Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Butternut Squash Creme Brulee

Question. What is the first thing you thing about when you hear creme brulee? Is it, fancy dessert? Is it, caloric assault? Cholesterol overload? Impossible to make at home? The thought that goes through my mind when contemplating making  this dessert is whether I should buy a mini flame torch. The reason I never do is I am convinced that once I get it, it will remained packed up at the back of a cupboard somewhere, next to my mini chopper, my crepe pan and my condiment spoons, only to be found if, and when, we move. 

Now, having actually made the dessert for the first time, I have found that possibly the mini torch would have caramelized the sugar more evenly than under the broiler. That being said, the broiler is a good alternative. 

The two main ingredients in creme brulee are heavy cream and egg yolks, typically six to eight yolks for a recipe yielding four servings. Here, I used two yolks and,  in place of heavy cream,  I substituted low fat evaporated milk.  For the rich velvety texture characteristic of this dessert, using butternut squash puree was ideal. It has both body and a creamy texture; exactly what was needed here. You will notice the oven temperature starts out at 400 degrees fahrenheit and is then lowered to 350. This is crucial because the high temperature sets the dessert while the lower one allows it to continue cooking with being grainy. 

Have a happy and healthy thanksgiving!

Butternut Squash Creme Brulee
Serves four

12 oz low fat evaporated milk
1/3 cup sugar 
1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup butternut squash puree*
2 egg yolks
4 tsp sugar

1. Set oven to 325 degrees F. 
2. Dissolve the milk and sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the freshly grated nutmeg and cook for 10 minutes. Do not bring to a boil. Remove 1/4 cup of mixture and set aside. To the remaining mixture, whisk in the butternut squash puree. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly so that when the eggs are added they will not immediately scramble. 
3. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the reserved milk and return to the pumpkin-milk mixture. Whisk thoroughly. 
4. Pass mixture through a sieve to remove any lumps and divide among four 4"ramekins. Bake in a water bath at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes, until only the middle jiggles slightly when shook. .
5. Once cooked, the custard can be refrigerated between one and 24 hours before caramelizing the sugar crust. To do so, divide the remaining 4 tsp pf sugar evenly among the four ramekins, to completely cover the top of the custard. Caramelize using a blow torch or under the broiler for less than two minutes, monitoring closely to prevent charring. 

*To make butternut squash puree, peel, seed,  and cut a squash into cubes. Add to a large pot with about an inch  or two of water. Cover with lid and steam over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes until easily pierced with a knife. Puree in blender or food processor. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pumpkin Nut Loaf

Some of my friends (the ones who have been around longer than I have) tell me that as we get older,  we tend to find gratification in odd, simple and, sometimes, mundane things. Wine, a good cup of coffee, a crisp fall evening, highway driving- I have at least two friends in their fifties who enjoy highway driving, in particular, the freedom that the road signifies.  Using this criterion, I must be aging faster than I look because my latest diversion definitely falls into the category of odd, simple, and mundane. I am fascinated with squash. Gourds. You know, pumpkins. (Although, pumpkins are just one type of squash, if we have to get technical.) 

Little did  I know that all it would take to capture my interest in all things ( all edible things) squash, would be a single visit to a pumpkin patch. That fateful visit happened back in October in Wyoming, Minnesota. (Remember A road trip, a fresh pumpkin, and a pie?)  Now, a month later, squash as become for me what a blank canvas is to an artist: a medium of almost infinite possibilities.  Cakes, puddings, gnocchi, stews, breads, soups, and not forgetting the ever popular pie; you name it,  it can probably be prepared with one of the many varieties of squash. 

Throughout the year, farmer's markets as well as the produce sections of many neighborhood grocery stores seem to come alive with all varieties of squash. While most are used as decorations especially at this time of year, a large number is edible. A few of my favorites are acorn, kabocha, butternut, but I can't wait to get my hands on the fairy tale pumpkin. Just as its name suggests, a mature fairy tale pumpkin is shaped like Cinderella's coach in the way that its segments are distinguished by deep ridges. Not to be confused with the cinderella pumpkin which also has deep ridges but whose top is more noticeably flattened. 

Stay tuned for at least one more "gourdish" recipe. Maybe I will be able to find a fairy tale pumpkin. Or not. Either way, the next recipe will be a sweet delight. Meanwhile, enjoy this hearty pumpkin loaf made with homemade pumpkin puree.

Pumpkin Nut Loaf
Makes on   8' x 4' loaf

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg plus 1 egg white
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup skimmed milk
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)* 
1/4 cup hazel nuts 
1/4 cup walnuts

1. Set oven to 350 degree F. Liberally grease and flour an 8' x 4' loaf pan and set aside. 
2. Coarsely chop the hazel nuts and pecans and toast in the oven for 10 minutes. Remove and set aside until ready to use. 
3. Combine  the flours, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Set aside. 
4. In another mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, maple syrup, oil, and milk. Slowly whisk in pumpkin puree and add the freshly grated ginger. Combine the flour mixture into the wet ingredients in two batches. Finally, fold in the toasted chopped nuts. 
5. Pour the  batter into the prepared loaf pan and using a spatula smooth the top. Bake at 350 degrees  F for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until the top is cracked and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cook loaf in the pan on a wire rack before serving. 

*Homemade pumpkin puree: Wash and cut a 1 lb pie pumpkin into eight to ten segments. Remove and discard the seeds and stringy interior. Place the "cleaned" segments in a large pot with 1 to 2 inches of water. Set over medium high heat for 30 minutes until the pulp becomes soft and capable of being scraped out with a spoon. Remove pulp and puree in blender. Pour back into pot over medium high heat, and cook for 20 to 30 minutes to remove most of the liquid.