Today I spent the day with my best friend. We celebrated my latest and possibly most auspicious life change to date — accepting a position at a company I respect, to do the kind of work I love, to be surrounded by people I truly admire. While we toyed of going out in our finery and dining somewhere terribly chic, we decided to have lunch and spend hours catching up, flipping through cookbooks and bad magazines. I told her to come hungry because I would fix a lunch and a pumpkin banana mousse tart I was road-testing and she laughed and wondered aloud if I was crazy to make all this effort to celebrate me. Shouldn’t my celebration be effortless? And then we collapsed into guffaws because we’re difficult women (in the best way); we don’t believe in easy. When I opened the door and saw her expectant, proud face, I hugged her doubly hard and told her that this is what I love most — making food for others.
After we dined on a healthful lunch (kale was involved, because no one puts baby in the corner) and sliced into a feather-light mousse (we’re talking down pillow, light) we fell into this conversation about purpose, sense of self and service. Although my best friend is a rationalist, a former scientist, an atheist, she listened as I relayed a message I’d gleaned from church last week. The pastor emphasized that one arrives at personal significance, at happiness, when they are willing to serve others as opposed to feeling entitled to be served. To be humbled, to be giving, to sometimes inconvenience ourselves for the sake of others — this is the mark of someone who is significant. Not the fame-whore vying for screen-caps. Not the startlet traipsing into clubs donning handbags that cost more than cars. And certainly not the person who expects or feels wholly entitled to be served without taking time to bend down, in the rain, and tie the shoelaces of someone else.
So, in a very small way, me running out in the rain to purchase ingredients for our meal and spending hours making it, and cleaning up after, is my gift to my best friend. My gift to someone who walked in the rain to celebrate another life turn. Take a moment and inconvenience yourself for the sake of someone else.
Clearly, I want you to make this tart. Frankly, you’d be mad not to. The bananas imbue a creamy soft flavor to the pumpkin, and the whipped cream really lightens the texture. And the crust yields enormous contrast against the feather-like cream and the pumpkin tart.
Onward! Today I test-drove a recipe (adapted from the great Ina Garten) I plan on fixing for Christmas in Connecticut, and it was a complete and utter WIN. Be forewarned, there is a bit of technique involved (tempering the eggs, whipping cream, folding), but don’t let it own you. It’s just a tart.
For the crust:
2 cups graham cracker crumbs (14 crackers)
1/3 cup sugar*
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup ground, slivered, blanched almonds
For the filling:
1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup reduced-fat milk
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree*
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 large egg yolks
1 package (2 teaspoons) unflavored gelatin
1 ripe banana, finely mashed
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 cup cold heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar*
For the decoration:
1 cup (1/2 pint) cold heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar*
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Orange zest, optional
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, cinnamon, and melted butter in a bowl and mix well. Pour into an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and press evenly into the sides and then the bottom. Bake for 10 minutes and then cool to room temperature.
For the filling, heat the cream/milk, pumpkin, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a heat-proof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until hot, about 5 minutes. Whisk the egg yolks in another bowl, stir some of the hot pumpkin into the egg yolks to heat them, then pour the egg-pumpkin mixture back into the double boiler and stir well. Heat the mixture over the simmering water for another 4 to 5 minutes, until it begins to thicken, stirring constantly. Don’t step away from this or you will get pumpkin scrambled eggs. Seriously. You don’t want this nonsense. Remove from the heat.
Dissolve the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water. Add the dissolved gelatin, banana, and orange zest to the pumpkin mixture and mix well. Set aside to cool.
MINOR DIGRESSION: Today I chatted with a new baker at my local kitchen supply store. Nerve-wracked, she spoke of her fear of a sunken souffle, to which I responded: DON’T LET YOUR EGG WHITES OWN YOU. That sounds a little ridiculous, true, but don’t be paralyzed by technique. Whether you’re tempering eggs or folding in whipped cream, RELAX. This isn’t NASA. We’re not building a rocket over here. Take it slow and allow yourself to fail. The first time I made a cheesecake I used confectioner’s sugar rather than granulated. Need I say more?
Whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form (the cream will look silky, having lost all of the bubbles). Add the sugar and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks (translation: the cream stands up on your whisk). Carefully fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture and pour it into the cooled tart shell. Chill for 2 hours or overnight.
For the decoration, whip the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whisk until you have firm peaks. Pipe or spoon the whipped cream decoratively on the tart and sprinkle, if desired, with orange zest. Serve chilled.
RECIPE NOTES: I beg of you: do not use pumpkin pie filling recipe. First of all, it’s garbage. Second of all, it will ruin the whole recipe. Ensure the label on the can reads: “pumpkin puree” or pumpkin”. Also, I always use cane sugar. I will admit that I used a tad less sugar that what the recipe calls.
My piping skills are still pretty shameful (I cut a whole in a ziploc bag to pipe the tart) and we ended up covering the tart in cream, as it was not only more attractive but the light whipped cream against the contrasting texture of tart and crust was DIVINE.