I have sorted through the many, many pumpkin desserts on Epicurious, other online sources, and various cookbooks and looked at pumpkin pie, pumpkin flan, pumpkin creme brulee, pumpkin meringue pie, pumpkin pie brulee, pumpkin flan brulee, and pumpkin flan meringue, among others. There seems to be a high level of inbreeding and mutating among the pumpkin desserts.
First up: pumpkin "panna cotta" from The Minimalist Entertains by Mark Bittman (The quotation marks are Mark Bittman's, not mine.) I bought this book a couple of years ago and have never made a single thing from it. This recipe caught my eye at the time though and this seemed like a good occasion to check it out. The caramelized sugar topping is my addition because last time I made panna cotta using a recipe from Lidia Bastianich it included this and I thought it would work well with a pumpkin panna cotta. Or maybe I was just looking for any excuse to taste this stuff again.
Pumpkin "Panna Cotta"
1 1/2 cups milk
2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato (I used canned pumpkin puree)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup sugar
6 tablespoons water
1. Make the caramel: Put sugar and water in a saucepan over low heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar comes to a boil, stop stirring, turn up the heat slightly, and watch it. When the color of the sugar syrup is a medium amber, or just a touch beyond, remove from the heat and pour a little bit in the bottom of each of eight ramekins, swirling the ramekin to coat the bottom with the sugar. Set them aside.
2. Put 1/2 cup of the milk, in a 6 to 8 cup saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let it sit for five minutes. In the meantime, blend the remaining milk, cream, pumpkin, sugar, and cinnamon in a blender until smooth.
3. Begin cooking the milk and gelatin over low heat, stirring until the gelatin dissolves. Pour in the cream mixture and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally until steam rises (do not let it come to a boil). Pour into the caramel-lined ramekins and refrigerate until firm. I'd allow at least two to three hours for this.
4. To serve, run a thin knife blade around inside of ramekin. Place small dessert plate on top of ramekin, invert, wait until the caramel starts seeping out and then pick up the ramekin.
Note: You need to be careful when working with caramel because if you spill it on you it will result in a serious burn. It's super hot and all that sugar will make it stick to you like glue.
When I first tasted this I was disappointed at how completely forgettable it was. Sort of bland, sort of rubbery. But when I tasted it again the next day, while all the rubbery issues were still present, the flavor had become richer and fuller. Still not deeply flavored but it made me think this dessert actually has possibilities. The caramelized sugar is a good touch, and it would probably help to add some more of the spices pumpkin desserts are normally cooked with such as ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.
The issue with the rubberiness must be a function of the amount of gelatin. My only other experience with panna cotta was when I made it this past summer and that wasn't rubbery in the least. In fact, it was light and cloud-like. I will probably revisit this sometime in the near future and when I do I'll try dialing back the amount of gelatin. I'll also add more spices. So this one is a keeper but only because I think a better dessert can be coaxed out of this concept.
In the meantime I'm on to more Thanksgiving possible desserts.
(When I sat down to write this post I wondered if anyone else out there in food-blog land had ever made this so I googled it and found that The Wednesday Chef had already made this and written about it. You can read about it here.)