How To Make The Best Pumpkin Purée That Isn’t Actually Pumpkin

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We’ve partnered with Braun Household to share recipes, tips, and videos that highlight creative ways to boost the flavors of your favorite seasonal dishes, starting with a holiday staple: canned pumpkin! Psst: We teamed up with Braun Household back in 2018, but we’ve updated the article to include new ideas for using your homemade pumpkin purée.

Canned pumpkin is simply puréed, cooked pumpkin in a can, right?

Well, kinda.

Although the word “pumpkin” likely conjures up images of bright orange, basketball-shaped specimens, in reality, any hard-skinned squash could be called a pumpkin. There’s no botanical distinction for what exactly is or is not a pumpkin.

Let’s squash a few common conceptions, shall we? To start, a quick botany lesson. (Stay with me!) All types of winter squash belong to the same genus—Cucurbita—which is packed with a number of species. But most of the edible varieties fit into just three: There’s C. pepo, which includes acorn squash, zucchini, as well as the ones we typically think of as pumpkins (like a Halloween jack-o’-lantern); C. maxima includes varieties like Hubbard and kabocha; and C. moschata covers varietals like butternut squash and Long Island Cheese. So while the drawing on the front of a can belongs to the species C. pepo, what’s inside that can is probably a mix of winter squashes, most likely made from C. moschata cultivars; take Libby’s canned pumpkin, for example, which uses a proprietary C. moschata variety, the Dickinson pumpkin.

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Alright then, so canned pumpkin is puréed, cooked winter squash in a can. You’re now armed with nifty botanical facts for livening up the Thanksgiving conversation, but why should you bother making your own homemade pumpkin purée? There are four good reasons:

  • It’s easy. It’s squash that’s roasted in the oven at 375°F and then blended with a hand blender. You’ve got this.
  • You’ll know exactly what’s in it. It is possible to find canned pumpkin that is 100 percent squash, but you’ll want to read the fine print; sometimes there are preservatives added, or spices, which you may or may not want. Plus, this way you’re in control of which squash (or squashes) to include.
  • You get bonus pumpkin parts. Before roasting, scoop out the seeds and “guts.” The seeds can be used for roasting or gremolata, and the stringy fibers can be used for chutney or stock. Plus, if you go the stock route, you can add in the squash’s peel (either raw or post-roasting).
  • You’re in control of the flavors. You can choose which squash you use based on what you like and what flavors you want in your final dish. Butternut squash, sugar pie pumpkin, kabocha—the sky (or the selection at the farmers market) is the limit.

1. Pick Your Winter Squash

Now, you just need to choose which winter squash you want to make your pumpkin purée with. You can use a sugar pumpkin, acorn, kabocha, butternut squash…you get the idea. The good news is that it’s hard to go wrong. The only caveat: You’ll get the best results with sweet, dense squashes. (Translation: Save the spaghetti squash for something else.) While some will find this open-ended approach freeing, others, myself included, may appreciate more guidance. Which squash is the best of the best? What do they all taste like?

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Luckily for us, Melissa Clark did all this research back in 2012, when she made several trips to the farmers market, lugged home nine different squashes, and taste-tested the roasted pureés from all of them. The winner? Butternut squash. Her tasting notes: “Deep and richly flavored, sweet, with relatively smooth flesh that is easy to purée.”

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Her second and third choices were acorn and kabocha, respectively, but others have their pros, too. Her full rundown can be found in The New York Times.

2. Roast the Squash

Once you’ve settled on a squash, it’s time to roast it. I like to bake them at 375°F until they’re tender; keeping the temperature slightly lower than what I usually roast vegetables at helps to avoid any browning. That caramelization adds flavor, but when it’s blended, it can also add darker flecks to the purée, which might not be ideal, depending on how you’re planning on using it.

Speaking of planning, I plan on getting 1 cup of purée per pound of squash. Most of the time I get more than that, but I’d always rather be safe than sorry. There are so many ways to use any extras, and it stores well. Additional purée can be kept in the fridge in an airtight container for 5 to 7 days, or frozen for longer storage.

3. Purée It

When the squash is roasted and cool enough to handle, you’ve reached the final step: puréeing the squash flesh. (See how easy that was?! Roast, purée, done.) Sure, you could just mash it up with a fork or potato masher, but I like my purée super-duper smooth.

My personal preference is to use a hand blender; I’ll purée the squash flesh in a tall, deep container to reduce splatters. Since squash flesh is dense, I’ve had trouble at times puréeing it in a blender or food processor without needing to add more liquid (which isn’t ideal), but my hand blender has always been up to the challenge.

What if my pumpkin purée is watery?

Starting with a dense squash should result in a dense purée, but if it’s more watery than desired, there’s still hope. I learned a smart trick from longtime Food52er HalfPint on the Hotline that’s easier than cooking down the squash, or using cheesecloth and waiting for its water to drain out.

Here’s HalfPint’s advice, which she picked up from America’s Test Kitchen: Simply spread the pumpkin purée onto paper towels and then squeeze or pat out the moisture. It might sound messy, but it’s actually very easy; the purée should peel right off the paper towel (a clean kitchen towel will also do the trick).

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Ready to get baking? Here are a bunch of ideas for using your purée. (And feel free to keep calling it pumpkin; I won’t tell.)

Pumpkin Brownies

Creamy pumpkin purée makes this fall-forward riff on classic fudgy brownies extra moist and chewy, with that textbook crackly crust on top.

Salted Pumpkin Caramels

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Each bite of these salted pumpkin caramels (starring both pumpkin purée and pumpkin pie spice) evokes the essence of autumn, from the changing leaves to the crisp, cool air.

One-Pot Penne With Sausage, Pumpkin & Fennel

We can’t think of a pasta dish we’d rather cozy up with more than this one-pot wonder with hot Italian sausage and pumpkin purée, which lends a creamy texture to the sauce, and of course that earthy-sweet pumpkin flavor.

Birthday Pumpkin Muffins

If you’ve got a loved one with a birthday during the fall or winter months, why not bake up a batch of these tender pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting to make them feel extra special?

Pumpkin Cake with Cream Cheese Icing & Caramelized Pumpkin Seeds

This cake makes the most of every part of the pumpkin by using pumpkin purée in the batter and caramelized seeds for the crunchy topping.

Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream

Everything you love about pumpkin pie, in ice cream form. Say no more.

Pumpkin Rugelach with Sage & Walnuts

This savory riff on rugelach (starring pumpkin, sage, and walnuts) just might make you forget about the sweet kind for a little while.

Salted Pumpkin Crème Brûlée

“Each time you crack through the hard caramel to the creamy, vanilla bean–flecked custard,” Food52 contributor EmilyC writes, “you get a perfect salty, sweet, pumpkin-spiced bite.” Sold.

Pumpkin Pavlova with Pecan Brittle

A pie-free Thanksgiving could never feel lacking with this stunning pumpkin pavlova on the table.

How do you like to use squash purée? Tell us in the comments below!

Ditch the can! In partnership with Braun Household, we’re excited to share more innovative ways to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your fall and winter recipes. Whether you’re making a batch of DIY canned pumpkin or maple pecan cookies, Braun’s lineup of products makes the prep work a breeze. Here, we used their MultiQuick 9 Hand Blender to purée the roasted squash to super-smooth perfection with ease—and without making a mess.

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