My first “ah-ha” dessert experience was at a Pan-Asian Restaurant named Spring in Chicago, IL when I was 15. Sad to say Spring has since closed it’s doors. I went out of my mid-western conservative comfort zone of crème brulee and tiramisu and ordered a blood orange pumpkin cake. It didn’t look like a traditional slice of “cake.” It was this avante garde masterpiece on a square plate (it might have been my first square plate encounter). My first bite was the embodiment of fall and impending winter. I don’t remember much after that. I didn’t share.
I had a damn near luxurious childhood. (I have no doubt that it is the origins of my food elitism). My family went to some really nice restaurants in our travels and in the Chicago-land area. My father couldn’t understand the price of a pair of jeans but dropping a months worth of my rent on a meal was standard practice.
Both my brothers are a decade older than I am and my father is a food scientist-so my tastes had to develop quickly growing up. Regardless, I was still a picky eater. But I never seemed to have a problem when we went out to eat because there was always dessert. I would plan my entire meal around whatever sticky (preferably chocolate) morsel I could get my hands on. I was even allowed to have espresso or a cappuccino at an absurdly early age- I now exhibit extreme signs of caffeine addiction. When we went to restaurants where the menu was part verbal or there were specials I would use my age as an excuse to ask what they had prepared for dessert. I was cute -totally out of place- red-head at the table of adults, I could get away with anything.
Because of that dessert at Spring I have not really tried to make anything sweet with pumpkin. I can roast, stew, sauté, and bake pumpkin like no other but if you pass me a slice of pumpkin pie I will say “no thank you” as politely as I can.
So here is my first ever attempt to elevate pumpkin from it’s savory confines. May I present to you my Pumpkin chai mini bunt cakes. 100% delicious. I browned the butter, reduced the chai, and steamed the pumpkin with chai tea. It’s moist, tender, and has an out of this world crumb. It’s not dense. I’ve never tasted anything like it. I hope someday a dessert of mine will kindle the type of wide-eyed wonder that bloomed during my time at Spring.