Halloween's zipping down fall's highway and will be here before we know it.
I'm a lousy pumpkin carver, but I still having pumpkins around during the season and that got me thinking about all the delicious ways to eat pumpkin: pie, soup, ice cream, cheesecake, cookies, cupcakes and even mousse.
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Pumpkin cookies stand out to me as the least successful treat as the flavor generally falls flat and the texture leans toward cakelike.
Deciding to challenge my leanwizard's skill, I set out to create a flavor-packed pumpkin cookie that keeps fat and fat and calories within reasonable boundaries.
Since pumpkin cookies aren't a popular favorite, my cookbooks yielded a few standard recipes. Heading to the web led me to a blog, Erin Cooks (erincooks.com), where Erin wrote: "Pumpkin cookies are notoriously fluffy, misshapen, and much too cakelike for my taste." Hear, hear.
Erin wrote that she made pumpkin cookies from a Boston Globe recipe and mistakenly dumped all the wet ingredients plus sugar into her mixer's bowl and began mixing, instead of creaming the butter and sugar together first. Her error produced a less cakelike texture and nicely shaped cookies.
I took Erin's recipe into my kitchen, I began to see if I could improve on it. Erin used a stick of butter. In an unusual twist for this lean guy I decided against trimming the butter. The recipe makes 36 cookies and substituting applesauce would have only saved 5 calories a cookie so I looked else where to improve the nutrition profile.
I knew that I wouldn't be able to produce a crisp cookie because that healthy fiber in pumpkin is what promotes a cakelike structure in pumpkin cookies. Nothing to do about that.
Since chocolate and cinnamon chips were Erin's cookie bad boys, I added ground clove and ginger to her cinnamon and nutmeg hoping to spice-up my cookies' flavor notes. And, I switched from high-fat chips to low-fat, fiber-rich seedless raisins.
I prepared a batch following Erin's mixing method, dropped my cookies onto a parchment-lined jelly roll pan, and popped them into the oven. The tantalizing aroma filled my kitchen, but the cookies didn't spread into nice circles and seemed higher and more cakelike than I'd hoped.
For the next pan, I removed the parchment, lightly sprayed my pan with vegetable oil and flattened my cookies out very slightly (they're sticky, so that wasn't easy). Voila! fairly round cookies with more even thickness.
Once cooled, my cookies were soft and delicious, but not as sweet as I'd hoped, even though my raisin substitution should have bumped up the sweetness.
My solution: a drizzle of simple (only two ingredients!) lemon icing.
Finally I tasted one, even though the icing hadn't set. Amazing! The lemon delivered its own distinct flavor and added just enough oomph to complement the pumpkin cookie's rich flavors.
I shared the cookies at a neighborhood party to see how they fared against the other desserts. Kids went for them in a big way (lured by the icing) and adults loved for the sophisticated flavor.
Try them for a Halloween party or your next fall gathering.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.