Everything turns orange in the world of food media around this time of year. You can’t look at a recipe without finding that pumpkin has been sneaked in there somewhere. Sweet or savoury, breakfast or dinner, between the months of September and December it’s almost guaranteed to contain the golden vegetable, especially if it’s come from anywhere near America (in which case it will almost definitely also include cinnamon).
I used to find the American obsession with sweet pumpkin recipes a little strange. When I first started cooking with pumpkin (or rather squash, which is more common here in the UK) about five years ago I quickly discovered its affinity with all things rich and salty: goat’s cheese, blue cheese, sausages, bacon. When autumn arrives with its cold clutches and the first pumpkins and squash appear in the markets (yes, I know you can buy the standard butternut year round, but it’s not quite the same as seeing a stall full of beautifully misshapen, multicoloured squas
h gleaming in the frosty sunshine), I’m perfectly happy to eat them in tandem with these ingredients all winter long.
But I did branch out. The first time I tried pumpkin in a sweet recipe, I baked cubes of roasted butternut squash into a cross between a brownie and a cake: thick wedges of moist sponge, drizzled with orange icing and coloured a beautiful burnished russet from the vegetable flesh. I suddenly understood this crazy notion of pumpkin-based baking.
When you cook pumpkin, combined with warm spices and butter, something a bit magical happens. All that sweetness that is so good accompanied by a slab of salty bacon or a cloud of tangy goat’s cheese is heightened, developing notes of caramel and butterscotch and warm spice, buttery and moreish and delicious. There’s also the colour, too, that intense marigold that can’t help but be inviting, whispering of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. The fudge-like texture of pumpkin also lends itself very well to baked goods: sweet, thick and creamy.
Pumpkin works in pie, of course, but also in cheesecake, bread, muffins, cakes, even waffles. I love baking with pumpkin puree, the American-style stuff you buy in cans. I love the bold colour, the sweet smell, the fudgy texture of the mashed pumpkin that has been packed tightly into its tin. The other day I decided to stir some of this into a crêpe batter, enriched with those classic pumpkin spices: cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg (in America you can actually buy designated pumpkin pie spice mixes). I’d seen stacks of fluffy pumpkin pancakes on various food blogs, and figured the same would work with thinner, more delicate French-style crêpes.
The batter for these is fun to make – beating fudgy heaps of golden pumpkin puree into eggs and vanilla, adding milk (I used soy milk because I was cooking for a friend allergic to cow’s milk, but you could obviously use normal milk too) and butter and spice – but it’s only once the golden batter hits the hot pan that you begin to fully appreciate the fun in store. The scent as they cook is incredible – it’s reminiscent of fairgrounds, of hot sugar and synthetic candy, of warm spiced pies, of pastel sweet shops and their wares. There’s that depth of pumpkin sweetness, that hint of caramel and warm butter.
To accompany these, another seasonal classic: apples. Russet apples are my favourite autumn treat; I love their orange-scented flesh and dark green mottled skins. Sliced and caramelized in a hot pan with some butter, brown sugar and cinnamon, they make the perfect tart contrast for the sweet and gooey pancakes. Add some nutty toasted pecans and a drizzle of maple syrup, and you’ve got autumn in one delicious plateful.
If you’ve never tried pumpkin in baking before, get yourself a can of pumpkin puree and make these crêpes. They’re everything you want from a crêpe – squidgy, comforting, slightly crispy around the edges – but with the added bonus of deep, spiced, sweet pumpkin flavour. The apple and pecan topping is the perfect contrast, nutty and sweet-tart against the gooey pancakes.
This is the ideal autumnal brunch. You may as well get on the pumpkin bandwagon: it’s pointless to ignore it. Embrace this versatile vegetable; bring it into your breakfast
Pumpkin pancakes with caramelized russet apples, pecans and maple syrup (serves 4-6):
- 650ml soy milk (or normal milk)
- 20g butter
- 2 eggs
- 200g pumpkin purée
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 225g plain flour
- 1 tbsp light muscovado sugar
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp freshly grated or ground nutmeg
- Butter, for cooking
- 6 russet apples, finely sliced
- 30g butter
- 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
- Squeeze of lemon juice
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon
- A splash of sherry
- 4 tbsp pecan nuts, finely chopped
- Maple syrup, to serve
Put the milk and butter in a small saucepan and heat gently to melt the butter. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin and vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
For the topping, heat the butter and brown sugar in a large frying pan until sizzling. Add the apples, lemon and cinnamon, and cook on a medium heat until starting to caramelize. Add the sherry and continue to cook until the apples are soft and golden. Set aside.
To make the pancakes, heat a knob of butter in a large non-stick frying pan or crêpe pan. Swirl it around to coat the pan then wipe off any excess with kitchen paper. Get the pan quite hot, then pour a ladleful of the mixture into the pan and spread it out evenly. Cook for a minute, then flip over gently and cook for a minute on the other side. (You’ll get a feel when doing this if your pan is hot enough – they should be slightly crispy on each side and golden brown). Serve immediately, or keep the pancakes in a warm oven (around 100C) between sheets of greaseproof as you make them, to serve all at once.
When ready to serve, fold the pancakes into triangles and arrange on a plate. Spoon over some apples, a handful of pecans, and drizzle with maple syrup.