Storm-Induced Baking

I hear yoga works for some people.  But for me, when real life gets to be too much, I turn to baking to literally sweeten my mood.  There’s something about the mathematical straightforwardness of it that allows my mind to drift from hurricanes and power outages, as it were, to the wonderful world of teaspoons and tablespoons and parchment paper (oh my!).  I will not dwell on the circumstances of Superstorm Sandy, as I recognize fully well that I have not suffered as deeply as many, but that bitch of a storm did throw me out of my apartment for several nights.  My husband and I soon escaped to the Upper West Side, a bubble within Manhattan virtually untouched by the storm.  Life went on as normal there, but I was too distracted and angsty to sit still and “work from home.”  The tragedy was unrelenting, and my reading yet another Gothamist article would do no good.

When I found this recipe for pumpkin pudding, I was immediately sold on an excuse to bake.  I had been on a pumpkin kick for weeks prior, trying to brainstorm my own version of pumpkin pie.  I reasoned that the flavors were so simple and so likable, there was essentially no way I could really mess up a homespun variation.  Spoiler alert: I was wrong.  A mere hour before the power went out last week, I pulled from the oven what I was sure would be a hit: pumpkin crisp.  You know, like apple crisp, but with sweetened, mashed, roasted pumpkin instead of apples.  The last time I got too lazy to make pie, it worked perfectly.  However, even a topping of oats, butter, and sugar couldn’t mask the fact that this dessert was off.  In retrospect I believe that the squash is too dense and too starchy to make a good match for the equally hearty crisp topping.  Plus, I totally over-cinnamoned.  I still think it has potential (maybe puree the squash with some milk, so it’s creamier, taking a lesson from the recipe below?), but while I contemplated improvements, monster waves were crashing into lower Manhattan, and soon the lights were out.  There would be no more baking until I made it uptown.

And so, safe and sound on the Upper West Side, I went to Fairway, hoping that this neighborhood had not been raided by the apparent swarm of panicked dairy lovers that took all the butter and milk from my neck of the woods.  Fairway was fortunately well stocked, and I was ready to be calmed by way of heavy cream.

Happy to ignore my laptop for a few hours (I made muffins, too, lest you think this recipe took me hours), I measured, processed, whisked, and baked my way to a state of zen.  No thinking; just following instructions and trying hard to defy my propensity toward burning myself.  It was glorious.

As was the fruit of my labor!  This pumpkin pudding is smooth, creamy, rich (and I used skim milk!), and remotely nutritious, thanks to the pumpkin.  It’s sweet but not too sweet, indulgent but not heavy.  The cloves and the ginger make this dessert simply taste like autumn.  And the topping!  Oh, how I love sour cream desserts.  The topping reminded me vaguely of cheesecake but less cloying—almost refreshing in the way that ice cream can be.  I re-baked the puddings once dressed with topping, per instructions, but next time I might try just putting a dollop of the sour cream mixture on top of the pudding just before eating.  I liked the contrast of the dense pudding with the cool, light topping, which solidifies a bit when baked.

Next time you find yourself needing a pick-me-up, a distraction, or Thanksgiving dessert, think pumpkin pudding.

Pumpkin and Sour Cream Puddings

Adapted from

1 3/4 cups (from a 15-ounce can, 415 grams) pumpkin puree (unsweetened; not pumpkin pie filling)
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (237 ml) whole milk (skim will work fine too)
1/2 cup (118 ml) heavy cream
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup (227 grams) sour cream
1 tablespoon (13 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) vanilla extract

1.Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Combine pumpkin, sugar, salt and spices in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Transfer to a saucepan and heat over medium-high. Once glurping and simmering in the pot, cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. The mixture will thicken and get a bit darker. Reduce heat slightly and whisk in milk and cream. Off the heat, slowly whisk in eggs.
3. Divide between 7 to 8 ovenproof 6-ounce pudding cups or ramekins on a baking sheet (about 1/2 cup in each ramekin). Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until puddings barely jiggle when shimmied and/or a knife tip inserted into the center of puddings comes out clean. Try not to overbake.
4. While they bake, combine topping ingredients in a small bowl. When the puddings are cooked through, transfer to a cooling rack on the counter and leave oven on. Spoon 2 tablespoons of sour cream mixture onto first pudding and use a small offset spatula, butter knife or spoon to quickly (it will get melty fast) spread it over the top of the first pudding. Repeat with remaining puddings.
5. Return puddings to oven for 5 more minutes (or not!), then cool completely at room temperature, about 1 to 2 hours. Chill until ready to serve.
Yield: 7 to 8 half-cup puddings

Freya Bellin writes the food column for Frontier Psychiatrist. Her recent FP recipes include What is This Okra You Speak Of? The Other Comfort Food, and Cooking Social.

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