Pumpkin spice latte season is upon us! But this seasonal food trend’s namesake—pumpkin—deserves to shine well beyond the steaming hot confines of a Starbucks coffee cup. That’s because not only is it tasty and nutritious, it’s also the perfect canvas to create jaw- and taste bud-dropping desserts that just scream, “Autumn is here!” These tips from top chefs around the country will teach you how to make sweet treats using the entire pumpkin.
Every part of the pumpkin—the flesh, the seeds, even the skin—is edible. But only if you cook it, first. The best way to do this is in the oven. Heather Terhune, “Top Chef” alum and executive chef of Tre Rivali in Milwaukee, suggests rinsing the pumpkin and using a knife to stab some holes in the hard shell for ventilation. Then, place on a baking sheet or baking dish and roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about one hour. “You’ll know it’s ready when it seems soft enough to pierce with a fork,” says Terhune. Cut it in half and allow to cool for about 30 minutes before handling further.
One-up canned pumpkin by making your own. Remove the roasted pumpkin flesh from the skin and blend in a food processor until smooth. Depending on what type of dessert you’re making, season it to taste while it whirs. “Pumpkin pulp is so versatile,” says Ann Kirk, pastry chef at Little Dom’s in Los Angeles. “It can be used for things like cheesecake, cupcakes, cake, ice cream, breads, and of course, pie.” Any recipe that calls for canned pumpkin will taste that much better if you use the real, unprocessed thing.
Crispy, toasty pumpkin seeds lend the perfect crunch factor to any sweet dessert. Separate the seeds from the roasted flesh. Toss in oil and roast in the oven until golden brown (keep a close eye on them, as they can quickly burn). If you need a little salty to go with your sweet, sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar, and a hint of sea salt, then sprinkle on top of cake, cupcakes, pie, or ice cream. You can also go with pumpkin seed brittle. Or, gently pulse them in a food processor until coarse and add to a graham cracker crust for a pumpkin cheesecake.
Believe it or not, you can use the pumpkin skin, too. Slice the bare roasted skin into strips, then toss with oil and pumpkin pie spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, or cloves, as well as a pinch of sugar and sea salt (or try Chinese five spice powder). Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone mat, and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit until crisp, says Terhune. Use the finished product to jazz up a pumpkin carrot cake, pumpkin pie, or as dippers to scoop up pumpkin mousse. It’s also a great way to combat food waste!
Why not serve your dessert right in the pumpkin? If you’re using a smaller pumpkin, consider scooping pumpkin mousse into the empty shell, or nestle a pumpkin cupcake right inside so only the frosting peeks out. You can serve pumpkin dip or pumpkin ice cream in the same way (and in larger pumpkins), and even bake pumpkin pie into the pumpkin itself. Now that’s festive.
As for the stem, well, that can go in the compost.