Food & Drink

Do you love pumpkin . . . or pumpkin pie spice?

Waffles with pumpkin puree in the batter makes a deeply flavored twist on breakfast.
Waffles with pumpkin puree in the batter makes a deeply flavored twist on breakfast. E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS

I love pumpkin. I love it boiled, baked and simmered into savory soups, chiles and stews. I like it cooked into a thick, rusty-orange puree. Homemade or canned, it’s perfect for mixing with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice and cloves for spooning into a flaky pie shell. Make no mistake: This is the combination that screams pumpkin goodness.

The truth, though, is that the secret to all the “pumpkin” foods that pop up in fall is more in the pumpkin seasoning than the actual vegetable. That’s good news, really, because the seasoning can be incorporated into all manner of dishes, especially fall baking. I blend my own pumpkin pie spice using proportions from Betty Crocker, and I take the time to grind my own allspice, nutmeg and cloves for freshness. I also like to vary the cinnamon, using spicier Vietnamese cinnamon if I can find it.

I sprinkle pumpkin pie spice into everything from my coffee and black tea to my evening bowl of vanilla frozen yogurt. Mostly, I use the seasoning with cooked pumpkin – its rightful pairing – in cakes, pies, ice cream and puddings.

Inspired by a bag of pumpkin-spiced granola, I added the pumpkin spice seasoning to my standard streusel topping destined for simple one-pan cakes. The resulting cinnamon pecan streusel is so good that I find myself strewing it over French toast and spreading it on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel with a smear of cream cheese

Since pumpkin and breakfast seem to be a lasting romance, I add canned pumpkin and the spice mixture to my favorite waffle recipe – one that is tangy from buttermilk and lightened with beaten egg whites. Tiny dried currants add sweetness and texture; omit them if you like.

Pumpkin spice season only lasts until the holiday flavors turn up. I make the most of it.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Adapted from Betty Crocker. Grinding whole allspice and cloves and grating fresh nutmeg delivers much more flavor.

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 tablespoons ground ginger

2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

Combine all the spices in a small bowl. Mix well. Spoon into a small jar and store in a dark place for a month or so.

Yield: A little over 1/3 cup.

Pumpkin Pecan Streusel Coffee Cake

It’s important to use a pan that’s 9 inches across the top and at least 1 1/2 inches deep.

Cinnamon pecan streusel:

1/2 cup flour

1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 to 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Pinch salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup chopped pecans

Cake:

1 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin

1 teaspoon vanilla

Glaze:

1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/2 teaspoon instant espresso granules, optional

About 1 tablespoon milk or half-and-half

For the streusel, mix the flour, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter. Use clean hands and your fingertips to blend the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the pecans. Use your hands to squeeze and gently clump the streusel into small, shaggy clumps. (Mixture can be made a day in advance; leave covered at room temperature.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a deep, straight-sided 9-inch round (at least 1 1/2 inches deep) or square cake pan with cooking spray.

For the cake, mix the flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Put the butter in a mixing bowl and beat until light and creamy, 2-3 minutes. Beat in the sugar, then beat in the egg until smooth. Add the pumpkin and vanilla; mix well. Dump in the flour mixture; use gentle strokes with a rubber spatula just to incorporate the flour into the batter. (Be careful not to overmix.)

Scrape the batter into the greased pan; smooth the top. Crumble the streusel mixture over the top. Bake until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack until warm.

Mix the confectioners’ sugar and coffee granules in a small bowl. Dribble in the milk until the mixture forms a smooth, drizzle-able glaze. Use the tines of a fork to swirl the glaze over the cake. Cool until set.

Yield: 8 to 10 servings.

Pumpkin Spice Waffles

Can be doubled. Reheat leftover waffles in the toaster or toaster oven to re-crisp before serving.

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup solid-pack canned pumpkin

1/4 cup dried currants or chopped raisins

1 cup buttermilk

1/3 cup safflower or canola oil

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 large eggs, separated

1/4 cup granulated sugar

Heat oven to 200 degrees. Heat waffle iron according to manufacturer’s directions. When iron is heated, spray the iron with nonstick cooking spray for high heat. (Spray waffle iron as needed between waffles.)

Whisk together flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in pumpkin and dried fruit; mix well. Mix buttermilk, oil, vanilla and egg yolks in small bowl. Stir wet mixture into the flour mixture just until mixed.

Beat egg whites in a small bowl on high speed until foamy. Gradually beat in sugar until soft peaks form. Gently fold whites into the batter just until mixed.

For each waffle, spoon a generous cup of the batter into the heated waffle iron, close the iron and bake until waffle is crisped and perfectly golden. Remove the baked waffle; put into the oven directly on the oven rack for 5 to 10 minutes while you bake the remaining waffles.

Serve topped with butter, pecans, warm syrup and pumpkin pie spice.

Yield: 3 to 4 servings.

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