How to Cook Pumpkin for Pumpkin Desserts
Gathering, Cooking & Baking Pumpkin for Cheesecake, Bread & Cookies
I first set out to cook and shoot Olivia Sinton’s lacto-veg pumpkin cheesecake recipe, which has been pictureless on our site for several years.
Olivia’s Pumpkin Cheesecake now has a pretty picture, and it’s pretty tasty too, but I felt that we needed yet another vegan cheesecake.
I studied many vegan cheese cake recipes, and four cheesecakes later …. I finally had a most delicious gluten free vegan pumpkin cheesecake approved by all the tasters.
Never mind that we already had a vegan cheese cake recipe. It doesn’t have pecans, and besides, it’s not possible to have too many cheesecake recipes.
I borrowed the pecan topping idea from this recipe at The Sweetlife, except my pecans aren’t raw, they’re coated with agave syrup and baked along with the cake. Yum!
The nut crust I cobbled together from various recipes, including one that was pre-baked. I tried that for one of my cheesecake versions, but it was a little too well done, so I tried baking it with the filling, adding a light coating of almond meal in between. That worked!
How to cook the pumpkin was the interesting part. I gathered 6 small pumpkins from all around town: the farmer’s market, Bob’s Barn, Everybody’s Whole Foods, Walmart (yes I admit I occasionally shop there).
The first 2 pumpkins from the farmer’s market were disappointing – thin watery pale flavorless flesh. Apparently they were small pumpkins, but not pie pumpkins, which I found out have thicker flesh and more flavor. And I guess they weren’t organic either, but on the other hand, they cost $1.50 each.
The next pumpkin was an organic pie pumpkin from Everybody’s Whole Foods which was the smallest of the lot and cost $3.00. But it had thick dry tasty flesh like a proper pie pumpkin.
The Walmart pie pumpkin was cheap but stringy and also lacking in flavor. You get what you pay for, right? Not always.
The last 2 pumpkins were locally grown and came from Bob’s Barn.
One was equal to the organic pie pumpkin I bought at Everybody’s but half the price. The other looked like a flattened and white skinned pumpkin, with very sweet orange flesh and small squash type seeds – not a proper pumpkin, but the best of the six I bought. If I see that variety again at Bob’s Barn or anywhere else, I’m going to stock up.
But all the pumpkins I bought had the same problem. Once they were chopped, seeded, baked, scooped and blended, the puree was on the watery side, resulting in soggy baked goods.
Cooks Illustrated to the Rescue!
The Cooks Illustrated article recommended cooking down the pumpkin puree to get rid of excess water, and concentrate the flavor. I tried that technique in my pumpkin cheesecake and later used it to make my own version of pumpkin bread. Worked like a charm!
Once I had my pumpkin pecan cheesecake recipe down, I still had a couple of pumpkins to cook, and my thoughts turned to pumpkin bread – gluten free vegan pumpkin bread with vegan and ovo-lacto versions just to be fair to the majority of eaters.
For my first pumpkin bread, I added currants and chopped pecans, but the loaf turned out kind of dense and homely looking. For the second try, I adjusted the wet dry balance and tried making a flax meringue to incorporate in hopes of lightening the loaf. That version turned out crumbly and gummy at the same time – too much moisture. A terrible waste of pecans and pumpkin.
So I tried again, this time mixing ground flax seed with the wet ingredients, bumping up the spicing and adding a nut streusel topping to pretty up the pumpkin bread. Also, no currants – I decided that was overkill. Third time was the charm! Yummy gluten free vegan pumpkin pecan bread.
I still had pumpkin left in the fridge and 1 more pumpkin waiting to be baked, but I was feeling pumpkined out. So I asked my daughter Sarah to work her magic and come up with some pumpkin chocolate chip spice cookies, both ovo-lacto, and vegan. Did I mention chocolate chips?
Delicious fluffy pumpkiny chocolatey morsels emerged from Sarah’s oven. I had to whisk them away from the ravenous cookie monsters and spirit them off to my lair to take some pictures, then return them quickly. But not before munching a couple of tasty cookies. Ha!
To be honest, the lacto veg pumpkin cookies tasted slightly better, but if I hadn’t tasted those first, I would have been ecstatically happy with the vegan cookies. They’re pumpkin chocolate chip spice cookies, after all!
According to nutritiondata.com, pumpkin is low in Saturated Fat, and very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Iron, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper and Manganese.
I think it’s more than OK to substitute tastier, more substantial and colorful winter squashes or sweet potato for pumpkin in any recipe you like. I’ve done that for years. Butternut squash is higher in Vit A & C, and sweet potato is higher still.
My friend Colleen Bell says “In many cases Butternut Squash or sweet potato are easier to work with cause they have so much more ‘meat’ and all the seeds are on the end rather the middle. To stay sugar free I’ll add a Sweet potato or Yam into the oven when I bake the squash. Then I blend them together to make soup or ‘batter for breads or cookies etc. The sweet potato adds to the rich orange color and adds another range of nutrients.” Thanks Colleen!
Butternut Squash and Sweet Potato have more calories, more sugars, more carbs, and higher glycemic index than pumpkin. So from that perspective, you’re better off with pumpkin, although that doesn’t cancel out the other ingredients you might add to make the pumpkin taste good!
Now that our pumpkin baking frenzy is over, I have fond memories of all those pumpkin desserts, five pounds to lose, and another two containers of pumpkin puree in the freezer. I’m thinking vegan pumpkin pie! Or Jackie’s Pumpkin Choc Chip Cake , with egg replacer. Or maybe pumpkin soup , with fewer calories, lower gi, and more protein.
How to Cook a Pumpkin
1. 1 small pie pumpkin (1 1/2 – 2 lb), cut in 8 pieces, seeded.
2. Cutting Up a Pumpkin: Pumpkins are tough skinned, so you need a big sharp sturdy knife. Stick the knife in at the stem end of the pumpkin and slice down halfway, then turn the pumpkin around and do the same on the other side. Pull apart the 2 halves, and scoop out the pulp and seeds. Slice the halves in half again, then again to make 8 pieces. At some point in this process, the stem breaks off or can easily be cut out.
3. Place pumpkin pieces skin side down in a covered glass dish (14 x 18 is a good size). Add 1/4 inch water to the bottom of the dish to prevent burning, and cover tightly with foil.
4. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until pumpkin is fork tender.
5. Remove pan from oven, uncover, and cool on a rack. When cool, scrape pumpkin flesh out of skins into a food processor or blender or bowl.
6. Process until smooth in food processor, or use a jar or hand blender to puree the pumpkin.
7. Reduction: For pumpkin cheesecake or pie, you need thick puree. To reduce, cook puree in a saucepan on the stove, stirring over medium/low heat until excess water has evaporated. No water should collect on top of the puree, and the mixture should stay put when you drag a spoon or spatula along the bottom of the pot. The consistency should be half way to pumpkin butter.
8. Roasting Pumpkin Seeds: Separate the seeds from the pulp and rinse. Sprinkle with salt and a little oil. Add a little spice like curry powder or chili powder if desired. Stir to coat, then spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees F. for 15 – 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and crunchy.
That’s it! Enjoy your pumpkin!
Judith Kingsbury, Savvy Vegetarian