The 10 Days of Pumpkin

Day Four:  Sweet Dumpling Tartlets with Maple Custard
If pumpkin is the flavor of coming home, what does that mean when you've lived all over, when your family is scattered?
Where, exactly, is home?
My mother just passed away, peacefully in her sleep, after a long illness. She and my dad had been married 66 years. My sister and I gravitate between crying and then laughing at stupid family stories. We know we were lucky to have her as long as we did. Even though we knew she was very frail, we still weren't quite ready to let her go. 
But she is going home to join loved ones who made that same journey long before. That's what I want to believe. 
The last time I wondered about the idea of home was when my son left for college and I was an empty-nester. The theme of home threads through a cookbook I was writing at the time, Prairie Home Breads

Now I think that home is in the flavor of something baked, something that can lift your spirits when you need that most. 
And as The Cake Therapist reminds me, 

spice is the flavor of grief because it's the flavor that lasts longest. As friends and family have shared their own losses, I am beginning to understand that there are some things you just don't ever get over. And it's okay if you don't.
Friends who have lost a parent tell me that even years later, some little thing will trigger a memory and the grief will be fresh all over again. I believe it.
I've always thought that food is another way to tell a story. Although I didn't want this particular story, this is the one I have right now, about comfort in a time of sorrow and finding new meaning in the world home.  
I'm putting my cookbook, Bake Happy, into practice and missing my mom.

Sweet Dumpling Tartlets with Maple Custard
Adapted from Bake Happy by Judith Fertig.
A tart shell is meant to be sturdy enough to encase a filling during baking, yet attractive on its own. But who says a tart shell has to be pastry?   If we like desserts that make their own sauces, then how about a vegetable that turns into a sweet tart, complete with its own shell? Sweet Dumpling squashes (in the pumpkin family), with their striped exterior and a sunset-colored interior, are too beautiful to chop into oblivion, so let them be the star of the show. Boiling down the maple syrup first helps intensify its flavor in the custard filling. 

Serve the squash “tartlets” on dark green or brown dessert plates for the best effect—or line your white plates with autumn-colored cocktail napkins first.
Makes 4 tartlets
1/2 cup (164 g) real maple syrup, preferably Grade B
4 rounded Sweet Dumpling squash, or acorn or other small winter squash
21/4 cups (550 ml) half-and-half
2 large egg yolks
1 large egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons gluten-free or other spice cookie crumbs, for garnish
In a small saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium-high heat. Let the syrup cook until it reduces to 6 tablespoons, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33-cm) baking dish with parchment paper. With a sturdy knife, remove the top section of each squash so the squash stands about 2 inches tall; discard the top sections. With a spoon, remove and discard the seeds and stringy pulp from the inside of each squash and discard. Place each cleaned squash shell in the prepared dish. Trim the bottoms, if necessary, so the squash sit evenly in the dish.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the half-and-half, egg yolks, egg, and salt together until well blended. Whisk in the reduced maple syrup.   

Divide the filling among the squash shells.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the tops of the squash are tender when pierced with a paring knife. Remove the dish from the oven and dust each squash “tartlet” with cookie crumbs. 

Serve hot or at room temperature. Dig into each squash, getting some of the tender flesh and creamy custard in each bite.
And be comforted.

The 10 Days of Pumpkin

Day Three:

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Pecan Cinnamon Crowns

I have always loved mom and pop bakeries. As a child growing up in the Cincinnati area, little did I know that I was in mom and pop bakery heaven. Cincinnati still has bakeries with coffee cake schedules, so you know which day of the week you can get your favorite flavor. They still offer cinnamon rolls shaped like crowns.

So it's no wonder that when it came time to write my first novel, I set it in a bakery. And what's even better about fiction is that I could put whatever goodies I wanted in the bakery display cases.

The Cake Therapist just had to offer a really great cinnamon roll at her fictional bakery, Rainbow Cake.

Happily, I had written a cinnamon roll cookbook a few years earlier. (It's a little book, which makes it great for gift-giving. Maybe add a jar of Vietnamese cinnamon, and you've got a charming hostess or holiday gift.) Fifty different cinnamon rolls, all delicious. And there's one that is perfect for fall.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Pecan Cinnamon Crowns start with a whole wheat dough, then gets a pumpkin pie filling with cinnamon pecan streusel on the top. Instead of rolling the dough up into a cylinder, you roll it out and cut it into squares. You put each square of dough into a muffin cup, and then dollop in the filling and top with streusel. 

These crowns would be wonderful for a fall weekend breakfast or for Thanksgiving. I would make the dough the night before and let it sit in the refrigerator. In the morning, I would let it come to room temperature, then make and bake the crowns. 

I am doing a video class for Craftsy, based in Denver, that will be up and running in early December 2015. You could also give this class as a gift--maybe with I Love Cinnamon Rolls!  Because you watch the instructor from your computer, you can take this class anywhere!

Now, back to the crowns. . .

Whole Wheat Pumpkin-Pecan Cinnamon Crowns 

Rise and shine for a cold weather brunch dish that makes you happy! You will have some leftover pumpkin filling with this, but you can pour it into a buttered baking dish and bake it along with the rolls until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Bake these in batches, and nibble as you go.

Makes 36

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Roll Dough
The addition of whole wheat flour gives these rolls a slight more textured, nutty flavor. Let the dough sit for 30 minutes after mixing, as the whole wheat flour takes longer to absorb liquids. Vital wheat gluten or whole grain dough improver can be found in the baking section of better grocery stores (Bob’s Red Mill) or online at places like
Makes 6 jumbo, 12 large, 16 to 20 medium, or 46 mini-cinnamon rolls
3/4 cup (175 mL) whole milk
¼ cup (60 mL) honey or agave nectar
¼ cup (60 mL) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon (5 mL) salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups (195 g) whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups (188 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 teaspoons (10 mL) vital wheat gluten or whole grain dough improver
2 1/2 teaspoons (12 mL)  instant or bread machine yeast
1. In a 4-cup (1L) measuring cup, combine the water, honey, vegetable oil, and salt. Microwave on High for 1 minute or until warm. Whisk in the eggs.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment , place the flour and yeast. Add the liquid ingredients. Mix on low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time, until the dough forms a soft ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 to 6 minutes.
3. Remove the paddle attachment and switch to the dough hook. With the mixer on low, start kneading the dough with the dough hook.  Sprinkle with a tablespoon of flour, every minute or so, to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl. When the dough is smooth, not sticky, and springs back when you press it with your finger, you’ve kneaded enough (about 3 to 5 minutes). Let the dough rest in the bowl for 30 minutes.
4. Place the dough in a large, oiled mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place at room temperature (about 70 to 75 °F /21 to 24°C) for 45 to 60 minutes or until it has almost doubled.
At this point, you can refrigerate the dough overnight, let the dough come to room temperature, and make the crowns.  
Or, proceed with the crowns right away.

Spray the muffin cups with cooking spray or cut small squares of parchment paper and line the cups.

Pumpkin Filling:
1 (15-ounce) pumpkin puree (not pie filling)                
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk  
1 large egg   
Cinnamon Pecan Streusel:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed light or dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup unsalted butter, softened

1. For the filling, whisk the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk and egg together until smooth. Set aside.
2. For the streusel, combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, salt, and pecans in a medium bowl. Work in the butter with a fork or your fingers until the mixture forms crumbs. Set aside.
3. Transfer the dough to a floured surface. Cut the dough into fourths.  Roll each fourth to a 9-inch  square. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares. Arrange each square in a prepared muffin tin. Place 1 tablespoon pumpkin filling and 2 teaspoons streusel in each dough-lined muffin cup. Cover with tea towels and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, about 45 to 60 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

4. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes or until the crust has lightly browned and the filling is firm.

The 10 Days of Pumpkin

Day Two:

Pumpkin on the Grill

We're still exploring all the ways that, according to The Cake Therapist, pumpkin makes us think about coming home.

And what says home better than your own backyard? (Just ask Dorothy of Kansas in The Wizard of Oz.)

And your grill?

There's a way to grill pumpkin that takes it in a decidedly savory direction.

You cut it into wedges, baste it with garlic oil, and grill-roast the slices in disposable

aluminum pans with your grill lid closed. Turn once halfway through and you've got a

fabulous vegetable dish with the flavor of the grill--and the Mediterranean.

What the village baker would do in the south of France, we can do in our own backyards.

Grill-Roasted Pumpkin with Dry-Cured Olives and Garlic
Adapted from BBQ Bistro by Karen Adler and Judith Fertig (Running Press, 2015)

In French markets in autumn, you will see huge potirons such as the Rouge Vif d’Etampes, known as the Cinderella pumpkin because it looks like her carriage, brought to life by her fairy godmother. There, they sell slices from a whole pumpkin that you can bring to life by roasting them at home. Here, you can simply buy a small sugar or pie pumpkin, cut it into slices, and then grill-roast this simple yet satisfying dish that will completely change how you think about pumpkin. It’s easier to cut the pumpkin into wedges first, and then use a sturdy vegetable peeler or a paring knife to peel the wedges.
Serves 6
1/4 cup (50 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, sliced
1 small pumpkin (about 11/2 pounds/750 g) or 1 medium-size butternut or Hubbard (or 2 acorn) squash, stemmed, seeded, and cut into 2-inch (5-cm) wedges (at the widest part), then peeled
20 black, dry-cured olives, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Prepare a medium-hot fire in your grill.
In a saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil and garlic together until the garlic is fragrant, about 4 minutes.
Arrange the pumpkin slices, olives, and thyme in disposable aluminum pans. Drizzle with the olive oil mixture, and then season with salt and pepper.

Place on the grill, close the lid, and grill for 20 minutes. Open the lid and turn the pumpkin slices over. Close the lid and grill for 15 to 20 minutes more or until the pumpkin is fork-tender. Transfer the pumpkin wedges to a platter and drizzle with the juices from the pan. Sprinkle the olives over the pumpkin and serve warm.