It’s late on a warm Monday afternoon. The sun is slowly dipping towards the horizon, leaving weathered streaks of gold upon the sky. I’ve recently returned from work, mentally depleted and weary boned. A glass of cool, clear water sits on the kitchen bench as I move, trance-like, between the stove and the sink.
This is my wind-down space; a capsule of relaxation and creativity. My hands move on autopilot, chopping, stirring and selecting herbs as my mind slowly loosens from the demands of the day. Potatoes softly bubble in water. Steam hisses in a hot, starch-scented cloud. Garlic crackles in olive oil, fragrant gold spitting against glistening black.
I’m sure most of you would agree that there’s something beautifully organic about cooking. Something intrinsic and habitual, corporeal and instinctive, hands working in synchronicity with the subconscious mind. Most days, I can cook without thinking. In fact, my mind wanders elsewhere whilst my hands do the work. Today, I drifted by the ocean in a cloud of sea spray as sweetlip snapper crisped on the stove. When cooked, the flaky white flesh was devoured with a drizzle of lemon oil, smoked sea salt, charred asparagus, roasted potatoes and warm, tapenade-doused cherry tomatoes bursting from their skins.
It was good. It took care of itself. I just supervised the harmonious simplicity.
But today’s post isn’t about fish or potatoes, relaxation or heavy limbs. It’s about pumpkin; specifically, ‘pumpkin in a can’ sent to me by a beautiful woman named Mackenzie who lives in Minneapolis (USA) with her husband Mike and their gorgeous pup, Abby.
Some of you might recognize Mackenzie by her blogging moniker, Susie Freaking Homemaker. If you’re not yet acquainted, I’d encourage you to visit her beautiful blog space very soon. Mackenzie is the queen of candid photography, nourishing recipe posts, real life stories, biting humour and workout inspiration. She writes from her heart, and what overflows is an obvious passion for food, life, health and humanity. She’s beautiful inside and out, and I now feel lucky enough to count her as a friend (though we’re yet to meet). I hope that you’ll soon feel the same.
Anyway, back to the pumpkin story. Some weeks ago, Mackenzie and I had a quick ‘chat’ on one of her blog posts about unique products from our respective countries; mostly those that the other dreadfully ‘missed’ or was yet to try (Tim Tams and Australian Kettle chips for Mackenzie, Reese’s peanut butter cups and Starbucks coffee for me). What followed was a casual agreement to send each other a tailored ‘care package’ full of these delicious treats… from one bank of the Pacific ocean to the other.
One week later, my package arrived (whilst I was still gradually scrambling to put Mackenzie’s together; organization is not my strong point). It was heavy, brown and curious. After ripping off some duct tape, I caught sight of the characteristic orange and black Reese’s candy packaging. I’m pretty sure my eyes beamed like headlights at midnight. A further rummage revealed two bags of fragrant Starbucks coffee beans, a gorgeous handwritten card and four cans of Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin.
I stared at the cans curiously. Australians don’t sell pumpkin in cans. Heck, we hardly even eat sweet pumpkin things, with the exception of the Queensland Premier’s wife’s pumpkin scones.
One week after receiving my care package, I’d nibbled through some of the Reese’s candy whilst trawling the internet for recipes using canned pumpkin. There are many, particularly as Americans are currently in full autumn (fall) mode in the lead-up to Thanksgiving.
Mackenzie has some great ones on her blog, including chewy, pecan-crusted Pumpkin Whoopie Pies and a recipe for an amped-up Pumpkin Pie with a fluffy cream cheese layer and a salted pretzel crust. Both sounded delicious. However, after reading the ingredients I realized that both contained American ingredients that couldn’t be sourced in my home town. Darn it.
I ended up putting the call out on facebook for favourite pumpkin recipes. I gratefully received lots of wonderful, gooey, pumpkin-y recipe links that I’ll be exploring further in the coming weeks, including this one from Stephie over at Eat Your Heart Out (yum!). However, Sunday’s bake-a-thon called for something simpler, something utilizing common ingredients in an Australian pantry: flour, oil, eggs, spices and oats.
I ended up with a dense, spicy, moist and delicious pumpkin cake based on this recipe from Food.com (however, I modified it significantly; you know me by now). It was indescribably delicious. Indescribably. I never thought that sweet pumpkin could be so good.
*Thanks Mackenzie! I hope that you get your Aussie care package soon.
Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Cinnamon Oat Streusel
Makes 1 x 22cm cake or 2 medium loaves
- 2 cups (425g/1 can) canned pumpkin
- 2 cups organic raw caster sugar (substitute brown sugar)
- 1 cup water, at room temperature
- 1 cup rice bran oil (substitute vegetable oil/other mild oil)
- 2 large free-range eggs
- 3 free-range egg yolks
- 2 cups plain flour
- 1/2 cup wholemeal plain flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup hazelnut meal
- 3 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 3/4 tsp ground cloves
- 2 tbsp pure maple syrup, to glaze (optional)
- 3/4 cup plain flour
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 cup organic raw caster sugar
- 1/4 cup rolled wholegrain oats
- 1/4 cup crushed hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts
- 1/2 – 3/4 cup soft butter (test for consistency)
*this recipe will make extra. I like to freeze it in plastic wrap for later use. You can also bake it on a greased tray alongside the cake for a crumbly fruit or ice cream topping.
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin or two medium loaf pans. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine your pumpkin, sugar, water, oil, eggs and egg yolks. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Sift your measured dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Add them slowly to the pumpkin mixture, whisking as you go.
The finished mixture should be thick, smooth and glossy. Pour into your cake tin/loaf tins, then set aside whilst you prepare the streusel.
To make the streusel: Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Using your fingers, carefully rub in small chunks of butter until you have a crumbly mixture that sticks together in chunks.
Crumble the mixture slightly and distribute it in small crumbles/chunks all over the surface of the cake (ensure that the layer isn’t too think or the cake won’t rise; any extra streusel can be baked alongside the cake on a greased tray and eaten with the cake or over ice cream).
Oven bake for 60-70 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake emerges with only a few moist crumbs attached. Whilst still hot, brush with maple syrup (if desired). Cool on a wire rack.
I baked two of these cakes, one of which was eaten on Saturday night at a friend’s house with a side of Jamie Oliver’s summer berry and yoghurt pavlova (baked by my beautiful friend Erin). So good. This cake is wonderful on its own, at room temperature, on its own or with a thin lashing of cream cheese. However, if you’re wanting a delicious dessert, warm up a slice and serve it à la mode with ice cream and/or cream and a drizzle of maple syrup.