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Thanksgiving : Pumpkin Without the Pie

November 17, 1994|BETTY ROSBOTTOM

I can't remember a Thanksgiving when I cooked all the food single-handedly. For the past few years, our family has enjoyed this day of feasting with good friends. What makes the celebration so special for all of us is that everyone shares in preparing and assembling the meal. Most often, the friends who host the dinner roast the turkey, while others volunteer to bring appetizers, side dishes and desserts.

The menu, always determined by a serious of telephone conversations, will begin this year with a wild mushroom tart, followed by herbed roast turkey, wild rice and apple stuffing, as well as corn bread and leek dressing. Vegetables and condiments will include acorn squash halves baked with a pecan and maple syrup glaze, creamed onions, broccoli florets tossed with roasted garlic and cranberry-orange relish. Pumpkin-caramel custard, pears baked with honey and orange and a glorious platter of fresh fruit will end the repast.

One of my contributions will be the custard, the recipe has been in my files for more than a decade. An assistant at my cooking school gave me the directions for this delicious creation several years ago, but it was not until this fall that I pulled the tattered and yellowed paper from a folder and decided to try it.

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The confection, made by caramelizing a souffle dish and then filling it with a mixture of sweetened evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, canned pumpkin and spices, is baked until firm, and then cooled and unmolded. It can be served as is or with whipped cream. The dish can be made a day in advance, alleviating last-minute holiday work, and if you are concerned about lowering fat grams (even on Thanksgiving!) you can use evaporated skim milk (as I did) and egg substitutes.

PUMPKIN-CARAMEL CUSTARD

Sugar

1/4 cup water

1 cup canned pumpkin, unsweetened and without spices

1 1/2 cups evaporated skim milk

5 large eggs or equivalent of egg substitute, lightly beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped until just firm

To prepare caramel, place 3/4 cup sugar and water in medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir just to dissolve sugar. Bring mixture to boil, without stirring, until caramelized, 7 to 10 minutes. Immediately pour caramel into 1 1/2-quart souffle dish or ramekin. Hold dish with potholders and tilt and swirl dish to coat bottom and sides well with caramel. Set dish aside.

To prepare custard, place pumpkin and 1 1/4 cups sugar in mixing bowl. Whisk well to mix. Whisk in evaporated milk and then eggs. Whisk in vanilla, cinnamon, allspice and salt until incorporated. Pour mixture into prepared souffle dish. Cover tightly with foil. Place dish in large baking pan and pour in enough hot water to reach halfway up sides of souffle dish.

Bake custard at 350 degrees until firm, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool custard, uncovered, to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Custard can be prepared 1 day ahead.

When ready to serve, run knife around sides of dish and invert custard onto serving dish. Drizzle any caramel in pan over top. If caramel seems to be sticking to bottom of souffle dish, place dish in skillet of simmering water to melt hardened caramel. Cut custard into 8 wedges. Serve each with dollop of whipped cream. Makes 8 servings.

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