BY TOM YATES
Tucked under maple, oak, pin-oak, and elm trees, my father built the house of his dreams from the ground up. Using salvaged everything, he nestled our home into the landscape as if it grew from the ground. Utterly organic, our grey/teal-stained wooden house breathed with the changing seasons. Spectacular in every season, the house was a real showstopper come autumn. I loved living there during fall. The canopy of trees crackled with color. After moving away, I made the trek home every October, as often as I could manage, to celebrate our birthdays and to inhale the sheer beauty of his land.
My last autumn in Port Oliver was bittersweet. We spent months struggling with my father’s cancer diagnosis and the whole package that accompanies that sort of news. The struggle to balance fear, hope, and joy was a tightrope balancing act. Intermingled with the necessary trips for treatments, my dad and I celebrated birthdays, took long drives in the country, watched a lot of television, enjoyed a bounty of summer produce, and had spirited bourbon-induced conversations about everything under the sun. I was surprised how much the pure innocence of joy outweighed the other emotions most of the time. We held fast and lived in those moments.
By the time autumn blitzed Port Oliver in brilliant patchworks of color, my father was well into his battle with cancer. Country drives, bourbon, and tomatoes had become distant memories replaced with tender reflection, fodder shocks, pumpkins, and cheap white wine. Even then, it was a happy time.
On one particular day, when the late afternoon shadows were deep and long, Dad wanted to take a walk. Off we went, as best we could, with walker in tow. Shuffling through the sloping yard under rustling wind-swept trees, he started picking up leaves. One by one. Maple. Oak. Pin-Oak. Elm. Red. Yellow. Orange. Green. Burgundy. Brown. One by one, he shared his respect and joy for each fallen leaf. I simply listened. As the sun dropped into a distant field, I walked my father back into the house and pressed those leaves into the ragged pages of my journal.
The following year, Port Oliver was also a distant memory. I used those very leaves to mold delicate replicas of kiln-fired clay memories for my family. Those leaves still inspire me.
Double Chocolate Pumpkin Tart with Autumn Pastry Leaves
So, canned puree or fresh puree? Some folks say it doesn’t matter. Maybe it doesn’t matter. That said, for the last few seasons I’ve found that the local sugar pumpkins we find at our farmers’ market are downright fabulous. In fact, making fresh puree might be easier than opening a can. This year, I took easy to another level by simply roasting the pumpkins whole.
For venting purposes, I used a sharp paring knife to slice the tops off two 1 pound Scott County sugar pumpkins, placed the lids back into place, and slid the pumpkins into a 350 degree oven to roast for 1 1/2 hours. When the pumpkins started to collapse and were knife tender, I pulled them from the oven and cracked them open. Pumpkin carnage. After scooping out the seeds and stringy membranes, I slipped the flesh from the tender skin, pureed the pulp until velvety smooth, scraped it into a bowl, and set it aside.
For the underlying chocolate crust, I pulverized enough thin dark chocolate wafers in a food processor to measure 2 cups. After tossing the crumbs into a mixing bowl, I added 4 tablespoons sugar and 6 tablespoon melted unsalted butter. I mixed the crumbs with the butter, scraped them into a 9″ tart pan with a removable bottom, used a straight edged measuring cup to firmly press the crumbs into the pan, and chilled the shell in the freezer for 15 minutes to set the crust before sliding it into a preheated 350 oven to bake for 12 minutes.
I spooned 2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree into a large mixing bowl, added 1/2 cup white sugar. 1/4 cup light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon salt, a pinch ground clove, a pinch ground allspice, a pinch cardamon, 2 large eggs, and 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream. To lighten the filling, I whipped the mixture with an old fashioned hand held mixer until it was fully incorporated, and it poured into the cooled chocolate tart shell. I lined a sheet pan with parchment paper, slipped the tart onto the pan, and baked it in a preheated degree oven 450 for 15 minutes, reduced the heat to 350 degrees, let it rip for 55 minutes, pulled it from the oven, and placed it onto a wire rack to cool before sliding the tart into refrigerator to chill.
I wanted something a bit firmer than a classic heavy cream and chocolate ganache. After shaving 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate ( 70% cacao) into tiny shards, I tumbled the chocolate into a bowl, added 2 ounces (1/4 cup) melted unsalted butter, and 1 tablespoon light corn syrup. I warmed the mix over a low flame, gently stirred the mix until it melted into a loose glossy glaze, poured it over the chilled pumpkin filling, carefully tilted the tart to swirl the chocolate into an even layer, and tossed it into the refrigerator to set.
I threw together a very basic pastry dough by pulsing 1 1/4 cup sifted flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup chilled cubed butter, and 1/4 cup ice water in a food processor. Just as the dough came together, I formed it into a flat disc, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and slipped into the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
I didn’t have any of those fancy leaf shaped cookie cutters that seem to pop up everywhere this time of year, so I free-handed a few leaves on parchment paper, cut them out, and set them aside. I rolled the dough into a 1/8″ thick circle, used my parchment paper stencils to cut out the leaves, carefully slashed veining into the leaves, transferred them to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and chilled them for 30 minutes. After brushing the leaves with an egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon heavy cream), I slid them into a blistering 475 degree oven for about 12 minutes. When they were beautifully browned, I removed them to a wire rack to cool, pulled the chilled double chocolate pumpkin tart from the refrigerator, and scattered the leaves over the top.
Topped with buttery crisp pastry leaves, the airy spiced pumpkin filling had all the nuanced warmth of classic pumpkin pie. Suspending the pie between layers of chocolate took it to another level and gussied up those familiar flavors with self-indulgent sass.
Chocolate in the pumpkin patch.
This article also appears on page 10 & 11 of the October 2017 printed edition of the Hamburg Journal.
For more Hamburg area news, subscribe to the Hamburg Journal weekly digital newsletter.