In this article we will be carving pumpkins and baking some scrumptious and not so spooky Halloween treats: pumpkin seed cookies and pumpkin spice cupcakes. You can find the easy pumpkin recipes below, but first we’ll start with the carving.
The tradition of pumpkin carving is thought to have started in 19th century Ireland where they carved jack o’lanterns and spooky faces into turnips and pumpkins to ward off evil spirits. These vegetables were used due to the high availability during harvest time – pumpkins caught on because the carving pumpkin variety is much easier to carve and gives off a better glow as well as being larger than their turnip counterparts.
To grow large carving pumpkins yourself, you’ll need to carefully prune and care for your pumpkin plant all year. We’ll be writing a great post on how to grow pumpkins soon, but the basics are: water, sunshine, space and pruning. To make a huge pumpkin you need to pick just 1 to grow per plant. Cut off the smaller pumpkins and guide the plant to focus on just growing that 1. Everyday you’ll need to prune the vine, ensuring all nutrients are being sent to that one pumpkin. Your efforts could be rewarded with a prize-winning pumpkin! Growing a large pumpkin variety is essential for pumpkin carving as well as careful care and nurturing. Check back here in May for our 2018 pumpkin planting blog!
The 3 best pumpkin carving varieties are:
Jack o’Lantern Pumpkins – the traditional carving pumpkin that is normally orange but can come in a variety of different colours from white to stripy green. Their flesh is thin and easy to carve.
Cinderella Pumpkins – known as Rouge Vif d’Estampes in France. These are large, traditional looking pumpkins that have deep gorges. They aren’t the easiest to carve but they look fantastic if you do!
Sugar Pumpkins – also known as pie pumpkins. These make squat, little jack o’lanterns that are cute to look at. The flesh is very tasty making them perfect for cooking with.
Anyway, enough pumpkin propaganda, let’s get stuck in to the pumpkin carving.
Halloween is a time for creativity and storytelling and it is a great opportunity to put aside life’s worries and engage in a little spooky silliness. Pumpkin carving takes a little time and patience however we found it surprisingly therapeutic and the finished pumpkins can be left on your doorstep for your neighbours to admire (or despise) for days.
THIS PART SHOULD NOT BE LEFT TO CHILDREN, ALWAYS CARVE RESPONSIBLY
Choosing a Halloween Pumpkin
When picking your pumpkin variety, you need to consider a few things. Are you more interested in carving out amazing tasting pumpkin flesh or carving a great design? How much space do you have to display your pumpkin and how much time do you have to carve it?
For easy to carve pumpkins that come in all sizes, go for your usual supermarket jack o’lantern pumpkin that they’ll have an abundance of at this time of year (they are also extremely cheap, ASDA currently has small children size ones for 50p). For something that looks or tastes better and will stand out in your neighbourhood, shop around for a Cinderella or several cute sugar pumpkins.
When selecting your pumpkin, look for a smooth surface on one side at least for carving. You also need to ensure that it stands flat by itself and doesn’t roll about. Scarring on pumpkins is quite common and you will be hard pressed to find a pristine pumpkin, but when the lights are out and it is lit by candles no one will notice any cosmetic damage.
Next you need to set up your work station. If you don’t have a vinyl mat for your table indoors, do this outside as pumpkin carving can get quite messy. You will need:
- Tea lights
- Tin foil
- Marker pen
- Metal spoon
- 2 bowls for collecting guts and flesh
- Large carving knife
- Small, thin, sharp knife
- Vegetable peeler
- Scalpel (optional)
Gutting The Pumpkin
To start, sit down your pumpkin flat on the table. With your marker pen draw a circle around the stem at the top. This will be the hole you’re carving into and placing candles, so make sure it’s big enough for you to get your arm in and reach your hand in.
Using your carving knife, go in at a slight angle with the tip of the knife slanting towards the stem of the carving pumpkin. This means that once you’ve carved the pumpkin inners out, the lid won’t just fall through to the bottom.
The lid might be attached by stringy guts so pull it out of the carving pumpkin and start by cleaning it up. Pull off the guts using your hands (much easier than using a spoon) and place any seeds in your seed collecting bowl.
Next, reach into your carving pumpkin and grab hold of the seeds and stringy pumpkin guts. Pull these out and put in your seed bowl for cleaning later and turning into our scrummy cookies.
Remove all the guts you can with your hand, occasionally getting in there with the spoon to loosen them from the pumpkin walls.
Next you need to start removing the flesh. Begin with the lid, using your sharp knife to cut off the inner flesh at the bottom in chunks. Leave enough so that the lid is still firm and holds its shape well.
Then carve out some of the flesh inside the pumpkin. Using your metal spoon, scrap the side going from the base right to the top. Turn your pumpkin a degree, then scrape again. Keep going round your pumpkin to evenly scrape out pumpkin flesh.
To start with the pumpkin may come out as little flecks but as you get going you’ll find that it comes out in strips instead. Save all of this in your bowl earmarked for collecting pumpkin flesh. The thinner you carve the insides, the easier it will be to carve out the face and get a great glow from the candle.
Keep carving until you have enough pumpkin flesh for your recipes or your pumpkin has thinner walls. We recommend trying to get as close to an inch in thickness as possible.
Lastly, carve inside the pumpkin at the very base to make sure it is flat: if it’s bumpy your candle won’t sit properly or will fall over. If you’re using plug in fairy lights (a safer but less traditional method) you can skip this bit.
If you’re using your pumpkin flesh for our cupcake recipe, cover this bowl in clingfilm. Also, store in the fridge if you’re going to make them tomorrow rather than later today. The seeds will need to be toasted anyway so they’re fine to leave out in the open to dry although covering them with a piece of kitchen towel is probably best for hygiene reasons.
Carving the Pumpkin
Wipe down the outsides of your pumpkin as it’s probably covered in a little pumpkin goo from carving the insides.
Next the exciting bit: picking a design to carve. First, look at your pumpkin and decide where the design is going. A smooth side is best, but if you’re pumpkin is scarred and gnarly all around then you can play to this. Use the scars to draw a warped face onto the pumpkin and be creative!
The best designs don’t have large gaps or chunks removed. If you have a wide gaping mouth, the candle will be very visible and the naked flame will be the brightest point. If you have small gaps and hollowed out parts, the candle light will glow against them, giving an overall brighter appearance.
You can easily draw on your design with a marker pen. A little water on kitchen roll rubs off the marker (even sharpie) if you make a mistake.
Carving – begin with your long sharp knife. Make precise cuts with straight lines. Don’t drag the knife, simply push it through then pull out and stab again a little further along. If you have curved lines, cut using the same method but a little within the lines – you will carve the curved line once the large chunk is out. It is important that the knife you have selected is robust enough to cope with this, brittle or poorly made knives could snap, break or cause injury.
To remove the chunks once you’ve cut all around them, push them into the pumpkin or carefully skewer them with a fork and pull towards you. Place these in your bowl of pumpkin flesh. When it comes to using the flesh in a recipe, you’ll want to pick out the nicest pieces so save them all.
Detailing – using your knife and peeler, start to carve away at the holes, rounding the edges if need be, making sure that everything is smooth. Carving pumpkin holes that narrow as they get deeper makes for nice glowing shapes that the light travels down and bounces off. Once you’ve finished doing this, your pumpkin will look almost finished.
Skinning – to make opaque shapes and shadows, carve off just the outer skin. For the teeth on my ghost pumpkin I am using the knife and peeler to remove the white skin on the outside, then shaping the flesh. This part requires some finesse and patience, especially if you’re shaping thin bits of pumpkin flesh that can easily break. Keep going until your pumpkin is fully carved and shaped into a spooky face!
Setting up Your Pumpkin
Once your pumpkin is carved into your finished masterpiece, you’ll want to fix up the lid nicely. To do this, place the pumpkin lid onto a sheet of aluminium kitchen foil and wrap it up the sides, moulding it to the pumpkin with your hands.
Pop the lid onto the pumpkin and cut off any excess aluminium poking out of the sides. Using the stalk as a handle, the lid should easily lift free with aluminium still attached so you can place a few candles inside.
With the shiny reflective aluminium foil in the lid, your candles in the pumpkin will really glow!
Place one (or multiple if your carving pumpkin is very large) tea lights in the base of your pumpkin, using a long match or stick to light them through the gaps in your carving. If this isn’t possible you’ll have to carefully light the candles through the lid.
That’s the pumpkin carved and ready to greet the trick or treaters, next you need to make some yummy snacks with your pumpkin leftovers!
The first of our easy pumpkin recipes makes enticingly moist cupcakes, full of rich juicy pumpkin and spice flavours. Topped with a decadent helping of cream cheese frosting. These pumpkin cupcakes make perfect treats and will keep for several days although we doubt they will last that long! Although there are lots of ingredients listed, this recipe is simple and easy to do after hours spent pumpkin carving.
You Will Need…
To make 12 pumpkin cupcakes you will need:
- 125g plain flour
- ½ tbsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of allspice
- Pinch of cloves
- Pinch of ginger
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 30g brown sugar
- 50g caster sugar
- 1 egg
- 250g pumpkin puree
- 60ml vegetable oil
- Milk (to obtain consistency)
To make the cinnamon cream cheese frosting:
- 150g icing sugar
- 30g butter
- 4oz cream cheese
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
To cook with:
- Large mixing bowl
- Measuring jug
- Wooden spoon
- Paper cases
- Cupcake tray
Making the Pumpkin Puree
You need to cook and puree the pumpkin before you use it in this recipe. This is very simple to do and is essential to having a creamy sweet pumpkin flavour in your cupcakes. If you’re only making pumpkin puree for this recipe, you don’t need to add any more ingredients to your pumpkin, however if you’re making pumpkin puree to store and use in my other recipes, you may want to add sugar and spices to flavour. If that’s the case, go easy on the spices in the cupcake recipe.
To puree your pumpkin, first make sure you have no guts (sinews), seeds or skin in your pumpkin flesh. If you have large chunks from pumpkin carving, cut them down to 2cm pieces.
If you only have small slithers of pumpkin remaining from when you carved the inside, you’ll want to reduce the cooking time to about 5 minutes.
Place your pumpkin pieces in a sauce pan and cover them with water. Bring this to the boil and cook until your pumpkin is tender and soft; usually about 20 minutes.
Drain the pumpkin well and let it cool completely before turning it into puree with a food processor or blender. If you freeze this it can last you the whole winter!
Making the Cupcake Mix
To make the cupcake mix, start by pouring the sugar, oil, eggs and pumpkin puree into the large mixing bowl. Beat these to combine.
Then, add in the remaining dry ingredients: flour, spices, salt, baking powder and soda. Fold these in gently, stopping as soon as the flour is completely combined. Add splashes of milk until you have a workable mixture that’s sticky and wet but not runny.
Start to put the cupcake batter into the cases. If you only have a tray of 6, split the mixture in half and put the rest in another bowl so you don’t use too much in these first 6. Fill the cupcake cases 2/3 full.
Put them in your oven and bake for 20 minutes at 190C (or 180C for a fan oven), check them, and then bake for another 5 if need be. They should be springy to touch once done, looking golden brown and pumpkin orange.
While We Wait…
5 Fun Halloween Facts:
1 – The largest pumpkin ever grown reached 2,323 pounds! It was grown in Switzerland in 2014 and no other pumpkin has beaten this record yet.
2 – Originally people carved scary faces into turnips and small pumpkin squashes rather than the huge carving pumpkins we use today. They were made in Ireland to ward off evil spirits.
3 – The tradition of trick or treating has its origins in begging, when people that had fallen on hard times would knock door to door during thanksgiving. It was then combined with the offering (treats) made during the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain.
4 – Halloween is the second largest commercial holiday in the US after Christmas. Americans prefer a creepy ghoul and carving pumpkins to an Easter egg!
5 – The celebrations of Halloween are thought to be older than most other holidays celebrated today. Samhain itself is around 6000 years old giving it a 4000 year head start on Christmas.
Decorating The Cupcakes
Once they’re out of the oven, leave them to cool on a wire rack. If you find that the tops of your cupcakes are in weird shapes or not flat enough for your decorating, place them out on your counter and rest a full-sized plate on top of them. Don’t press down, just let the weight of the plate on the cupcakes push down the tops until they are uniform. This only works when the cupcakes are still hot.
To make the yummy cream cheese icing, start by beating together the butter and cream cheese until smooth – you may be better off using an electric beater for this bit, especially if your arms are still aching from pumpkin carving.
Add your icing sugar a bit at a time, beating it in as you go to incorporate it all.
Add the teaspoon of cinnamon and vanilla extract, beating until your frosting is smooth and fluffy.
Once the cupcakes have completely cooled you can begin to ice them. Smear the tops with icing or use an icing bag for a more professional look! You can even dust with a little cinnamon or nutmeg for an extra special finish.
Pumpkin Seed Cookies
This recipe makes seriously chunky cookies. Depending on how long you cook them, they can either be crunchy and perfect for dunking in tea, or soft and deliciously gooey.
Pumpkin seeds are very nutritious and they’re tasty as an ingredient in many recipes so don’t even think about throwing them away. Easy pumpkin recipes like this one are perfect for you to do with your kids!
You Will Need…
To make 12 pumpkin seed cookies you’ll need:
- 110g butter
- 1 egg
- 120g brown sugar
- 160g plain flour
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ¼ tsp salt
- Pinch of ground cloves
- Pinch of cinnamon
- 80g toasted pumpkin seeds
- A little vegetable oil
To cook with:
- Small frying pan
- Wooden spoon
- Large mixing bowl
- Flat baking tray
- Greaseproof paper
Start by toasting and weighing your pumpkin seeds – if you have half of what’s needed for this recipe, half the other ingredients to match. If you have double the amount of seeds, double the other ingredients. Or save the remaining seeds for another recipe.
Toasting The Pumpkin Seeds
Toasting the pumpkin seeds ensures they are nice and crunchy for your cookies! You can roast the seeds straight away if you prefer, but I always find that using a frying pan is much nicer and gives you more control over how toasted the seeds are before they’re roasted down.
Wash your pumpkin seeds to remove any pumpkin gut residue and dry them on kitchen roll. Coat them a little with the vegetable oil and toast them for 10 minutes or until they’re a light golden brown colour.
Then spread them out on a metal baking tray, heat the oven to 180C and bake for 15 minutes. This is one of my favourite pumpkin recipes because any leftover seeds make delicious crunchy nibbles to eat while the cookies are baking.
Making the Cookie Mix
Start by creaming the butter and sugar together in the large mixing bowl with your wooden spoon. Beat them hard until they’re combined.
Add your egg and beat until light and fluffy. If you’re always getting bits of shell in your egg, start by cracking it into a glass so you can see and remove flakes of shell before adding it to the mix.
Put your sieve over the large mixing bowl and sieve in the flour then add in the spices, salt and baking soda, ensuring there are no lumps.
Mix in the flour mixture quickly; don’t over mix, stop once it’s combined nicely. The mixture should still be soft and gooey, rather than a firm dough. Add a small splash of milk to get to this consistency if need be.
Then tip in your pumpkin seeds and mix together until you have a yummy, chunky mix that should smell amazing!
Baking the Cookies
You can use a special cookie batter scooper to get uniform size cookies, or just use an ice-cream scoop or large spoon.
Line your baking tray with the greaseproof paper and start to put the cookies on the tray. They can spread so try to keep them several centimetres away from one another – 6 per tray is fine, you can do 2 lots.
Bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 190C (180C if you’re using a fan oven). Check them at the 10 minute mark, if they’re yummy and golden brown in appearance, take them out. If not, give them 2 or 3 minutes longer. These cookies are delicious when they’re gooey and soft with the crunch from the pumpkin seeds, so try not to overcook them.
While We Wait…
Head over to the Famous last words section of our blog for stories added on a regular basis including a creepy Halloween read about a real centuries old mystery from a rural English village!
Cooling the Cookies
Once you’ve taken your cookies out of the oven, just leave them to cool on the tray for a couple minutes while you sort out the cooling rack. Then carefully using a spatula, move the cookies from the tray to the cooling rack.
These are so yummy you’ll struggle to resist trying one while they’re still warm! Once completely cool, move them to an airtight container and store for up to a week… if they last that long.
Enjoy with a glass of milk on Halloween, or as a sumptuous dessert served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream!
We hope you enjoyed our first Halloween blog, we have two more coming so check back for a couple more of our spooky delights over the next week.