Happy Thanksgiving! This weekend all of our family and friends in Canada are celebrating Thanksgiving and I was determined not to be left out.
I may not be roasting a big bird, or making cranberry sauce or cooking beets for the salad I always make, but I was seized with the deep desire to bake something to mark one of my very favourite holidays of the year.
We usually celebrate Thanksgiving with a dinner on the Sunday with Glen’s family. Every year Glen’s sister Kerstin makes the most delicious pumpkin pies. Her pastry is always super tender and flaky and she puts a layer of pecan praline at the base of the pie before she pours on the pumpkin mixture and tops it decoratively with pecan halves. I always have a piece, no matter how full I am from dinner, and then moon around afterward until Kerstin generously offers me a slice to take home. I am seriously in love with her pumpkin pie.
I knew I couldn’t replicate Kerstin’s dessert but when I spied this version of “pumpkin” cake in Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques cookbook I was immediately intrigued by her take on this holiday staple. Suzanne uses roasted butternut squash instead of pumpkin as the flavour is sweeter and more complex and it makes for a less watery purée. As “butternut squash cake” doesn’t have quite the same charm we will put the pumpkin in parentheses and move on.
The interesting thing about this cake is that it really does have the consistency of the filling of pumpkin pie, just without the crust. And the salty, crunchy pecan streusel compliments the almost flan-like texture of the cake perfectly.
I spent a quiet afternoon yesterday baking. My dear friend Sarolta had left in the morning after a wonderful (and too short) 5 day visit. Glen and Max had gone up to a water park for a few hours and I was feeling just a bit lonely. But I set to work roasting my squash and assembling my mise en place and my mood brightened. The weather turned rainy and stormy and even though it was still a balmy 84 degrees outside, inside with the air conditioning on I almost felt transported to my kitchen in autumnal Vancouver.
The scent of the pumpkin and the cloves and cinnamon and the brown butter filled the apartment. The boys came home and we had a humble dinner together with no turkey in sight.
We took turns, going about the table, talking about what we are thankful for. We talked about our family at home, our good friends, and being on this adventure together. Then we ate “pumpkin” cake with ice cream. It was a wonderful way to celebrate.
Spiced Brown Butter “Pumpkin” Cake
Recipe adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin
You can roast the squash the day before but ensure that you purée it while it is still warm. Once it has been puréed, cover and refrigerate and then make sure to drain off any additional liquid that accumulates around the squash before you use it.
For the cake:
1 medium butternut squash
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter, plus a little more for greasing the baking pan
1/2 vanilla bean
2 1/2 cups (300 g/10.5 oz) all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 cups whipping cream
3 extra large eggs
For the pecan streusel:
1/2 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil
1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
To roast the butternut squash:
Preheat the oven to 400 ºF (200 C). Cut the squash in half lengthwise and place it on a baking sheet cut side up. Cover with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until the flesh of the squash is very soft.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so scoop out the flesh and use a potato ricer or a food mill to purée the squash. You will only need 1 1/2 cups so the remaining can be frozen (to use as a filling for ravioli!) or eaten with some salt, pepper and butter or cubed up and tossed into a salad.
To make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 ºF (180 C). Brush a 10 inch round cake dish with a bit of butter and then cut a circle of parchment paper to fit and line the bottom of the dish with it.
Put the 8 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan. Slice the vanilla pod down the centre and using the back edge of your knife scrape the seed from the pod. Add both the seeds and the pod to the butter. Cook the butter over medium heat for about 6 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally until the the butter browns and gives off a nutty aroma. Remove the vanilla pod and discard and remove from heat and set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking soda and baking powder, the sugar, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg into a large bowl. Add in the salt and make a well in the centre.
In a separate large bowl beat the eggs and add in the 1 1/2 cups of squash purée (that has been drained of any accumulated liquid), the milk and the whipping cream.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until well combined. Stir in the brown butter, scraping the bottom of the pan with a rubber spatula to ensure that you are getting up all of the brown bits.
Pour into the prepared cake pan and bake for 25 minutes.
While the cake is baking prepare the streusel topping. In a small bowl place the toasted, chopped pecans and the grapeseed oil and the 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Mix and set aside.
In a large bowl place the white and brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and stir to combine. Add in the chilled butter cubes and using your fingers or a pastry blender or two forks work the butter into the flour mixture until it is the size of peas. Stir in the salted pecans.
After 25 minutes remove the cake from the oven and sprinkle on the streusel mixture. Place the cake back in the oven for an additional 45 minutes. The topping should be crisp and the cake set but the centre of the cake will still be somewhat soft and so it will not pass the toothpick test.
Cool the cake on a rack for at least 15 minutes.
Slice and serve with a dollop of whipping cream or vanilla ice cream.
Serves 6 to 8.