pumpkin spice latte. An overly tarted-up beverage version of beloved vegetable, and up until recently didn’t even contain the sexy orange squash it’s named for.

Seriously…what the?! I mean, I like pumpkin season as much as the next person, have even sipped the overhyped coffee version on occasion, yet I’m still flummoxed by the frenzy of pumpkin spiced everything this time of year. Is the combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and allspice truly worthy of social media over exposure, Swathmore undergrad ire, and coverage by both Psychology Today and the National Review? I’m thinking not. I get that the combination of those spices attached to a chubby and arguably adorable veggie invokes thoughts of crisp weather, turning leaves and cozy sweaters. So does a toddy with crisp apple cider with a good glug of whisky, but you don’t see it tweeting or begging for attention on instagram (and it should, it really should.)

File Oct 11, 6 05 46 PMSure pumpkins are swell, but let’s all just relax, enjoy the season, and not work ourselves into a lather about what pumpkin spice lusting or loathing really means. There are so many more tizzy-worthy things to fuss about out there…like how wrong donut-flavored beer and blueberry bagels are…

After all my squash rhetoric above, my original intention with this post was to spurn the combination of pumpkin, cinnamon, and associated spices and share a favorite recipe of the savory variety. However, when I got down to making the dish I’d planned, the resulting glop was a hot mess. Yep, happens to me too. I burn, over bake, under bake, and sometimes come up with truly awful concoctions. Such was my savory pumpkin disaster. And I’ve learned that when that happens, only thing to do is toss the offending dish, open a bottle of wine, take a look around my kitchen, and regroup.

Half a bottle of wine and two tasty local tacos later it hit me. Sure I’m tired of the usually cloying over sweet pumpkin pie, but why not take all the things I like about it, tone down the sweetness in the custard with a touch of fluffy whipped cream cheese and orange, put all that in a crust I don’t have to roll out because I’m just tired, and top the whole shebang with salted caramel because, well, do you really need a reason?

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart will forever be my go-to pumpkin pie recipe from now on. A beautifully light pumpkin custard covered in salty sweet caramelly goodness all baked into a buttery brown sugar crust. Oh man… You know, they just might be right about that pumpkin spice aphrodisiac thing after all. 😉

File Nov 06, 10 23 46 AM

This is a great addition to any Thanksgiving feast because each components of this tart can be made ahead of time if you like. The crust freezes well unbaked, and you don’t even have to thaw before baking,  just add a little time to baking. The filling can sit in the refrigerator in an airtight container for a day or three, and the salted caramel sauce keeps well in a sealed jar in the fridge too. Any extra of the sauce is pretty much awesome over ice cream, on bread pudding, on a spoon, your finger…

Salted Caramel Pumpkin Tart

Makes 1 9″ tart, or 4 4″ individual tarts

Brown Sugar Crust

If it is possible to be in love with a pie crust, this is the one. And it’s ridiculously easy to prepare. The butter is melted, so you don’t have to worry about chilling and cutting into teeny pieces. It’s easy to just mix this up in a bowl with a fork and not have to pull out (and more importantly clean) a food processor. Yes, there is a major amount of butter in it. I don’t have a problem with that.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 5.5 ounces or 1 stick + 3 TBPS butter, melted

File Nov 06, 10 25 34 AMWhisk together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Slowly add the melted butter as you mix it with a fork until it comes together. Press the dough into your tart pan and pat out evenly on the bottom and up the sides. You could make this in a pie pan and decoratively crimp the edges, but with a tart pan you don’t have to bother. This is truly a lazy crust. An amazingly delicious lazy crust.

File Nov 06, 10 25 17 AMYou’ll want to blind bake the crust and cool it before adding in the pumpkin filling. Line with foil or parchment, then baking weights, rice or beans, and bake at 350ºF for 15 minutes. Uncover and bake another 5-10 minutes until dry and slightly browned. Reduce oven to 325ºF, and let cool completely while you make the filling.

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Filling

Made a mess of pumpkin butter in my slow cooker a few weeks ago, and have been itching to develop a recipe to used some of it up. If you don’t want to make your own, pick up a jar of your favorite. I’ve found Trader Joe’s has a nice one that’s pretty affordable too.

  • 1 cup pumpkin butter
  • 1 container (about 8 ounces) whipped cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup apricot jam, loosened up a bit with a few teaspoons water (start with one and add more if needed) so it’s a bit more fluid and not a solid lump of jam.
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 2 TBSP dark brown sugar
  • 1 shot whisky (3 TBSPS)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp allspice
  • A few tablespoons of chopped toasted pecans for garnishing the finished tart

Add the pumpkin butter and cream cheese to a large bowl and beat together on low/medium until completely incorporated. I used a hand mixer, but you could use a standing one if you liked or a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat on medium until fully combined. Pour into the cooled pre-baked tart shell.

Bake the tart at 325ºF until the filling is set, about 30 minutes but time will vary based on your oven and if you have convection or not. If you are making 4 small tartlets rather than one big one, they should bake in about 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before topping with caramel sauce.

See that color? That’s what you want. And if it wasn’t lava hot when I took the picture, I’d be doing shooters.

Salted Caramel Sauce

Oh my god….this stuff….this incredible wonderful fabulous stuff…

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 TBSP water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 TBSP butter (I used salted)
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Add the sugar and water to heavy bottomed saucepan and cook over medium-low until the sugar has completely melted. Raise heat to medium-high and cook, swirling pan occasionally but NOT stirring until the sugar is a medium-golden brown. Be brave. The darker it get’s the better it is. If you let it go too far and it burns it’s just sugar. Try again.

Once the sugar syrup is dark enough remove from heat and carefully add the cream, butter and salt. It will bubble up so be careful. Put back on medium-low heat and stir until smooth. Now raise the temp a little and gently boil about 10 minutes to let it thicken. You want about 5 fluid ounces, or a little more than 1/2 cup for the tart. Pour into a heatproof jar or bowl and chill in fridge about 15-20 minutes. It can still be warm, but you don’t want lava hot.

File Nov 06, 10 23 18 AMWhen the caramel has cooled, pour into the center of the cooled tart. Carefully tilt the tart pan to move the caramel around so it completely covers the tart. Sprinkle a ring of toasted chopped pecans along the outer edge of the tart. Chill tart in the fridge for about an hour to let everything set. Bring to room temperature before serving. This tart keeps well in the fridge, but I doubt there will be any issues with leftovers!

If you like what you read here, please help me spread the word. Meantime, I’d love you to join me on Facebook (please click the ‘like’ button), and check out what else is going on in my kitchen at cookinginmyheels.com. Thanks! 

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