Harvest time and cooler fall temperatures go hand in hand with freshly baked pumpkin. The pumpkin harvest happens just in time to brighten Halloween with jack-o'-lanterns, but bakers are more likely to value the familiar orange squash for its versatility.
Pumpkin goodies abound at local bakeries this time of year, from scones and specialty breads to salted pumpkin seeds and cheesecake. To honor the season, three local bakers shared some tried-and-true recipes using the fragrant fall staple.
Local bakers say canned pumpkin offers nearly identical results as the fresh squash.
If opting for fresh, select pumpkins weighing between 2 and 5 pounds. Heavier, more dense pumpkins yield softer flesh while large, more hollow squash are better suited to jack-o-lanterns.
Once picked, pumpkins will store in a cool, dry place for up to several months. Once baked or boiled, pumpkin should be used within two to three days or wrapped and stored in the freezer.
If using fresh pumpkin in recipes that call for canned, decrease liquid in the recipe to compensate for the more runny consistency of fresh pumpkin.
Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cookies
Courtesy of Scott Brechtel
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon milk
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts
2 cups chocolate chips
Mix together all the ingredients, except the nuts and chocolate chips, in order listed above until smooth. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips at the end.
Drop 4-ounce balls (1/2 cup) of cookie dough on greased baking sheets and bake for 10 minutes at 350 F. Makes really big cookies.
Courtesy of Susan Krebs
2/3 cup shortening
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 (16-ounce) can cooked pumpkin
2/3 cup water
3 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup sugar-covered dates
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease 2 (9-by-5-by-3-inch) loaf pans or 3 (8 1/2-by-4 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch) loaf pans. Thoroughly cream together the shortening and sugar. Mix in the eggs, pumpkin and water. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and cloves. Mix wet ingredients into dry, fold in the nuts and dates and spread into prepared pans.
Bake in preheated oven for 65 to 70 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Carol's Pumpkin Pie
Courtesy of Lisa Allen
1 cup sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon, plus a dash, cinnamon, divided
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened-condensed milk, divided
2 cups cooked and well-drained pumpkin
1 (9-inch) handmade or store-bought pie crust
In a stand mixer (or bowl with hand mixer), blend the eggs, 1/2 cup of the sugar, the salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon and half of the sweetened-condensed milk (7 ounces).
Add the pumpkin, remaining sugar, sweetened-condensed milk and dash of cinnamon.
Pour blended mixture into pie crust. Bake at 350 F for 1 hour and check to see if knife comes out clean. If not, check at 5-minute increments. Wrap edges with tin foil to prevent crust from getting too dark.
Artisan Bakery Cafe owner Scott Brechtel adds pumpkin this time of year to traditional chocolate chip cookies, and he says he can hardly keep them in supply at his Medford bakery.
Brechtel says he'd like to take the credit for their popularity, having made the cookies for more than 30 years, but he admits the credit has a lot to do with the star ingredient.
"Pumpkin is a very versatile ingredient to work with, and the nice thing about pumpkin is the products that you make with it usually really hold up and really do last," says Brechtel.
"It's also just really festive, and it makes people feel like the they can enjoy summer a little bit longer but that the holidays are right around the corner."
Susan Krebs, owner of The Cupcake Company in Medford, delights friends and family with another fall favorite: fresh pumpkin bread loaded with extra nuts and dates.
Most pumpkin recipes allow for either canned or fresh pumpkin (decrease liquid if using fresh to keep recipes from being too runny), but Krebs is a fan of the canned variety.
"There's no difference between canned and fresh pumpkin in terms of flavor, but I almost always use tried-and-true Libby's pumpkin in the can," she says.
"It really is the best out there. Making it yourself is great, but the Libby's is the same every time, so you don't have to adjust your recipe."
To personalize a recipe, Krebs recommends adding ingredients such as raisins and dates. Dry ingredients can be interchanged, and extra won't usually hurt the recipe.
"I add about three times the amount of nuts the recipe calls for, and instead of raisins I like sugar-coated dates, which I also use about three times as much of," says Krebs. "It gives a lot more texture. Then I usually always do extra seasoning. I always use a splash more of whatever seasonings it calls for and a little extra pumpkin, too."
Great Harvest Baking Co. owner Lisa Allen shares her mom's "famous pumpkin pie" recipe, which is so tasty, she says, that friends and family often request it in lieu of birthday cake.
"It's pumpkin pie from actual pumpkin, and I've never had it turn out bad," says Allen, noting that she prefers to cook the squash in a pressure cooker and split the yield into same-size bags for easy use.
Allen says she and her daughter keep a baking journal to track new ideas and changes to recipes, but it's hard to do anything wrong when using pumpkin, she admits.
"It's just so much a part of fall every year to bake with pumpkin. We've even tried different varieties of pumpkin, and it really doesn't seem to matter," she says.
"The pies just always seem to turn out great. A lot of it is probably because it's hard to go wrong with pumpkin."
To find more recipes, go to the Mail Tribune's Recipe Box, which contains more than 3,000 recipes. at www.mailtribune.com/recipes