You never know when inspiration will strike.
Actually, it doesn’t always strike. Sometimes it just whispers. Or waves to you from somewhere off to your right and you just catch a glimpse of movement out of the corner of your eye, so you turn, and there it is.
No, wait, don’t leave! It gets better!
I saw a bin of these for a dollar at the grocery store several weeks ago and, hey, only a dollar! What the heck?
So I tossed the box in my cart and went on with my shopping, but as I strolled through the aisles, plucking what I needed from the shelves, my brain started trying to figure out what I was going to do with artificially flavored pumpkin spice instant pudding and pie filling.
Before I go further, I have to explain why it was so out of character and, well, shocking for me to pick up this box.
I come from a very brand-loyal family. My grandfather worked for Nabisco many, many years ago, back when it was more commonly known as the National Biscuit Company. Because of this, we only bought Nabisco cookies and crackers when I was growing up. Yes. Elves were the enemy. This is just the way it was, and I didn’t question it.
There were other brands, too. My mother worked in the test kitchen at Standard Brands years ago, before she was married, and so many of the products under the Standard Brands umbrella were OUR brands as well.
One of these was Royal. As in Royal gelatin, and Royal puddings and pie fillings. I remember, in particular, that if my sister or I referred to gelatin as “Jello” we’d get a glare from my mother.
Anyway, because this brand loyalty has been so deeply ingrained in me, purchasing a product other than what was on the “approved” list causes sweaty palms, light-headedness and mild nausea. It’s a lot like falling in love, actually, now that I think about it.
So when I picked up that box of Jello brand artificially flavored powder, little horrified voices whispered in the back of my mind, but I ignored them and kept going.
Hmmm…what could I do with this stuff? I’d grabbed it because it said “pumpkin spice” on the box and anything pumpkin sounds good to me. But I couldn’t see myself making a pie with it…and I didn’t think any of us would have any desire to eat a big bowlful of it as-is.
A thought drifted in from the left.
My niece, Natalie, made éclairs from scratch not long ago. Hmmm.
Our first French Fridays with Dorie recipe was going to be gougeres. Hmmm.
Pate a choux. Cream puffs. Profiteroles.
Pumpkin-filled éclairs? Possible.
Pumpkin-filled cream puffs or profiteroles (whatever you prefer to call them)? Also possible.
I batted these ideas around some more and picked up a little container of pecans on my way out of the store. I thought they might come in handy.
I decided to make little cream puffs, fill them with the pudding/pie filling stuff, and top with, say, a caramel sauce and some chopped pecans. That was the plan.
First thing I had to do was make the pudding.
2 cups of milk and one package of powdered artificial goodness later, the pudding was made and chilling in the fridge.
(Sorry, no picture. It was a kind of orangey-brown.)
Now for the profiteroles.
I used a basic choux recipe and added some cinnamon to it to give the dough a bit of flavor. I spooned little mounds of choux paste onto two baking sheets, froze one and baked off the other.
And third, I made a little caramel sauce, added some chopped pecans, and ta-da, I had all the components.
That day one of my son’s friends was over for the afternoon and for dinner. After a hearty feast of hot dogs, I served up my fancy little dessert to Alex, his friend, and Julia.
Alex and his friend had seconds, and I received perhaps one of the greatest compliments from an 8-year-old I’ve ever had. Alex’s friend said “I could eat this 24/7!” Well, then. I’d say dessert was a success.
I even took fancy-schmancy pictures so that I could write up a post and send images to Foodgawker and Tastespotting and all the others.
I couldn’t do it.
I felt…icky…using the boxed stuff. Just couldn’t bring myself to write it up. I mean really write it up, with all the step-by-step stuff. This post doesn’t count.
So, back to the drawing board.
This time I knew I had to make real pumpkin pie, only without the crust.
So I did.
I baked it in a deep soufflé dish and let it cool.
Then I baked off the rest of the cinnamon profiteroles that I’d put in the freezer. When they were cool, I sliced some open and filled them with REAL pumpkin (butternut squash, actually) pie filling. And instead of the caramel sauce, I whipped up some cream and added a dollop of that on top.
Think of it as a very slightly lighter version of pumpkin pie. Instead of the crust, you have the thinner profiterole shell.
The kids liked it, Bill liked it, and I liked it. More importantly, I didn’t feel icky about this version.
Oh, and if you wanted to, you could also go the caramel-sauce-and-chopped-pecans route with this version. I couldn’t – I’d used the rest of the pecans in some muffins. But I bet it would be great.
And here, in case you’d like it, is the recipe for the butternut squash filling I used in this dessert.
Feel free to use canned pumpkin or squash if you prefer.
Butternut Squash (or Pumpkin) Custard
(makes enough for one standard-sized pie or tart)
2 cups roasted, cooled butternut squash
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup packed brown sugar
6 oz plain yogurt
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Center a rack in the middle of the oven.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and beat well to combine.
Pour batter into large souffle dish or other large, oven-proof baking dish. The wider the dish, the shorter the baking time will be. Cover your dish with foil.
Place in oven and bake for about fifteen minutes, then reduce temperature to 325 and bake for an hour, or until center still has some movement, but doesn’t slosh around when you shake the dish.
Place souffle dish on a cooling rack and remove the lid. Allow to cool to room temperature before serving. Can be stored, wrapped tightly, in the refrigerator for several days, but it will begin to weep after a day or so, as a lot of custards do. It’ll still taste good, though!