And when the two dishes come out of the oven, the pie plate and the ramekin, both of them sitting atop the stove to rest, Tim and I cannot help ourselves from digging into that mini custard, the two of us with spoons, blowing away steam and reveling in the hot and caramelized comfort.
So about a month ago or so, it occurred to us: Forget the pie.
Why not pour all the filling into ramekins?
That’s how these kabocha squash custards were born.
Here is what you need to do to start: Get yourself a kabocha squash.
Do you guys already know about kabocha squash? This squatty gourd, also called Japanese pumpkin, came into our lives this fall, as one of the heavier ingredients in a weekly CSA box.
But then, one day, after roasting it and puréeing the insides, I took a spoonful of the thick, whipped mixture to my mouth and shrieked.
Tim! You have to taste this!
You guys. Think butternut squash but thicker and sweeter, velvety in texture, practically a mousse once blended, all on its own. One bite in my mouth, and I’m telling you, it was the first time in my life where I thought baby food – you know, the kind where you just blend a cooked vegetable into mush – sounded like better cuisine than my own.
Kabocha is to squash what LOST was to TV.
What sunlight is to afternoons.
What October is to the calendar.
In other words, kabocha squash is not just another squash but the best squash, the one I always reach for first when I’m at the store.
To prove my point, I offer Exhibit A: me, standing in the kitchen a few weeks ago, waving my arms in the air with a dinner guest, my eyes wide and eyebrows high, talking quickly and excitedly about the Dessert That Is Pure Kabocha Squash.
It doesn’t need sugar, I kept saying to him. It’s perfect on its own! Get yourself a kabocha squash!
Then, there is the fact that we’ve made these squash custards four times in the last month, for a dinner party, for a pre-St.-Louis-road-trip breakfast, for an everyday snack.
The recipe makes five to six (five is ideal; six is slightly pushing it but possible), and Tim and I, on our own, have no trouble polishing them all off, in one day.
True, for a recipe like these custards, you could use pureéd sweet potatoes or butternut squash or acorn squash or pie pumpkin in lieu of the kabocha squash purée, but, in response to that, it should be said: it was kabocha squash that, once blended into these custards, had Tim looking me straight in the eye at our dining table, swearing, and I quote, “This is what my dreams are made of.”
Something magical happens to these custards in the oven: the filling cooks and the edges caramelize, creating a dark, sticky ridge around the soft and sweet insides. We especially like them warm, whether topped by homemade ice cream or whipped cream, but they’re also lovely cold, straight out of the fridge.
And while normally, this is the point in the post where I’d have something nice and neat to wrap up the paragraphs with, today I’m just going to end with (1) Make These and (2) Tell Me about It, because, listen, it’s almost Thanksgiving and tomorrow’s the weekend and, no kidding, we love these custards almost as much as we love hearing from all of you.
Kabocha Squash Custards (Gluten-Free)
Serves five or six servings
As stated above, you can easily substitute any squash, pumpkin or even sweet potato purée in place of the kabocha here, even though you know which one we’re partial to.
If you go with fresh pumpkin purée from a traditional pumpkin (i.e., not a pie pumpkin), be sure to drain the excess water from the purée first; we learned the hard way that, with too much water content, this recipe will not work.
Also, on the arrowroot powder: Feel free to substitute flour here, whether spelt or all-purpose or something else. You could even try almond flour, though we haven’t been able to do so with perfect results.
1 cup unrefined natural cane sugar (Sucanat), coconut sugar, or granulated sugar
1 tablespoon arrowroot powder (or, if you don’t need to be gluten-free, flour)
2 cups kabocha squash puree (or other winter squash)*
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
12 ounces (i.e., 1 1/2 cups) heavy cream
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
In a large bowl, beat the two eggs lightly. Add all the rest of the ingredients but the cream; mix; add the cream and combine until well mixed.
Distribute the mixture evenly among five or six ramekins. Bake for 10 minutes at 450F. Lower oven temp to 350F and bake 40 to 50 minutes more. Custards are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Top with whipped cream and nuts, or ice cream, or eat plain. Best while still warm.
*Kabocha squash puree: Preheat oven to 375F. Slice the squash in half, remove seeds and rub with coconut oil. Place, cut-side down, on a baking sheet to roast. Should be done in 35 to 45 minutes or, when a fork pierces the flesh easily. Let cool, scoop out insides and blend in a food processor. Depending on size of squash, you should have between two and four cups as a result.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.