Pumpkin madness

Pumpkin madness has begun.

Piled high on farmers' market tables, the orange-hued squashes remind shoppers that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Their canned brethren — plain puree and the-too-be-avoided-at-all-costs pie filling — are prominently displayed in end-of-aisle pyramids at the grocery store. And for those not paying attention (or spending time) in food venues, pumpkin spiced drinks now receive top billing at coffee shops.

As much as I like the traditional spices associated with pumpkin pie — nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, sometimes a touch of molasses — I wanted to bake a little pumpkin something-something that veered in a slightly different direction. Regan Daley's recipe for Pumpkin and Orange Breakfast Cake fit the bill. Light and moist, this cake ushers in autumn with a bright citrus note.

I'm tempted to add cranberries in the future, but I stuck to the original recipe this time. Though I'm a coffee girl, I think this would be perfect with a cup of hot tea and the morning paper; a dollop of whipped cream on the side makes it an ideal dessert. And actually, it's delightful served plain, without any garnishes.

I took the lazy route and use canned pumpkin in this recipe, but roasting a pumpkin is easy. Cut a small pumpkin (about 3-4 pounds; use any type other than those sold for jack-o-lanterns) in half, remove the seeds with a spoon, and place in a large cassole dish or jelly roll pan with a few tablespoons of water. Roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50-60 minutes. Scrape the flesh from the skin and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Most pumpkins are very fibrous, which can ruin the texture of baked goods, so don't skip this step.

Pumpkin and Orange Breakfast Cake with a Fresh Orange Syrup
Serves 10
Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
3 large eggs, two of them separated
1 cup pumpkin puree, homemade or canned solid-pack pumpkin
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large orange, juiced
1/2 cup sugar

additional unsalted butter for greasing the pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch fluted tube pan (be sure to get into the nooks to avoid unhappiness later) and set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar, and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the whole egg and 2 yolks - one at a time - to the butter mixture, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin puree.

Sift the fours, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Add to the batter in 3-4 stages, blending gently after each.

In a small bowl, whop the egg whites to soft peak. Fold them into the batter, then scrape it into the buttered pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes, until the sides begin to pull away from the pan and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the syrup. combine the 0range juice and sugar in a small pan over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil without stirring for 2 minutes, then use it immediately (pour a few spoonfuls on invidualy slices) or allow the syrup to cool and refrigerate for up the 3 days.

The cake holds for several days at room temperature if well-wrapped, or can be frozen for up to 2 months.


Not enough time. And butternut squash soup.

I shouldn't complain about being busy. I'm much better busy. It's sitting around with lots of time on my hands that gets me into trouble. Current time sucks include:

- Work. Enough said.

- Reading. I'm working on Colum McCann's wonderful novel Let the Great World Spin and debating whether or not to download Keith Richards' autobiography Life to my new Kindle. Not a typical Lynn book, but I'm fascinated, because really, that man should be dead by now.

- Line-by-Line, the amazing New York Times series by artist James McMullan (part of the online Opinionator Blog) that teaches readers how to draw. I come home at night, curl up with my laptop, a piece of paper, and a 2B pencil. I haven't created anything worth sharing, but I'm having fun.

- Writing. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.  The goal? To write 50,000 words in the month of November. This particular project isn't going so well.

All of this means I haven't been cooking dinner as often as usual. Or writing about it. Or taking photographs. Which makes me a lousy food blogger.

I did find time to make one of my favorite fall soups earlier in the week: curried butternut squash soup with caramelized pear. Most squashes are fairly delicate in flavor, but butternut holds up well to more assertive spices, like curry. Roasting the squash before adding it to the soup pot would be a great way to enhance the sweetness, but I simply chopped it up and cooked it in chicken stock (the whole time-saving thing). There's no cream in this pureed soup, but it's so smooth you won't miss it. Or feel guilty taking a second helping.

I often caramelize diced apple for this soup — it's a beautiful, tasty garnish — but I had pears in the fridge, so I used them instead. Make this with water or vegetable stock if you like — it will still be great. The soup is simple, good, and worth finding time to make. I promise.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Pear
Serves 6 to 8

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large white onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1x1-inch pieces
6-7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Kosher salt
white pepper

2 pears (or apples), peeled, cored and finely diced
1 tablespoon butter
pinch sugar

Melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy stockpot. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, sprinkle in a pinch of salt, and soften over medium heat, about 7-8 minutes. Add the bay leaf, curry powder, and turmeric, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add the butternut squash and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 25-30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Puree with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. If you use a traditional blender, be very careful. Hot soup is dangerous stuff. Taste and season with Kosher salt and white pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a saute pan until foamy. Add the diced pear and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar, tossing to coat. The fruit will soften and caramelize in a couple of  minutes. Use this as a garnish.