Pumpkin Cranberry Parfait · GF (eight servings)
Every Thanksgiving, I try to kill my family. Not on purpose or anything, but somehow my desserts always hit the table with lethal impact. I forget that as one slips into a tryptophan coma, miserable from unapologetic second helpings and desperate to loosen that belt just one notch, a slab of cake sounds more like a threat than a treat. We need something sweet to signal the end of the meal, but a wedge of pie can push even the greediest of us to the brink.
This year, I vowed to figure out a dessert everyone could enjoy whether they saved room for it or not.
This whipped pumpkin custard has all the flavor and creaminess of pumpkin pie, in a light and airy format. A spoonful of Cranberry Jam adds a burst of color and sweet/tart chewiness, while Toasted Pecan Meringue crumbles amp up the crunch factor. It’s an insanely satisfying mix of flavors and textures, but not so daunting after a big meal.
Each component can be made well in advance, leaving you free on Thanksgiving to take care of all things savory. The Cranberry Jam only takes three ingredients and fifteen minutes to make, but will keep indefinitely in the fridge. (It’s super useful to have on hand, and one of my favorite recipes too.) The Pecan Meringues will hold up for weeks in an airtight container, and since they’re meant to be crumbled you don’t have to worry about piping them perfectly. Even the Pumpkin Custard can be made ten days in advance, then “Whipped” a day before to lighten its texture before serving. Once whipped, you can keep it in the fridge another day or two longer.
The custard turns out great whether you use pumpkin straight from the can, or a batch of homemade puree. Even butternut squash or sweet potatoes will do— just roast or microwave ‘em until tender, peel, and pulse in a food processor till creamy. A 1/4 ounce of fresh sage leaves, blended with the sweet potato, adds an especially nice touch for those looking to break away from pumpkin-centric desserts.
It takes next to no effort to make a batch of crispy Pecan Meringues, but if you’ve never tried making Macarons before, this dessert doubles as a no-pressure excuse give ‘em a go. It doesn’t matter if they they crack like crazy or turn out hollow— you’ll smash ‘em up anyway.
Whipped Pumpkin Custard, about eight 1/2 cup servings
1/4 ounce powdered gelatin
1 1/2 ounces whole milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 ounces egg yolk, from about 4 large eggs; whites reserved for the Pecan Meringues
5 ounces light brown sugar (for the custard)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
8 ounces whole milk
9 ounces pumpkin, butternut squash, or sweet potato puree
6 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces brown sugar (for whipping the cream)
Crumbled Pecan Meringues or broken macarons
1. Making the custard base:
Combine the gelatin, milk, and vanilla in a small bowl, stirring with a fork to thoroughly combine. You’ll also need a 4-cup capacity container and a mesh sieve on hand.
Put the egg yolks in a medium sized bowl, then whisk in the brown sugar a little at a time (if you add it all at once, it may be very difficult to stir). Whisk in the cinnamon, salt, and ginger too.
Meanwhile, bring the milk to a simmer in a 2 quart stainless steel pot. Once hot, shut off the heat to prevent the milk from scorching while you temper the yolks. Ladle a bit of hot milk into the yolks, whisking gently to combine. It’ll be crazy thick at first, but loosen as the milk incorporates. Keep adding more milk until the yolks feel warm and fluid. Pour the yolk-mixture into the pot, whisking to combine it with the remaining milk.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a flexible spatula, until the custard thickens noticeably, about 4 minutes.
Shut off the heat and whisk in the pumpkin puree. Strain the custard into the prepared container, then add the vanilla gelatin. Stir with a fork until the gelatin has completely melted and incorporated into the custard. Cover with plastic and refrigerate at least 4 hours (or up to 10 days) before proceeding.
2. Finishing the whipped custard:
With a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream and brown sugar until stiff peaks form. Meanwhile, transfer the cold custard to a medium sized bowl; stir with a spatula until creamy. Add the stiffly whipped cream in two additions, folding gently to combine.
Portion into individual dishes, cover, and refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving (or up to 24 hours). The whipped custard will technically keep for a week, but will begin to loose its airy texture after that first day. Not that it’ll be any less delicious…
3. Putting it all together:
Immediately before serving, top the Whipped Pumpkin Custard with a spoonful of Cranberry Jam a handful of crushed Meringues or Macarons.