There are two week until Thanksgiving. Two. Short. Weeks. And as tradition would have it, I’m hosting again. And though, it’s my favorite holiday, you know how much I’ve thought about the menu? As in, sat down, really thought about it, without getting distracted or bogged down by work? Um, let’s just say I’ve been way better prepared in the past years. As in months before my menu was finalized and set. And this time? Well, I’m still mulling it over. Two. Weeks. Before. Can you sense the slight panic in my voice? So tonight, I’m sitting down with a pad of paper, a stack of books and magazines and finalizing it all. I will be well-prepared this year. I just have to keep saying it to myself over and over until I’m fully organized for the holiday.
Every year, I bring back a few dishes that have gathered a loyal following: the porcini mushroom soup – my favorite soup as a child; and the pumpkin bread pudding souffle (please ignore ugly pictures, this is an amazing dish!), inspired by the incredible Charlie Phan of the Slanted Door in San Francisco. Part souffle, part bread pudding, it wins new fans every Thanksgiving at my table. And this time of year I’m a little pumpkin obsessed – I’ve even snuck them into cupcakes. And seeing pumpkins at farmers’ markets makes my heart sing – the beautiful spread of orange cheers me up on a cold, gray autumn morning. I can’t help but smile to myself when I see them – so bright and cheery! And when I take walks in my neighborhood, coffee in hand, my camera dangling at my side, looking at all the brownstones with their pumpkins and harvest wreaths – I think it’s moments like these that I fall in love with the Northeast, and New York, in particular, a little more every time, realizing that despite the cold winters, short daylight hours and more layers of clothing than sounds reasonable, this is my home. This chilly, rainy, short-on-parking-space city is my home. The thought of living elsewhere makes my heart ache.
This is the season where I tend to do a lot of walking in my neighborhood. Every Saturday, in fact, before I head over to the farmers’ market, I take a walk around the brownstones, sipping coffee, taking pictures, watching dogs chase pigeons. And after my walk and market visit, I come home, my bags overflowing with produce. Lately, there have been lots of squash, apples and pears in my bag. And pumpkin. I cannot resist pumpkin, try as I might. Just putting it as my dining table centerpiece cheers up my whole apartment.
Roasting pumpkins is incredibly easy and rewarding. And while, it’s easy enough to pop open a can of it at home (when you didn’t plan ahead, which often happens to me), if you have a little extra time on hand, and want to fill your home with the most comforting, delicious smell – you should give it a go. An hour at 400 Farhenheit or so (check online as I tend to just sort of eye my roasting time) and you have fantastic, soft, freshly-roasted pumpkin. I have to restrain myself from eating it right away armed with a spoon, a little butter and some fleur de sel.
But I’m not here to tell you about eating roasted pumpkins, delicious though they may be. I’m here about these swirly, pretty brownies here. More like a pumpkin chocolate coffee cake (since when do we complain chocolate?) they are tremendous. I mean, tremendous. Moderately sweet, moist, and chocolatey, they are really perfect to have on hand the morning after Thanksgiving. When the turkey somnolence has not worn off and you can barely even put a pot of coffee on, these will revive you back to normalcy. In fact, I have visions of myself, dirty dishes in the sink (because I am not washing them the same night, no way no how) coffee in one hand, this brownie in another sitting on my couch in pajamas while my father has an argument with himself about politics and my mother tries to get me to start cleaning. In fact, the prospect of eating these the morning after turkey day, takes all the anxiety away about not being adequately prepared. In fact, I’m even looking forward to it. And it makes two weeks seem like a very long time away, indeed.
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining.
2. Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.
3. Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.
4. Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don’t set.
5. With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts.
6. Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Cut into 16 squares.