Pumpkin for Christmas: who knew? My Midwestern pals, that's who. Putting together two back-to-back holiday parties for my best friend, who cherishes her Minnesotan roots, I was surprised that she put pumpkin cake, made in a Bundt pan, of course, on the top of her list of must-have treats for the table. She was right: big smiles lit up the faces of the guests who hailed from Chicago and Minneapolis when they spied the cinnamon-brown Bundt. "Pumpkin cake for Christmas! I was just thinking about that," said one. "With whipped cream, of course," agreed another.
It makes sense, though: such a cake is dense and spicy, redolent of all the fragrant holiday spices that perfume everything from gingersnaps to mulled cider and hot wine this time of year. It's easy to throw together, since a couple cans of pumpkin are probably already in the cabinet, souvenirs of Thanksgiving's pie-minded supermarket stock-up. (A recent report found that 20% of Americans always have canned pumpkin on hand in their pantries. Having poked around in a lot of home kitchens, though, I would guess that most of that pumpkin was bought in 1993, forgotten, and never moved or dusted since.) If not, there's a plethora of gorgeous fresh winter squash out there, ready to be roasted and mashed.
(The nomenclature of pumpkin bread aside, I've found that butternut squash gives the most consistently full-flavored results, and cranking your freshly roasted squash through a food mill turns any stringy chunks into a velvety puree.)
The pumpkin cake I made for last week's holiday party was a basic buttery-cinnamony recipe originally published in Gourmet. It was light and moist, thanks to the pumpkin and buttermilk. I added powdered ginger, fresh nutmeg, and a pinch of cloves to the mix; having just cinnamon and allspice is like the Brady Brunch without Cindy, Jan, or Alice.