Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice!

I may have mentioned at some point that although it’s clear the seasons are changing in China (slightly cooler temperatures, breezes, and recently, typhoon-like weather, amounting to pouring rain during in which they still shot off fireworks for the National Day celebration marking the beginning of October!), it’s also the time of year that makes me nostalgic for gorgeous leaves falling from the tree, and flavors like pumpkin spice- nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, all spice.  

Stovetop Espresso: Americanos

So, yesterday in a kitchen frenzy, I scurried to make my own pumpkin-inspired delights.  First, thing’s first though- a proper Saturday morning here at the Schnaff household starts with coffee, and because the Yunnan coffee I brought back from my recent trip was less-than-inspiring, I’ve been brewing it with the stovetop espresso maker to get the most out of the beans.

The little stovetop espresso we snagged at the Nanjing Ikea earlier this summer.

Stovetop espresso makers are not readily available in China, and the imports at local stores run you $100 US!  So, when you live in China, you dream, and scheme, and plot these types of acquisitions, and when in the big city this summer, aka Nanjing, my husband and I picked up this one-cup sized wonder at Ikea (we have a much superior Bialetti back home in storage in New Jersey, and featured in this lovely post at daily nibbles).  This one barely fits on our over-sized double burner range, but it does, and so, my morning in China this Saturday started with nothing other than a Caffee Americano!

Precariously perched.
A little hot water, milk, and sugar, and there you have it, a perky start to any morning.

Carrot Cake Pancakes

Coffee out of the way, it was onto pancakes, and specifically of the carrot cake variety, which I was inspired to make from a Chocolate-covered Katie post, but ultimately pulled together with help from this recipe.  I had to make a couple adjustments (substitute whole milk for buttermilk, and omit the ground ginger, because I didn’t have it), but the most labor-intensive part was toasting and grinding my own spices, including cloves and cinnamon, because I could only find them whole at the market in China.  The cinnamon-grinding kind of tore up my hands, because I didn’t have any suitable equipment for the task, either, but it all paid off in the end.

The slow work of cinnamon-grinding.
We do it old school at my house, spice-grinding that is, with mortar and pestle.

We ate the pancakes with butter and maple syrup, and the spices were bold and homey.  Even though I didn’t grind the carrots as finely as I should have, the pancakes held together, and really their only flaw was not being very fluffy (which I blame on inferior Chinese flour, not on the chef, of course!).  It was like eating lovely carrot cake muffins, and not too sweet, either, in pancake form.

Carrot cake pancake batter.
In the pan, majorly misshapen, but thankfully that didn’t effect the taste!
Consuming my creation.
Some misshapen, lovely leftovers.

Crockpot Pumpkin Spice Cake

I’d been a doing a little research, and not only is it possible to use a Japanese Pumpkin to make pumpkin pie filling, but it’s possible, and apparently preferable to make your own pumpkin spice (a combination of nutmeg, cloves, ginger, all spice, and cinnamon, give or take a few).  So after completing the carrot pancakes, I set aside the leftover ground spices (cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg), chopped up my Japanese pumpkin (a slightly smaller version of the one’s were used to, which I unfortunately forgot to take a photo of), and got it on the stove to start steaming.

Japanese pumpkin chopped.
You’re supposed to set aside the seeds, dry, and roast them. One of the many times I wish I had an oven!
Some steamed pumpkin coming right up!

I followed this recipe for how to steam and break down the pumpkin and doctor it to become pumpkin pie filling.  The only tips I would add is that you should really try to chop the pumpkin into even slices for even steaming (duh).  I was in a hurry, and only steamed 20-30 minutes, so some parts were more done than others.  It seems steaming it longer also saves you time and energy, because you don’t have to blend or mash as much.  I also added a little less evaporated milk to the mix, because it’s scarce in Chinaland.

Finally, I followed Jane at Eye It.Try It.’s recipe for her vegan gingerbread pumpkin bread to make the batter, which I then placed in the crockpot for four to five and a half hours on high, lining the crockpot again with baking paper.  I did not do the vegan recipe, instead adding an egg, and because I didn’t have baking soda, I tripled the baking powder, so I ended up doing about 4 tsp of the stuff, practically wiping out my supply (hopefully someone is sending me some for my birthday).  I also substituted canola oil, regular flour, and skipped the ground ginger (again all due to Chinese limitations).

When I poured the mix into the crockpot, I ended up scooping about two cups off the top, because I was afraid it wouldn’t cook through, given what a large amount the batter and pumpkin filling made together.  In the end, though, it did get done, and I also made the buttercream frosting to go on top.  Although true to other crockpot cakes, it was a bit more dense (and the cake sunk a bit as we let it stand!), the consistency reminded my husband and our Western houseguests of pumpkin pie, which was a nice comfort here in China.

Pumpkin Gingerbread Spice Cake w/ Buttercream, the crockpot version!

Yesterday was a whirlwind of pumpkin spice baking for me; meanwhile my husband was tackling his own culinary projects (homemade hummus w/ homemade tahini, and making his own grilled peppers, chicken, and adobo sauce for today’s chicken salad lunch and an upcoming challenge- mole sauce!  Really too bad he’s discontinued his own food blog, right?), and we were literally bumping into one another and vying for space in our tiny kitchen.

Suffice it to say, I’m looking forward to some less labor intensive meals over the next few days, including putting that salvaged pumpkin batter to use in some pumpkin spice lattes and pumpkin oatmeal.  Although, I may also sneak a piece of that pumpkin cake for breakfast...shhh, don’t tell!
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2 thoughts on “Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice!

  1. My goodness that looks good! Definitely, crockpots make a more pudding like cake! Maybe you need to go nuts and find a stovetop oven next – ask the cake shop downstairs if they will late you use theirs ! Are you finding ginger root at your markets? You just grate that too…a little goes a long way…but it is also great sliced and fried for flavor in oil as in a stir fry…

    1. I’m having too much fun with crockpot baking to invest in an oven, now, hehe. I did think of using fresh ginger, which we have in abundance, and often use in Chinese stir fries (I love it), but I was afraid it would overpower. To my taste, the pumpkin cake wasn’t missing much without it, anyway. Maybe I’ll bake one for Thanksgiving when I’m in town?!

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