Where are all the pumpkins!? A baking quest.

To me, this time of year is always associated with a plethora of sights, smells and absolutely mouthwatering flavors. One of my very favorite of these is pumpkin - which I suppose could really fall into all three categories. Unfortunately, the British haven't exactly got the same penchant for pumpkin that seems to break out all over the US as soon the first leaves begin to fall. In fact, living in the UK, you'd be hard pressed to find pumpkin themed items anywhere. I mean, they're part of Halloween, but that's just not enough! There are no pumpkin pies or other baked goods. No pumpkin scents - like in candles or potpourri. Even pumpkin carving is less fun as most people just get them from the grocery store. All recent efforts have failed to produce a pick-your-own pumpkin patch. I'm holding out no hopes for a hayride. And Pumpkin spice lattes? Anyone? Anyone? Definitely not available over here.

It's sad really because I just don't think they realise what they're missing out on. It's not only the taste and the smell - but the cozy feeling we get every year when the pumpkin starts showing up everywhere. Not to mention that it's been pretty devastating for someone like me, who is obsessed with pumpkin-ey things. After a recent trip back to the homeland, where I became re-acquainted my orange, squashy friend, I decided that if I the UK wasn't going to provide pumpkin for me, I would just have to bring pumpkin to the UK. Step one: BAKE!

Today's recipe:      
Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with Maple-Cream Cheese Filling 

I found the recipe for these little goodies online at my absolute favourite food blog, Brown Eyed Baker. You can find the original recipe post here. The actual origin of the recipe is a bit hazy, though the Brown Eyed Baker credits a friend for passing it on. Whether or not this is your kind of dessert, I encourage everyone who likes to cook to check out her blog. Every recipe that I have tried from this site has been seriously delicious. Her entries go all the way back to 2007 and include posts on all kinds of dishes - not just baked goods. And she has food ideas for all occassions. There are so many on there. I can't get through them fast enough! 

Once I had found the perfect recipe, actually putting it into action took some time. On the list of the many pumpkin-related items unavailable in this country is, of course, canned pumpkin purée. For those of you who are from the US, you can see how this would be a problem. For those of you who aren't, let me explain. This long-life food item is a fall staple for most Americans who like the taste of pumpkin. It is exactly what it sounds like - pumpkin insides that have been cooked to soften, puréed (blended to a smooth paste) and canned for use in all kinds of dishes. One of the most popular of these dishes being pumpkin pie.

One could, theoretically, use pumpkin goo made from scratch. But let's be real, who has time for this? This process would involve some sort of cooking technique for the pumpkin insides (probably baking), then the blending, and then straining the resulting mess to remove any bit that isn't smooth enough to include in the recipe. What's more is that once you were done, you would either have to throw out the rest of the pumpkin (waste) or find some use for the rind and seeds. Maybe one day I will have enough time and patience to try this out, but I needed a pumpkin fix and I needed it NOW! So, I had to find a way around it. 

I was finally able to find canned pumpkin. It is available (as far as I know) in only one, independent shop in one far-off corner of London, called St. John's Wood. I was tipped off by an online search which revealed that there is an American school in the area and, therefore, that it might be available somewhere over there. It was, indeed, available at a small deli and specialty food shop called Panzer's, which imports novelty foods from the good ol' USA, including (get this) lemon pepper. Woop woop! Taking a trip into London just for a can of squash really is not financially practical, so I had to wait for a day that I actually needed to be there. But when I did get over there, believe me, I stocked up big time.  

Now to the baking!

WARNING! Neither the photos nor the baking were executed by a professional. For a much nicer example of how these should look at each stage, please see the Brown Eyed Baker blog entry for these whoopie pies.

The lovely, pumpkin-ey goop after being mixed and just before baking.

Cooling cookies.

I think the hardest part about baking these was trying to spoon them in nice circles and in even portions onto the baking paper. Plus, you have to consider that you will be putting two of them together to make one whoopie pie, so you'll need some matching sizes. I eventually worked out a sort of swirling method that helped them stay in heaped circles. I tried to take a photo while doing it, but couldn't quite get the shot. You can kind of see my progress if you look at the cookies on the cooling rack from left to right - kind of.

And here is the recipe:

For the Whoopie Pies:                                                For the Maple-Cream Cheese Filling:
3 cups all-purpose flour                                             
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cinnamon                                             8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder                                          4 ounces (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temp
1 teaspoon baking soda                                               3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt                                                             1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 cups chilled pumpkin puree (canned pumpkin)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, salt, ginger and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, whisk the granulated sugar, the dark brown sugar, and the oil together. Add the pumpkin puree and whisk to combine thoroughly. Add the eggs and vanilla and whisk until combined.
4. Gradually add the flour mixture to the pumpkin mixture and whisk until completely combined.
5. Use a small cookie scoop or a large spoon to drop a rounded, heaping tablespoon of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 1 inch apart.
6. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, making sure that the cookies are just starting to crack on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cookie comes out clean. The cookies should be firm when touched. Remove from the oven and let the cookies cool completely on a cooling rack.
7. To make the filling, beat the butter on medium speed until smooth with no visible lumps, about 3 minutes. Add the cream cheese and beat until smooth and combined, about 2 minutes. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time, then add the maple syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth.
8. To assemble the whoopie pies: Turn half of the cooled cookies upside down. Pipe or spoon the filling (about a tablespoon) onto that half. Place another cookie, flat side down, on top of the filling. Press down slightly so that the filling spread to the edges of the cookie. Repeat until all the cookies are used. Put the whoopie pies in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to firm before serving.

Yield: About 4 dozen assembled whoopie pies
Prep Time: 15 minutes (unless you're a perfectionist like me and take ages to do everything)
Bake Time: 10 to 12 minutes (per cookie sheet)

The final product - a perfect partner for an afternoon coffee or tea!

The end result was just the pumpkin-ey fix I was after. They weren't perfect. They were a little flatter than in the photos on the Brown Eyed Baker blog - not sure if this was due to an ingredient slip-up or a technical error. Also, I tend to under frost because I can't always handle the sweetness, so I had a lot of the frosting left over. This was fine when I first put them together, but after they had firmed in the fridge I thought they could maybe have stood a bit more. Finally, I halved the recipe, but still had a nightmare trying to store the leftovers. Out of the fridge they melted almost immediately and the frosting seeped into the cookies. Kept in the fridge they were slightly too firm when eaten and resulted in a gooey mess when they began to thaw. I think they were intended to be pretty much eaten right away.

Oh well, just a few things to work on and an excuse to bake them again!!!

Despite the few hurdles I encountered with this recipe, the resulting treat was everything I had hoped for. The spices brought up all the memories of Thanksgivings past and marching down rows of newly-blossomed pumpkins on a crisp October day. Here's hoping all of you are having a superb autumn season - filled with all of the traditional things that give you that warm, fuzzy feeling, whatever they may be. 

Love and pumpkins.


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