Not just chocolate, friends. Chocolate and pumpkin!
FINALLY a proper dessert post!
Don’t misunderstand – I love cooking and I’m mostly pretty good at it. Mike, though? Mike is great at it. He’s creative, intuitive, adventurous, knowledgeable, and skilled. He’s got a great sense of flavors and a curious, inventive, and experimental nature in the kitchen. I’m still learning how to stretch myself in all those directions. While I’ve been cooking for decades I made my first family dinner when I was 10, with my mom’s generous help), I was a mom by 20, so almost half of my cooking adulthood was for offspring and family. While foodie kids exist, they’re the exception, and my kid wasn’t (isn’t) one of them. I had to have quick, healthful, unfussy, and offspring-friendly meals on the table every night; this didn’t lend itself to the missteps and failures that are inherent in learning how to be a really adventurous cook. It’s something I’ve really only been working on for the last 6 years or so, as my son grew into an adult. But Mike and his first wife didn’t have kids, so he’s had his entire foodie adulthood to learn and play with food and flavors, and, now in his 40s, he’s talented, skilled, and imaginative.
Baking, though? That’s my thing. Mike has rarely baked, but I’ve been baking consistently for over 30 years. That’s where I feel confident. I grew up closely watching my mom bake. After my parents split when I was 11, I started teaching myself to bake using my dad’s Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (yes, the one I mentioned in yesterday’s post). Baking is where I feel most comfortable, though of course I am still learning and growing. I hope I always will be, and not only because I can’t attractively decorate a cupcake to save my life.
What I’m saying is: thanks, chocolate prompt, for giving me an excuse to write about baking two days in a row!
Of course, it’s cast iron week, so I had some limitations with chocolate. And while I have made desserts in cast iron before, they’ve been fruit-based galettes. Never chocolate! But when I came across a recipe for a pumpkin & chocolate chip skillet cookie, mmmmmm, I knew that was the way to go.
We only use one brand of chocolate chips in our house: Equal Exchange. They’re fairly traded, they’re slavery-free, they’re vegan, and they are really good. I grabbed the bittersweet chips for this dessert, looking to that darker flavor to play off the pumpkin and warm spices.
In addition to the chocolate chips, I decided to add a little chocolate nuance by swapping out our regular vanilla extract for this incredible, locally-made chocolate-vanilla extract.
Though I make my own butter for spreading, I’ve started using Miyoko’s butter more and more for baking. I made my own baking sticks for years, and I’m not saying I’ll never go back to that, but they are a little bit of work – and the Miyoko’s butter is just so good for baking, and so easy, and free of palm oil!
You might spy another curiosity in that photo. Yeah, this recipe has not one but two secret ingredients! Instead of pumpkin pie spice (which I don’t have in a pre-mixed blend anyway), I reached for my beloved poudre douce. Poudre douce – literally, “sweet powder” – is a spice blend heavily used in Medieval baking and cooking. The recipe varied from cook to cook, but most, if not all, versions contained some combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. I love using poudre douce when a recipe calls for cinnamon, and I knew this warm and cinnamony blend would be a perfect substitution for the pumpkin pie spice in this recipe.
The recipe I was adapting (and both the link to the original and my adaptations are below) called for toffee pieces to be added with the chocolate chips. As all my fellow vegans know, vegan toffee can be hard to find and expensive when you do find it. And while I can make toffee, and really well, frankly, I didn’t feel like it. I wanted a mix-and-bake dessert because I didn’t want to be on my feet in the kitchen for ages. Instead, I substituted chopped roasted hazelnuts for the toffee pieces, thinking the almost bitter flavor of hazelnuts would really enhance the sweetness of the chocolate and pumpkin as well as the warmth of the poudre douce.
And boy howdy, was I ever right.
The pumpkin, the butter, the brown sugar, the chocolate, the spices, the hazelnuts – this dessert (really, it’s more of a cake than a cookie, but who’s quibbling?) is a symphony of flavors. I can’t imagine it would be half as good with the toffee / without the hazelnuts – they really elevate it. It’s just incredible.
Pumpkin, Chocolate, and Hazelnut Skillet Cake (adapted from Real Simple)
serves 12-16 – depending on how ya slice it!
- ½ cup vegan butter
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon chocolate vanilla extract (regular vanilla extract will work beautifully, too)
- ½ cup canned pumpkin
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon poudre douce (pumpkin pie spice would also be lovely)
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup vegan bittersweet chocolate chips
- ½ cup chopped hazelnuts
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 10.25-inch cast-iron skillet (a cake pan will also work). Beat butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla in a medium bowl on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 4 minutes. Beat in pumpkin until evenly incorporated.
Whisk together flour, salt, poudre douce, and baking soda in a bowl. Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute; repeat with remaining half. Mix in ¾ cup of the chocolate chips and all the hazelnut pieces.
Spread batter in prepared skillet and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup chocolate chips over the top of the cake. Bake until set in the middle and browned around the edge, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes.
The original recipe suggests eating this warm with vanilla ice cream; you can certainly do that, as it sounds delicious and indulgent. Personally, I wouldn’t want anything to obscure the flavors of this cake exactly as it is, and I wonder if the crumb isn’t just a little too delicate to stand up to ice cream. If you do try it that way, or if at all, really, please do let me know how it is!
So there you have it – a perfect fall dessert. Enjoy!
‘Til tomorrow, friends!