Thanksgiving Day. Characterized by making more food than can be comfortably consumed in one sitting, football and being grateful for all of it. Bring it on, I say. At the end of the holiday bacchanal there is always dessert.
There are those who claim that there is always room for pie. I have found that this often isn't the case. After a very large carb-heavy meal complete with nap-inducing turkey, a slice or two of pie is asking a lot of the average digestive system. But it's always nice to end a large meal with something sweet.
Since pumpkin is traditional why not lighten it up a bit, but keep the flavors? Rather than heavy pumpkin pie filling, I decided to explore the possibilities of a pumpkin mousse. Mousse has a reputation for being tricky, but in reality they are one of the easiest desserts to throw together. Because the main ingredient is air, any flavors used come through very cleanly without a lot of fat.
This pumpkin mousse recipe is an old one from Gourmet magazine. It's very hard to mess up and easy to make in stages. It also keeps well when made in advance. This year, I'm freezing the results to see how they do as a light ice cream. I expect to see a successful variation.
Normally, mousse begins by whipping egg whites or cream to a soft peak stage, then folding in the other ingredients. Folding is the key technique to a successful mousse. Folding means scraping the spoon or spatula along the bottom of the bowl and lifting the ingredients up and over the top. Doing this incorporates the flavors together without deflating the air that has been whipped in. Stirring will flatten the air bubbles and the result will be a tasty - yet flat - porridge.
The recipe here starts with plain gelatin, which will provide stability and make the final product easier to serve. The gelatin could probably be left out, but be prepared for a softer, more airy mousse.
This recipe is also a little more labor intensive, since it begins by making a custard with the egg yolks. The advantage to this is that the eggs are cooked to a safe temperature - reducing the risk of salmonella - and melting the sugar, producing a smooth and fluffy mousse.
When whisking the gelatin, eggs and sugar together, make sure that the water is not too hot and the bottom of the bowl is not touching the water. Both of those can result in the eggs scrambling rather than blending.
The whisking is the laborious part, so if any well-meaning relative are hanging about trying to help, have them whisk while you wander by periodically and check the temperature. That really is the best way (for you).
If buying all the spices seems impractical, substitute an equal amount of pumpkin pie spice. When everything is blended and set, spoon or pipe the mousse into cups and garnish with caramel sauce, candied ginger or gingersnaps.
A great local wine to pair with this is Nevada City Winery's late harvest zinfandel. Rich, but not overbearing, it complements the spices very nicely. Have a lovely Thanksgiving.
1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin (less than 1 envelope)
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
3 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 cups well-chilled heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
In a medium metal bowl sprinkle gelatin over cold water to soften 1 minute. Whisk in yolks and sugar and set bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook egg mixture, whisking constantly, until an instant-read thermometer inserted 2 inches into mixture registers 160°F. (Tilt bowl to facilitate measuring temperature.) Remove bowl from pan and with an electric mixer beat egg mixture until cool and thickened, about 5 minutes (mixture will be very sticky). Beat in pumpkin and spices. Chill pumpkin mixture, covered, until thickened and cool but not set, about 1 hour.
In a bowl with cleaned beaters beat cream with vanilla until it just holds stiff peaks and fold into pumpkin mixture gently but thoroughly. Transfer mousse to a large pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip and pipe decoratively in glasses (or simply spoon mousse into glasses). Chill mousses, uncovered, until firm, about 3 hours, and up to 1 day (loosely cover after 3 hours).