Instead of doing things the way they’ve always been done, here are recipes for Thanksgiving 2020 that throw tradition out the window — at least just this once — and show how the classics can be much easier — and more fun — when you focus on highlighting the qualities in each that really matter.
This cake is ideal served at room temperature but is also good cold, though the texture will be slightly firmer. This recipe works perfectly with the contents of one 15-ounce can of pumpkin or squash, but homemade puree is even better if you have the time to make it. The spices here are to give the cake its characteristic holiday flavors, but it’s just as good without them, seasoned with vanilla and salt only. And because there is no crust, this dessert is also gluten-free.
Make sure that the bottom of the pan you use is flush with the bottom of the springform sleeve and that it doesn’t have a “foot” that elevates the bottom; that quirk of some pans can elevate the cake out of the water bath and affect its baking time.
Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 325 degrees. Bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil in a pot and keep warm.
Place the bottom of a 9-inch round springform pan on two crisscrossing sheets of foil, then bring the foil up around the sides to completely wrap the pan. Dip the corner of a folded paper towel in the melted butter and use the towel to grease the inside of the pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper as well. Place a kitchen towel or paper towel on the bottom of a large roasting pan and place the prepared cake pan on top of it.
In a large bowl, whisk together cornstarch and vanilla until smooth, then whisk in the pumpkin puree, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, followed by the melted butter; the mixture will look slightly separated and curdled. In a separate bowl, combine 1/4 cup sugar and the eggs and whisk vigorously by hand until the sugar is dissolved and the eggs are loose and lightly foamy, about 2 minutes. Set both bowls aside.
Combine the remaining 1 cup sugar with 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan and stir to moisten the sugar with the water. Place the pan over high heat and swirl occasionally as it comes to a simmer. Once there are bubbles covering the entire surface of the syrup, stop swirling and set a timer; continue cooking at a rapid boil for exactly 1 1/2 minutes, until any small, white foamy bubbles dissipate and all the bubbles are translucent and roughly the same size.
Immediately pour the hot syrup over the pumpkin mixture and whisk slowly to combine; you will see the puree become very smooth. Add the beaten eggs, and whisk until they’re completely incorporated. Use a silicone or rubber spatula to scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan.
Pour the boiling water into the roasting pan, taking care not to splash any water into the batter; it should come at least two-thirds of the way up the side of the pan; depending on the size of your roasting pan, add more boiling water if needed (you’ll know you have enough water when you notice the pan just begin to float). Place this setup in the oven and bake until the cake is set and doesn’t move when you tap the edge of the cake pan, 45 to 55 minutes.
Remove the roasting pan from the oven and let the cake cool completely in its pan in the water, at least 1 1/2 hours. (The cake will pull away slightly from the sides of the pan while it cools; this is normal.)
Remove the pan from the water bath, then remove the foil. Unmold the springform sleeve and transfer the cake to a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve with whipped cream on the side, if you like.
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