When planning my Thanksgiving menu, I wanted a dessert that could be made ahead of time, and that was also a little different than the usual seasonal pie. You all know I have pie issues.
I thought about making my favorite chocolate-pear cake or a spice cake with cream cheese frosting, but a slice of cake seemed heavy after one of the biggest meals of the year. I considered investing in a kitchen torch to make pumpkin creme brulee, but decided that I didn't really need an extra gadget. But the custard idea stuck, and in the end, I decided to tweak it a bit and made pumpkin mousse.
The mousse, by the always-reliable Ina Garten, is easy enough, just pumpkin mixed with autumnal spices and a hint of orange zest, then lightened up with a good deal of whipped cream. A little bit of gelatin helps the mixture set a bit, but it still stays smooth and silky.
To gussy it up a bit, I layered the mousse with vanilla whipped cream and crushed ginger cookies, like a parfait. One tip: use a glass with a wide mouth, like a wine goblet or martini glass. My slender stemless champagne flutes seemed like a good idea but it was a mess getting the parfait inside of them, let alone in neat layers. I had to lick my fingers a lot during this process, and imagined Ina shaking a disapproving finger at me.
Imperfect layers aside, this was the hit of Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law Judy, a dessert expert in her own right, absolutely swooned over it. Who needs pie, anyway?
Pumpkin mousse parfaits
Adapted from Ina Garten's recipe via Food Network.
(Serves 8 to 10 people)
1/4 cup dark rum (or water)
1 packet (2 tsp.) unflavored gelatin powder
1 (15-ounce can) pumpkin (not pie filling)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 extra-large egg yolks
2 tsp. grated orange zest
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 cups cold heavy cream
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or seeds from 1/2 vanilla bean)
Sweetened whipped cream
8 to 10 chopped ginger cookies
Crystallized ginger, for decoration, optional
Place the rum in a heat-proof bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside for 10 minutes for the gelatin to soften.
In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, granulated sugar, brown sugar, egg yolks, 1 tsp. of orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Set the bowl of gelatin over a pan of simmering water and cook until the gelatin is clear. Immediately whisk the hot gelatin mixture into the pumpkin mixture. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the heavy cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture.
To assemble, spoon some of the pumpkin mixture into parfait glasses, add a layer of whipped cream, then some chopped cookies. Repeat, ending with a third layer of pumpkin. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight. To serve, top with whipped cream and extra ginger cookies and orange zest, or slivered crystallized ginger.