A Tale Of Two Cheeses

mascarponeMy daughter loves pumpkin and she loves tiramisu. So for her birthday last November, I decided to make the Pumpkin Tiramisu recipe I tore out of a magazine along with its accompanying gorgeous photo. It required the purchase of a pound of horrendously expensive mascarpone cheese, but I was willing to spend the money on a special birthday dessert.

I was off to a promising start. I whisked the pumpkin puree with brown sugar and spices, added the mascarpone and heavy cream, and began whipping. I whipped and whipped, waiting for the promised soft peaks. No peaks were forthcoming, and the mixture seemed a little grainy. “Do not overbeat,” warned the recipe, so I stopped.

Proceeding without the peaks, I dipped the ladyfingers in hot coffee, and alternately layered them in a bowl with the pumpkin glop. Maybe I was hoping the fluffiness would somehow appear. The next day I served the tiramisu for my daughter’s birthday dinner. Overnight it had gotten soggy and was beginning to weep a little. My daughter appreciated the effort, and we stuck candles in it and ate it anyway. But it wasn’t the tiramisu of our dreams, and the burning question was: What went wrong?

I got my answer a day later, when I pulled the bowl of leftover liquefying dessert out of the fridge and came face to face with a tub of cheese clearly labeled “Mascarpone.” It felt like The Twilight Zone for a few seconds, and then I remembered. Along with the mascarpone I’d also bought a tub of ricotta cheese to use for manicotti filling.. The tub of mascarpone and the tub of ricotta, identical in size and shape, had been sitting side by side in the fridge. When making the pumpkin tiramisu I obviously grabbed the tub of ricotta without looking at the label. Feeling stupid, I threw out the doomed tiramisu and banished the mascarpone to the freezer, where it’s lived for almost a year, mocking me whenever I accidentally unearth it.

My daughter still lEzrachemistryoves pumpkin. So when she recently gave birth to her second son – here he is, the little cutie – and I took her a meal, she asked for a pumpkin dessert. Pumpkin dessert recipes are showing up in my Facebook news feed at the rate of one a day. If I try them all, I’ll be the Butterball at the Thanksgiving table.

But the Layered Pumpkin Cake with Caramel and Pecans looked too good to pass up. Indeed, the result was a masterpiece of pumpkiny, creamy, light-as-air deliciousness. My daughter loved it, as well as the freedom to eat a big fat piece of dessert after watching her blood sugar levels so carefully during her pregnancy. The newborn’s three-year-old brother pronounced it a birthday cake, which in a sense it was, and asked if we could put candles on it. He helpfully offered to blow them out for his baby brother. This boy adores birthday candles – if you’re having a birthday within a ten-mile radius of him, he’ll find you and blow out your candles.

Someday I’ll conquer the Pumpkin Tiramisu, unless freezer burn destroys my mascarpone first. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for the cake that vindicated me after the mascarpone scandal. You should try it.

1 2-layer size yellow cake mix
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree, divided – plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix
½ cup milk
1/3 cup oil
4 eggs
1 ½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice, divided (I didn’t have this, so I made my own with ¼ cup cinnamon, 4 tsp nutmeg, 4 tsp ginger and 1 tsp allspice)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
8 oz whipped topping
¼ cup caramel ice cream topping
¼ cup chopped pecans

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the cake mix, 1 cup pumpkin, milk, oil, eggs and 1 tsp spice in a large bowl. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch round pans. Bake for 28-30 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes; remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese until creamy. Add powdered sugar, remaining pumpkin and remaining ½ tsp spice and mix well. Gently stir in whipped topping.

Split each cake layer in two, using a serrated knife (don’t worry about perfection). SpreadSamuelcake the cream cheese filling on top of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd layers, but NOT on the 4th layer. Top that layer with the caramel and pecans. You’ll probably want more caramel – ¼ cup is a little skimpy. Same with the pecans. And you might want to toast the pecans.

Refrigerate this cake. It will keep for at least three days, maybe longer. But I don’t know for sure, because we demolished ours by the third day.

As my grandson says, “Dee-licious!”

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