Thursday, February 27, 2014

Versatile Squash in a Cake

I have stopped using canned pumpkin for my pumpkin pies since some years ago. One of the first times I was so happy with the substitution of actual squash for the canned stuff was when I found a Jarradale squash here locally. It was the prettiest squash, all slate green-blue colored, but when I baked it and cut it open, it was also the brightest yellow-orange color inside that I had ever seen to date. The following year, I found a Jamboree squash; this one looked the same on the outside, but unfortunately it was all moldy on the inside. A complete waste of the hour of baking. Oh well, I guess that can happen.

Jarradale Squash
The other thing about the Jarradale squash that I loved so much was the density of the meat. It was a small squash, by comparison to most pumpkins. The meat was so dense though, that it doubled the weight of a pumpkin that was twice its size. When I baked and scooped the meat out, I put it into the food processor in batches and got the smoothest, most beautiful puree I could ever have wished. It also made the most delicious "pumpkin pies" that Thanksgiving. When I could not duplicate that with the Jamboree squash the nest year, it really was too bad, and since it was rather last minute, I had to go back to cans for that year's pies. 

This past year, I couldn't find a Jarradale or Jamboree squash at all, so I did some online research on squash and which ones were best for making pie puree. I found a very interesting comparison one woman did, trying out 9 different squash, and making 9 separate pumpkin pies. Her results? Good old butternut squash was, for her, the tastiest, with best pie color. Okay, I can always find butternut squash. I bought one large squash, baked, pureed and came up with enough for 4 pies. I was amazed. Butternut, also, is very dense and smooth. I knew this empirically, but had never paid much attention with an eye to a pie.

I guess by now, you may be wondering what all this reflection on squash varieties is all about. I was getting something out of the freezer the other day and noticed a couple of zip-top baggies of pureed squash tucked in back. This made me think I should make something with it, which led to thinking about what pumpkin recipes I might have. I decided to try Mom Rawstern's recipe for Pumpkin Bars.

Pumpkin Cake
For starters, I changed all her spices, though I kept the basic recipe amounts. I substituted 3/4 cup of the sugar with coconut sugar, and 1/3 of the butter called for with coconut oil. I have no idea where her recipe came from, or if she made it up. It was scribbled on a little sheet of paper and stapled into her one cookbook, with absolutely no instructions. This was not uncommon. Most of her recipes assumed one knew how to make a thing, because most of the time there were no instructions, or only a minimalistic "bake at 350." Imagine my surprise then, when I baked this "bar" recipe in a 9 x 13-inch pan and it baked up high as a regular cake! It also took terribly long to bake, far longer than most cakes in that size pan, at 50 minutes. It seemed it would never test done, as I timed it another 5 minutes, then another 5 minutes, and so on. There is nothing at all wrong with the flavor. I am very pleased with my spice additions. It just came out as a cake, rather than bars. This is the recipe:

Pumpkin Cake

1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup coconut oil (or use all butter)
2 cups sugar (or substitute part coconut sugar)
4 eggs
2 cups squash/pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons Bourbon, or 2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried orange zest
1 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and set aside. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter & coconut oil with the sugar(s), until light. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until combined before adding the next. Beat in the squash puree. Sift or whisk together the dry ingredients, and then add in three batches to the creamed mixture, beating gently just until combined. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 - 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

While the cake was baking, I wanted to try out something new for a frosting. First, I wanted to incorporate sour cream into the mix, but had never done this before. I wanted a little tang in the flavor. Another thing I wanted to try was making glazed nuts (walnuts or pecans) and then placing them in a food processor to pulverize, then add these to the frosting. I started with the nuts.

Burnt Sugar Glazed Nuts

Burnt Sugar Glazed Pecans

1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts or pecans 
(I used walnuts this time; photo shows pecans from last week's wine tasting)

Cut a large sheet of waxed paper and place onto a counter top. Place the sugar and nuts into a medium sized, preferable non-stick skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until the sugar melts and caramelizes to deep amber and completely coats the nuts. Once the nuts reach that point, stir for a few seconds more, then remove from the hot burner and continue stirring for 1 minute. Turn the nuts out onto the waxed paper and with 2 forks, separate the nuts. Allow them to cool completely.

***These glazed nuts are wonderful to eat on their own. They are great in salads. You could sprinkle them with cinnamon or other spices, as desired. Do not attempt to add any liquid to the hot nuts or it could be explosive. The sugar has reached extreme temperatures to melt. For my purposes, once cooled, I poured all the caramelized nuts into the food processor with 1 cup of confectioners' sugar and processed until very fine. This way, they would also be wonderful sprinkled over ice cream.

Caramel Walnut Frosting

Caramel Walnut Frosting
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
4 cups confectioners' sugar
The whole recipe for pulverized glazed nuts
1 teaspoon bourbon, or vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt (preferably medium ground sea salt)

In a heavy duty stand mixer, beat the room temperature butter and cream cheese for 6 - 8 minutes, until very pale and fluffy. NOTE: This will not work properly unless the ingredients are room temperature. Add the sour cream and beat to combine. Add the 4 cups confectioners' sugar and starting on lowest speed for one minute, combining the dry into the creamed mixture. Increase speed to medium high and beat for another 6 to 8 minutes. Pour in the nut mixture, salt and flavoring and beat to just combine. Spread this over the cake once the cake has completely cooled.

The cake and the frosting were delicious. Neither turned out exactly as I had anticipated, but the flavors are excellent in both, and the icing goes excellently with the cake. I would like to try this again, using pecans in the frosting (I had none yesterday when I started this). I might also try using less sugar in the cake. It seemed a little too much, though the flavor is wonderful.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.