This is one of those desserts that brings up the question as to what you mean when you say something is “light”. The word light seems to have rather different meanings when applied to food. Sometimes light denotes lower in fat (like a salad) and sometimes it means airy in texture (like this mousse!) Often when it comes to desserts, the two meanings of light are at odds with one another– mostly because cream, butter and egg yolks can be whipped into all sorts of delectable, airy consistencies. If this dessert is not light in the way that a salad is light (it is dessert, remember) it is spectacularly airy, and doesn’t sit heavily in your stomach after a heavy meal. And it’s easy, too! If you can whip cream and have made the pumpkin butter ahead of time, you can throw this dessert together in about ten minutes.
This is a recipe that fits into the “budget” side of things more as a way to improvise with what you have (I happened to have a bunch of squash and some cream cheese) rather than being composed of particularly cheap ingredients. Still, pumpkin is cheap and cream cheese and cream are not all that expensive. And if you’re looking to make a dessert, you’ll probably need to invest in some dairy anyhow and this dessert makes good use of a relatively small amount of dairy. The amount of sugar in this recipe is calibrated to my admittedly not-so-sugary palate. If you like things a bit sweeter, then you can either add more sugar to the pumpkin butter when you cook it, or add a liquid sugar (sugar syrup or maple syrup). I mention this because if you try to add granulated sugar at the end of the whole process, it won’t incorporate.
1 c. pumpkin ginger butter
1 c. heavy cream
2/3 c. cream cheese
2t. brandy, rum or whiskey (optional)
To Serve (Optional):
chopped toasted walnuts
Soften the Cream Cheese:
You will have an easier time if you allow the cream cheese to come to room temperature first. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, beat the cream cheese until it is softened and free of (almost) all lumps– any lumps that you leave in at this point will be there to stay.
Incorporate the Pumpkin Butter:
Starting with just a few tablespoons, mix the butter into the cream cheese. After you have worked a little butter in the cream cheese will loosen up and mixing will become easier. Continue mixing until all of the pumpkin butter is incorporated and you have a homogeneous mix. (This is the point that you can taste and adjust the sweetening to your liking.) If you are adding a liquor add it now.
Whip the Cream:
Whisk very cold cream in a very cold metal bowl until it reaches soft peak. First your cream will start to look thicker and thicker, eventually leaving visible tracks from the whisk in the cream. When you lift the whisk out of the cream, the whisk should hold a little glob of cream. It can droop a little (this is the soft of soft-peak) but it shouldn’t pour off the whisk in streams. When whipping cream sometimes just a few strokes can take your cream from soft peak to stiff peak to butter. So you definitely have to watch your cream carefully. I would err on the side of slightly under-whipping my cream rather than over-whipping. If you do ever find yourself having over-whipped cream (not that I would ever commit such a crime– okay maybe just once or twice) then just continue whipping it until it looks thoroughly buttery and a watery substance is leaking out into the bottom of your bowl. Put the butter in a colander to drain. After it has drained wrap it and use it as you would any other unsalted butter.
Fold Ingredients Together:
Begin by delicately folding in a third of the whipped cream into the pumpkin mixture. Once that is incorporated, fold in the remaining cream.
Scoop the mousse into bowls or, if you want a more fancy restaurant-style presentation, you can put your mousse into plastic wrap lined molds (bowls, muffin tins) and freeze it. Once the mousse is frozen solid, invert the molds and delicately pull off the plastic wrap. Transfer the mousses to dessert plates and let them sit at room temperature for about twenty minutes before serving. Whichever serving method you use, you can top the finished mousses with chopped toasted nuts, candied ginger pieces, a drizzle of maple syrup, or even just a simple topping of freshly ground nutmeg is lovely– whatever you have on hand that strikes your fancy.