Monday, November 8, 2010

Pumpkin-Date Tartlets with Walnut Streusel

As the Internet is teeming with pumpkin-based breads and desserts, I thought I'd throw my hat in the ring.

I have a lot of ricotta (allotta ricotta) left after my cheese-making experience on Thursday and I wanted to use it plus the dates my mom sent from California in a dessert together.

So I came up with this recipe.

The basic idea is this:  you'll make pumpkin-ricotta tartlets in a muffin tin with a dollop of cooked dates at the bottom, waiting to be discovered in each bite. 

I tried two variations using the same filling:  1) phyllo dough sheets lining a muffin tin, and 2) pastry dough doing the same.

Using the phyllo dough results in an elegant and unique dessert.  The five layers of phyllo dough almost look like flower petals with the pumpkin filling in the center. 

But I'm not going to fib to you:  it requires a lot more effort.  Working with phyllo dough takes practice as it's thin layers dry out and tear easily. 

When I use phyllo dough, I often feel like a museum archivist, unearthing a 2,000 year-old delicate parchment scroll.  I challenge myself not to tear it, but I almost always do.

Using the phyllo dough as a "crust" is a nice departure from the expected. 

But you can also line the muffin tins with pie crust.  It's not so much of a departure, as you'll essentially be making mini pumpkin pies, but it is a yummy dessert and is still quite pleasing to the eye.

(And kids love little portions.)

For the pie crust, you can either purchased the pre-made roll in the refrigerated section of your grocery store, or you can make your own.  I had always been a bit intimidated about making pie dough from scratch, but I took the plunge and tried it one day and now I'm hooked.  It truly is easy, especially if you have a food processor.  If you don't have one, see my notes below on how to do it by hand.

Please note: I am not a professional in the kitchen.  I developed this recipe as I went along, and I raced around the kitchen trying to get as much done as I could while the kids were napping and while the light was still good.  If anyone actually makes this and has suggestions on how to improve it, please leave a comment! 

Pumpkin-Date Tartlets with Walnut Streusel

Date "Dollops"
3/4 cup dates, coarsely chopped
1/4 plus 2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar

To Make Date Filling:
Place dates, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and then lower heat to medium-low. Cook for 5 minutes, until the dates cook down and form a thick paste.


Pumpkin-Ricotta Filling
1-15oz. can pumpkin puree
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nugmeg
1 teaspoon honey

In a large bowl, whisk together all filling ingredients until completely mixed.  Cover and set aside.


Prepare the phyllo shells:
With two barely-damp tea towels at the ready, roll out 10 sheets of phyllo dough.  Set 5 sheets aside and cover first with a large piece of parchment paper and then one of the damp towels.  Place the other 5 sheets on a large rectangular cutting board.  Cut the sheets in thirds lengthwise.  Then cut the sheets across the center (horizontally), creating 6 even squares.  Cover cut squares with a piece of parchment paper.  Place the second damp towel over the parchment paper.

Melt butter in a small bowl and get your pastry brush.

Spray a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray.

Remove the towel and parchment paper from the cut batch of phyllo dough.  Working quickly (to avoid the inevitable drying-out of the phyllo), brush one square with butter. 

Move the buttered square to a muffin cup and press it down gently, forming it to the cup.  Repeat with the four remaining phyllo squares in that stack, brushing each with butter and then placing in the muffin cup.  Each muffin cup will be lined with 5 squares of phyllo. 

Drop a teaspoon of the date mixture into each phyllo-lined muffin cup.  (Don't try to spread it as it will tear the phyllo.)

Drop a tablespoon of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture into each of the cups (on top of the date "dollop").

To Make Streusel:
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 tablespoon cold butter

In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process the walnuts, brown sugar and flour.  Add the butter.  Process just until fine crumbs form (don't let it get soggy).

Working with your hands, crumble about a teaspoon and a half of the walnut streusel over each filled muffin cup.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Let cool for about 15 minutes in muffin tin.  Carefully transfer to a cooling rack.

The walnut streusel looks like hamburger meat in this picture. 
It looked much better in person.

Pie/Pastry Dough*
(makes enough for a 9-inch pie crust or 12 muffin cups)

1/3 cup sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons cold butter, diced
1 to 2 tablespoons cold milk

Food Processor Method:
Combine sugar, flour, and salt in the processor.  Add the butter and process in short pulses, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add a tablespoon of milk and process again, in short pulses, until the milk is absorbed.  The dough should still be crumbly, but it should clump if you gently squeeze a handful in your hand.  If it doesn't add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, and give the dough a few more pulses until it reaches the desired consistency. 

If working by hand:
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour and salt.  Add the butter and rub it into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers or a wire pastry blender, until the mixture resembles coarse meal.  Add a tablespoon of milk and blend it in, handling the dough as lightly as you can.  The dough should still be crumbly, but it should clump if you gently squeeze a handful in your hand. If it doesn't add more milk, a teaspoon at a time, and give the dough a few more pulses until it reaches the desired consistency.

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.

Roll it out to a thickness of about 1/8th of an inch.

Use something circular to cut the dough (should be about 4-5 inches in diameter).

Grease the muffin tins and gently place the dough in each muffin cup. 

Place a teaspoon of the date mixture in the bottom of each cup.

Scoop a tablespoon of the pumpkin-ricotta mixture into each cup.

Crumble the walnut streusel over each.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.


Heather-Gathering Spriggs said...

Im thinking you need a professional sampler.... to compare these two!
I'll be right over with the Teapuccino!

Ginny said...

YES!! Just the element I am missing in my kitchen!!

Waaaaaaaa. Wish you really could just zip right over.