About 10 years ago you couldn’t open a food or cooking magazine (you know… before Pinterest) this time of year without seeing a pumpkin-brownie cheesecake. Brownie batter base, pumpkin and cream cheese custard, and more brownie batter piped into the custard to form the classic face of a jack o’ lantern. I made a few, I ate a few more than that, and it was easy to see why everyone loved them. They tasted great, chocolate and pumpkin being an unlikely pair, or at least not one you immediately jump to. They were fairly easy because the concept was, I have to imagine, developed by baking mix manufacturers, so recipes always called for brownie mix and other shortcuts. They were cute, giving you a picturesque, if not jagged-toothed smile of a Halloween jack o’ lantern. The latter was more theoretical, though—for me, my little design never turned out quite as nice as the photograph. It was the original “Pinterest Fail”.
It was also a great excuse to make a cheesecake.
That was a painful line to write. There’s no need to excuse cheesecake. They feed a lot of people, and they’re really extremely simple to make once you have the right tools and know what you’re doing. Also, I’m the Patron Saint of Cheesecake (I’m only partially joking), so anytime there’s the slightest hint of an event needing one I snatch up the opportunity right away.
Here’s the unavoidable thing with cheesecake, though: it takes a long time. It’s totally inactive on your part, but after it’s done baking in the oven you have to crack the oven door until it’s cooled a little, open it a little more, and more, and then start to pull the wrack out, gradually, all in an effort to make sure the cake cools as gradually as possible to prevent it from cracking or loosing its satin texture. Like I said, not terribly complex or anything, but you need to have an entire day that you can, from time to time, reintroduce it to the world outside of the oven. There’s not always time. Which leads me to this.
This pumpkin mousse is so incredibly easy it will blow your mind. It sort of follows the same basic principle as the No-Bake Chocolate Creamsicle Pie, using marshmallows to give it some structure and stability. The gelatin in the marshmallows is what does this—and thank god because melting a bunch of mini marshmallows is so much easier than dealing with actual gelatin. I have spotty luck at best with it. Here it’s very simple: melt the minis, some canned pumpkin, tiny bit of butter and some spices together in a saucepan. Let it cool, fold it into some whipped cream and pipe it into some 4-ounce glasses that you’ve pressed a chocolate wafer crumble in to.
I’m not sure where the royal we stands with “dessert shooters”—they’re not quite as trendy as waffles or vegetables in dessert, they’re not as tired as something deconstructed, or as passé and loathed as anything served in a martini glass—but I don’t care. It works here. (Not to get too off topic, but this mini dessert trend needs to go away.) But I like them because they’re contained. Since their pre-portioned you don’t have to worry about slicing up a cheesecake and making a mess, and if you have a big party or cocktail party you can set a bunch of these out and everyone can just grab one. Portable dessert.
As for the wafer crumble; you can certainly use any store-bought chocolate wafers you want. Oreos would even work. In fact, it was only when I sat down to write this—eating one of these, of course—that it finally hit me; you could make a graham cracker crumble to put in the bottom. For Thanksgiving, if you’re tired of the same ol’ pumpkin pie it’d be a worthy alternative, but for Halloween I not only love the look of the black and orange, but also the idea that the chocolate base is my Halloween candy fix. Anyway, I’m giving you the recipe for chocolate wafers if you want to make them.
Very simply, pulse some flour, sugar, brown sugar, Dutch processed cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and shards or shavings of dark chocolate in a food processor until it’s combined. Cut a softened stick of butter into tablespoon-size pats and pulse that into the mix until it all resembles wet sand. Then, with the blade running, stream in a mix of whole milk and vanilla extract until it all comes together. Turn it out onto some plastic wrap, form it into a log and roll it out to about 12” long/1 ½” diameter. Wrap it up, put it on a tray, and stash it in the freezer for an hour. If you’re going to make these to serve them whole in some way and not crumble them then you’ll want to take the log out and roll it after 10 minutes or so to keep it round (obviously the underside that sits on the tray will flatten). If, however, you’re making them for some rubbly crumble then don’t worry. (Note to any kitchenware makers out there… some sort of contraption that you can put logs of cookie dough on that keeps their bottom rounded would be a useful invention)
To make the mousse, put the mini marshmallows, a little butter, some canned pumpkin and some spices in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir it pretty frequently so it all melts down evenly and nothing sticks. For the spices, I use cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, of course, but I also like a little hint of cardamom. I have some whole green cardamom pods so I just crush it a little and throw it in. If you have ground cardamom seeds though feel free to use that—just a pinch.
Remove it from the heat and let it cool. While it’s cooling, crumble up some of the wafers and toss them with a little melted butter and mini semi-sweet chocolate chips. Put 3 tablespoons of this crumble into each of your eight 4-ounce glasses and press it down a little (I used a big shot glass).
Once the mousse is cooled, remove the cardamom pod. Whip some heavy cream with a little powdered sugar until it forms stiff peaks. Plop a big spoonful of the cream into the cooled pumpkin mixture and beat it in to help lighten it a little. Fold in the remaining cream until everything is totally combined.
Transfer it into a piping bag and evenly distribute the mousse among the glasses.
All these need to do is be moved to the fridge, covered and left to chill for at least an hour before digging in!