Gravy

Gravy is traditionally thickened with flour, but there are gluten-free options, too, including cornstarch and rice flour.

In this Thanksgiving edition of Front Burner, we troubleshoot pumpkin desserts, navigate personal space in the kitchen and tackle the basics of gravy.  For previous editions of Front Burner, check out the archive.

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Hi Kim! I really need your advice on a pumpkin bread recipe that we love. It calls for 30 ounces of canned pumpkin, but we had a garden full of butternut squash this year and I’d love to use fresh purée. I’m hesitant because my purée will be less dense and I’m afraid my bread won’t get done in the middle. I’d love your suggestions, especially if there’s a way to make it healthier.

– Carol Sener, Maytown

Carol, I love making pumpkin bread with fresh pumpkin purée, so I say go for it! First, let’s do a little math: Thirty ounces of canned pumpkin is the equivalent of 3 cups.

I tinkered with the recipe you sent, and below you’ll find an updated version that calls for less sugar and a few healthful add-ons. Before we dig into those details, let’s return to your plan for roasted pumpkin purée. I suggest roasting your home-grown butternut squash in advance, as it needs time for cooling and mashing, then draining. This last part addresses your concern about fresh purée being less dense; what you’ll do is place the mashed squash in a strainer with a bowl underneath to capture the residual liquid (and there may be quite a bit). You can also weigh down the squash with a plate to expedite the process. (Plan B: Try squeezing the purée through a cheesecloth.)

Any leftover purée can be frozen, by the way, which is handy for future baking projects.

The recipe that follows calls for less pumpkin, which I think will help with density issues, whether the pumpkin is fresh or canned.

CAROL'S PUMPKIN BREAD MAKEOVER

Makes two 9-inch loaves.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups neutral oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2/3 cup milk of choice
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Optional: 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
  • Optional garnish: 1/4 cup pepitas

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 F and grease the loaf pans with oil or butter.

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.

Using a handheld beater or a stand mixer, beat the sugar and oil until well blended and creamy. Add the eggs, one at a time, plus the vanilla extract, blending until the mixture is thick and somewhat viscous. Add the pumpkin and milk, beating until incorporated.

Gradually add the flour mixture, being careful not to overbeat. If using, add the nuts until evenly distributed.

Divide the batter among the two pans. If using the pepitas, arrange on top as you wish.

Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool for 10 minutes, then invert and finish cooling on a metal rack.

Why does my pumpkin roll crack when I unroll to spread my icing and re-roll?

– Nikki Vernon

Nikki’s question refers to a pumpkin-flavored cake rolled up like a Yule log. In the pastry world, this is called a roulade, made from a tender sponge cake malleable enough to roll. Cracking is one of the most common issues when rolling, so don't beat yourself up.

It has been years since I made a roulade, so for stellar pastry advice, I reached out to Rachael Coyle, chef/owner of Coyle’s Bakeshop in Seattle and a kitchen sister.

She writes:

“There are lots of tips and tricks around preventing cracking — but the most important thing is to use the right cake recipe to start. For a roulade, you want to use a separated egg foam cake — a cake in which the yolks are whisked into the other liquids then folded into the dry ingredients and the whites are beaten into a meringue and gently folded in at the end. A chiffon cake is the most common example of this.

“There are recipes for roulades out there that aren’t separated egg foam —but those are always going to produce a more brittle cake. Separated egg foam cakes are flexible and easy to roll, even without using the towel method, or any other tricks.

“Beyond that, I’d also recommend two things:

— Bake the cakes close to the time that you’re going to roll them. Since a thin cake bakes quickly, I’d make sure that fillings are done or on their way to being done when the cake goes in the oven. I let the cake cool in the pan for just a few minutes, then score the edges and slide the whole cake onto a flat surface. It’ll cool much faster if taken out of the hot pan.

— This is annoying and obvious, but don’t overbake the cake. It’s easy to do with a thin cake, but as soon as a toothpick inserted comes out clean, or the cake is firm/bouncy to the touch in the middle, it should come out.”

I do not share kitchen space well. Even when preparing a weeknight dinner for two, I get frustrated by having another person close by while cooking. I also do not delegate tasks well, and am particular about them being done correctly. How can someone like me keep tensions low on Thanksgiving, when there are quite literally a lot of cooks in the kitchen?

– Jenelle Janci, Life and Culture Team Leader, LNP | LancasterOnline

So you’re a control freak, too! Welcome to the club.

You describe two different scenarios — day-to-day kitchen life with your life partner and the three-ring circus otherwise known as Thanksgiving.

For the holiday, focus on what you can control — the dishes you are preparing — and let everything else go. I know, easier said than done when dealing with multiple personalities and cooking styles. But in the spirit of maintaining your cool, maybe it’s worth talking through the menu with your kitchen co-pilots in advance.

If kitchen solitude is what you need to keep anxiety at bay, is there a way for you to prep when everyone else is asleep, for example, or out for a walk? If your dish needs reheating before dinner, find out who else will be sharing the oven. Everything else: Let it go. Life is short. Time with your socially distanced peeps is priceless.

As for keeping the kitchen peace with your sweetie, remember this: Making space at the counter is a metaphor for your life together; let your partner in and have faith in the magic that inevitably will unfold.


I have made gravy with butter and flour and I have made it with corn starch. What's the best way to make gravy?

— Chris Emlet, Graphic Artist, LNP | LancasterOnline

Gravy has three basic components: fat, thickener and liquid, and as long as you have all three, there is a lot of wiggle room. You mention butter, a traditional option for fat, which is cooked with flour to create a thickening mixture known as a roux/ Corn starch is a good gluten-free option, but I prefer rice flour, which gives a silkier result.

Whatever you decide, it’s helpful to do some math before getting started:

Estimate 1/2 cup gravy per person (for a party of four, that equals 2 cups gravy).

The total amount of gravy you want is the same amount of liquid you will need. Liquid can be all broth or stock (or mixed with wine). Measure out liquid, place in a saucepan and get it good and hot.

For every 1/2 cup gravy/liquid, use 1 tablespoon each of fat and flour.

In a separate pan, always start with your fat and thickener. You can add a small amount of liquid when using non-flour options to help minimize seizing, but a whisk will help with that. Ladle in the hot liquid, whisk until thickener is no longer visible, and start thinking about seasonings. A few sprigs of fresh thyme effortlessly pack flavor, and if you do soy sauce, a few glugs is an easy way to add salt. A few sprinkles of black pepper is a household favorite. Cook gravy until thickened and serve hot. Reheat as needed.