Pumpkin Spice was always my least favorite Spice Girl, coming in even after Sugaran’ Spice.
There is something about that pumpkin-spice combination of cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg that offends my delicate sensibilities, and it is not the flavors themselves. The actual taste is wonderful.
The problem is its ubiquity. First there was pie, which is how Nature intended pumpkin spice to be used. But then came pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice Greek yogurt, pumpkin spice cereal, pumpkin spice (and sage) ravioli and even pumpkin spice dental floss.
My cousin, who lives near Washington, D.C., swears she saw a sign there for pumpkin spice pizza.
Clearly, pumpkin spice is not going to go away on its own. And so, like other things that will not go away on their own — appendicitis, leprosy, the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 — it has to be dealt with.
So I dealt with it by making a handful of dishes that are actually good uses of pumpkin spice. I also made my own pumpkin spice mix to use in most of these recipes because it was ridiculously easy to do.
I started off with a savory dish, figuring that everything else would be dessert. But when you are dealing with pumpkin spice, even something savory can turn out to be a little sweet.
Sweet Spiced Butternut Squash Soup is a clever idea. It takes regular butternut squash soup, which is plenty easy to make, and adds two complementary ingredients: maple syrup and pumpkin spice.
Maple syrup makes sense, of course, because it is so often added to roasted butternut squash to bring out an irresistibly nutty taste. And not enough is used to make it cloying; just two tablespoons for four to six generous servings.
But the pumpkin spice is a flash of genius. It doesn’t take much — just half a teaspoon for up to six servings — to put an autumnal sheen to the soup. It is thick, hearty and luscious.
Perhaps the ultimate expression of pumpkin spice that is not a pie or a latte is a cheesecake. I started with a Paula Deen recipe that was already good, eliminated some of the butter from the crust (because, you know, it’s Paula Deen, and the butter literally leaks out of the pan if you use the amount she calls for) and added a bunch of cheesecake tricks to make it great.
Even experienced cooks can sometimes have problems with their cheesecakes either cracking on top or being lumpy inside. That’s where the cheesecake tricks come in.
To keep the top from cracking, you should cook the cheesecake in a water bath; in other words, the cheesecake pan should be placed inside another pan that has boiling water in it (it’s easiest to put the one pan inside the other before you add the water). To keep water from seeping into the bottom of the springform pan, line the outside with aluminum foil.
To make a cheesecake nice and smooth, the cream cheese, sour cream and eggs have to be at room temperature, which means leaving them out for four to five hours. The eggs should be added last and stirred in by hand just until it is combined.
My cheesecake came out perfect — creamy and incredibly rich. And the pumpkin spice flavor, which in this recipe is created with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, somehow made it better with a touch of seasonal delight.
The thought occurred to me to make a spice cake with pumpkin spice, but I decided against it as being too obvious. So instead I went the brownie route and made Pumpkin Blondie Bars.
The blondie part is straightforward; it is not much different from a regular blondie, but with pumpkin purée and a dash of pumpkin spice. Where these bars really shine is in the topping, a swirled mixture of a cream cheese topping and the blondie dough.
This is not an overly sweet dessert. It does not have too much pumpkin, it does not have too much pumpkin spice, it does not have too much cream cheese, if there could possibly be such a thing. It is just right.
Obviously, the pumpkin spice was beginning to get to me, because I decided also to make PSL Jell-O Shots. That’s PSL, as in pumpkin spice latte, and yes, I said Jell-O shots.
I’ll admit, I was a little surprised that they turned out to be so good. But when you think about it, why wouldn’t they be?
They are just a mixture of coffee, Kahlúa, heavy cream and just enough pumpkin spice, turned semi-solid in gelatin. It really is like pumpkin spice latte Jell-O.
They are not just fun to eat, they are also delectable. In fact, pumpkin spice has, in me, a new convert.
But don’t expect me to like pumpkin spice pizza.