Wednesday, September 15, 2010

when autumn hands you pumpkin…

I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.  -Henry David Thoreau


At that glorious moment when summer gives way to crisp, cool autumn air and the first leaves flutter down from trees, I am filled with eager anticipation.  It is only a matter of time before I will reunite with my dear old friend of Rubenesque proportions, glowing, weathered complexion and heart of gold:  Pumpkin.  From September on through March, we convene in the warmth of the kitchen where our fleeting dalliances dance on curls of sweetly spiced air wafting from the hot oven.

Come fall,  the first to grace my repertoire is a batch of delicately spiced, buttery-soft pumpkin cookies, generously blanketed in soothingly sweet maple buttercream.  Ambrosial pumpkin plays off of the sultry intensity of maple much like Humphrey Bogart yields to seduction in the arms of Lauren Bacall. 

Before the season is over, pumpkin will lend its tawny orange hue and earthy sweet fragrance to countless cookies, breads, pies, scones and soups.  Though revered in the realm of baked goods, this ubiquitous member of the squash family is often overlooked and underappreciated in its value as an addition at the dinner table.  The best savory interpretation I have come across came from the kitchen of Ericka Burke, the lovely and talented chef of Volunteer Park Cafe.  Cleverly dubbed ‘pot of gold’, tiny pumpkins are filled with a sensual mixture of pureed pumpkin, gruyere, cream, polenta and chanterelles, and baked to golden brown, bubbly perfection.

Though I could no doubt enjoy canned pumpkin year-round, I find it immensely gratifying to practice seasonality.  Pumpkin belongs to autumn just as watermelon will forever spell out summer.   Eating as nature intended requires restraint in this age of instant gratification.  I admit, I am guilty of buying tomatoes in in January; but not of loving them.  When I ate them, there was no sighing or slurping up of the sweet, tangy taste of sun and soil.  Winter tomatoes are not deep red as tomatoes should be but pale orange.  Their texture is rubbery, their flavor thin.  Such is the case with most growing things when eaten out of season.

Slowly but surely, I am learning to honor and anticipate each season’s offerings with bated breath and the mindfulness that good things come to those who wait.

pumpkin cookies with maple buttercream frosting

yields approximately 24 cookies


2 1/2 cups all purpose or cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup fresh* or canned pumpkin 
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bourbon

1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup pure maple syrup, preferably grade b 
4 cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 360 degrees Fahrenheit

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add pumpkin, egg, vanilla and bourbon, beating until creamy.  Mix in dry ingredients until fully incorporated.  Do not over mix.  Dough will be very sticky. 

Place rounded teaspoonfuls on a cookie sheet lined with parchment.  Flatten slightly.  Bake for 15-20 minutes.  Cookie tops should spring back when touched.  Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack.

In a medium bowl, cream softened butter and syrup.  Beat in powdered sugar, one cup at a time until smooth and creamy. 

Once the cookies have cooled, ice generously with maple buttercream, leaving a 1/4 inch border.  Frosting will set in about one hour.  Do not wait to ice the cookies as they will begin to dry out.  The frosting keeps them moist.

Cookies keep in an airtight container for several days, that is, if you don’t eat them first.


whoopie pie variation
After the cookies have cooled, spread the bottoms of half (approximately 12) with 1/4 inch frosting.  Place the remaining cookies right side up atop the frosted cookie bottoms and voila: whoopie pies.

*A medium-sized sugar pumpkin, around 4 pounds, yields approximately 1-1/2 cups of mashed pumpkin.  Cut the pumpkin in half, discarding the stem section and stringy insides. In a shallow dish, place the pumpkin halves face down, cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 1-1/2 hours or until a fork pierces the skin with no resistance. Once cooled, scoop out the flesh and puree in a food processor or mash with a potato masher. Use this puree in any recipe which calls for canned pumpkin.


  1. This is EXACTLY what I have been looking for! I will probably try this one this weekend ;)