Baking Pumpkin Bars for Eighty

Recently, a friend was cooking at a dinner for eighty people, one of these social events where everyone pitches in to help cover the costs of the food. Being from the panhandle of Florida, she was preparing a Cajun-inspired menu and asked if I would help with the dessert. While I was originally going to make sweet potato pie, plans morphed and we ended up with pumpkin bars, which turned out nicely nonetheless.


Sweet potato pie would have been much more authentic for a Cajun dessert but local sweet potatoes are very small and the larger imported sweet potatoes are ridiculously expensive. I opted instead for pumpkins, which are plentiful and much less expensive. Scaling up from a recipe that serves maybe 16 people, I wasn’t sure just how much pumpkin I needed, so bought six.


After cutting them, steaming them, and peeling and mashing the flesh, I had a lot of pumpkin puree. In fact, it was about half again what I ended up needing. That’s okay – you can freeze pumpkin puree.


Instead of a usual pie crust, I decided on a recipe that used shortbread. Shortbread is not only easier to make than pie crust, it also adds a different dimension to the texture – providing a crispier base versus a tender and flaky one.


Instead of pies, which would be more difficult to transport, I opted for four large aluminum trays that came with plastic covers. I spread the shortbread dough on the bottom and then baked it for about 15 minutes until it started firming up and tanning.


The filling was pumpkin puree, brown sugar, cream, egg yolks, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger powder, and cloves. I whipped egg whites in a separate bowl and folded them into the mixture, creating a lighter texture.


The filling baked in about thirty minutes. After cooling to room temperature, I put the four trays in my refrigerator and carried them to the event the next afternoon. A little chilling helps film up the pumpkin pie and makes it much easier to cut and serve.


The end product, shown from a smaller test batch I did two days before. This version didn’t have the egg whites whipped separately, so the filling isn’t as tall as in the final version. Still just as tasty, though!


Thai Style Pumpkin Soup and Cranberry-Beet Relish

To catch you up on some of the recent culinary delights that have come out of my kitchen (well, culinary attempts, at least…) here is an update on two different dishes.

The first was a Thai-style pumpkin soup made after Tawn requested that we have some soup for dinner one evening.  I didn’t follow a particular recipe with this one but just pulled it together by taste.  

Base ingredients: pumpkin, butternut squash, onions, carrots, celery, chicken stock.
Aromatic ingredients: lemongrass, galangal root (similar to ginger but less harsh), bay leaves, curry powder, cayenne pepper.
Finishing ingredients: fish sauce, coconut cream, palm or brown sugar.
Optional ingredients for garnishing: bacon, cilantro, sour cream or parmesan cheese.

Here’s a picture of the finished product, which tasted wonderful.


Coupled with a video that shows the whole “making of”.


The second dish is a cranberry-beet relish that I made for our potluck Thanksgiving over at Vic’s house.  I stumbled across several recipes for this and so improvised a bit. 


Sautee a chopped onion and then add the cranberries, stirring for a few minutes but not cooking so much that they begin to pop.


Add shredded raw beets – this would actually be gorgeous with golden beets – and cook a while longer until the mixture softens.


For flavoring add the zest and juice of two oranges.


Sweeten to taste with maple syrup.  The natural sugars in the beets offset much of the tartness from the cranberries, so I find that you don’t need much maple syrup.  If needed, add a little bit of salt to the mixture.


Let cook until at a nice consistency.  Since I like to still have some whole berries left, I reserve about a cup of berries and add them later in the cooking process so they don’t pop before the relish is done.  This turned out as a very nice alternative to regularly cranberry relish and several diners commented that while they don’t normally enjoy cranberry relish, they particularly liked this recipe.