Pumpkin spice: it’s the great autumnal hope of Pinteresters and Starbucks fanatics, alike. Admittedly, I’ve never given a vast amount of thought to the religion of pumpkin spice, which is risen anew every October in the U.S., at least since that aforementioned coffee chain declared it “kind of a big deal.” I’ve been rather a pumpkin spice agnostic. However, a couple of weeks ago I was conversing with some Americans, and someone asked whether the Starbucks here (the few that exist) trot out seasonal flavors. One of the expats said they do, but with the problematic effect that pumpkin spice would arrive promptly in spring and eggnog in the height of summer. That got pumpkins spice lattes on my mind, as this is closer to the season for them. Making my own meant creating a batch of my own pumpkin spice, and so, though it’s really turned to winter here by now, I thought I’d dedicate a week to a sort of sentimental journey – you see, we expats can be sentimental for things from home that never even meant much to us when we were there – and see what kind of pumpkin spice antics I could get up to.
The pumpkin spice phenomenon is one that does not cross cultural borders because we have fundamentally different understandings of what a pumpkin is and how it should be used. To an American, a pumpkin looks like this:
To an Australian it looks like this:
Well, at the end of the day, a squash is a squash is a squash. However, our two countries have vastly different ideas about how it should be used and what it should taste like. Americans, we like our pumpkin in pies and desserts. From my experience, this is one of the most puzzling things about Americans to many Australians (that and our gun laws, but this isn’t a political post, so moving right along…). Here, a pumpkin is used in savory dishes – soups, salads, stir fries, that sort of thing. What that meant for Project Pumpkin Spice was that I was going to have to make my own pumpkin spice and pumpkin puree (a can of Libby’s can be purchased at the specialty grocer, Thomas Dux, for $9.99 a can. No thanks!). Puree is easy. I just cut up a pumpkin/squash (the one in the picture, above, in fact) into cubes, put them in the microwave steamer until soft, and wizzed them in the food processor. For the pumpkin spice, I looked at a few recipes and, after trying one, I found I wanted less cinnamon and more zing. I thought of upping the ginger, but then remembered my favorite spice, cardamom, which I thought would be amazing in pumpkin spice. So, my newly minted, slightly unconventional pumpkin spice recipe is:
3 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cardamom
First recipe up, obviously, is the pumpkin spice latte. Now, your Pinteresters divide in two camps when it comes to faking up a PSL. There’s the lazy man’s version, which involves mixing the dry spice mix up either in the coffee press or in the bottom of your mug with your sweetener of choice (like this version). Or, there’s the more ambitious version, in which you make your own syrup. I tried both, naturally starting with the lazy route.
It should come as no surprise that the more-work one was far superior. With the first one, I felt like I had cinnamon on my teeth all morning. And, the second one is pretty much how Starbucks probably does it. I sort of hate Starbucks coffee (…and, that was the sound of my friend Eric unfriending me…), so I’ll take my home brewed coffee any day. The good news is that the batch of syrup is absolutely massive, so it’s good for a lot of drinks. By the way, holy sugar content, Batman! – don’t even think about adding any extra sugar to this latte.
In my ambition to get going with Pumpkin Spice week, I began my first day with, not just my latte, but a batch of pumpkin spice pancakes. I followed this recipe. I’ll just note that, aside from the coffees, I adapted the rest of my recipes to be dairy free, in accordance with Hushpuppy’s intolerance. In this one, I substituted almond milk for milk with no problems. They were absolutely wonderful. I actually make Hushpuppy and myself pancakes for breakfast fairly often, so always looking for good variations. This one is for sure a keeper.
One of my favorite snacks to make for Hushpuppy during the winter months is roasted apples. I came up with a recipe last year when she was just learning to eat and needed softer fruit and veg. I cut up an apple or two and put it in a container with a lid along with a couple tablespoons of melted coconut oil and some spices, then shake it all up to coat the apple, put in a baking dish and cook on 180C for 20 minutes. Oh hey, shake some of my homemade spice mix on there, and voila!, pumpkin spice apples!
By the way, if you decide to make these and serve them to guests, make sure you’re really clear about what they are. I once served them at a playdate with some new friends and our guests politely declined. Awhile later, I said something about them in passing, and the mums laughed, saying they thought they were just really brown apples. Ah! How embarrassing if they’d gone home thinking I was serving old apples to their kids for a snack.
On Tuesday, I came down with a cold, one of those ones that Hushpuppy likes to pawn off on me on a regular basis. It was the perfect day to toss some pumpkin and ginger soup in the crock pot. I’ve actually made this recipe once before to favorable results all around. It’s super easy, massively flavorful, and has just the right amount of kick for me. Hushpuppy happily wolfed down two bowls this time, using her ever growing spoon skills – though, fair enough, a good bit of it did still end up in her lap.
Breakfast is a pretty high priority in my culinary life. Scratch that – breakfast is a pretty high priority in my life, … so I certainly had to get in at least one more on theme. This time, it was pumpkin spice muffins. I went with this recipe (again substituting almond milk), but thought I’d really autumn it up by adding cranberries and a handful of crushed pecans. That was a good choice. No complaints about these muffins. Another winner.
The big hit of the week was something I concocted out of my own little head, and I’m not too proud to say that. Pumpkin spice granola bars. I went through a phase around the time Hushpuppy was born where I was making a lot of granola bars using the Pioneer Woman’s recipe, or a variation on it based on whatever I had around. The great thing about making granola bars is that you can use up all those bags with bits of leftover nuts and seeds from past baking projects. I haven’t made them for awhile, but it occurred to me that the syrup from the pumpkin spice latte would be a great way to add flavor. So, following the Pioneer Woman’s technique from the recipe I linked to, here is the list of ingredients I used to make mine pumpkin spice and dairy free.
4 Tbsp coconut oil (melted) – butter substitute
¼ cup peanut oil
6 cups oats
A good dash of salt
1 cup wheat germ
⅓ cup chopped cashews
¼ cup pine nuts
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ cup chopped peanuts
½ cup cranberries
½ cup raisins
1 heaped tsp pumpkin spice
1 cup brown sugar
¾ cup honey
¼ cup pumpkin spice syrup
⅛ cup maple syrup (that’s all I had left!)
Seriously, these were just so good. We’ve pretty much wiped out that tin in the last four days.
After a week of pumpkin spice excitement, and asking P-i-C and Hushpuppy to be my guinea pigs, I thought we ought to end on a celebratory note. So, to top it all off, we concluded with a pumpkin spice cake with a lemon frosting. It was tricky to find a dairy free recipe, as most call for cream cheese frosting. Sure, I could have just skipped that part, but in trying to get ideas, I found this delicious recipe, published by an Aussie, no less! Now, she says that the spice is optional, but that’s just crazy talk. And, I just used 3 teaspoons of my pumpkin spice, rather than her spice suggestion. I tripled the frosting recipe to have enough to cover the whole cake, and as I wanted a citrusy flavor icing, I used a few squeezes of lemon juice, instead of the citric acid.
As promised, the cake was moist and very flavorful (2 cups of sugar, how bad can it be?). A scrumptious end to our pumpkin spice week. I may have started out a pumpkin spice agnostic, but call me a convert. I had a great time infusing some “fall” into my Sydney winter.